SPEECH TO JUSTICE CONNECT’S
‘FIX FUNDRAISING’ EVENT
WEDNESDAY, 5 APRIL 2017
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Thank you for the generous introduction. You were good enough to run through my various titles, but for the purposes of today only one of those matters. I am proud to be the first Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits. Under a Shorten Labor Government, I would be the first Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits. I have had consistent responsibility for that portfolio since Labor lost office in 2013.
I note that Assistant Minister Michael Sukkar has just taken over responsibility for charities in the Turnbull Government. I look forward to working with him - as I've done with his five predecessors over the past four years.
Adam Smith, one of the founders of modern economics, is best known for his book The Wealth of Nations, but in an earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith gave what I think is one of the best answers to the question of how we should spend our lives. He wrote, 'to be amiable and be meritorious, that is to deserve love and deserve reward, are the great characters of virtue. Man naturally desires not only to be loved, but to be lovely. To be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love.'
Talking with people in business, I'm often struck by how well Smith's words encapsulate what we aspire towards. Most people don't just want to make money, we want that sense of inner tranquillity that comes from feeling that we are decent, ethical and admirable. In Smith's formulation, most of us want to be 'lovely'. Being involved in charities and philanthropy is one way we can do that. The typical career lasts only about 80,000 hours, and most of us want to make a contribution in that time.
But to do that effectively, the charitable sector needs a government that listens and partners. Sadly, that hasn't always been true. If we'd been meeting here at the start of last year, the main focus would have been on the Coalition Government's commitment to abolishing the charities commission.
It always seems strange to me that the body which had been recommended by around a dozen inquiries, that had the support of four in five Australian charities and was set up to reduce to reduce red-tape was on the verge of being abolished in the name of reducing red-tape. I commend the sector for speaking out on behalf of the charities commission. It is proof that advocacy remains a critical part of what charities do.
We must also acknowledge Commissioner Susan Pascoe and her team at the charities commission. Working under a government that's committed to your destruction can't have been easy. For one thing, it's difficult to keep staff. During that period, the ACNC was losing around one-quarter of its staff annually. Congratulations to the charities commission for persevering until 4 March 2016, the moment when the Coalition finally announced that they would keep the ACNC.
The challenge now is to make the charities commission work better. Victoria, South Australia, the ACT and Tasmania are just some of those jurisdictions that are working to reduce regulatory duplication. We need to make the ACNC for charities, what ASIC is for companies.
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But today we're here to talk about fundraising reform. There are four reasons why it should be a priority to #fixfundraising.
First, we need to build a stronger culture of giving. In my 2010 book, Disconnected, I reported on the many measures that show a decline in social capital over the past generation. Over the course of this year, I will be hosting roundtables with charities to look at innovative ways of turning this trend around. Boosting philanthropy is critical to forging civic engagement.
Second, we need to protect the reputation of the vast majority of great Australian charities from being tarred by the actions of a dodgy few. Organisations like Camp Gallipoli, which never gave a cent to the veterans it claimed to be helping. People like the swindlers who hit the streets after Vanuatu's Cyclone Pam, pretending to represent reputable charities. One estimate suggests that every year, the amount given to fake charities equates to $4 for every Australian.
In the two years 2015-2016, the charities commission carried out investigations into charities that led to the charitable status for 29 organisations being revoked. We need to have a strong Charities Commission, so Australians can log on to ACNC.gov.au to check the bona fides of someone who knocks on their door.
Third, we need to ensure that charities do not exert excessive pressure on potential donors. Sometimes, 'chuggers' can cross the line from polite solicitation into harassment. In Britain, the suicide of 92 year-old Olive Cooke was linked to the actions of charities who pursued her for donations. It led to a spate of worrying media reports on the pressure that has been applied to donors. Trust in charities in Britain is now at an all-time low.
Fourth, we need to reduce the paperwork burden that falls on charities. As your campaign has shown, charities in Australia who want to raise money online must register in every state and territory. Many small charities do not, and just cross their fingers and hope they don't get caught. Larger charities tend to comply, a process that can cost around seven working days a year. That's a waste of the precious dollars that donors give to these organisations, which is why many philanthropists support the #fixfundraising campaign.
We don't make Australian drivers get a new driver license when they want to cross a state border. We don't make our companies register again if they want to sell a product interstate. So it makes no sense to force our charities who want to fundraise across states to register everywhere. Achieving national consistency on fundraising via the Australian Consumer Law makes intuitive sense to me.
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Alongside my day job, I produce a weekly podcast called 'The Good Life'. It's got nothing to do with politics or policy. It's about living a happy, healthy and ethical life. My guest last week was Peter Singer. Peter told me he now gives around a third of his income to charity, and is aspiring to increase that to a half. He's been actively involved in boosting the effective altruism movement. Because, as he noted, altruism is an essential part of a life well-lived.
Thank you for all that you do today. I look forward to working with you on this critical campaign.
MEDIA CONTACT: TAIMUS WERNER-GIBBINGS 0437 320 393