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



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].

ACT TREASURER AND COMMUNITY SERVICE MINISTER, ANDREW BARR: Thanks Andrew. It's very important that this reform process and reduction of red tape for the charities and not for profits sector continue and it's a high priority for the ACT Government. That's why we are one of the first jurisdictions to sign over a lot of reporting responsibility and accountability responsibilities to the ACNC because we saw the considerable benefit, not only for the sector but also for the territory government in being able to part of a nationally recognised and nationally consistent series of arrangements around the regulation of this sector. We all recognise the considerable importance of the sector here in Canberra and around the nation. So, common sense says let's work with the sector to reduce red tape to allow so many organisations to focus their efforts on their core reason for being, not filing reports to different levels of government. So, that's why we so strongly supported the ACNC and why we believe this is the right way forward and why we argue very strongly that other jurisdictions should also sign up and that the Commonwealth should leave this mechanism in place.

COMMUNITUES@WORK CEO, LYNNE HARDWOOD: Certainly from a large community provider perspective, the less paperwork the better. [The ACNC provides] more ability to have one funnelled form of reporting and a greater ability to ensure that we never become at the behest of the different layers of government. So, from our point of view a one-stop shop is the ideal and a one-stop shop that really is as efficient and effective as possible would make our lives easier, and so anything that creates that we certainly support.

LIFELINE CANBERRA CEO, MIKE ZISSLER: I think it's safe to say that for a smaller organisation like Lifeline Canberra reduction of red tape is important but for us also, it's about having transparency. Having a one-stop shop for people to be able to look at charities and make sure that they are spending their money wisely and appropriately. It allows people to look at various charities, how they work. So, we believe that single lodgement, one report that's common, allows us to be compared. For Lifeline Canberra it's absolutely vital that every dollar that's donated to us through the work we do goes straight to our core business. We can demonstrate that through our reporting. We'd like to see that transparency and commonality. We applaud the ACT Government which has worked hard on red tape. There's more they can do. The ACNC still has work to do and we'd like see them continue and refine their offering aswell.

LEIGH: Thanks Mike. Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: At this point, the federal government has said it's going to get rid of the charities commission. When do you think that will go ahead?

LEIGH: I hope it won't go ahead. We've got a survey showing that four out five charities around Australia want to keep the charities commission and we had an open letter signed by more than 40 charities – including World Vision, Lifeline and the RSCPA - all saying that they want to keep the charities commission. So, I hope the Abbott Government sees sense on this. And if they really want to reduce the paperwork burden on charities, to encourage other states and territories to follow the lead of the ACT and not to kill the charities commission and to get out of the way so it can do it's job of reducing the paperwork burden on Australian charities.

REPORTER: At this stage by removing the charities commission, will they be saving much money?

LEIGH: There's little saving in removing the charities commission. The work would then have to go back to the Australian Tax Office and if you ask charities if they want to see that happen, only 6 per cent say they'd like charities regulation to return to the tax office.

JOURNALIST: Does this mean the credibility of charities will be diminished because there is not a one-stop-shop for them?

LEIGH: There is certainly that risk. One of the important roles the ACNC plays, as Mike was highlighting, is that of transparency. Scams by charities are thankfully rare but it's important that people have a complaints body that's overseeing charities just as it's important for corporate investors to have ASIC in place to give them confidence in companies.

JOURNALIST: So if those rare scams happened who would people complaint to if there was no charities commission?

LEIGH: It's quite unclear what would happen in that situation.

JOURNALIST: For you Andrew, the other Andrew, in terms of charities having to work with multiple jurisdictions, does it increase your workload?

BARR: It certainly would, we've gone through a process of wanting to streamline, to cut red tape, to deregulate effectively and to ensure there aren't multiple layers of accountability and requiring organisations just to report in one place. Our reform process has focused also on ensuring that there's consistency in the information that's sought from charities and not-for-profits so that we're not asking different questions and requiring different sets of data. Requiring organisations that operate on limited administration budgets to spend a considerable amount of time filing reports to different levels of government. So the great advantage here was that we could have an appropriate level of regulation and oversight but do it in a streamlined way. So it's a fantastic thing for the sector and also reduce red tape and that is apparently a priority of the Commonwealth government, that they do want to work with states and territories to reduce red tape. A very clear way that they could see this reform agenda through is to maintain the ACNC and in fact to encourage the other states and territories, who haven't signed up, to do so. So that we have a national system that was simpler and more effective by way of regulation. I think that's a good goal to aim for.

JOURNALIST: I might just talk to you, Mike, about the importance of the commission and what your main concerns are.

ZISSLER: I think it's fair to say that the ATO is a very good regulator of tax and we support the ATO in their business. But they're not a great regulator of the charities as a whole. So, while they've had that role for many years, they're the first to admit that they don't regulate charities very well, And again, acknowledging that it’s a small percentage of organisations out there, there are a number of charities whose purposes are not clear where the money is going to. I know most organisations in the ACT are honest and have absolute integrity. We want to see that money go all the way through. Without something like the ACNC that gets lost in the taxation law, that's understandable, their job is taxing.

JOURNALIST: Does this mean that less money will go to what it was raised for?

ZISSLER: Absolutely, I mean we all have an administrative burden, whether it be a small organisation or a large organisation. Currently my organisation would write four or five reports that fundamentally provide the same information but in different ways. So my finance manager will still have to prepare five separate financial accounting reports. That's five times the effort. Now, it's not a huge amount of money, but it's things she could be doing with her time elsewhere. So yes, it does cost me money. There's no doubt.

JOURNALIST: Anything else you'd like to add?

ZISSLER: I think that is all, thank you.

LEIGH: Thanks very much for coming along today, I think what is highlights is that the $2 million additional burden the Abbott Government would impose if it were to scrap the ACNC would come out of the pockets of the most vulnerable Canberrans and I think that would be a terrible shame. Could I also thank Chenoeh Miller and Matt Heffernan from Lifeline for hosting us today. I really appreciate your hospitality.

Thanks everyone.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.