Statutory Definition of Charity Draft Legislation Released

The Commonwealth Government of Australia yesterday announced the commencement of a public consultation on exposure draft legislation for a statutory definition of charity.


David Bradbury MP and Mark Butler MP opened the consultation yesterday in a brief press release.


The statutory definition of charity is expected to define in Commonwealth law what has previously only existed in common law and take into account a number of particularly contentious recent cases, including the Aid/Watch Incorporated v Federal Commissioner of Taxation [2009].


The origins of the common law meaning of charity date back to English law from 1601 and classifications for charitable purposes remain largely unaltered since that time. The new statutory definition of charity is intended to make charity law more relevant to the modern sector as well as clarifying it by addressing inconsistencies that have arisen over time.


Some of the most significant changes immediately apparent in the draft legislation are the additions to the prescribed charitable purposes. These have been expanded beyond the four traditional charitable purposes and the three new purposes introduced by the Extension of Charitable Purpose Act 2004, to include:


  • “advancing health, education, social or public welfare, religion, culture, and the natural environment
  • promoting reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance between groups of individuals in Australia
  • promoting and protecting human rights, preventing or relieving the suffering of animals, and protecting the safety of the general public”[1].
One of the primary way these new purposes differ from those in common law is the inclusion of what were previously considered political or advocatory purposes.

More information on the purpose of the statutory definition of charity can be found in the factsheet made available by the Treasury here.


The Government has previously released a paper on the definition of charity in 2011 and conducted an inquiry into the issue in 2001. More than 200 submissions received in response to the 2011 paper have been taken into consideration in developing this draft legislation, according to the Treasury website.


The exposure draft and supporting materials can be accessed through the treasury website, where submissions will also be accepted up until 3 May, 2013.



[1] Exposure Draft, Charities Bill 2013, explanatory material, p. 14

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