In Re Greenpeace of New Zealand Incorporated 
NZSC 105 the Supreme Court of New Zealand has held that the
'blanket exclusion' of political purposes should no longer
be applied when determining whether a purpose is charitable. The
effect of this decision is that organisations partly engaged in
non-charitable or political activities may be able to register as
charities in New Zealand.
Greenpeace of New Zealand, an incorporated society, sought
registration as a charitable entity under Part 2 of the
Charities Act 2005. Under section 13 of the Act, societies
or institutions qualify for registration if they are
'established and maintained exclusively for charitable
The Charities Commission declined the registration as it found
that two objects of Greenpeace were not charitable. These objects
were the promotion of disarmament and peace and the promotion of
'legislation, policies, rules, regulations and plans which
further [Greenpeace's other objects] and support its
enforcement or implementation through political or judicial
processes as necessary'.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Greenpeace, finding that its
peace and disarmament purposes were broadly charitable, but
qualified its position in relation to political advocacy, stating
that such activities would not prohibit an organisation from being
a charity, as long as it was not the 'primary purpose' of
Greenpeace appealed to the Supreme Court in relation to the
restrictions placed on political advocacy by the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court considered the extent to which purposes that are
'political' can be charitable and the extent to which an
entity that engages in potentially illegal purposes can be
The Supreme Court held that:
Political and charitable purposes are not mutually exclusive in
An overarching exclusion of political purposes is unnecessary
and distracts from the underlying inquiry as to whether a purpose
is of public benefit, and thus could constitute a 'charitable
An entity that has a purpose properly characterised as illegal
will not be established and maintained exclusively for charitable
purposes. However, isolated breaches of the law, even if apparently
sanctioned by the organisation, and breaches of the law not
deliberately undertaken or coordinated by the entity are unlikely
to amount to a purpose.
Practically, this decision brings the law of New Zealand and
Australia surrounding charities more into line. The majority in the
Greenpeace case agreed with the view expressed by Kiefel J in
Aid/ Watch Inc v Commissioner of Taxation (2010) 241 CLR 539
that charitable and political purposes are not mutually exclusive.
The NZ Court appears to have gone further, stating that a political
purpose itself can be charitable, as long as it meets the required
public benefit test. Greenpeace Australia Pacific Limited is a
registered charity, and the Greenpeace Trust is endorsed as a
Deductible Gift Recipient. One of its objectives is to promote
nuclear disarmament and peace, which highlights the point that
political purposes will not automatically exclude an entity from
being eligible for tax concessions.
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