How the Charities Commission helps our nation

1 September 2014

Today I spoke on my Private Members Motion to retain the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission by again highlighting the great work it does and how this benefits our nation.

Private Members Motion

That this House:

(1) recognises that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) was established in 2012 after external inquiries in 1995, 2001, 2010, Parliamentary committee reviews, issues and discussion papers, exposure drafts and consultations with experts, and is operating efficiently and effectively, helping charities, donors and taxpayers;

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) the vast majority of submissions to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee’s inquiry into the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Repeal) (No. 1) Bill 2014 speak positively of the ACNC’s work and urge the Government to retain the charities commission as a one-stop shop;

(b) the evidence to this inquiry provided by eminent Australian, Mr Robert Fitzgerald AM, strongly supports the retention of the ACNC;

(c) in a survey, four out of five charities support keeping the ACNC, while only 6 per cent like the Government’s idea of returning the regulation of charities to the Australian Taxation Office;

(d) in an open letter, more than 40 charities, including Lifeline, Justice Connect, ACOSS, Social Ventures Australia, Save the Children, St John Ambulance Australia, Community Colleges Australia, Sane Australia, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Myer Foundation, Danks Trust, the RSPCA, Youth Off the Streets, the Ted Noffs Foundation, Music Viva Australia, Wesley Mission Victoria, the RSPCA Australia, World Vision, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Odyssey House, the McGrath Foundation, the Australian Council for International Development, Changemakers Australia, Volunteering Australia, YWCA Australia, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, the Consumer Health Forum of Australia, Hillsong Church, Churches of Christ Victoria and Tasmania and Wesley Mission Australia, called on the Government to keep the ACNC; and

(e) the Australian Capital Territory and South Australian governments are already working to reduce the paperwork burden on charities and not-for-profits by cooperating with the ACNC to reduce duplication in reporting;

(3) notes that some of those who the Minister for Social Services claims to have consulted with have written to the Government to make clear that they have never been consulted on the ACNC repeal; and

(4) calls on the Government to drop its ill-considered and unpopular plan to axe the ACNC.

On 16 June, this House debated a motion quite similar to the one that is before us today, and it is a mark of the deep concern among many members of this House that the selection committee has seen fit to choose this motion for debate so soon afterwards. As the famous line goes in Monty Python's Life of Brian:

… what have the Romans ever done for us?

What has the charities commission ever done for Australia? There are only three things it has done: it has benefited donors, benefited charities and benefited taxpayers. In the short time since this House last debated the charities commission, there was an important minority report brought down by Labor members of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee which said:

The Labor members found the evidence in favour of retaining the ACNC compelling—not only because of the sheer numbers of charities and other organisations that strongly supported the work of the ACNC but because of the soundness of their arguments.

It noted the 'strong support for the ACNC' right across the sector. Indeed, in a Pro Bono Australia survey, four out of five Australian charities wanted to keep the charities commission. The survey asked, 'Would you like charities regulation to return to the tax office?' Just six per cent of Australian charities thought that was a good idea. That is right: Minister Andrews is pursuing a solution supported by only six per cent of all charities. Eminent Australian, Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald has noted that the Abbott government is inconsistent in pursuing other royal commissions while abolishing 'the mechanism that actually gives transparency to the rest of the charitable sector'.

The charities commission is less than two years old and is doing valuable work. More than 60,000 charities are listed on its publicly available register. I have stood up with relevant charities ministers in the Australian Capital Territory and in South Australia—with Andrew Barr and with Gail Gago—both of whom are committed to reducing reporting duplication for Australian charities. That is why this charities commission is good for charities. It means they spend less time doing paperwork and more time supporting the vulnerable. And yet the government are putting out an options paper which ignores the only option that not-for-profits really want. They are asking the question, 'What should come after the charities commission?' and ignoring the strong support from charities for keeping the existing commission.

An open letter to the Prime Minister has been signed by more than 40 charities, calling on the government to keep the charities commission. Supporters of the charities commission include Lifeline, Justice Connect, ACOSS, Save the Children, St John Ambulance Australia, SANE Australia, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Myer Foundation, Danks Trust, Youth Off The Streets, the Ted Noffs Foundation, Musica Viva Australia, Wesley Mission Victoria, the RSPCA Australia, the Australian Council for International Development, Changemakers Australia, Volunteering Australia, the Hillsong Church, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Churches of Christ Victoria and Wesley Mission Australia. All of these associations and many more have called on the government to drop its blinkered ideological approach to the charities commission.

The charities commission proved its worth for donors and for taxpayers when it recently revoked the charity status of more than 240 associations which had not reported themselves as being proper charities. They include organisations which had failed to respond to repeated requests from the charities commission to meet their reporting requirements. By deregistering charities that do not meet the requirements, Australian taxpayers are respected. We provide scarce taxpayer subsidies in the form of tax deductibility for Australians who give to charitable organisations, but if charities are not true charities then they are undercutting the good work that so many of our proper charities are doing. There is also a small number of scams—people who go door to door pretending to be representing good community organisations but in fact are simply looking to line their own pockets. Without a charities commission Australians cannot have the confidence that scams will be cracked down upon. Good charities, taxpayers and donors support the charities commission, but Minister Andrews, who has previously tried to throw Australian charities' law back to the 1600s, wants to get rid of it. He should worry less about ideology and more about good public policy.


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