Nadine Higgins: Spot the difference between a lobby group and a charity
OPINION: Bob McCoskrie and I were both taken by surprise this week, simultaneously.
He, because he found out, through the media, that Family First was losing its charitable status. Me, because I had no idea it had a charitable purpose upon which to base a charity.
Given the organisation's specialist media topics involve kicking back against rights for gay people, rights for transgender teens and rights for women to do what they choose with their bodies, perhaps you'll forgive my ignorance of its charitable status.
However, upon further investigation of its stated aims and recent campaigns, I'm convinced it doesn't have one.
I don't mean to morph into the captain of the high school debate team on you here, but the definition of "charity" is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, "An organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need". I'm no lawyer, but even if we morally bankrupt types who believe our gay friends should be able to get married are the people "in need" that Family First is trying to "help" – I still don't see how the organisation fits the definition.
Family First, of course, thinks otherwise and appears to liken this to National MP Alfred Ngaro's terrifyingly ill-advised threats to social agencies who speak out against the Government. They believe they're being muzzled because their ideas don't align with those of the powers that be.
But I don't believe anyone is being silenced here – this is a debate about definitions and who should be eligible for tax exemptions. Family First can still say what it likes, lobby who it likes and condemn who it pleases regardless of whether the organisation has to pay tax.
I've interviewed Bob McCoskrie dozens of times over the years. I've stuffed up his name on about 75 per cent of those occasions, and disagreed with him about as often. He's a nice enough guy, I just have a different world view (and a terrible habit of calling him McCroskie).
But regardless of whether or not you agree with Family First, it exists to push an agenda and that puts it in the realm of the Taxpayers' Union (not a charity), not in the company of World Vision (definitely a charity).
The Sensible Sentencing Trust has a novel approach to this issue – it has two trusts. One supports victims of crime and is a charitable organisation eligible for tax exemption, the other does not have donor status with the IRD, because, it says, it's unashamedly set up to advocate and lobby on issues of crime and punishment.
A charity can and should speak up, rattle cages and lobby politicians to rectify injustices. The Sally Army helps people in times of need but also lobbies the Government to improve the lot of the country's poorest – but note here the lobbying complements its charitable work, its not its sole purpose.
As far as I can see, lobbying is Family First's sole purpose. So much so, they'd be better off starting a political party than a charity. Just think, if they get into parliament the tab for lobbying other parties could be wholly funded by the taxpayer.
- Sunday Star Times