When talking about climate denialist organisations, key among those in Australia is the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS). Both have generated substantial public communication, which is "climate sceptical" in nature and at deviance from the consensus scientific view. Yet both organisations – particularly the IPA – and through their front groups such as the Australian Environment Foundation, have been at the forefront of promoting the idea that global warming is a conspiracy. Examples include a the recent book published by the IPA and edited by Dr Jennifer Marohasy who is working on releasing a furtehr editions.
The CIS, while not recently being a loud advocate of climate scepticism, has certainly hosted talkfests which have articulated these views.
Both organisations are also within the international Atlas Network, which channels money into groups around the world that seek to further the climate denialist and libertarian agendas. And both have registered not-for-profit status with the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC). The IPA’s registered not-for-profit is called the Trustee For Institute Of Public Affairs Research Trust, it is registed under the Income Tax Act as being a research body, while the CIS has registered a charity under the name of, The Centre For Independent Studies Ltd, not a trust but a listed company, acting like a trust.
But hang on, what is a charity/not-for-profit and what is the purpose of becoming one? The ACNC does have specific requirements, one of which is that you must be "charitable".
"Charitable purpose" under the Charities Act 2013 has a legal definition, which has been developed over the years by the courts and parliament. These purposes have changed over time and now include the following 12 categories: advancing health; advancing education; advancing social or public welfare; advancing religion; advancing culture; promoting reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance between groups of individuals that are in Australia; promoting or protecting human rights; advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public; preventing or relieving the suffering of animals; advancing the natural environment; promoting or opposing a change to any matter established by law, policy or practice in the Commonwealth, a state, a territory or another country (where that change furthers or opposes one or more of the purposes above); and other similar purposes ‘beneficial to the general public’ (a general category).
While the IPA is not strictly a 'charity' the conditions governing what determines what is a charitable purpose should still apply, as was clarified in 2014.
When looking at whether organisations seeking registration as charities have a charitable purpose, it is assumed the ACNC should have inspected the organisation’s governing documents, as well as documents relating to an 'organisation's activities, annual reports, financial statements and corporate documents'. The disclaimers the ACNC provide however are that while some activities may not seem to be charitable, they can be included if they are to 'further a charitable purpose'.
As well, '... purposes that the law recognised as charitable before the Charities Act came into effect will continue to be charitable. The charity subtypes of public benevolent institution and health promotion charity also continue[d] to be recognised.'
As both not-for-profits were registered just prior to the new Act coming into force, the IPA as a ‘public benevolent institution’ was accepted by the Charities Commission. But further clarification was required it seems. The ACNC website states that in 2012, the Commission deemed that the IPA met the requirements of being 'another purpose beneficial to the community', this beneficial purpose was updated in 2014 to be 'analogous to, or within the spirit of, any of the other charitable purposes'.
This confirms that the IPA is still required to demonstrate a charitable purpose.
The CIS was similarly assessed as having “another purpose beneficial to the community” when registered in 2012, but the January 2014 assessment of whether it complied with the new Act determined that the CIS also met requirements for 'advancing social or public welfare” and “Advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public'. The second category would probably be due to the CIS’s focus on promoting public debate on international and security issues. A topic cherished by its current president Tom Switzer on his weekly ABC Radio National program.