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Veto, Citizens' Initiated and Recall referendum.


Wednesday, 2 December 2009


A voluntary organisation which helps victims of violent crime is fighting a legal wrangle which could deny it charitable status and threaten its future in New Zealand.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust has been told by the Charities Commission that it is unlikely to be granted the official status of a charity because its main purpose is political and not beneficial to the community.

The small organisation with a big public profile was set up eight years ago by Hawke’s Bay farmer Garth McVicar and his family, who saw a growing need for victims of crime to have better support and representation during court proceedings.

Despite still being run by unpaid volunteers from a small office in Napier, the organisation now has thousands of supporters across the country and has become a major voice in the debate on crime and justice.

But the Trust has become a victim of its own success and the Commission says this public role advocating for victims is not appropriate behavior for a charity.

Striking it off the charities register would threaten the Trust’s future because it would force the voluntary organisation to pay tax on the donations it received and many supporters would stop contributions because they would no longer be tax deductable.

“We have already been advised by one generous sponsor that funding for next year’s victims’ conference will stop if we are denied charitable status,” Mr. McVicar said.

“The victims who approach the Trust say this is often the only time they feel ‘normal’ because they get to spend time with other families who have lost a loved one through violent crime or had their lives changed forever by the actions of a criminal.”

The Charities Act 2005 says an organisation may advocate but cannot have a primary political purpose. However it also says that any charitable purpose relating to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or any other matter beneficial to the community qualifies.

“How is it possible that an organisation run on the smell of an oily rag by volunteers for the benefit of victims of violent crime cannot be beneficial to the community? It beggars belief and we know there will be thousands of New Zealanders out there who will be outraged if the Trust is denied charitable status,” Mr. McVicar said.

The Trust said although it undoubtedly did have a political and advocacy role, the Commission had viewed the Trust’s website and from that concluded that political advocacy was its main purpose.

“If they even spent a day with us in the office they would see how much time is spent directly supporting dozens of victims who have approached us. By representing them and their rights publicly we have attracted significant media attention but this doesn’t mean political advocacy is all we do. In fact it is a fraction of what we do.”

If the Commission turns down the Trust’s application, Mr. McVicar says the group will fight for a law change.

“Our precious time and money should be spent helping victims, not fighting for something any New Zealander with common sense can recognise. Just like victims in the justice system, we are forced to fight a David and Goliath battle which is unfair and unjust.”


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1 comment:

Dominic Baron said...

This is a nonsense. How can a group that specifically does *not* align itself with any political party and that is obviously a charity to help the victims of violent crime be called "political"?

The problem with any group advocating changes in our laws is that the existing régime forces all such changes to be done via a "political party". Which is another very good reason why we need binding referendums, so that changes that the people want can be done at a level above the wrangling of political parties.

The recent referendum on la Bradford's farce neatly illustrates this need: the overwhelming opposition to la Bradford's lunacy clearly transcended all political affiliations.

The Charities Commission needs to have its head examined.