On 21 May, 2015 the St Vincent de Paul Society wrote a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment on the topic of its Inquiry into the Register of Environment Organisations.
The St Vincent de Paul Society believes that the participation of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) is essential to the democratic process required by the Constitution’s implied freedom of political communication, and recent research we have conducted supports this. The Society has argued before that this must be recognised in strong support for advocacy organisations, including their being registered as charities, and receiving deductable gift recipient status. This position is reflected in law: the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) s 12(1)(l) recognises that advocacy is a charitable purpose, and the High Court Aid/Watch decision that found the same. For these reasons, we believe it is essential that advocacy must continue to be considered part of broader charitable purposes that contribute to the charitable ends.
The Society strongly encourages the Committee to recommend retention of current laws that treat environmental advocacy bodies as charities. These NGOs play a crucial advocacy role in democracy, and we believe their function is particularly important for many marginalised people who are often silenced in these debates.