Submissions to New Zealand Government
The Pacific Institute of Resource Management
Phone: +64 4 9394553
SUBMISSION TO THE SOCIAL SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE CHARITIES BILL1. The Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM), founded in 1984, is a national organisation with international links, dedicated to sustainable use of the earth’s resources. We publish a substantial journal, Pacific Ecologist to help educate on various issues on ecology and social equity. PIRM also makes submissions to government on various issues (e.g. climate change, genetic engineering, multilateral trade, human rights, privatisation, General Agreement on trade & Services, energy, the SIS Amendment Bill, etc). We also hold public meetings – the most recent in 2003, “Resource Wars from the Global Economy to Iraq” and in 2002, “Can We Survive Climate Change?” We are concerned about deterioration of global ecosystems, rapid depletion of natural resources and degradation of the environment, examples being climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, pollution of water systems and natural habitats. Our objectives are to advocate respect for natural processes; conservation of physical resources and integrity of all life forms. We contribute to the establishment of New Zealand as a strong, independent active authority advocating implementation of a world conservation strategy. We work for the improvement of human communities worldwide living in harmony with each other and the natural world.
Function of public good organisations in democratic societies
2. It has been said: “The price of democracy is eternal vigilance.” Independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organisations fulfil a crucial function in democratic societies, acting as watchdogs, alerting communities to dangers of all kinds – in health, environmental, social and ethical arenas. The need for public good, or public service organisations, without vested financial interest, has not lessened but increased in recent years, with government deregulation/privatisation policies handing over more power to corporate interests, and the whittling away of broader community interests as the centre of government policy. The increase in poverty in NZ since the introduction of free-market economics is testimony to the greater need for public good organisations to ask questions and address anomalies of increasing inequity in societies.
3. The existence of severe environmental hazards such as climate change – caused through human development impacting on atmospheric chemistry, is another very serious matter that reflects on the need for fundamental change in development from destructive to sustainable practices. If societies are to survive coherently into the future, how can New Zealand and other countries make such fundamental change without public good, non-profit organisations, raising awareness and debate on such crucial issues?
4. We respectfully put it to government, that with human society literally besieged by severe and increasing environmental and social problems, there has never been a time when reasoned, critical debate was more essential. As Albert Einstein said: “The kind of thinking that got us into this situation is not the kind that will get us out of it.”
5. We have several concerns about the Charities Bill and would like to give oral evidence at the select committee hearing on the bill in Wellington
Fees & Regulations
6. An implication of the Charities Commission being self-funding is that only wealthy charities will be able to pay the fees, or fulfil the regulations. It implies Charities have lots of money, when often the reverse is the case, which is the reason for the Charities, or Incorporated societies existence in the first place. In this way the Charities Commission could destroy many Charities and incorporated societies and invalidate its own existence. Therefore there is a need to recognise the prime reason for charities & incorporated societies, is quite different from ordinary business motivation, which is simply to make money for shareholders.
7. It is important for us and many other organisations to maintain tax-free exemption as an incorporated society for funding purposes. Donors often require this status. The new regime with the Charities bill could, through high levies and other regulations, remove our tax-free status, as the bill itself states. This would have serious consequences for our and other organisation’s ability to continue to operate.
8. We recommend that the Charities Commission be funded from Government and that there be no annual fees. We are an organisation of meagre resources with a considerable workload and cannot afford an annual fee. We also support the notion that the Commission’s role be extended beyond compliance and regulations into support and advice to charitable organisations.
Will the Charities Commission recognise the difference between businesses and Incorporated societies and charities, whose motivation is different from businesses?” They are not run primarily for profit, unlike businesses.
10. We are disturbed by the inclusion of terrorist clauses into the Charities Bill. At this time when there is so much international paranoia due to the U.S.-inspired “war on terrorism” it is only too easy to look for “terrorists under every bed,” just as there was a “reds under the bed” policy during the Cold War era. The Aziz Choudry case in recent times is an example of our own secret security intelligence services functioning without proper information and accountability, breaking into a law-abiding citizen’s house under the pretext of threats to national security. The case ended with Mr Choudry, a respected human rights worker, being awarded damages and an apology. This was prior to the September 11 event. The current hyped-up security environment is only too conducive to security services visiting their powers on innocent organisations, and making the functioning of these groups very difficult.
11. We congratulate the government for its great wisdom in not involving New Zealand troops in the war on Iraq, which has become increasingly questionable, with new revelations erupting regularly on the false reasons given for the invasion of Iraq in the first place. Recent revelations of the ghastly pursuit and illegal interrogation techniques of “terrorist” suspects in Iraq itself by U.S. forces, makes the “war on terrorism” even more untenable. We encourage or plead with government not to become involved in so-called “security” strategies emanating from the “war on terrorism.” Many of the people illegally tortured were accidentally detained, imprisoned and had no association with terrorism whatsoever.
12. It would be tragic, if NZ after making an astute, principled stand not to join in a dubious war, became enmeshed in the fallout of the “war on terrorism” strategies, subjecting its own citizens to unwarranted surveillance measures, threatening democracy and civil society in New Zealand itself, at the very time when it is most needed.
We recommend the deletion of clause 15 (4) (a) (b).
14. Times are difficult enough for organisations trying to survive in the current free-market climate. Yet independent, public service organisations, working for the wider public good, are vitally needed in democratic societies, to provide a check and critique on over-weaning corporate or government power.” The primary purpose of the Pacific Institute of Resource Management is to advocate for and educate towards the sustainable use of earth’s resources. Underlying this purpose is the need for fundamental change in the ways we currently organise ourselves as a human community.” For our organisation these are essential features of our “charitable purpose.”
15. We recommend that clause 31(1)(b) be amended to include:
16. A significant number of incorporated societies and charities, are voluntary organisations, with few full time workers, so extra work form-filling and also extra costs likely to be incurred with the new proposed Charities Bill regime, will make life even more difficult, if not impossible for many organisations.
17. To this end we recommend that the forms and documentation for registration of approved donees be as few and simple as possible.” And that likewise the documentation for annual returns be as user friendly as possible. We recommend the only documents required should be an organisation’s annual report and annual financial statement.
18. It is said that a good reason for the Charities Commission is to make charities more accountable and more transparent; but are there many instances of abuse of such organisations registered for charitable status?” Is as much surveillance being given to businesses, where there is clear evidence of much financial fraud. Recent great financial scandals suggest great accountability and surveillance might be much better applied to businesses, e.g. Fonterra scandal recently, ENRON etc.
19. There are provisions in clauses 86 and 87 of this Bill that threaten to muzzle the voice of the community sector.” We are concerned that the high focus of current security measures involved in the highly dubious international “war on terrorism,” apart from: “the protection of New Zealand from acts of espionage, sabotage, terrorism and subversion,” could also come to be interpreted as: “the ensuring of New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being.” This was proposed with the Security Intelligence Services Amendment Bill in 1999.
20. Consequently, under the guise of the vague word “terrorism,” much legitimate activity throughout the community could be subjected to surveillance and suppression.” The proposed Charities Commission could even designate as terrorists, for example, those who expose negligent or dangerous practices in our food export industry, by saying they put at risk our international well-being and favoured free-trade agreements. Even though exposing such or similar activities, may well be vital to NZ’s long-term interests, the organisation could be labelled as terrorist, and wound up.”
21. Unwarranted surveillance measures and attempts to control or direct civil society, non-government organisations and incorporated societies, are very much at odds with the character of democratic societies, including the right to legitimate debate and dissent, and more in keeping with right-wing fascist dictatorships, or at the other end of the spectrum of communist dictatorships. If the NZ government was to stifle free speech, independent media and the voice of critics in the community, or muzzle or control non-governmental organisations, by dictating what they should or should not say, it would effectively destroy the country as a democratic nation. Yet democracy is lauded by international institutions as the basis of good governance.
22. We recommend the Charities Commission be an independent body and its status be that of an “Independent Crown Entity,” so removing the power of the Government of the day to impose Government policy, or direct or control the policies and voice of civil society and independent, not-for-profit organisations.
Promoting real security
23. Surely NZ would be well advised to develop and promote in the Pacific a much broader, holistic strategy for security than the one provided by the current” “war on terrorism” scenario. By exploring and developing alternative approaches for peaceful, sustainable futures, and encouraging local and regional interests and agencies in this development, New Zealand would contribute to a more peaceful Pacific. There is much to do to make New Zealand and the Pacific sustainable environmentally, economically and socially. Locally and globally, humanity is much more threatened by climate change than Osama Bin Laden. Pacific Islands are heavily threatened by climate change, to which the U.S. government is heavily contributing and doing little to allay.
24. By putting the billions of dollars the U.S. is currently investing in dangerous Star Wars experiments in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands, into renewable energy development in the U.S., America would put itself and the rest of the world on a sustainable trajectory, instead of the dangerous path it is now hurtling the world onto in so many different spheres, militarily, ecologically, socially, internationally, nationally.” A small country such as New Zealand would provide much needed leadership in the world by withdrawing from the phony “war on terror” and transforming itself into a sustainable community and promoting this policy in Pacific and other international fora.”
Peter Healy, Kay Weir for: Pacific Institute of Resource Management, PO Box 12,125, Wellington, Phone 939.4553 & ndash; fax 939 4551 – email firstname.lastname@example.org
25 August 2004
Social Services Select Committee
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION TO THE SOCIAL SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE HEARING ON THE CHARITIES BILL 26/8/04
1. On reflection, in the past few weeks since preparing our written submission in June on the government’s Charities Bill, we have come to the conclusion we cannot support the Bill at all and indeed are opposed to it. Our reasons for this are:
2. We see no real need or good reason for introducing the Bill in the first place.”
3 Public good, not-for-profit organisations with their spirit of enquiry, support for sometimes initially unpopular causes and sometimes dissent from the status quo, are a vital part of democratic societies, shedding light where it may not be wanted, pointing out dangers of various kinds. “The price of democracy is eternal vigilance.” Such groups are by their very nature often financially poor. They have to manage resources very carefully, which means many are voluntary, with few full time workers.
4. With the Charities Bill, a great deal of money would be wasted setting up a bureaucracy to administer non-government, not-for profit organisations, apparently funded by these very organisations, many of whose resources are already tightly stretched. It stands to reason such extra costs would bring about the demise of many not-for-profit organisations. Only wealthy organisations would survive. This would lessen considerably the fabric of democracy within the nation. Financial wealth is not necessarily the arbiter of truth, or justice.
5. Currently societies are besieged by severe and increasing environmental and social problems. There has never been a time when reasoned, critical debate was more essential. We therefore must withdraw our support for the proposed Charities Commission to be an Independent Crown entity. The Commission, even as a Crown entity could be politically manipulated by a government of the day, seeking to muzzle critics. For example, it was proposed in 1999 by the Security Intelligence Services Amendment Bill that “the protection of New Zealand from acts of espionage, sabotage, terrorism and subversion,”” should be extended to: “the ensuring of New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being.”
6. It is quite easy, given such a direction – particularly with the terrorism clause in the Charities Bill – to envisage situations whereby those who might for example be doing legitimate, even heroic work to expose negligent or dangerous practices in our food export industry, would be deregistered by the Commission and black-listed as terrorists. Thus much legitimate community activity could be subject to surveillance and suppression, and the rights of the public to crucial information and democratic processes would be denied.
Independence of the Charitable Sector essential
7. Excessive surveillance is not the hall-mark of democratic societies. The Charities Bill unfortunately reeks with the aroma of unwarranted, unnecessary surveillance. It would be a tragic day if a New Zealand government was to stifle free speech, independent media and the voices of critics in the community by dictating what they should or should not say.”
8. We do not believe this bill is necessary and instead see it has the potential to be far more dangerous than the vague ills it apparently seeks to remedy. We call for the Charities Bill to be withdrawn.