In this article we explore the charitable purpose of ‘advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public’.
What is a charitable purpose?
A charity’s purpose is the reason for its existence, in other words its objective or ‘why’. Upon receiving an application for charity registration or subtype review, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) will determine an organisation’s purpose by considering a range of sources, including its constitution, activities, website, any business or strategic plans and even social media platforms.
It is essential for a charity to only have charitable purposes for the public benefit. Any non-charitable purposes must be incidental or ancillary to, and in aid of its charitable purpose(s).
When an organisation is registered as a charity with the ACNC, it is registered with one or more charity ‘subtypes’. These subtypes are categories that reflect the charity’s charitable purpose.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) sets out 14 charity subtypes. These include 12 charitable purposes as set out in the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) (Charities Act), as well as the categories public benevolent institution and health promotion charity.
The subtypes with which a charity is registered are displayed on the charity's page on the ACNC Charity Register.
What is the charitable purpose of ‘advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public’?
The Charities Act includes only a general definition of the purpose of advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public and states at section 17:
“Without limiting what constitutes the purpose of advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public, the purpose of advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public includes the purpose of promoting the efficiency of the Australian Defence Force.”
In general terms, the subtype may capture purposes of protecting, maintaining, supporting, researching and improving the security and safety of Australia or the Australian public. This includes the purpose of promoting the efficiency of the Australian Defence Force. However, there is room for broader interpretation and application. For instance, it could be argued an organisation established to protect Australians against cyber attack falls under this subtype.
What kinds of activities does a charity pursuing this charitable purpose undertake?
The activities a charity undertakes must be in support of and conducted in furtherance of its charitable purpose(s).
The ACNC and the Explanatory Memorandum to the Charities Act provide examples of the types of activities which may be undertaken by charities with a charitable purpose of advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public. These include but are not limited to organisations which:
- promote and support ‘neighbourhood watch’ programs, establish and operate ‘crimestoppers’ or similar schemes, and liaise with the police on addressing the causes of crime in an area;
- provide safe houses;
- promote the efficiency of the Australian Defence Force, including by providing aid, comfort and encouragement to serving and former defence personnel and their families;
- establish, operate and support volunteer fire brigades, volunteer emergency services organisations and other safety services such as surf lifesaving;
- provide advice and support to victims and offenders;
- provide conciliation services;
- look after the welfare of the armed forces, including the dependants of injured or deceased veterans;
- record and research the history of the armed forces, such as historical societies; and
- undertake research into defence and national security.
In considering potential activities an organisation undertakes, it is also important to remember a charity can be registered with more than one charitable subtype. There can often be some overlap between the charitable purpose of advancing social or public welfare and the subtype of ‘advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public’. For example, where organisations are relieving financial need of ex-service persons or funding medical expenses for serving or retired armed forces personnel, or their dependants.
How can we help?
If you would like to find out more about registering as a charity or amending your charitable subtype to include ‘Advancing social or public welfare’, please get in touch with our specialist Charities + Social Sector Lawyers.