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Catholic Health fears Govt ideological gag on charities

It has emerged that the Federal Government commissioned a so-called right-wing think thank to conduct an audit of non-government organisations (NGOs) with direct access to federal departments and taxpayer funds.

The revelations follow last month's moves by the Federal Treasurer to remove tax exempt status from charities engaged in advocacy.

A liaison committee called the Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership was used to commission the Institute of Public Affairs to conduct the audit.

Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan said media reports of the audit in the past week "only give more credence to the view that there is an agenda to restrict charities either through less benefits or through 'big brother' tactics to gain compliance rather than permitting strong public advocacy".

The non-government organisation Oxfam Community Aid Abroad told The Sunday Age that the IPA is "unfit to conduct the study due to its demonstrated bias and ongoing vilification of organisations that campaign for human rights, corporate social responsibility and environmental protection".

A media release on the project explained that its aim was to develop a "trial protocol" for public disclosure of relationships between NGOs and government, including the need for NGOs to "supply information about their organisation".

IPA's executive director Mike Nahan told The Sunday Age that discussions between the IPA and the Government on the issue started more than a year ago, after the institute published a series of papers calling for greater disclosure from NGOs working with federal departments.

Last month, Treasurer Peter Costello released draft legislation that threatened to remove tax exemption status from NGOs if they were deemed to be more involved in political lobbying and advocacy than in community work - a move widely condemned as a bid by the Government to silence its most strident critics.

The IPA points out that its project and the draft legislation are "quite separate". But Catholic Health Australia's Francis Sullivan highlights the coincidence in the fact that the two primary sources of funding for NGOs - tax deductable donations and government grants or payments for carrying out consultative work - are under simultaneous attack.

The Age

Howard tightens screws on charities (The Australian)
Institute of Public Affairs
Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership
Mixed Church reaction to Treasurer's assurances on charities (31/7/03)

11 Aug 2003