TUESDAY, 10 MARCH 2015
SUBJECT/S: support for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission; federal Budget; Intergenerational Report
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: It's great to be here today to talk about a critically important issue: the sustainability of charities. Alannah MacTiernan and I have just held a terrific roundtable with a group of charities here in Western Australia. Across the medical sector, the community sector, the musical sector, these are charities which are out there helping the vulnerable. We want the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to be able to do its great work of helping taxpayers, donors and charities. We've heard many stories today about the important work the charities commission is doing, the ease with which not-for-profits are able to engage with the charities commission, and the potential for further work in the future to unify charities regulation across Australia. I'm calling today on the Social Services Minister Scott Morrison to stop his opposition to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, and to clearly guarantee the commission's future, supported as it is by four out of five charities. I'll hand over now to Alannah to make a couple of comments.
ALANNAH MACTIERNAN, MEMBER FOR PERTH: It's great to have Andrew over here and talking to a real range of charities across all the sectors. As Andrew said, we've had cultural, social, environmental and medical groups represented here today. Their very clear message has been that this charities commission has been a great benefit to their organisations and they really want to see bipartisan support develop for that. They want the charities commission to stay because they've found it a very positive experience. They also want us to go one step further and they want national laws around fundraising. With the internet and fundraising on the internet today, it's impossible to have the current situation where you've got all of these eight different jurisdictions that you have to be registered in. So there was a really clear message coming out today from charities: they want the charities commission to be supported by the Abbott Government and they want it extended so that we also have uniform fundraising laws around Australia.
JOURNALIST: So did you two meet with representatives from the charities, or was it people that they are helping?
MACTIERNAN: Today was about meeting with representatives of the charities. Ten organisations sent representatives today to talk about their experiences with the charities commission. Andrew came over because he's been leading the campaign for the retention of the commission. It was set up under Labor, but the Abbott Government has flagged that they intend to dismantle it. They've put it on hold at the moment – thanks to Andrew's excellent campaign – but today Andrew was talking to WA charities about how important it was to them.
JOURNALIST: [INAUDIBLE QUESTION]
MACTIERNAN: There were a couple of big faith-based groups which at one stage had a problem but from our discussions today, they've really all come on board. They understand the need to have a sophisticated regime that enables them to manage their charitable work. Before that they had to go through a process with the ATO and ASIC, and they all found that a very unsatisfactory process. All really found that when the charities commission was set up under the Labor Government – at one stage with bipartisan support – it was a very valuable addition.
LEIGH: Just to add to Alannah's comments, the charities commission has been a bipartisan idea for many years. Malcolm Turnbull signed on to one of the parliamentary committee inquiries which recommended the charities commission. Sustainability of charities and transparency isn't a uniquely Labor idea, it ought to be a good government idea supported by all sides. The message that I'm hearing here in Western Australia is the same as the message that I've heard in Tasmania, in the ACT, in South Australia and in New South Wales. When Pro Bono Australia surveyed the sector, four out of five not-for-profits wanted to keep the charities commission. That's a number that has remained unchanged before and after the election.
JOURNALIST: Given that the charities are calling for a national law, how exactly would that benefit them? Would they be able to get more funding, or more donations?
LEIGH: Charities want to spend less time doing paperwork and more time helping the vulnerable. They don't want a patchwork of laws but they do want their donors to be able to donate with confidence. One of the great things about the charities commission is that if someone knocks on your door asking for money, you can immediately log on to ACNC.gov.au and check out their bona fides. It's great for bona fide charities; the only people it's bad for are scammers.
MACTIERNAN: Just to make this clear, the law that was passed under the Labor Government created a one-stop-shop for registration. So across Australia, you could register with the charities commission and get your charitable status. But what hasn't been done yet, and which charities are very interested in as the next stage of work, is having uniform laws about fundraising. Because often organisations, they might be a WA-based organisation but they might also do some of their fundraising in Melbourne where there's lots of big philanthropic organisations. They might also do their fundraising online, in which case they don't know where the people are coming from. If it turns out that someone is donating to you from New South Wales for a big campaign, you might in fact be breaching the law because you've been fundraising in New South Wales unwittingly and without being licenced there. So we just have to recognise that technology has moved on and there is a lot of movement across the states, even for WA-based charities. We need to have uniform laws about a one-stop-shop about the fundraising requirements.
JOURNALIST: So it's more about bringing the rules up to date?
MACTIERNAN: That, and recognising that just as we've got now the one definition of 'charity' and one entity that you can register with to be a charity nationally, instead of dismantling that charities really want us to now go to a next level and take the provisions that apply to fundraising national.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, can I just ask you about the Federal Budget? Our State Budget is due to be handed down two days after the Federal Budget and I was wondering what your thoughts were on that – do you have any reservations about how that's being handled?
LEIGH: I'm worried that there's been too much attention from Joe Hockey on doing the numbers in the Liberal party room recently and not enough attention given to doing the budget numbers. The Government is saying that we need to look at the long-term challenges for 24 million Australians but the Intergenerational Report was very clearly a partisan document looking backwards. It was much more about the political skin of 20 Cabinet Ministers than the future of 24 million Australians. I'd like to see Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey looking hard at the big national challenges: innovation, inequality, climate change, engagement with Asia. Rather than bringing down these documents which are really settling old scores and focused on the past.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of today's announcement about the auto industry?
LEIGH: Well I think we need to see more details out of this. I know that our colleague Kim Carr is out speaking about the issue today.
JOURNALIST: Ok, just back on the WA Budget: do you think it is likely to confuse voters, given that WA's State Budget will be handed down two days after the Federal Budget?
LEIGH: Alannah might want to add to this, but I certainly feel that it is important that there is a federal government in place which is investing in Western Australia. Labor's time in office was characterised by significant investment in transport infrastructure and we haven't seen that same level of investment from this government. I know of no economic study that suggests standing up and re-badging Labor projects as Coalition initiatives does anything for economic growth in Western Australia.
MACTIERNAN: The federal and state budgets have been close for a little while. Last time, I believe it was the case that the WA Budget came out just shortly before the Federal Budget and there were supposed joint initiatives in the Federal Budget which Mr Barnett had ignored putting in his own budget. So it might actually get a little bit more accountability by having the WA Budget after the Federal Budget. He won't be able to balance the books by not acknowledging projects that he has agreed with the Commonwealth on. But I think there has probably been an agreement to bundle them all into one week to reduce the amount of exposure and that can only suggest that neither of these budgets are going to be good news for the community. They want to minimise the pain by rolling them all together.
LEIGH: No more questions? Thanks everyone.
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