But actually, they are charities. This made me wonder what actual charitable purposes they purport to fulfil.
The Charities Act is based on legal precedents with an Act passed in England in 1601. At that time of course, Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the throne. My knowledge of that era is coloured by Phillipa Gregory, but it strikes me that culturally, we have changed our belief sets quite a bit – I’m not sure Catholics are quite the worry they once were, most the witches were dealt with at the time, and rich white men no longer are in charge of everything (well…). However, the current Charities Act 2005 is heavily based on case law dating from 1601. The 2005 Act stated that “charitable purpose” must fall under one or more categories.
- The relief of poverty.
- The advancement of education.
- The advancement of religion.
- Other purposes beneficial to the community.
Now, many of these provisions, under a modern first world country, are probably a bit redundant. Education is widely provided by the government, as is poverty relief, health services. We can argue over the execution, but no one is suggesting we remove any of the above from state mandate. Religion? Well, the growing group of New Zealander’s stating no religion is growing. In the 2013 census, almost 42% of us said we had no religion, up from 34.9% in 2006.
This then got me thinking what it did mean to be a New Zealander: what are our core values. I think it’s about equity, respect and creativity. My forebears came to this country to start a new life without the shackles of European social structures. Respect comes to respect of our planet and of each other. New Zealand has a narrative around number 8 wire which I think is pretty cool. We will all have a different take on this of course, but would be interesting for us as New Zealanders to have a yarn about this.
If you follow the news you will have seen that the Charities Registration Board has upheld an earlier decision to remove Family First from the Charities register as they felt it did not have charitable purpose. They considered that “Family First has a purpose to promote its own particular views about marriage and the traditional family that cannot be determined to be for the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable.”
Now, the Board made the initial decision to remove the above organisation from the register in 2013. It was challenged, but the decision upheld 2017. There will be numerous lawyers over this, and at least one economist report. How much to deregister this one organisation? I would hate to think.
You may also remember the kerfuffle almost a year ago when over 100,000 New Zealanders called for a deregistration of Destiny Church. This was not backed by Charity Services as there seemed “insufficient evidence” to warrant an investigation. The charitable purpose of this organisation, from the Charities Office website, is religion. Which is entirely valid, so yes, like it or not, under our current rules it’s a charity.
Religion is an interesting charitable purpose. The NZ Herald has done an interesting piece of analysis which shows where atheists live… and it’s all in those wealthier suburbs. So is there a link between poverty and religion? Does religion (through tithing) actually drive poverty? This Samoan chap certainly thinks so. I can’t find much in the way of academic studies on this sadly.
If we look at private schools, their charitable purpose is education. Which is all well and good, and entirely consistent with legal purpose. But unlike 400 years ago, in New Zealand we have universal education for all children. In 2017 does education need to be a charitable purpose? Further, one of the elements of Charitable purpose is around public benefit. The benefit must be for the public, or a sufficient section of the public. And halfway down the page it states “unjustifiable fees that exclude many people would not be acceptable”. Hmmm.
If we use my Kiwi values as a surrogate for charitable purpose, for the sake of argument, then how many registered charities fit where New Zealand is as a nation? And if we use 400 year old legislation to define what is important to a modern first world economy today, how can we make sure we get the best possible charities sector and services sector which meets the needs of our increasingly diverse communities?
Love to talk with you if you think this is at all interesting. Check out my website www.delfi.co.nz.