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HRLC launches new not-for-profits compliance guide

The Human Rights Law Centre has launched a new guide to help not-for-profits comply with electoral laws, which the legal body said is particularly important ahead of the upcoming election.

user iconLauren Croft 03 November 2021 Politics
Alice Drury
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The not-for-profits guide is designed to walk not-for-profit organisations through their obligations under Commonwealth electoral laws. Under the laws, some advocacy spending and donations may need to be publicly disclosed, and organisations may need to consider adjustments in how they use or track donations.

HRLC senior lawyer Alice Drury said that the guide could be used in a variety of different ways by a variety of different organisations.

“This guide has been developed for a broad range of charities from small grassroots community organisations to large, sophisticated not-for-profits,” she said.


“For lawyers and not-for-profits new to how the electoral laws work, there’s a top-level how-to guide; but it also goes into a lot of the detail that big campaigning organisations will need when doing a detailed analysis of their communications.”

The guide poses a series of questions for not-for-profits to answer to work out what their obligations are. It also provides clear definitions of key terms like electoral expenditure” and dominant purpose”, as well as guidance on how to authorise materials, which some organisations may need to do even if they haven’t reached the $14,500 electoral expenditure threshold and are not a third party.

“Working out whether activities are ‘electoral matter’ can be complicated and take a lot of time, but much of what not-for-profits do doesn’t actually need to be assessed in the first place. Having a good understanding of what kinds of activities the law includes will save lawyers and not-for-profits a lot of time unnecessarily analysing their activities,” Ms Drury added.

“Also, it’s important to remember that advocacy for the purpose of influencing voters in an election – the central question in whether electoral laws apply – is a legitimate and important activity for charities and other not-for-profits to engage in. Don’t be shy about doing advocacy that influences voters; just be armed with the knowledge of how to disclose and authorise it.”

Ms Drury added that when planning advocacy work around the upcoming election, not-for-profits should familiarise themselves with the threshold questions of what requires an assessment as to whether it’s an “electoral matter” or not, and if necessary, develop an internal policy to help streamline the process.

“If you know your organisation is likely to incur electoral expenditure, set up processes in advance to make sure you’re capturing electoral expenditure and that you’re able to identify and quarantine foreign donations. And have a consistent policy on authorising your materials,” she said.

“Charities can face a lot of pressure from the government to stay quiet and not engage in advocacy, especially on crucial and sensitive policy issues. But advocacy is an essential part of how charities help the communities they serve. Lawyers have a vital role in making sure charities aren’t deterred into silence by complicated rules but instead are supported to speak up confidently in a way that is safe.”