Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Family First appeals against deregistration

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie, second left, with MPs after presenting the 50,000-signature petition opposing gay marriage. Photo / NZ Herald
Family First national director Bob McCoskrie, second left, with MPs after presenting the 50,000-signature petition opposing gay marriage. Photo / NZ Herald

Family First has lodged a High Court appeal against the removal of its charitable status - a decision the group has blamed on a single complaint which coincided with the same-sex marriage debate.

The Charities Registration Board earlier this month ruled Family First's main purpose was political, rather than charitable, and that it would lose its charitable status unless it appealed by today.

An appeal was lodged in the High Court at Wellington this afternoon, which means the group can remain on the charities register until the outcome of the appeal.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said the group had been de-registered because of its views on gay marriage, which was legalised by Parliament last month.

He said the "highly politicised" decision to remove its charitable status followed an investigation sparked by a single complaint on August 28 last year - the day before same-sex marriage legislation was given its first reading in Parliament.

The two-sentence complaint, released to Family First under the Official Information Act, said the group was "a religious based pressure group" with the sole purpose of preventing human rights for non-heterosexual people.

Mr McCoskrie said the board's decision was an abuse of power which showed government groups were being used to enforce an ideology.

He said the board had investigated only one charity which opposed Family First's views, and that group was still registered.

"The Charities Registration Board should be consistent - but it's quite evident that it's not, and is using isolated complaints by disgruntled people to muzzle groups who challenge the prevailing politically correct view."

Under the Charities Act, registered charities can undertake political activities, such as supporting or opposing legislation in its area of activity, but not as its main purpose.

The former Charities Commission - now the Charities Services arm of Internal Affairs - has investigated Family First's charitable status twice, in 2008 and 2010, and concluded it fitted the criteria.

But the Charities Registration Board this month found the group's main purpose was to promote particular points of view about family life.

An Internal Affairs' spokeswoman said Charity Services had been in communication with Family First since 2008 regarding advocacy and activities that may not have been consistent with the Charities Act.

"In 2012, it came to Charities Services' attention that some of these activities were happening again. This prompted another review of Family First's activities and purposes.

"Reviews of this nature are instigated when activities come directly to the attention of Charities Services, or in some cases a member or members of the public alert Charities Services."

A number of high-profile groups which publicly advocate on policy have charitable status, including the Child Poverty Action Group and Amnesty International.

But other groups have been deemed too political for charitable status, including the Sensible Sentencing Trust and the Council for Civil Liberties.


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