The contradictions in the LNP/IPA attack on free speech became even more evident today with the appointment of Gary Johns as the head Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Johns was once a junior minister in the Keating government and used this position to give a non-partisan veneer to subsequent career as a hack for the IPA, which was followed by a stint at the Australian Catholic University.
Johns has been at the forefront of the push to suppress political advocacy by charitable organizations eligible for tax-deductible donations. So his appointment by Minister Michael Sukkar followed logically from the LNP/IPA anti-free speech agenda.
There’s just one problem. The announcement came on the day of the vote on equal marriage, an issue on which numerous religious charities campaigned on the losing side. So, in the same breath as announcing Johns’ appointment, Minister Sukkar expressed the hope that the legislation might be amended to allow charities to continue advocacy on this issue.
This is silly, of course. It was already obvious that no amendments would be passed. And, as Warren Entsch pointed out, under current interpretations of the law, there’s no need for them. As Entsch says “A charity may advocate on any issue relevant to that charity and nothing in this bill will change that”. He’s right of course, but the whole idea of appointing Johns was to change this situation.
Hopefully, the government will realise what a trap they are setting for themselves here. If they attempt to remove tax-deductibility for conservation organizations that engage in advocacy, they will create a precedent that can subsequently be used against religious organizations. Turnbull should overturn Johns’ appointment and find someone who actually supports charities and non-profits.
Assumming, as seems likely, that the government is in too much of a mess to work this out, perhaps the churches will do so. If they want to protect freedom of speech for themselves, they’d better start defending it for others (cue Ditrich Bonhoeffer).