The Australian Constitution and the Aid/Watch Case

George Williams


The Australian Constitution played a significant role in underpinning the result in the Aid/Watch Case. It was invoked by the majority to support their conclusion that a body can be a ‘charitable institution’ despite engaging in political activities.

The use of the Constitution in this way came as a surprise. The case extended an existing constitutional principle relating to freedom of political communication from its electoral base into the protection of the political activities of non-government organisations. This may have future ramifications for those organisations in other areas, as well as further implications for the development of what it means to be a charity in Australia.

This article examines the use of the Australian Constitution in the Aid/Watch Case. It explains how the High Court was able to invoke the Constitution in defining what it means to be a ‘charitable institution’. It also examines the implications of that reasoning for the development of charitable law in Australia.

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