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Charities should operate according to the Queensland Rules

By Harry Phibbs
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Last March saw the sweeping victory for the Conservatives in Queensland led by Campbell Newman.

Among the changes brought in has been that charities funded by the state must sign up to a contract including the following clause:

“Where the Organisation receives 50 per cent or more of its total funding from Queensland Health and other Queensland Government agencies, the Organisation must not advocate for State or Federal legislative change.”

A spokesman said:

“It's now a clause that we apply.

“We're making it clear that we want to fund outcomes but not advocacy.

“When we sign an agreement for a grant that's what we put in.

“We want to fund outcomes. The dollars that are going into health are there to provide health outcomes. If we were there to fund political campaigning we wouldn't be the health department.”

Will the British Government apply the same principle?

Nick Hurd, the Minister for the Civil Society, doesn't sound keen.

He tells the Public Administration Select Committee:

It is quite clear that charities can get involved in campaigning only when that clearly serves their charitable purpose. I would also be very reluctant, Chairman, to go down a path that sends any message to charities that somehow their campaigning role, their advocacy role and their independence from the state are being challenged or undermined in any way. Their ability to speak truth to power is part of their value to society, and that sometimes involves saying very uncomfortable things to us. I would be very wary about undermining that power they have.

The law is extremely clear: political campaigning can happen only when it clearly serves a charitable purpose. We have had millions of examples of charities that have campaigned around things like public smoking, when the cancer charities were very much in the lead on that debate. That should be welcomed and encouraged.

One doesn't want to get too diverted by libertarian theory but Mr Hurd really should understand that there is a distinction between allowing free speech and providing taxpayer funding for political lobbying and campaigning. There is also a distinction between free speech and allowing misleading charitable status, with the PR and tax benefits that involves, for what are really political groups.

There are currenty five vacancies for Charity Commission Board Members. Conservatives should be enouraged to apply. The commission has limited power to prevent charities being hijacked by the Left and used as front organisations for their campaigns. But it has some - as its investigation of the Smith Institute indicated.

Restoring credibility to charities is a duty to the public. The Queensland reform is modest. Another helpful measure would be a transparency requirement for charities to disclose the proportion of their funds they spend on lobbying and campaiging. How many of those who, for example, give money to Shelter are under the misapprehension that it provides shelter for the homeless?