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Family First: Uncharitable Thoughts

Mon 6 May 2013 In: Comment View at NDHA

Christian Right pressure group Family First has been deregistered by New Zealand's Charities Commission. The Charities Act 2005 was established to regulate and enable good governance practices within the charitable/voluntary association sector. Under Section 5 (b), 'charitable purpose" is defined as that which contributes to the advance of education (and 'religion"- although the latter is broadly defined), as well as poverty relief. However, as the Exodus Ministries Trust Board and other religious charities cases before the Commission have led it to observe, religious status alone may not constitute tangible public benefit under the terms of the Charities Act. The Charities Commission is tasked with monitoring registered charities, regulates their annual financial returns, provides best practice governance guidelines and fulfils an advisory role. It registers sports, community welfare and development, environmental, women's service, health, employment, animal welfare, international aid, marae and iwi organisations. Under Section 10 (j) and (k) of the Charities Act 2005, there is provision that in some instances, registration can been withheld or withdrawn due to questions involved that the organisation's activities are not primarily directed at charitable objectives, and that political purposes are their primary objective instead. In determining this, the Commission will analyse the charity's constitution, relevant case law and existing activities. In some cases, an organisation may have a charitable arm that is registered, while its non-charitable arm is not subject to the benefits of charitable status. In others, deregistration may occur because organisations have simply wound up, or failed to file annual financial returns, or fail to comply with their statutory responsibilities. In two recorded cases on their website, there were reported cases of serious wrongdoing. The Commission is entitled to remove organisations that don't meet registration requirements, undertake serious wrongdoing, or have failed to otherwise comply with the Charities Act 2005, as specified within Section 32. Section 16 disqualifies officers from management responsibilities of charitable organisations who are undergoing, or who have undergone, bankruptcy, liquidation or other financial mismanagement proceedings. As provided for under Section 35 of the Charities Act, the Commission also provides a useful online complaints form that explains how one should go about complaining when one is sure that a specific charity may be engaged in underhand or suspect activity that warrant investigation and deregistration. These may include evidence of financial mismanagement by organisational directors or staff, harm to clients, terrorist funding and other criminal activities, evidence that the 'charity' is a front group for non-charitable activities, tax avoidance, questionable operational independence, fraudulent misrepresentation, risk to the public interest and other instances of noncompliance. Complainants should name the charity, identify responsible figures for the complaint, clarify the nature of their allegations and what effect that the shortcoming has had on charity operation, and detail personal actions undertaken, as well as correspondence with the charity and/or other agencies. The deregistration comes after Family First's continual political lobbying activity and open espousal of partisan allegiances for New Zealand First and Colin Craig's Conservative Party against the Clark administration's parental corporal punishment ban in 2007 and the recent introduction of marriage equality and adoption reform legislation over the course of 2012/2013. McCoskrie questioned the Charities Commission's definition of 'public benefit,' but the Charities Commission has responded that such activity is not covered as charitable activity under the terms of the Charities Act 2005. Despite losing its charitable, tax-exempt status, Family First has said that it will continue to be politically active. However, another deregistered Christian Right group, Exodus Ministries New Zealand, appears to have vanished altogether after its deregistration several years ago. On his website, McCoskrie also accused the Charities Commission of colluding with liberal parliamentary supporters of marriage equality and same-sex parenting: "This is a highly politicised decision which is grim evidence that groups that think differently to the prevailing politically correct view will be targeted in an attempt to shut them up. The timing of the investigation and notification is also cynical in that the Commission deliberately held off the notification until after the final reading of the gay marriage bill, despite the Commission promising that their decision would be made at the end of January. The investigation began just after the gay marriage debate started last year.” “It is now evident that any charity that speaks up on issues which are deemed incorrect by the political elite are in danger of being penalised. An easy way for opponents of a point of view is for them to use the Charities Commission to muzzle them.” Family First's deregistration was noted by conservative Catholic anti-abortionist Brendan Malone's "Leading Edge" blogsite, as well as the fringe far right Investigate magazine, published by fundamentalist Ian Wishart. Fascinating. I don't recall any such histrionics when Right to Life targeted the Family Planning Association, or Greenpeace's charitable status was under attack? One wonders if the same fate may now befall other Christian Right pressure groups with questionable aspirations to "charitable status?" Recommended: "Family First deregistered as a charity" 3 News: 05.05.2013: Charities Commission: Charities Act 2005 : Charities Commission: Exodus Ministries Trust Board decision: Complaints forms are also available from: Monitoring and Investigations Charities Commission PO Box 8072 Wellington 6143 Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 6th May 2013    

Credit: Politics and religion commentator Craig Young

First published: Monday, 6th May 2013 - 10:28am

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