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Greenpeace NZ too big to not get charity status, lawyer says

Tuesday 4th September 2012

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Greenpeace of New Zealand, the environmental lobby group, is too big to miss out on charitable status just because the actions of a few members may be deemed illegal, the Court of Appeal heard today.

Counsel for the non-profit organisation , Davey Salmon, told Justices Rhys Harrison, Lynton Stevens and Douglas White, there was no evidence Greenpeace was engaged in illegal activities that would block it from registering as a charity. Even if some members were found to have trespassed in their non-violent action in support of Greenpeace's goals, it was a side-issue to the organisation's primary goals.

Greenpeace is challenging a High Court ruling last year upholding the decision of the now-defunct Charities Commission opposing the organisation's registration as a charity. The commission had deemed the environmental group was too political to be granted the tax-exempt status.

The commission "doesn't have enough evidence, or any evidence of illegal conduct," Salmon told the court in Wellington. "There's not enough to get anywhere near the ancillary threshold."

The bench's primary concern was whether there was evidence illegal activities had been "officially sanctioned" by Greenpeace, Justice Harrison said.

Salmon said if there was evidence of illegal conduct by a charitable entity that didn't necessarily disqualify it from keeping the status, rather it should prompt the regulator to monitor whether it still met the criteria.

Salmon told the court Greenpeace's advocacy role was within the ambit of the legislation, which was being interpreted too narrowly by the regulator, and that the reliance on references from the group's website wasn't representative of its actual work in educating the public.

Just one of Greenpeace's 45 staff had a specific role for political advocacy, much of which involved providing information at the government's request, Salmon said. That was too small and incidental for it to act as a black mark against its application, he said.

The Charities Commission's functions have since been subsumed into the Department of Internal Affairs.

The Greenpeace Educational Trust, a related entity which promotes conservation values, protects the natural environment and educates people, is a registered charity.

The hearing is set down for a day and is proceeding.

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