The national charity regulator has revoked the charity registration of a vegan group whose protest shut down Melbourne’s CBD in April.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) announced on Tuesday following an investigation it had revoked the charity status of ‘Vegan Rising’ because the group had failed to comply with its obligations as a registered charity.
Vegan Rising was registered by the ACNC on 10 September 2017, with the purpose of preventing or relieving the suffering of animals.
ACNC Commissioner, Dr Gary Johns, said revocation of a charity’s registration was reserved for the most serious of cases.
“Our approach to regulation focuses on education and guidance first. However, when charities are unwilling to comply with their obligations, or fail to demonstrate commitment to their governance, then we will take stronger action,” he said.
“Revocation of charity registration is the most serious action the ACNC can take.
“Without its charity registration, Vegan Rising can no longer access Commonwealth charity tax concessions,” he said.
To maintain their registration, charities must report to the ACNC annually, meet the ACNC Governance Standards, continue to be not-for-profit and “have charitable purposes”.
While the revocation will be displayed on the Charity Register, the ACNC said it is prevented from publishing the findings from its investigation, or the nature of the concerns raised, due to secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act.
A protest organised by Vegan Rising shut down peak hour traffic for several hours at the intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets in April. 39 protesters were charged with obstruction, and were ordered in court to in September to each pay $100 to an animal rescue sanctuary.
In a social media post responding to the revocation Vegan Rising said it was a case of the Australian Government trying to “silence dissent”, and dismissed the reasons underpinning the ACNC’s decision as “page after page of nonsense”.
“At the heart of the excuses was that the authorities were not informed of our protest (clearly that makes effective protest impossible as we all know) and that “veganism is not in the public benefit”.
“We do not believe we have an obligation to alert anyone to our plans for protest and we know that veganism is absolutely in the public benefit.”
The group said it wrote to the ACNC saying that “expecting carnists” to critically examine and make a judgement on the many articles of evidence provided to you demonstrating veganism is in the public interest is like expecting slave owners from the deep south of America in the early 1800’s to make a judgement on whether the abolition of slavery was in the public interest.
“You are coming from a position of absolute bias and indoctrination which has blinded your judgement on the very serious issues raised which we have backed up with scientific evidence.
“All the best to you as representatives of an ever-growing totalitarian state, serving oppression of the most vulnerable humans and other animals in our society.
“Eventually, your civil liberties will also be impacted. Maybe then you will wake up.”
In comments reported by the Australian, Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said the vegans had been deregistered not because they were vegans, but because they were “idiots”.
“Right now we have militant activists seeking to put our forestry, fisheries and our livestock industries out of business,” Senator McKenzie said.
“It’s the use of causes like veganism for militant purposes that is wrong here.
“Vegans can eat all the vegetables they like — as long as they’re Australian grown
“This isn’t about their food choices, it’s about respecting everyone’s food choices.”
National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar told the Australian the decision represented a “restoration of fairness”.
“It simply doesn’t pass the pub test that radical, anti-farm groups like Vegans Rising should be afforded the taxpayer funded benefit of charity status,” Mr Mahar said.
Dr Johns urged donors to ensure they are donating to registered charities by checking the Charity Register at acnc.gov.au/findacharity.
“The ACNC must ensure the public knows when charities are not meeting their obligations,” he said.