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Territory Govt leads the way, working with the ACNC to benefit charities – Press conference transcript

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

PRESS CONFERENCE
CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 16 APRIL 2014

SUBJECT/S: ACT Government working with the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission to help charities.

FEDERAL ASSISTANT SHADOW TREASURER, ANDREW LEIGH: Thank you everyone for coming along. I’m Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, and I’m here with ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr, Mike Zissler from Lifeline, and Lyn Harwood from Communities@Work. We are here at [Lifeline shopfront] Hipsley Lane to talk about the importance of Canberra charities and the importance of reducing the paper work burden. When Labor was in government we put in place in 2012 the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission. One of the aims of that Commission was to reduce reporting duplication that charities face; to allow those charities to spend less time doing paperwork and more time helping the vulnerable. We’ve now found that as a result of the ACT ceding its reporting requirements to the ACNC, Canberra charities could save $2 million dollars. So, I’m calling on the Abbott Government to back the ACNC, to support Canberra charities and to get out of the way and reduce the paper work on our great Canberra charities. I’ll hand over to Andrew [Barr].

Continue reading ‘Territory Govt leads the way, working with the ACNC to benefit charities – Press conference transcript’ »

Talking budgets and pensions with Steve Price on 2GB

I joined Steve Price on 2GB to discuss how Joe Hockey has doubled the deficit, by scrapping sensible tax measures – and why it would be unjust for Prime Minister Abbott to break his promise to pensioners. Here’s a podcast.

Sky News with Helen Dalley

I joined presenter Helen Dalley on Sky News to discuss the fact that the Abbott Government has doubled the deficit since coming to office, and now looks set to breach its pension promise.

International experts praise Australia’s charities commission – Thursday, 10 April 2014

This afternoon I issued a media release that further strengthens the case to keep the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission. Experts in Australia for the 6th International Charity Regulators Conference and Forum have praised the work of the new regulator and challenged claims that it is heavy handed and tying organisations in red-tape.

ANDREW LEIGH MP

SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER

SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION

MEMBER FOR FRASER

MEDIA RELEASE

International praise for threatened national charities commission

International charity experts gathering in Melbourne and Sydney this week have praised Australia’s first but threatened national charity regulator for its strong and positive reputation in the sector and high compliance rates.

Experts visiting Australia for the 6th International Charity Regulators Forum have also challenged Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews’ view that the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) is heavy handed and tying organisations in red-tape.

Chief Legal Officer with the Charities Commission based in London, Kenneth Dibble, said the ACNC has had “extraordinary” success just 18 month since its inception:

“Introducing new regulations from scratch requires persuasion, good will and real interaction with charities and not for profits.  The ACNC has a mature relationship with the sector as a standalone regulator outside of the revenue office. It is flexible and sensitive to its constituency’s needs in a way that allows the sector to thrive. In such a short time the ACNC has commanded such respect from the sector. It’s very impressive.” – Kenneth Dibble, Chief Legal Officer, Charities Commission (for England and Wales)

Continue reading ‘International experts praise Australia’s charities commission – Thursday, 10 April 2014’ »

National Press Club address – Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat – Thursday, 27 March 2014

Addressing the National Press Club, I talked about a generation of rising inequality, how the Abbott Government’s policies will affect inequality and the importance of maintaining Australia’s egalitarian ethos (download audio; iTunes podcast):

ANDREW LEIGH MP
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION
MEMBER FOR FRASER

Battlers and Billionaires: Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat*

National Press Club Address

THURSDAY, 27 MARCH 2014

CANBERRA

In 2002, two bombs exploded in Bali nightclubs, killing and injuring hundreds of people. At the local hospital, there was a shortage of painkillers. Graeme Southwick, an Australian doctor on duty, asked patients to assess their own pain levels. He kept being told by patients in the ‘Australian’ ward that they were okay – the person next to them was suffering more.

Coming across this account, historian John Hirst was reminded of the description of injured Australians in Gallipoli nearly a century earlier. He quotes the official war historian Charles Bean, who describes the suffering and then says, ‘Yet the men never showed better than in these difficulties. The lightly hurt were full of thought for the severely wounded.’

Even in the midst of their own pain, the first instinct of many Australians was to think of those worse off than themselves.

Continue reading ‘National Press Club address – Australian Egalitarianism Under Threat – Thursday, 27 March 2014’ »

They know what they’re against, but what are they for?

ANDREW LEIGH MP

SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER

SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION

MEMBER FOR FRASER

MEDIA RELEASE

KEVIN ANDREWS KNOWS WHAT HE’S AGAINST, BUT NOT WHAT HE’S FOR

The Social Services Minister – determined to reject the views of the charities sector and trash the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) – has no plan for the sector.

Minister Kevin Andrews’ Bill reads like a media alert more than a serious piece of legislation.

The ACNC Repeal Bill (Part 1) offers no transitional arrangements for a sector that employs a million people. There are no details of a successor agency.

This is a purely symbolic gesture, added to by the fact that debate on the Bill won’t take place this coming week as expected.

The Explanatory Memorandum states this Bill “will not take effect until the enactment of a later Bill, which will provide the details of the arrangements replacing the Commission”.

Alarmingly, the Minister gives himself the power to determine the successor agency without parliamentary approval. If the Minister won’t trust the public with his plans, why should parliament entrust him with the power to do as he wishes?

The Bill does nothing but create greater uncertainty for a pivotal sector at the heart of our communities.

The Minister appears without vision or heart for the charities that work for Australia’s vulnerable. There are nearly 60,000 charities registered with the ACNC.

Four of out five charities surveyed want to keep the ACNC. These include Save the Children, St John Ambulance Australia, the Ted Noffs Foundation, RSPCA, The Sidney Myer Fund & the Myer Foundation, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Volunteering Australia, Lifeline, ACOSS, SANE Australia, Musica Viva Australia, Hillsong Church, Social Ventures Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, the YMCA, the Wesley Mission and the Queensland Theatre Company.

The explanatory memorandum says the ACNC was established to be a single reporting point for charities and claims that this “has not eventuated”.  But in just over a year, the agency has won strong support in the sector, and its red tape reduction directorate is working on reducing unnecessary reporting by charities.

The Government claims to be reducing red tape. But abolishing the ACNC will increase the red tape burden on charities.

SUNDAY, 23 MARCH 2014

DOORSTOP Transcript – Thursday, 20 March 2014

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:

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

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.

Continue reading ‘DOORSTOP Transcript – Thursday, 20 March 2014’ »

Does Size Matter? An Economic Perspective on the Population Debate

My speech at the Lowy Institute looks at population size, immigration flows and refugee policy.

Does Size Matter? An Economic Perspective on the Population Debate*

Lowy Institute
13 March 2014

Andrew Leigh
Shadow Assistant Treasurer
Federal Member for Fraser
www.andrewleigh.com

I’ve wanted to say something about this rather controversial topic for a long time. Now that I take to the podium, I can’t help thinking of an epitaph Dorothy Parker penned for her gravestone: ‘Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.’

A great epitaph for a writer. Perhaps not so much for a politician. Nevertheless, I hope what follows shows that my belief in evidence is stronger than my desire to avoid tough questions.

If there’s one thing that’s really big in the population size debate, it’s the size of the scare campaigns made by both sides.

A big Australia, one side tells us, is a ‘catastrophe’[1] that ‘risks destroying our traditions and even our common language’.[2] Immigration has ‘undermined our higher education system, [and] put intolerable pressure on an overstretched health and transport system’.[3] Some go further, blaming ‘limp-wristed citizenship requirements’ for ‘ethnic crime waves sweeping across our nation, where samurai swords and machetes have become part of the media lexicon’.[4]

Not to be outdone, the other side of the debate argue that: ‘Putting caps on growth would turn Australia into a stagnant, ageing and inward-looking country – a basket case to rival the declining states of Europe.’[5] Some have warned that if population growth is too slow, the share market would stagnate, small businesses would be unable to fund their ventures, taxes would rise, and debt would balloon.[6]

Continue reading ‘Does Size Matter? An Economic Perspective on the Population Debate’ »

SPEECH – Axing charities regulator will hurt consumers – 4 March 2014

Last night I spoke in the Parliament about how Australia’s  first independent charities regulator is providing an important service to consumers and donors. Scrapping the Australian Charities and Not For Profits Commission will make members of the public more vulnerable to charity scams.

DR ANDREW LEIGH: In November last year police in Mackay alerted local residents to a scam that was taking place. Residents around Andergrove in the southern suburbs reported people doorknocking, posing as collectors for Autism Queensland. They were attempting to get bank details from vulnerable residents. Autism Queensland had no collectors in the area.

This story of scammers posing as charitable collectors is sadly not an isolated incident.

Last month, ABC’s 7.30 uncovered a children’s education charity which had received nearly $1 million in donations but could not or would not say where some of those funds have gone. In other developments, scammers targeted Australian households last year with emails asking people to donate to phony bushfire appeals.

I am passionate about standing up for consumers and I know my friend and colleague the shadow parliamentary secretary to the shadow Treasurer is too. If we are to stand up for the interests of consumers then we need an organisation that will report dodgy dealings by charities, and that organisation is the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

Continue reading ‘SPEECH – Axing charities regulator will hurt consumers – 4 March 2014’ »

Youth Connections

I spoke in parliament today about the Youth Connections program, delivered in the ACT by Anglicare, which faces the prospect of cuts this year.

Youth Connections, 3 March 2014

I rise today to applaud Youth Connections, a national youth education program which is delivered in my electorate by Anglicare and to urge the federal government to continue to fund it. At this stage it is uncertain whether there will be funds beyond this year for the Youth Connections youth education program to continue. Youth Connections is designed to keep young people engaged in high school. It offers a flexible service which keeps them in school and on the road to meaningful and decently-paid work.

Take the story of Alice. When Alice moved with her family to Canberra at the age of 12 she found it difficult to make friends at school. She was bullied severely and eventually stopped going to school. Suffering from depression, she started taking harmful drugs, ran away from home and fell pregnant. She found safe shelter in a refuge. Faced with the prospect of becoming a young mother, Alice sought help from Youth Connections. She joined the program, and they provided essential baby items, helped to transport her to medical appointments and—after the birth of her daughter—assisted with domestic violence issues and court proceedings.

Continue reading ‘Youth Connections’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Zero public consultation as Govt prepares to scap Charities Commission – Friday 28 February

Last Friday, I issued a media release about my concerns that Minister Kevin Andrews has little regard for the views and experiences of charities who overwhelmingly want to keep the ACNC.

ANDREW LEIGH MP

SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER

SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION

MEMBER FOR FRASER

MEDIA RELEASE

Friday, 28 February 2014

ZERO CONSULTATION AS GOVERNMENT PREPARES TO SCRAP CHARITIES COMMISSION

Senate Estimates hearings this week confirm that the Abbott Government’s promise to consult charities about its plans to abolish the charities regulator is hollow.

Minister Kevin Andrews promised charities a discussion paper on the future of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission by the end of January and a formal consultation process beginning this month.

It’s the end of February and nothing has happened.

The Minister has stopped listening and does not care to listen.

Continue reading ‘MEDIA RELEASE – Zero public consultation as Govt prepares to scap Charities Commission – Friday 28 February’ »

A National Approach on Dangerous Dogs

I spoke in parliament today on the need for a national approach to reducing the harm done by dangerous dogs in our community (and here’s a podcast of me talking about it on ABC 666):

Dangerous Dogs, 27 February 2014

More often than we like we are confronted by the hurt, loss, guilt and confusion that bleeds out through families and communities after a fatal dog attack.

Three years ago in Victoria a group of children were playing in their front garden. At the same time, a neighbour’s hunting dog had found its way free from its yard. The dog was agitated by the activity and noises of the children, and its instincts took over. It began to stalk the children. As they ran from it, it pursued them into the family home. When the mother of one of the children tried to fight it off, the dog focused its attack on her four-year-old daughter. Unfazed by the mother’s efforts to drive it off, the dog began to maul the young girl; the mother was helpless. It was only when the child stopped struggling that the attack began to subside. Then the dog returned calmly to the yard. Paramedics soon attended, but only to take the dead child from her home. They would later reassure the mother that her daughter’s death had been quick.

Continue reading ‘A National Approach on Dangerous Dogs’ »

SPEECH – Transparency essential to grow the charity sector – 13 February, 2014

Yesterday in the House of Representatives I raised concern about the Government’s intention to abolish the charities regulator.

AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT HOUSE

MEMBERS’ 90 SECOND STATEMENT

THURSDAY, 13 FEBRUARY, 2014

Dr ANDREW LEIGH: An alarming story on the 7:30 Report last night highlighted the need to keep the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. The ABC uncovered a children’s education charity which has received nearly $1 million in donations but cannot or will not say where some of the funds have gone. The ACNC shines a light on bad behaviour in the sector as well as strengthening charities and celebrating exemplary work.

The Australian public deserves and needs a charities regulator that provides them with confidence in the charities they donate to and receive services from and provide tax deductions to. Why can’t this government understand that transparency and accountability are keys to the growth of the charity sector in Australia?

The fact is that the government has a tin ear for dialogue with the charitable sector. In wishing to abolish the commission, Minister Andrews is going against the vast majority of informed voices in the sector, four out of five of whom want to keep the ACNC.

The sector supports an independent regulator as a one-stop shop to strengthen charities, grow their profile, harmonise fundraising law and reduce red tape over time and, despite the government’s rhetoric about red tape, the reverse is true. The government should be working to support charities and charities deserve better than a back-to-the-future approach.

OPINION – Charities regulator working well and must stay – Thursday, 13 February 2014

ProBono Australia News this morning published my opinion piece on why the Abbott Government would be foolish to axe the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. The online news service also produced a story confirming that Commission staff have been offered voluntary redundancies as part of a major public service jobs cutting move by the Tax Office.

OPINION PIECE

Government Should Keep the Australian Charities Commission

Over recent weeks, we’ve heard a lot from the Abbott Government about the need for transparency and accountability. These are worthy values; the public interest is rarely served by secrecy and the lack of a proper complaints process.

So it is surprising that those who believe in open government want to abolish the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC): a body that handles complaints and ensures charities are transparent and accountable.

For decades, independent reports have made the case for an independent ACNC. It was after all a 2001 Howard Government report that concluded a Commission would provide “a clear and consistent accountability framework…to maintain and enhance public confidence in the integrity of charities and related entities”.

Created by Federal Labor, the ACNC is functioning well and in the public interest, actively working to protect public trust and confidence in charities. It has registered 2000 new charities in the past year, in addition to 58,000 existing organisations. And just as lawyers and doctors’ professional associations maintain their standing by investigating complaints, so too the Commission plays a similar role by looking into allegations of bad behaviour by charities.

Continue reading ‘OPINION – Charities regulator working well and must stay – Thursday, 13 February 2014’ »

Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 February

This morning I joined Fairfax Media host Chris Hammer and Brisbane-based Liberal MP Andrew Laming to congratulate Terri Butler on her bi-election win in Griffith against a high profile rival.

ANDREW LEIGH

SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER

SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION

MEMBER FOR FRASER

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

INTERVIEW
BREAKING POLITICS – FAIRFAX MEDIA

MONDAY, 10 February

SUBJECT/S: Terri Butler’s win in Griffith; Building industry corruption; Federal Budget.

CHRIS HAMMER: Tony Abbott’s Government has faced its first electoral test on the weekend with the Griffith by-election. It seems Labor has retained the seat, Kevin Rudd’s old seat but that there has been a slight swing towards the Coalition. So that’s left both sides of politics claiming vindication. We’re joined in the studio now by Andrew Laming who has a seat nearby in Brisbane and Andrew Leigh who’s from Canberra. Andrew Laming can I start with you? Give us your spill. Why is this a vindication for the Coalition?

ANDREW LAMING: Well it’s remarkable that the two results, last year and the by-election are so close. I think what commentators is that we’ve seen a departing Prime Minister and with him goes a certain personal vote and I think that’s simply compensated for what would have been a swing to an opposition during a by-election. It’s hard to quantify Kevin Rudd’s impact on that seat over the decade or so that he was there. But certainly replacing him was a great challenge for the Labor Party. They’ve managed to do that. They’ve managed to hold as close as they could to their vote last year. I think they’re the main factors; the departure of an ex-Prime Minister and of course, the typical by-election swing that should run against a government.

HAMMER: So are you saying this is a good result for Labor?

LAMING: Well yes. Actually, I am. I’m saying both parties campaigned very hard. This became the Somme, a World War One battle front. The fact that we got an almost identical front just shows that both parties through everything at it and I think, if you’ve got a departing Prime Minister, it’s usually pretty hard to hold your vote and Labor’s almost managed to do that.

HAMMER: Okay, Andrew Leigh, well Andrew Laming has been a bit counter-intuitive here and said it’s a good result for Labor. Your turn, is it a good result for the Coalition?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I think Andrew Laming has been appropriately generous to Terri Butler who won on the weekend, as I think we always ought to do after an election. It leaves Andrew now as the only doctor in the House, the only person with medical qualifications in the House of Representatives. Terri will be a great addition to the team – two young kids and a lawyer in a national law firm – somebody who is keen to work with people of different ideological views, which is I think what you really want in a parliamentarian, somebody who doesn’t just come in wanting to knock heads together, but actually build a better country for everyone.

Continue reading ‘Breaking Politics – Transcript – Monday, 10 February’ »

MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott Government Should Keep the Charities Regulator – 6 February

This morning I issued a media release affirming the value of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission after the release of an ill-informed report into the commission by a conservative think-tank.

ANDREW LEIGH

SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER

SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION

MEMBER FOR FRASER

MEDIA RELEASE

The Abbott Government Should Keep the Australian Charities Commission

Labor rejects the assertions in a Centre for Independent Studies report that the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC) should be scrapped.

The ACNC was created to ensure minimum levels of transparency and accountability in the sector. The Commission is actively working to protect public trust and confidence in Australian charities and not-for-profits.

Feedback from large and respected organisations confirm that the ACNC has been reasonable, responsive and accommodating in its dealings with them.

The CIS report calls for increased transparency at the same time as attacking the very body that is promoting transparency in the not-for-profit sector.

Continue reading ‘MEDIA RELEASE – Abbott Government Should Keep the Charities Regulator – 6 February’ »

As a Coalition Report Noted, “Australia is a Low-Tax Country”

My op-ed today debunks claims that Australia is a high-taxing, high-spending nation.

Statistics on Spending Cut Tax Claims Down to Size, Canberra Times and Fairfax Online, 6 February 2014

Last week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott alleged that the ABC was unpatriotic. This week, the ABC’s Fact Check unit found that claims by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews were wrong. Put the two together, and you can’t help wondering if Mr Abbott’s next step will be to declare that facts are unAustralian.

But much as we can all get a chuckle from the Abbott Government’s media strategy, it’s the substance of Mr Andrews’ assertion that bears scrutiny. He described Australia’s welfare system as ‘not sustainable’, and warned of a European-style fiscal crunch within a decade.

Mr Andrews’ isn’t the only one making dodgy claims about the size of government. Speaking at a Senate inquiry last month, Commission of Audit chairman Tony Shepherd said that Australia’s budget involved ‘unsustainable largesse’, and that his Commission is examining ‘the size and scope of government’. Their remit is simple: cut government spending.

Rather than pursue an ideological agenda, the Abbott Government would do well to start with the evidence on how Australia’s government compares. In 2006, Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello requested a rundown on how Australia’s tax system compares with those in other countries. The report (co-authored by Peter Hendy, now a Liberal MP), concluded simply: ‘Australia is a low-tax country’. It pointed out that we have no wealth, estate, inheritance or gift taxes. For individuals, the report found that we have one of the lowest income tax burdens in the developed world.

Continue reading ‘As a Coalition Report Noted, “Australia is a Low-Tax Country”’ »

Bringing charities into the modern age – Opinion – 14 January, 2014

Today The Guardian published my opinion piece on reform Labor is proud of that defines and broadens the meaning of charity and charitable purpose.

The Abbott government shouldn’t drag charity back to the 17th century

This year the Charities Act, championed by federal Labor, will modernise our country’s definition of charity. Social services minister Kevin Andrews’ efforts to halt it should be scrutinised

The Abbott government has so far been in the business of looking in the rear view mirror rather than ahead. On everything from the national school curriculum to mining taxation and emissions trading, this is a government which is busy undoing, rather than doing. Another reform the Coalition has recently tried to sneakily unpick is Labor’s reforms to bring Australian charities law into the modern age.

People have always grappled with the meaning of charity and the practice of it. The concept – taken from the Latin and Greek to mean “unlimited loving-kindness to all others” – was linked to hope and faith by the Apostle Paul in the first century; it is also one of the five pillars of Islam. Philosophers and the laity have long tussled with what it means to be charitable; a common image of the practice of charity is of grey soup kitchens in the Dickensian era offering emergency relief for those beaten by hunger. But that image is now dated.

Australian governments have also had to grapple with the meaning of charity, because generous tax concessions are applied to organisations deemed to do charitable work. To decide which ones are eligible, governments in the past have relied on 400 years of case law to define a charity. It has resulted in confusion and costly court cases aimed at getting clarity about the meaning of modern-day charity and charitable purpose.

From the start of this year the Charities Act, championed by federal Labor, came into effect to change all that. It sets out in statute, a historic and uniform definition of “charity” to avoid the ambiguity of the past and to recognise the diversity and vibrancy of a sector that employs more than a million people. It is a sensible development, and the result of years of genuine consultation. Governments, regulators and the broader community will find it easier to define when a charity is a charity and when it is not. The Charities Act clarifies that to be a recognised as a charity, an organisation must be not-for-profit, have only charitable purposes that are for the public benefit, not have a disqualifying purpose and not be an individual, a political party or a government agency.

Modern Australian charities see the need and the cause, and so seek to build capacity and change systems that create disadvantage. The Act restates the existing (judge-made) law in plain English and also recognises charitable purposes such as the protection of human rights, the promotion of reconciliation and tolerance, and by recognising that many modern charities advance causes by preventing, educating, researching and raising awareness. In consultations, many charitable organisations have welcomed the Act’s broad support of advocacy.

Organisations that promote philanthropy say the reform will generate a new era of strong growth for charitable giving in Australia. The money foundations spend on legal advice to work out what they can legitimately fund can now be better spent on organisations doing good and lasting work, including action for the environment and human rights.

The reform also resolves a number of anomalies which stymied particular charities. For instance, the definition of disaster relief has been expanded to enable charities to go beyond the relief of individual distress after a disaster, by including rebuilding, repairing or securing not-for-profit community assets after a disaster. The legislation retains the flexibility inherent in the common law that enables the courts, as well as parliament, to continue to develop and extend the definition to other charitable purposes judged beneficial to Australians over time.

Disappointingly, last year social services minister Kevin Andrews hurriedly sought, without consultation, to delay the introduction of the Charities Act until September 2014, stealthily inserting an amendment to an omnibus bill that would have scuttled the change were it not for the Opposition and minor parties in the Senate.

The sector fought hard for the Charities Bill 2013 and was conceivably alarmed that Andrews sought to delay the new definition and keep charities stuck in the 17th century. During a committee hearing late last year World Vision Australia CEO and Community Council of Australia chair Tim Costello gave evidence that the sector was very surprised by the government’s attempt to take Australian charities back four centuries. “This new definition is extraordinarily important for all of us. With the consultations and over 200 submissions made, I have not heard of anyone in the sector who was troubled by this definition,” Costello said.

And yet the reform is not out of trouble. Andrews may well seek to again scrap or amend the charity definition when the new Senate is in place after 1 July 2014. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us, given his determination to abolish many Australian charities amid a raft of repeals (environment advocacy charities especially appear to be in his sights).

We hope the government does not take us back to Howard-era gag clauses. Andrews appears deaf to the sector’s aspirations and hopes of making a difference with a regulatory framework that supports them.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/14/the-abbott-government-shouldnt-drag-charity-back-to-the-17th-century

Sky AM Agenda – 16 December 2013

On Sky AM Agenda, I joined host Kieran Gilbert and Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield to discuss the Coalition’s excuses for blowing out the budget, and whether Liberal Party MPs will be given the freedom to vote their conscience on same-sex marriage.

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW

SKY AM AGENDA WITH KIERAN GILBERT

MONDAY, 16 DECEMBER 2013

SUBJECT/S: Budget Update, DisabilityCare, Same-Sex Marriage

Continue reading ‘Sky AM Agenda – 16 December 2013’ »

Homelessness BBQ

This week, I spoke in parliament about a barbecue for the homeless at the Canberra Early Morning Centre.

Homelessness BBQ, 5 December 2013

On 26 November 2013 it was my pleasure with Team Leigh volunteers to put on a barbecue at the Canberra Early Morning Centre, as part of Social Inclusion Week. Social Inclusion Week, created by Jonathon Welch, aims to ensure that all Australians feel included and valued. It is about connecting local communities, workmates, family and friends and addressing isolation, loneliness and homelessness.

Continue reading ‘Homelessness BBQ’ »

Abbott Government to increase red tape on charities

This afternoon I issued a release about the Government’s disdainful treatment of the Not-for-Profit sector as it prepares to axe the charity regulator.

MEDIA RELEASE

Abbott Government to increase red tape on charities

Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh says the Abbott Government has a tin ear for genuine dialogue with the charitable sector which overwhelmingly wants to keep the first national charity regulator.

Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews, said today that he’ll seek to axe Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) with repeal legislation to be introduced into the Parliament early next year.

“At the same time the Minister said he’ll listen to the sector. How patronising,” said Dr Leigh.

“The ACNC is the result of years of consultation and listening by Labor to the Not-for-Profit sector.

Continue reading ‘Abbott Government to increase red tape on charities’ »

Abbott puts local projects in limbo – 30 November 2013

MEDIA RELEASE

ABBOTT GOVERNMENT PUTS LOCAL PROJECTS AT RISK

Local organisations are at risk of losing thousands of dollars in Commonwealth funding because of the Abbott Government cuts to the Building Multicultural Communities Program.

These grants were awarded under proper procedures and were fully funded in the 2013-14 Budget.  All successful recipients were notified of their successful application for funding and were expecting that funding to be released.

“Funding to community organisations in my electorate of Fraser is being cut by the Abbott Government,” said Andrew Leigh.

“These are organisations that empower communities to embrace the benefits of multiculturalism and maintain cohesive and socially inclusive neighbourhoods.”

“This is about supporting multiculturalism and organisations that are the backbone of local communities. Supporting racial equality should be above politics,” Dr Leigh said.

Local organisations that are at risk of losing funding include the Gungahlin Jets (planning a facility upgrade), Spielwelt German Parents Association (scout hall and preschool upgrade in in Belconnen) and the ACT Migrant and Refugee Settlement Service.

Dr Leigh said that Departmental officials are informing local organisations that their funding is now under review, despite the fact that the Government tabled the list of approved grants in the Parliament this month.

“There is no reason to cut these grants. They were awarded under proper procedures and were fully funded in the 2013-14 Budget.”

“Kevin Andrews is the Minister with responsibility; he should immediately release these funds without delay to these deserving organisations and let them get on with the job of serving our community.”

Saturday, 30 NOVEMBER 2013

Media release – Charities regulator hit by Abbott axe – 21 November

In my capacity as Shadow Assistant Treasuer I issued a media release today expressing Labor’s disappointment and concern that the Abbott Government will abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. Charities across Australia with services and programs spanning all aspects of community life including  health, education, housing and homelessness will no longer have an independent national regulator to enhance public trust and confidence in the sector and reduce red tape.

MEDIA RELEASE

ABBOTT GOVERNMENT’S CUTS TO HIT AUSTRALIAN CHARITIES

The Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, has condemned the Abbott Government’s plans to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC).

“The ACNC is a one-stop shop, aiming to be a single clearinghouse for all interactions charities have with government. The ACNC is an essential reform to strengthen the sector’s transparency and governance and remove unnecessary red tape,” Dr Leigh said.

“The Abbott Government says it’s open for business but is forcing charities to spend less time getting on with the job and more time on paperwork.

Continue reading ‘Media release – Charities regulator hit by Abbott axe – 21 November’ »

Labor’s legacy & broken Coalition promises

I delivered a speech in the House of Representatives today – what’s called an ‘Address in Reply’ in response to the Government’s opening speech – exploring Labor’s strong economic and policy legacy. I  urged the ALP to remain the party of big  ideas and one underpinned by key principles of fairness, inclusion and equality and I lamented the Abbott Government’s early and disappointing broken promises. Here’s the full text thanks to Hansard.

Can I congratulate the members for Bass and Corangamite on the passion with which they have delivered their first speeches and hope that they will serve their constituencies with the same energy and passion as their predecessors did.

I want to begin my remarks today with the stories of two constituents of mine: Carol and Denise. Denise has a 21-year-old son, Tim, with Down syndrome. She regularly has to prove his eligibility for a modest Centrelink payment and work within a system that has not been working for her and has not been working for Tim. Tim’s chromosomes are not going to change, but the old system required her to prove that. DisabilityCare will change that.

Then there is 48-year-old Carol, who works as a cleaner. Despite working on Sundays to earn some overtime she still earns less than $37,000 a year. Carol is not alone. A lot of low-income workers in cleaning, aged care, retail and hospitality are not full time and they are predominantly women. The removal of the low-income superannuation contribution will affect 3.6 million Australians and two-thirds of them are women. All of them, like Carol, work hard to make ends meet. They are the mothers who work part time because they are looking after young children. For them, saving for later in life is not a tax strategy.

DisabilityCare and the low-income superannuation contribution demonstrate how Labor take the initiative to defend those who are doing it tough. Labor are the party of ideas and we are the party of reform, the party with the courage to make the big decisions when they are needed. As the opposition leader said at this year’s Fraser lecture:

‘We’re the dreamers, doers and fighters.

‘We have ideas, and … we’re prepared to fight to make them a reality.’

I agree. Only the Labor Party is prepared to fight for a fair go for all and shoulder the responsibility for reform. Only Labor knows that reform must balance economic imperatives with social need and hope. I am sorry to say that that is in stark contrast to the approach of the Abbott government. We have already seen how quick they are to protect sympathetic vested interests and how much quicker they are to slug those doing it tough.

The Treasurer would have you believe that drastic action has to be taken because of the economic legacy left by Labor. Over the next few weeks we are doubtless going to hear, time and time again, what a terrible state the economy is in. Before the Treasurer attempts to airbrush recent history, let’s take a sober and sensible look at the economy that the government have inherited and what they have done with it so far. That look has to recognise the simple, fundamental truth. The government have inherited economic statistics and public finances that are better than those of almost any country in the developed world.

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Talking economics with Arthur Sinodinos – 12 November 2013

On parliament’s first day back, I joined Jonathan Green and Arthur Sinodinos to discuss taxation, the RBA, government debt and inequality on ABC RN Drive. (as well as to say nice things about one another). Here’s a podcast. The transcript is below.

JONATHAN GREEN: Welcome to you both.

ANDREW LEIGH: Good day Jonathan.

ARTHUR SINODINOS: Thanks.

GREEN: Well you’re back. How does it feel?

LEIGH: Well it’s exciting. Andrew Leigh here, I was particularly excited that Arthur and I got to have parallel roles once more. I think that was, of all the changes of responsibilities, the bit I enjoyed the most. The symmetry of what I think Walleed Aly called the two knights.

GREEN: Very nice indeed.

SINODINOS: Absolutely.

GREEN: Arthur Sinodinos.

SINODINOS: We’re living in a parallel universe Jonathan.

GREEN: In so many ways.

LEIGH: But for me Jonathan there is something genuinely nice about shadowing somebody who personally I respect a great deal.

SINODINOS: And vice versa. Anyway.

GREEN: I’m glad to hear the love in the room. Clearly the kinder, gentler Parliament is off to a flying start. Arthur Sinodinos why can’t we see the figures that demonstrate the need for this rather large lift in the debt ceiling?

SINODINOS: You will Jonathan. You will see them in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which will be out before Christmas. I think the Treasurer has already been pretty transparent about the reasons for this. I think Labor, when it put down its last budget in May, should have been prepared to have another debate on the debt limit then and raised it then. And the reason we’re raising it now, is because we need to accommodate, on Treasury advice and the advice of the Office of Financial Management, is the increase in debt that’s required given the budgetary settings that we have at the moment and to take into account potential fluctuations in the amount of debt that will be needed to finance Government activity within the year as well. The advice…

GREEN: Andrew Leigh, wouldn’t you like to see that financial update before you vote on this debt increase?

LEIGH: That’s absolutely our position Jonathan. Somebody last year put the argument as follows, he said: “our money, our future is too important to be mortgaged like this without the Government giving us the strongest possible arguments for it.” That’s Tony Abbott speaking about the debt limit increase, which the Coalition opposed. We are happy to support a debt limit increase, which covers where debt was expected to peak on the last budget update. If Mr Hockey thinks that debt is going to peak at a higher level, if the decisions he’s made is going to push us past that, then I think the Australian people are entitled to some information. It’s a bit like if you’re asking for an increase in your credit card limit, well the bank’s going to want to see some evidence of how you’re going to repay the debt and why you need that. This is a bit like going to the bank and expecting a low doc mortgage.

Continue reading ‘Talking economics with Arthur Sinodinos – 12 November 2013’ »

Coalition urged to reconsider ‘cuts across the board’ – 7 November 2013

Media Release

7 November 2013

COALITION SHOWING ITS TRUE COLOURS

Labor’s Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, says he is alarmed by the skewed priorities of the Abbott Government that slug the poor and favour the rich.

Assistant Treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, said today “We need cuts across the board that reflect our policy priorities and by that I mean more focus on infrastructure spending as opposed to recurrent spending.”

“So far cuts across the board has meant abandoning a tax break for low-income superannuants, cutting the School Kids bonus, reducing income support and slashing jobs in the public service,” said Dr Leigh.

“But cuts across the board exempts mining billionaires, millionaire parents and tax breaks for those with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts.

“Labor does not object to governments doing a stock take. What we do have a problem with is the values and priorities of the Abbott Government which indicate that it is comfortable with taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

“As the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. The only ones on the Coalition chopping board are low and middle Australia,” Dr Leigh said.

“Prime Minister Abbott said on taking office that he will not let down ‘the forgotten families of Australia’. But he seems to have forgotten that they will bear the brunt of the government’s cuts across the board.

“The Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer must know that their policies will lead to greater inequality. I urge the Abbott Government to rethink their cuts across the board.”

Monday Breaking Politics – Fairfax Media – 4 November 2013

In my weekly video discussion for Breaking Politics I talked about the respected work of the Australian Electoral Commission and an expectation that within a generation it will adopt electronic ballots. Host Tim Lester also asked about same-sex marriage, climate policy and mandate theory. Here’s the full transcript:

BREAKING POLITICS

4 NOVEMBER 2013

TIM LESTER: Western Australia is on course for an historic re-run of the 2013 senate election. To help us understand what’s happening there and some of the other politics of the day, our Monday regular Andrew Leigh, the Labor Member for Fraser is in, and of course also Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Thank you for coming in Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH: Pleasure Tim.

LESTER: Is there a need for a new senate election in Western Australia?

LEIGH: It’ll be a matter ultimately for the Court of Disputed Returns to determine it. But certainly I’m concerned about the over a thousand West Australian voters who appear to have disenfranchised through this process. The Australian Electoral Commission is a great national institution. It’s one that I’m immensely proud of. When I lived in the U.S. for four years I thought many times, what the U.S. really needs is an institution of the calibre of the AEC. But even great institutions sometimes make mistakes and I think it’s telling that the last time something like this occurred was a hundred years ago and perhaps that’s the place we’ll end up, ultimately having another election in W.A.

LESTER: So, how serious is this mistake, losing 1375 votes?

LEIGH: I think it’s deeply concerning and certainly Ed Killesteyn, the Electoral Commissioner, has spoken of his embarrassment at the error that’s taken place. I don’t believe that there has been any intentional foul play that’s taken place. It’s simply an error by the AEC’s hard working staff. The question is, what’s now practically the best way of dealing with the situation we find ourselves in.

LESTER: There’s also questions going forward as to the best way for us to deal, handle, so many votes. Isn’t this screaming for electronic voting in some form?

LEIGH: Electronic voting has certainly got its appeal Tim, not just for making sure that we keep track of votes, the speed of recount, but also making sure that we bring down the informal rate. One of the things that troubles me is that the informal voting rate as steadily crept up in recent elections. It’s harder to make a mistake, even with a large number of candidates on the ballot paper with electronic voting. In fact, you can structure the systems so it’s impossible to vote informally.

Continue reading ‘Monday Breaking Politics – Fairfax Media – 4 November 2013’ »

Scarcity

My Chronicle column this week looks at the issue of scarcity, as it applies to time, food and poverty.

Passionate About Poverty, The Chronicle, 29 October 2013

Consider three scenarios.

A busy academic misses deadlines on projects she had promised to complete months earlier. One day, she promises herself that she won’t commit to another project until the backlog is finished. The next day, she gets an offer to contribute a paper to a conference, and accepts on the spot.

A man is struggling to lose weight. He plans a low-fat diet, then joins some friends for dinner at a pub. Everyone else orders chips with their meal, so he joins them. At the end of the night, he figures the diet is ruined, so he might as well stop off at the petrol station for an ice cream.

A couple in poverty are trying to pay off their bills. They know what they should be doing: minimise expenses, pay off the high-interest loans first, and slowly get the finances under control. One month, they decide to get a payday loan to give them some breathing room. But soon the loan starts to snowball, and the debt load is bigger than ever.

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Discussing Labor’s renewal – ABC RN Breakfast – 30 October 2013

This morning I spoke with Radio National Breakfast’s Political Editor, Alison Carabine, about my contributing essay in the revised and expanded version of Mark Latham’s Not Dead Yet: What Future for Labor? The book published by Black Inc. hits bookshops today and sets out areas for continued reform and renewal.  Here’s the podcast. The transcript is below.

TRANSCRIPT

ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST

WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2013

TOPIC: Labor future

FRAN KELLY: It’s nearly two months since the ALP’s heavy loss federally and the ideological battle for the future of the party is underway. A new book out today titled Not Dead Yet is a collection of essays by some of Labor’s best and brightest thinkers. And that includes the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. The Canberra-based MP makes a strong pitch to his colleagues to reject Tony Abbott’s style of negativity when it comes to Opposition. And, in a bid to democratise Labor he also proposes large scale plebiscites to select candidates and other important party positions. Andrew Leigh is in our Parliament House studios and he’s speaking with our political editor, Alison Carabine.

ALISON CARIBINE: Andrew Leigh, good morning.

ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning Alison.

CARABINE: There is a certain arrogance that underpins your essay. You open with the bold deceleration that Labor Governments do more, Labor is the party of ideas and reform, but by contrast the Coalition is the defender of the status quo. Considering the election result it would appear that voters embraced the status quo much than they do ideas and reform.

LEIGH: I think Alison that’s to confuse electoral success with policy achievement. Fundamentally the broad contours of the Australian story, over the last century or so, are those of a succession of Labor achievements. And whether that’s putting in place the Snowy Hydro Scheme, whether it’s opening up the economy, whether it’s indeed bringing the troops back in World War Two to defend Australia, or the achievements of DisabilityCare and finally solving the Murray Darling Basin mess, those too were Labor reforms. I think that reflects the fact that ours is a party which is founded on the notion that government has an important role to play in improving the country. Conservatives are far more often comfortable just defending the status quo.

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Conversation with Michelle Grattan

I was interviewed yesterday by the doyenne of the parliamentary press gallery, Michelle Grattan. Among other things, we discussed Labor’s future, same-sex marriage, economics, and the Greens. Here’s a podcast.