ABC Adelaide Drive with Jo Laverty Wednesday 22 May - Transcript


SUBJECTS: Unethical fundraising practices, Reform to the Privacy Act, ‘Randomistas’ and the value of randomised trials.

JO LAVERTY, HOST: We all know times are tough. We're tightening our belts, and so collecting for charities must be a very difficult job. At the moment, people are giving less because they can afford less. But then there are those charity collectors who go that little step further to try and commit you to ongoing payments, and sometimes it's without you realising. Andrew Leigh is the Federal Assistant Minister for Charities and is saying that this is not cool. He has made a speech to the Fundraising Institute of Australia. Minister, welcome. This sounds diabolical that the elderly people in particular are signing up for ongoing payments that they simply can't afford.

ASSISTANT MINISTER ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks for taking an interest in the story. I'm not sure I'd describe it as ‘diabolical’. I think most charities are out there doing the right thing, adhering to strict ethical codes. But I did want to flag to the charitable fundraising industry that this small number of problematic cases really does risk tarnishing the whole sector. I told the story about a 73-year-old from Bendigo, about a 79-year-old from Queensland, both of whom found that they had signed up to many, many ongoing donations, and their families felt that they were perhaps just a bit confused about how many sign-ups they'd made, and it was draining their bank accounts at a remarkably quick rate.

LAVERTY: So, if it's not necessarily something that the charities are doing, if they're not being unscrupulous, people are being confused and accidentally signing up for all of these things, all these donations, how can it be resolved?

LEIGH: The charities in these cases were perhaps a little too pushy. And sometimes it's charities directly, sometimes it's charities operating through third-party organisations. Those third-party organisations, though, don't absolve the charities of their requirement to act ethically and honourably. We have a great charity sector filled with hard-working people, and I don't want the sorts of scandals that we've seen overseas that really tarnish the sector. So, we've got a set of charitable fundraising principles that the states and territories have signed up to, and they go to things like making sure that somebody knows that they're doing a one-off or an ongoing donation, and if it's an ongoing donation, they know very clearly how they can opt out. We had the story of Pareto Phone, a major charitable fundraiser, which was hacked last year and ended up collapsing. It employed over 100 people. It was a significant player in the sector, and that really ought to act as a wakeup call for other charitable fundraising organisations.

LAVERTY: In some of those examples that you gave us earlier of people who are older, maybe they were not keeping track as well as they could have of the things they've signed up on, how much money did they end up losing?

LEIGH: In the case of the gentleman from Bendigo, he donated some $18,000. In the case of the gentleman from Queensland, it was thousands of dollars. So, this is an issue which can affect people considerably. There is an obligation among charities to make sure that they've got informed consent as they're reaching out to people. There's extraordinary generosity among older Australians, and the last thing we want is that generosity taken advantage of in the fundraising process.

LAVERTY: And sometimes, I'm sure you know as well as I do, Minister, that sometimes you sign up for these things and you just forget about them and slowly the incremental payments are made. And it's not until you actually take time to look at your statement, you go, hang on, what is this $35 that keeps coming out once a month?

LEIGH: Exactly and sometimes that ‘set and forget’ can be a benefit. Workplace giving is a great way of donating regularly out of pre-tax pay, so you don't even have to worry about claiming receipts at tax time. But in other cases, people can be signed up to things where they're not fully aware of what they're doing. So, I'm putting the charity sector on notice to make sure that they're adhering to the very highest standards in the interests of the sector, in the interest of the hard-working volunteers who are out there. This is National Volunteer Week. It's a moment to recognise the great volunteers working for charities and the importance that they place on the high ethical standards that charitable fundraisers should employ.

LAVERTY: So, what should they do then, Andrew Leigh, would you suggest that they start calling all of those people who have ongoing debits and just make sure they're still comfortable with them?

LEIGH: They need to make sure their sign-up processes are appropriate, that people know how to opt out. There's also an ongoing conversation about how the Privacy Act applies, the Pareto Phone hack saw a whole lot of donor details being released, including from donors to high profile charities such as the Cancer Council and Fred Hollows. Those Privacy Act requirements will be updated. The Attorney-General has made clear we're doing a revamp of the Privacy Act, and so I think it's important to engage with the charitable fundraising sector about how we can make sure that the privacy principles are as good as they can be, where they apply to charitable fundraisers.

LAVERTY: How are charities going in Australia at the moment, Minister? Because everyone's tightening their belt and necessities are being prioritised over things like donations.

LEIGH: They're feeling the squeeze, Jo. They're doing fantastic work, often operating off the smell of an oily rag. Many are keen to get more volunteers and so if your listeners have a bit of spare time in their hands, I'd encourage them to go to Volunteering South Australia's website and look at some of the opportunities that are available there. But I know from speaking to South Australian colleagues like Louise Miller-Frost, the squeeze that the cost of living crisis is placing on many charities. We're doing our bit as a government, but so many of those charities are stepping up to help vulnerable people as well.

LAVERTY: Very good to speak with you. Before I let you go, I'm reading your book, Randomistas. Loving it.

LEIGH: Fantastic.

LAVERTY: Loving it.

LEIGH: Well, I'm delighted to hear it. It's basically the only big idea I've ever had in social policy: we should measure things better and we should adopt more of a ‘what works’ philosophy.

LAVERTY: It's so good. Just before you go, just give me one example of the ways that people have experimented and then proven something to be true or debunked something. One of your favourite stories from the book.

LEIGH: Well, here's one done by a South Australian researcher. Sally Brinkman at the University of South Australia did a study looking at infant simulators. This is the idea that you can deter teen girls from becoming mums by having them care for an infant simulator which cries regularly and has to be fed in a simulated way. Many had said this was a great idea, but nobody had done a randomised trial until Sally and her colleagues did one in Western Australia, which found that girls who had infant simulators were more likely to become teenage mums. The programme entirely backfired. And so infant simulators were then withdrawn not only from Western Australian schools, but also from schools around the nation. And Sally Brinkman, in that sense, made a huge impact, not only on our understanding about how the world works, but also the wellbeing of those girls and their families.

LAVERTY: That was very good. Off the top of your head, Doctor Leigh. Well done. And weirdly, it's a real page turner, given it's all about experiments and testing theories, so I found myself turning pages. It's very good. Randomistas by Doctor Andrew Leigh. Thank you very much for your time.

LEIGH: Real pleasure, Jo. Thank you.

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  • Toby Halligan
    published this page in What's New 2024-05-22 21:42:48 +1000

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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.