ABC Canberra Breakfast with Adam Shirley Wednesday 22 May - Transcript


SUBJECTS: Unethical fundraising practices, reform of fundraising principles, best ways to donate to charities.

ADAM SHIRLEY, HOST: I don't know whether you give to charity or charities. If you volunteer, if you donate money. If you donate money, how do you do it? A real worry that some charities, and maybe companies contracted to work for them in Australia, are using less than above board practices to get you to give. And the work of some charities- most, in fact, Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. The work of a lot of these charities is not in dispute. But I wonder, personally, how much concern do you have on the ways they're collecting money?

ASSISTANT MINISTER ANDREW LEIGH: Most charities are doing exactly the right thing, and I'm a strong champion of the charity sector, but I'm giving a speech today to the Fundraising Institute of Australia, sounding the alarm about a number of troubling cases in which fundraisers have been chasing down elderly Australians and signing them up for ongoing payments that are beyond what they can afford. I want to make it clear to the charitable fundraising sector that the high trust with which Australians regard charities rests on strong ethical conduct in the fundraising sector. In the context of Pareto Phone collapsing last year, a fundraiser which raised money for organisations like the Cancer Council and Fred Hollows. We all need to make sure that those fundraisers have a strong social licence to operate.

SHIRLEY: So, explain to some people who might not know what's going on here and what is the activity or the actions you're most concerned about.

LEIGH: One event was a 73-year-old from Bendigo, a man by the name of John Carter, whose family discovered that he had signed up to donate to 22 different charities and was draining his savings in a way that they didn't feel he would have intended had he been of sounder mind.

SHIRLEY: Right, so he wasn't aware, it would seem, that he'd been signed up to all these different charities to donate to them?

LEIGH: That was certainly the way his family felt. In a similar case in Queensland, where an elderly man was signed up to over 20 different charities and the family felt that the charitable fundraisers were not taking account of the fact that he was vulnerable and raising money from him. Now, these are isolated examples, but it's really important, Adam, that we don't have a major charity scandal in Australia because of what that would do to the faith with which Australians hold their charities.

SHIRLEY: That social licence they have. Well, maybe not so isolated. A few texts are saying charity donations, "Every time charities knock on my door asking me to sign up to direct debit, I say no. I think that's a crazy idea. I ask them to provide me their web address. Do it myself." This listener, Jane Chapman, says a few months ago at Cooleman Court, a chap was set upstairs where the older folk have coffee. He was wanting people's credit card numbers for the purposes of donations. That definitely concerned me. I would not feel comfortable with any charity asking for that information. Is that legal and accepted practice, Doctor Leigh? As far as charities and maybe representatives working for them, asking for credit card numbers.

LEIGH: It's certainly legal. What you've got to ask is whether it is sitting within the principles that we've established. So, the states, territories and Commonwealth have signed up to charitable fundraising principles, one of which says: ‘never exploit the trust, lack of knowledge, lack of capacity, apparent need for care and support or vulnerable circumstances of any donor’. So, if charities are behaving in a way that feels exploitative, then they're going beyond the bounds as to what states, territories and the Commonwealth have said is reasonably acceptable.

SHIRLEY: I mean, looking at this the other way, everything virtually is done electronically now. Cash is rare when it comes to donating to charities, although it happens sometimes. But is account transfer, direct debit an acceptable way of getting money from people for a cause that really matters?

LEIGH: It certainly is and it's the way in which most Australians donate as you say. These so called 'chuggers', or 'charity muggers', which used to prowl our streets a decade ago, are becoming less common as people are carrying less cash. Now the new world is online. The Government's doing an update of the Privacy Act and some of those principles will look to ask charitable fundraisers to come into the digital age to respect the importance of privacy of donors. We're looking at privacy across the board, but particularly as it applies to charities.=

SHIRLEY: Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh is our guest. Adam Shirley with you on ABC Radio, Canberra. How do you donate to charity? Do you do it in dollars and cents, in cash when you get the chance? Do you do an account transfer once off? Are you happy to go direct debit? What about if someone approaches you at Cooleman Court? Maybe at [indistinct] marketplace and asks for your credit card details for whatever cause it is, no matter how worthy. 1300 681 666. And I guess, Minister Leigh, that's the difficult judgement. How are you, as the responsible Minister, how are you going to judge what is an acceptable legal way of getting money from people versus exploitative behaviour that drains people's accounts when they're not really aware of what's going on?

LEIGH: It's really about locking in a set of shared principles. The charitable fundraising principles which we've locked in in states and territories, things like; making it clear if you've got an ongoing donation and how you can end that ongoing donation. It's also about being upfront with the charitable fundraising sector and saying that the unethical practices must end, that it is important to raise money for good causes. The Federal Government has a target to double charitable donations by 2030. We want to see more money going to our great charities, but that has to be done in an ethical and transparent way which preserves the privacy of donors.

SHIRLEY: So, should there be - and one or two texts are saying direct debits or automated removals of money should be banned for charities - should there be consideration of that measure?

LEIGH: I think it's appropriate for people who have opted in, and have clearly made an informed decision that those direct debits are in place. Workplace giving is a straightforward way of donating, which even saves you the trouble of claiming a deduction at tax time, because the money is coming out of pre-tax income. There's a range of people who like set-and-forget donation approaches, and that's perfectly ethical. But we have to make sure people have opt out and that vulnerable Australians are never exploited by charitable fundraisers.

SHIRLEY: Another question, should then there be any consideration of private entities, third parties or companies who do the money collecting on the charity's behalf? Because a few people are texting, raising their worry about those kinds of companies that do it and get a commission so that their money doesn't all end up going to the charity.

LEIGH: Your texters are bang on there, Adam. Pareto Phone was a third party fundraiser operating out of Brisbane. It employed more than 100 people. It was a significant operation, regarded as one of the large companies, companies within the sector.

SHIRLEY: So, should they be banned, Minister? Should they actually be banned, those sorts of companies from this sort of form of giving and receiving as well, I might say.

LEIGH: I think it's appropriate for them to continue to operate, but they need to adopt the highest ethical standards and charities also need to realise they can't outsource their responsibilities to maintain the privacy of their donors.

SHIRLEY: Andrew Leigh, a really concerning issue when people are being darted out of their money and when it comes to the trust and reputation of charities, so many of them have worked so hard for it. A difficult balance to strike, I guess. We'll hear what you have to say to the sector today. Thank you for your time.

LEIGH: Real pleasure, Adam. Thank you.

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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.