The vegan activist group that shut down Melbourne’s Central Business District last April causing traffic chaos during a protest on 8th April this year has lost its charity status as a result.
Vegan Rising was today stripped of its special tax status pursuant to a ruling by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) that the group’s vegan goals would have “detrimental effects on sections of the public”. In short, it ruled that “veganism is not in the public interest”.
The animal rights protests in April coincided with the one year anniversary of the release of the documentary film Dominion. The organisers felt that the documentary had effectively been ignored by the mainstream media, and so considered themselves obliged to force awareness of the documentary by other means. They certainly succeeded in that aim since the protests were front-page news in Australia for several days. In addition to causing severe disruption in Melbourne, there were also co-ordinated nationwide action including direct action in slaughterhouses and farms.
Thirty-six people were charged and taken to court for “causing an obstruction” during the Melbourne protests. They did however avoid criminal convictions. They were merely fined A$100 to go to a farm animals rescue sanctuary.
The protests were controversial leading to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling those involved as “green-collared criminals”. The government has since introduced tough new laws to protect the agricultural sector from so-called “agri-terrorists”.
Commissioner Dr Gary Johns wrote to the organisation on October 8 outlining the grounds on which the regulator had decided to revoke registration.
“Veganism is not for the public benefit”
In a letter obtained by The Age the ACNC Commissioner Dr Gary Johns said:
“Based on the facts and evidence available to me, I am of the view that the achievement of the charity’s purpose in engaging in direct action events to ultimately bring about a vegan society, which excludes all human use of animals, is not for the public benefit due to the level of detriment that would flow from its achievement.”
Dr Johns’ conclusion was that “while the goal to ensure animals would no longer be farmed for the production of food or clothing would promote benevolence towards animals, it would be detrimental to the promotion of agriculture”. Australian courts have ruled that agriculture has a public benefit, he said.
Secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act ensure that the charities commission does not have to publish the findings from its investigations. Dr Johns said the revocation of charitable registration is the “most serious action the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission can take”. On average fifteen of Australia’s 56,000 charities are struck off from the register annually.
It is submitted that there are numerous ways of defining public benefit. It would be a subject worthy of the finest minds in contemporary jurisprudence. Many would define it in particular ways with all sorts of differing nuances, and self-interests would, of course, have a bearing on the matter. The interests of the agriculture industry need to be taken into account, as do the interests of public health and the environment, whether or not the interests of animals are considered. This legal issue will undoubtedly be considered elsewhere in the future. But the lack of transparency for the ACNC’s decision is disappointing and detracts from the moral force of the conclusion.
Vegan Rising’s campaign director Kristin Leigh believes that the ACNC highlighted a lot of reasons which she believes are excuses – such as not liaising with police sufficiently and paperwork not being fully in order.
“We were apparently meant to note every planning conversation in the lead up to this action … any kind of documentation we did of any planning would have shut down the protest in advance before it happened. We had to be careful in communication” said Ms Leigh.
“The action was very safe, peaceful and planned out. Safety was communicated and considered in planning.
“We are adamant that this decision by the ACNC has been made for two reasons only: to silence dissent from those who are being effective in challenging the status quo, and to protect the institutions who profit from the suffering and destruction of our planet and its vulnerable inhabitants, both human and other animals,” she said.
“The core reason at the heart of revoking our charity status is the claim that veganism is not in the public benefit. Our evidence challenges this position.”
Vegan Rising will no longer benefit from charity tax concessions. Its charitable purpose on registration in September 2017 was “preventing or relieving the suffering of animals”.
The former charity raised $12,390 in donations last year.
Ms Leigh said no longer being “bogged down by ACNC paperwork” will allow the group more time to spend “doing the work that needs to be done. We are not surprised and we certainly won’t be stopping”.