Charities Registration Board: A Look at Its Family First Decision

June 4, 2013 in General

The Charities Registration Board has released the text of its decision about the deregistration of Family First’s charitable status online. What does it have to say?
In Decision D 2013-1/CC42358, the CRB notes that the role of providing specific points of view about family models was not a charitable purpose in itself, given that Family First’s declared objective is to procure particular government actions in ‘defence’ of its prescribed ‘preferable’ family structure.
Indeed, when it applied for initial charitable status on March 26, 2006, it was known as the Family First Lobby and switched to its current name, Family First New Zealand, in November 2006.
Whatever Family First might allege to the contrary, it is an explicitly conservative Christian organisation, as noted within its “statement of faith.” The CRB conceded that Family First had been thorough and diligent with its financial statements (2008-2012), information about its activities when requested (2008-9) and provision of information related to its initial application for charitable status.
Nevertheless, on September 11 2012, it concluded that Family First did not meet the criteria for charitable status as specified within the Charities Act 2005 and Commonwealth charitable status case law from New Zealand, Canada and England. It met with it to discuss matters related to its pending deregistration on October 31, 2012.
In its defence, Family First’s QC argues that its objectives are consonant with the United Nations Rights of the Child Convention and the establishment criteria of the Families Commission.
The CRB then stated its prerogative under the Charities Act 2005 to examine the activities of particular registered charities (Section 50A) and conduct inquiries into their activities (Section 18(3)(a)(i),(ii)). It was within its statutory responsibilities to deregister such organisations if they did not meet the criteria established within the act for such organisations (Section 32(1)(a)) if it had determined that there was no public interest activity within the organisation’s activities (Section 35(1)(a)). Moreover, it could also act if it established that income was not exclusively used for charitable purposes as defined within the act (Section 13(1)(a).)
If an organisation is primarily engaged in service provision and has an advocacy role as its secondary or ancillary purpose, then that is permissible (Section 5(3).) However, activities should not be purposes in themselves, nor should an organisation have unstated charitable objectives. In Family First’s case, the objectives stated were advancement of “religion,”, “education”, “research”, publishing reports and debate, intended to provide a particular point of view about family structures and bioethical issues, and procure specific government policies. Thus, the CRB found that this political and non-charitable purpose was primary and not secondary. In reaching this decision, the CRB drew on past New Zealand, English and Canadian Commonwealth case law about the legitimate parameters of charitable status entitlements.
Clearly, if Family First had primarily undertaken service provision as its primary activity and only then pursued lobbying and advocacy, then there would be no problem under the act. However, it instead promotes a specific viewpoint on matters of public controversy, encourages Christian Right networking and activism and produces media statements, opinion pieces, interviews, campaign activities and voters guides for its followers. Moreover, it promotes a specific set of propositions related to specific political beliefs rather than the general advancement of religious or ethical beliefs. After all, neither Right to Life New Zealand or ALRANZ are eligible for charitable status under these criteria, so no one can say that the law is being applied unfairly here.
Moreover, these is a difference between legitimate targeted educational purposes and political advocacy, communication and persuasion. As for “research and information,” I can only agree with CRB’s description of Family First’s material as not  based on objective scientific methodologies, analysis, structures or evaluation procedures. Its primary role is political advocacy and its opinion pieces aren’t known for their balanced, rigorous literature reviews, empirical evidence and objectivity- but are intended to procure specific government policies.
This is a commendably thorough and diligent document. I have no doubt that the CRB acted responsibly and diligently and in line with current Commonwealth charitable status case law. Unfortunately, Family First (as well as Greenpeace) have appealed their decisions to the High Court (and Supreme Court, in the case of Greenpeace, having struck out in the High Court and Court of Appeal beforehand). Obviously, it remains to be seen what the final outcome is.
Meanwhile, McCoskrie is whingeing about the aforementioned decision:
No longer will we be exempt from income tax, and donations to Family First NZ will no longer qualify for the donation rebate. This is despite it being a non-profit organisation funded purely by donations and gifts, and relying heavily on volunteer time,” he said.

Case Law:
Molloy v Commissioner of Inland Revenue [1981] 1 NZLR 688.
Re: Greenpeace Inc [2011] 2 New Zealand Law Reports 815
Re: Greenpeace New Zealand Inc [2012] New Zealand Court of Appeal 533
Human Life International in Canada v Minister of National Revenue [1998] 3 FC 202
“NZ Organisation deregistered for views on marriage” Christian Today (Australia):

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