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Federal Court of Australia to test the meaning of the charity sub-type ‘public benevolent institution’

16 August 2023

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) recently agreed with the ACNC decision to refuse ‘public benevolent institution’ (PBI) status to Equality Australia.

Equality Australia argued that it qualifies as a PBI because it works to relieve distress experienced by persons who identify as LGBTQI+.

Considering the evidence provided by Equality Australia, the AAT found:

  • structural discrimination manifests in a range of discriminatory practices and experiences in the lives of many people who identify as LGBTQI+, but
  • Equality Australia was not organised to provide assistance and relief to those in distress and in need of benevolence

While the AAT was satisfied that Equality Australia was focused on advocacy in furtherance of its goal of changing laws and social practices that were injurious to LGBTQI+ persons, it was not satisfied that Equality Australia routinely provides support directly to individuals or groups beyond providing referrals, information exchanges and opportunities for connection except where that support was incidental to other activities that were directed to achievement of its primary mission.

Equality Australia, currently registered under the sub-type ‘advancing public debate’, is appealing the AAT ruling in the Federal Court of Australia. A hearing date has not been set.

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) Commissioner, Sue Woodward AM, has welcomed the opportunity for the definition of Public Benevolent Institution to be tested in the Federal Court of Australia.

For more information about this case, see The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies’ case note.