With legislation going before the House of Representatives yesterday to repeal the charities commission, this morning I spoke to reporters in the Press Gallery to defend the important work of the ACNC. Here's the transcript:
THURSDAY, 20 MARCH 2013
SUBJECT/S: Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission; FOFA and Arthur Sinodinos; Qantas sale.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Amidst their so-called 'Repeal Day' the Coalition brought forward the repeal of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission. I say brought forward because the Coalition promised consultation: a consultation paper in February and extensive discussions with the sector. We haven't seen any of that and that's why more than 40 charities signed an open letter to the Government calling on them to rethink the scrapping of the charities commission.
The charities commission is important for donors who are vulnerable to door-to-door scams, if there isn't an agency to report them to. It's vital to the sector which appreciates the work the charities commission does. That's why organisations as diverse as Save the Children, Lifeline, Hillsong Church, the RSPCA, and the Myer Foundation are calling on the Government to trash their laws to get rid of the charities commission and to hang on an organisation that's supported by the sector.
I've heard people say the sector is split on this. It’s true. The sector is split on this. Four out of five charities support the charities commission. 94 per cent want the responsibilities to stay with the charities commission. Six per cent want them to go back to the tax office. So if the Government didn't have a tin ear for consultation and if this process wasn't being led by a Minister who's much more driven by ideology than good public policy then they wouldn't be pursuing this at all. They ought to put it aside and if they're serious about scrapping red tape, hang on to a one-stop shop that's working to reduce red tape for charities.
I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Why shouldn't that be the responsibility of the ATO?
LEIGH: Well, it was the responsibility of the ATO for some time and then a Productivity Commission inquiry and the Henry Tax Review recommended that having a one-stop shop for charities was a smarter approach. I haven't heard anyone say a bad word about Susan Pascoe who runs the ACNC.
Many charities have spoken to me about how much they appreciate an agency that gets their sector, that understand their complexities. Let's face it, if you're in danger of being ripped off by one of the thankfully, very few scammers going door to door, posing as charities, then you want an ACNC, just as corporate investors want an organisation like ASIC looking after their interests.
JOURNALIST: Unions are in town today. They concede that if Qantas can make a guarantee about Australian jobs they might be supportive of the Qantas Sale Act. Is Labor of a similar frame of mind?
LEIGH: Labor hasn't changed our view. We don't believe the Flying Kangaroo should be sold off.
JOURNALIST: There's no wriggle room, no room for negotiations in this?
LEIGH: We're certainly open to conversations around the Government providing a debt guarantee. But our view is that the Flying Kangaroo should not be sold off to overseas interests and I think that's a view that broadly shared in the Australian community. Certainly in my street stalls and conversations in the community, I don't have many people come out to me saying the real public policy problem in Australia is that Labor won't agree to sell off Qantas to foreign interests.
JOURNALIST: Dr Leigh, is the Labor Party taking the same approach that Tony Abbott did in Opposition? Is there any evidence to the contrary?
LEIGH: Well in this case, we're saying yes to positive reforms. The charities commission is a reform which is broadly supported by the Australian community and the naysaying approach, the back-to-the-future approach is to say let's throw it to one side and go back to the hodgepodge of regulation that we had. We're taking a positive approach.
We believe that the charities commission is the right thing. On the Future of Financial Advice. We're again taking a positive approach and we're standing on the side of consumers rather than on the sides of a couple of vested interests in the planning industry who are saying they want to get rid of the best interest test.
JOURNALIST: This case of a $200,000 donation to Kevin Rudd, this seems pretty curious. What's going on there?
LEIGH: I don't know any more about that than you. I'm sure the Queensland branch of the Labor Party will do the right thing.
JOURNALIST: Would you agree that Arthur Sinodinos was seen as one of the good guys in this place?
LEIGH: Arthur Sinodinos stepping down is a matter for him. The question, that I think it now highlights is whether or not the Government ought to be rushing through financial planning legislation that is opposed not only by consumer groups but also by the Financial Planning Association. It's a pretty unique configuration, to annoy both consumers and financial planners. Given that Senator Sinodinos is no longer having carriage of that I think it would be appropriate to pull that legislation from the parliament.
JOURNALIST: Wouldn't Labor be happy that it’s claimed its first ministerial scalp from the Abbott Government?
LEIGH: Our focus is on getting good public policy. I think that as a result of Senator Sinodinos stepping down we need to now look to whether it's really appropriate for the Government to be rushing ahead with these anti-consumer changes to the financial planning legislation. Thanks everyone.
JOURNALIST: Thank you.
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