Family First finds unlikely ally in charitable status fight

NZ Herald 7 May 2013
The Green Party is calling for a public debate about how charities are defined after a decision to remove Family First’s charitable status. The Charities Registration Board has ruled that Family First’s main purpose is political, rather than charitable, and that it will lose its charitable status unless it appeals to the High Court by May 27. Family First director Bob McCoskrie said the organisation was being penalised for its leading role in the campaign against legalising gay marriage, which was passed by Parliament on April 17. “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,” he said. Ironically, the Greens, whose MPs voted unanimously in support of gay marriage, were the only party to speak up for Family First yesterday. Green MP Denise Roche, who has prepared a bill defining advocacy as “charitable” if it is in pursuit of a charitable purpose, said the current law should be reviewed. “Advocacy in charities is where we also keep our democracy. Not-for-profits and charitable organisations have a real role in advocating for a better society, and if they are unable to do that then we lose a voice.”

Family First’s first purpose stated in its charitable trust deed is “to promote and advance research and policy supporting marriage and the family as foundational to a strong and enduring society”. In 2008 and again in 2010, the Charities Commission investigated whether the organisation was genuinely charitable and decided then that it was. But the new Charities Registration Board, which replaced the commission last year, ruled on April 15 that Family First’s main purpose was “to promote points of view about family life, the promotion of which is a political purpose because the points of view do not have a public benefit that is self-evident as a matter of law”.

Charitable or not?

Deemed to be charitable
Amnesty International
Child Poverty Action Group
National Council of Women
Society for Promotion of Community Standards

Deemed to be political
Family First NZ
Council for Civil Liberties
Save Our Arts Centre Society (Christchurch)
Sensible Sentencing Trust