ABC CANBERRA DRIVE WITH ANNA VIDOT
THURSDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2023
SUBJECTS: Harmonisation of state and territory fundraising rules; Reducing red tape for charities.
ANNA VIDOT (HOST): At a time of financial pressure, when more people are becoming dependent or needing the support of charities both here and around the world, making sure that none of that money is wasted is really important. Well, soon there's going to be a consistent approach to the rules about how charities in Australia can raise money. Currently, each state and territory has a different set of rules for charitable fundraising, and compliance requirements are apparently costing charities an estimated million dollars per month nationally. Doctor Andrew Leigh is the member for Fenner and also Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. He's on the line with us this afternoon. Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Real pleasure, Anna. Terrific to be with you and your listeners.
VIDOT: Why do we have such strict rules for fundraising and how did we end up with different ones?
LEIGH: The rules around fundraising were developed at a time when going on line was something you did with wet washing. Most of the fundraising that was done a generation ago was face-to-face, so it made sense for the regulation to be at a state and territory level. But now, fundraising is largely done over the internet, which means that an Australian charity that wants to raise money needs to comply with state and territory laws. There's seven different sets of laws -- only the NT doesn't have its own charitable fundraising laws -- so the paperwork can take a charity up to a week of staff time every single year. And that's where you get this total cost of a million dollars a month or more: in complying with all of those different state and territory fundraising laws.
VIDOT: How has the Commonwealth decided which rules should apply nationally?
LEIGH: Cooperatively. These are matters ultimately for the states and territories. So we've brought the states and territories together to sort out a set of national fundraising principles. They were agreed to by the Commonwealth, state, and territory treasurers at their most recent meeting and now they've committed to put in place an implementation plan by the middle of the year and then hopefully move to updating their legislation as quickly as possible. These laws are a burden on the charity sector at a time when they're just wanting to do less paperwork and more helping out in the community. It's really important that our charitable sector is as vibrant and strong as possible at a time when we've seen a decline in the share of people participating, volunteering, joining and being part of community activities. The Albanese Government wants to make life easier for charities. Currently, the hodgepodge of fundraising laws are making life harder for them.
VIDOT: What about people who are donors or potential donors to charities? What will that mean for them in terms of the transparency around how they can give and how that donation will be used?
LEIGH: All the principles will ensure that you get transparency. They require that charities make it clear that whether a donation is a one-off or an ongoing donation, that they keep written records of the total amount that they've raised and the purposes they've applied them to. It also means that charities aren't allowed to do door-to-door charitable fundraising before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. on a weekend, for example. So it sets some guardrails around the system, which is important to the confidence of the charity sector. A big push for this fix of fundraising laws has come from the philanthropic sector itself. Organisations such as Philanthropy Australia have been big backers, as well as bodies such as Justice Connect that have really spearheaded the reforms. My colleague, Catryna Bilyk did a Senate report a couple of years ago setting a timetable to fix fundraising, but the previous government just blew past that timetable with no reform. So we're getting on with the job, all in the interest of Australia's great charity sector.
VIDOT: In the ACT, obviously a jurisdiction that you know very well, will this mean much change from how things are operating currently under ACT legislation?
LEIGH: It'll just make life simpler for charities. Right now, ACT charities are having to comply not just with the ACT laws, but with laws from South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and so on. They're having to do paperwork in every single jurisdiction. If they think they might have online donors coming from different jurisdictions, it will reduce that paperwork burden, make life simpler for them and allow them to focus on assisting the causes they're passionate about. Whether that's Menslink assisting young men, whether it's Prisoners Aid ACT, helping out people in the Alexander Maconochie Centre, whether that's the Friends of Grasslands groups which are doing so much to look after our local environment. All of those organisations will benefit from less unnecessary paperwork.
VIDOT: When will these changes take effect?
LEIGH: The states and territories have said they'll have an implementation plan by the middle of the year, and then legislation will, I hope, follow quickly after that. I've spoken to most of my state and territory counterparts. I haven't encountered anyone that thinks that we should keep on going with the mishmash of outdated fundraising laws. Everyone recognises we've got to update the charitable fundraising laws in an environment in which we're asking our charities to do more, but they're struggling to get the volunteers and the donations that they need.
VIDOT: Any other areas in this space, in the charity space, where you're eager to see reform once this is ticked off? Andrew Leigh, what's next on your to-do list?
LEIGH: Great question, Anna. I'm seeing the charities portfolio less as a sort of narrow charitable regulation portfolio and more as a broad community-building portfolio. I've long been concerned about these tectonic trends that have hit Australia. Fewer of us attend religious services, we're less likely to be part of a union. The average number of friends the typical Australian has has halved since the mid-1980s. We're less likely to play organised sport: we're not just bowling alone, we're often not bowling at all. We're less likely to be donating to charity. So I've been holding community forums around the country. We had one in Canberra’s Albert Hall a while back, talking with charities about what we can do together to try and get a more connected Australia. Part of that is our target to double philanthropy by 2030. Part of it, too, is getting a charities commission that's not fighting charities at every turn. And with Sue Woodward at the helm of the charities commission, that's really made a big difference to the perceptions of the sector.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh, interesting to hear about it this afternoon. Thanks very much for your time.
LEIGH: Thanks so much, Anna. Lovely to chat.
VIDOT: Thank you. That's Andrew Leigh. He's the member for Fenner, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, with us on ABC Radio Canberra.