Since the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) was established in December 2012, both the charity sector and the public have contacted it to clarify what charities can and cannot do about advocacy and elections.

In response, the commission has published a new guide Charities, elections and advocacy, which sets out the ACNC’s expectations of registered charities that plan on advocating or campaigning in elections.

The guide aims to help registered charities make informed decisions on how they can appropriately express their views on issues relevant to their charitable purposes. It sets out what activities the commission considers to be acceptable, and what activities may bring a charity’s entitlement to registration into question.

Charities, elections and advocacy specifically covers:
• Advancing public debate, including promoting or opposing law changes
• Promoting or opposing a change to a law, policy or practice in federal, state and territory governments and overseas
• Promoting or opposing political parties or candidates
• Engaging in or promoting unlawful activities, and
• Engaging in or promoting activities that are contrary to public policy (the rule of law, Australia’s constitutional system and public safety and national security).

The guide also sets out how the commission will respond to concerns raised by the public about a charity’s activities.

‘Ultimately, it is up to charity boards and committees to ensure that their charity’s activities are in line with their charitable purposes’, said ACNC commissioner, Susan Pascoe AM. ‘As the national charity regulator it is important that the ACNC provides guidance for boards to ensure they understand this complex area of charity law.’

Registered charities and members of the public can access the guide at acnc.gov.au/advocacy.