Greenpeace of New Zealand is appealing a High Court ruling last year that blocked its application to register as a charity because it was too political and its protests could land it on the wrong side of the law.

The environmental lobby group says the appeal is needed after the courts have upheld a series of decisions refusing organisations charitable status and is applying an outdated interpretation of the law. The Court of Appeal in Wellington will hear the application tomorrow.

"At the heart of the challenge is whether Greenpeace's work on nuclear disarmament is too 'political' and whether the amount and type of advocacy it does in support of environmental protection is too much to meet the test for a charity," executive director Bunny McDiarmid said in a statement.

"This appeal raises the question whether New Zealand's charities law will be in line with the Australian law, which allows charities freedom of expression in political debate as long as it is consistent with their charitable purposes," she said.


Justice Paul Heath last year upheld the now-defunct Charities Commission's decision turning down Greenpeace's application, saying its political activities were a core part of the organisation, and that potentially illegal activities such as trespass that were designed to raise public awareness of activities the lobby group opposes disqualified it from meeting the criteria for a charity.

At the time, he said Greenpeace viewed itself more as an "advocate rather than an educator," and cited the commission's examples of Greenpeace's non-violent action including a protest over Fonterra Cooperative Group's increasing use of coal, and a campaign opposing the importation of palm kernel oil that also targeted the dairy exporter.

Greenpeace said its backers are still eligible for tax rebates on donations, and the Greenpeace Educational Trust, which promotes conservation values, protects the natural environment and educates people, is a registered charity.

The lobby group brought in a smaller surplus in calendar 2011 after several large bequests in the prior year helped swell the organisation's coffers.