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Charities warned against playing politics

AAP logoAAP 27/10/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Charities have been warned if they become too political they could lose their tax-free status.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission has revealed it received a number of complaints during the federal election about registered charities being involved in political campaigning and advocacy.

"A number of these concerns have been reviewed and finalised, while some remain open," the commission said in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the 2016 election.

The commission, which did not go into detail about the complaints, said it would take "appropriate and proportionate action" where concerns were identified.

Just before the election was called in May, the commission issued guidelines to charities.

"Charities need to be careful not to cross the line into having a disqualifying charitable purpose and must be sure to maintain independence from party politics," the commission said.

Under charities law, an organisation can be disqualified if its purpose is to engage in, or promote, activities that are "unlawful or contrary to public policy" or "promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office".

The ABC reported last month the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria had received a letter from the ACNC seeking clarification about a campaign in which parents were reportedly urged not to vote for the Greens.

There are 54,057 registered charities in Australia employing more than 1.1 million people and generating more than $122 billion a year.

The charities commission, in its annual report released on Thursday, said it had revoked the charity status of 10 organisations over the past year after assessing concerns relating to 179 charities.

As well, one charity was given a written warning, 21 agreed on plans to address particular issues and 110 were issued "guidance materials".

Over the year the commission received 930 concerns, up 15 per cent on the previous year and a record since it began four years ago.

More than one in five concerns related to charities failing to comply with their charitable purposes - the category which covers political activity.

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