ABC CANBERRA MORNINGS WITH ADAM SHIRLEY
FRIDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 2022
SUBJECTS: APPOINTMENT OF NEW ACNC COMMISSIONER, regulation of CHARITY SECTOR, cyber-threats, WORLD CUP
ADAM SHIRLEY (HOST): There's been quite a bit of change since the Labor Federal government took the reins in late May. And it's true to say, in the case of the regulator of all charities in Australia, a new boss is in place. Susan Woodward has been announced as full time commissioner to the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission for five years. Andrew Leigh is the Minister responsible. Dr Leigh, thank you very much for your time today.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Pleasure, Adam. Great to be chatting with you.
SHIRLEY: How clear a break are you trying to make from the way the charities regulator was run in the last nine years?
LEIGH: Well, it's a big break from the former head of the charities commission, a bloke called Gary Johns, who had made his name largely as a charities critic before being appointed by the Liberals to head the charities commission. His appointment was snuck through in the hours following the same sex marriage vote, largely in order to cover some of the statements he had made, including describing Indigenous women as ‘cash cows’. This appointment is quite different. He said when we came to office, we would do an open call for nominations and then have an independent panel that would select the head of the charities commission. That independent panel was the head of Treasury, the head of Finance and the first head of the charities commission, Susan Pascoe. They came forward with the recommendation. I was pleased to accept that recommendation. And that's Sue Woodward, somebody with enormous connections, respect and knowledge of the charity sector.
SHIRLEY: She's had a lot of experience within not-for-profits and charities previously. So as far as your sign off, what made you think, in your mind, know she's the right person for the gig?
LEIGH: Well, she was awarded a member of the Order of Australia last year for her service to the not-for-profit sector. She's somebody who's worked through the organisation Justice Connect to help a range of other charities. So she hasn't just worked in the charity sector, she's worked as an enabler in the charity sector. It might be useful for your listeners to know, Adam, that her Twitter handle is @NFP_Nerd, which I think speaks to Sue's passion for the charity sector!
SHIRLEY: I mean, for someone who might be able to give $10 a month to Save the Children, the Red Cross, the Salvos or DVCS ACT, how does this change at the top affect them?
LEIGH: Well, the charities commission is for charities, what ASIC is for the business sector. It's a regulator that makes sure that charities are doing the right thing, that provides information to people who want to start up a charity, that helps link charities to one another and helps to reduce the reporting duplication. It's been in operation for ten years now, established by the last Labor government. And I think over this next phase, we will be able to do even more to reduce the reporting burden on charities. That means that person who gives $10 to a charity, they know more of that money, is going into helping the vulnerable and less into unnecessary government compliance.
SHIRLEY: What do you expect of Susan Woodward in changing or evolving operations of this regulator and how will the government measure her performance?
LEIGH: Well, her key attributes are that she is an experienced leader in the charity sector who commands broad respect across that sector. And in doing so, she'll be able to make sure that dodgy charities that are doing the wrong thing are dealt with. But she'll also be able to work constructively with charities to see more charities and not for profits springing up. One of the trends that we've talked about before on the show, Adam, is the declining community engagement in Australia. Fewer people volunteering, fewer people joining, fewer people participating. I'm really worried about those social trends and I think the charity and not-for-profit sector is at the heart of turning them around and creating a reconnected Australia. But it can only do that if it's working effectively and collaboratively with the community sector, providing them opportunities for partnerships with one another and with government.
SHIRLEY: With Susan Woodward at the helm, do you see a role for the regulator in promoting the good sides of volunteering or being involved in not-for-profits as well? Will that become something more prominent under its remit?
LEIGH: That's a fascinating question, Adam. I've reflected on it and I've actually gone forwards and backwards on exactly this question. I think ultimately, you probably don't want the regulator to be the chief booster for the sector, but you do want it to be enabling those that want to start up and collaborate. You want to be making sure that regulation is effective, but no more burdensome than it needs to be. So we need to do a lot of charity boosting. I suspect it'll be foundations and philanthropists that will be at the core of that charity boosting work, but the regulator needs to be aware of it. In the eight state and territory consultations I've been running around the country recently -- the Building Community Forums -- the ACNC has been there. Some of the charities have reached out to the ACNC to say, hey, we've got this particular problem, how do you solve it? But I've been the one who's been at the front of the room making the case for building community. They've been there as troubleshooters and regulators.
SHIRLEY: On regulation and improvement of how it runs. What do you see as a couple of carriers of regulator? With Susan Woodward now at the helm can focus on and can improve.
LEIGH: Look, this is going to be a bit nerdy, but your audience has a higher than average quota of nerds. So when we set up ASIC to do corporate regulation in 1990, the states handed over their powers to the Commonwealth and that means you've got a real one stop shop for companies. When we set up the ACNC a decade ago, we didn't get that wholesale referral of powers, so there's still quite a lot of duplicate state and territory regulation. I reckon the key over the next decade is for the ACNC to constructively reach out to states and territories and say “Hey, are the burdens you're putting on charities that could be better done?” Where we could have a ‘report once use often’ framework, keeping the data confidential, but sharing it between agencies. Again, having as an end goal charities spending less time doing unnecessary paperwork, more time helping those in need.
SHIRLEY: You're hearing from Assistant Minister Andrew Leigh, who is Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasury. It is 10:14, Adam Shirley with your mornings. And Dr. Leigh, you mentioned data there. Mike is focusing on data. Mike says, can you please ask Andrew Leigh if he's concerned about charity storage use of donor information? Why do you have to opt out of having your contact details being shared with, likeminded, organisations? For instance, this is being handled by a for-profit organisation within their database. Surely that's the honey pot waiting to be hacked. It's a really interesting and relevant point Mike raises. Dr Leigh, when you consider the recent examples of data theft and of hacking, including if not for profits, what would be your response to Mike?
LEIGH: Mike is spot on about one of the chief challenges for not-for-profits. In Australia, the Optus and the Medibank data breaches have all organisations now looking at what data they're holding, whether they need to hold that data and how secure it is. And one of the things the ACNC is doing is leading the conversation around best practice data regulation within organisations. It's really critical because we're going to get more of these data breaches and so I think one of the approaches organisations ought to be taking is hardening up their systems, but also saying, if we were hacked, how do we make sure we have as little as possible that is of value to cyberattacks?
SHIRLEY: Should the regulator create some sort of standard that charities need to meet to ensure data protection is not lax? That things aren't sitting in the cloud, for instance, for too long, that there are basic bonifies that these charities have to meet so that they protect the people that give them their information?
LEIGH: It’s possible we'd get to that stage. The challenge is the charity sector is just so extraordinarily diverse and so you're talking about everything from a one-person operation to 1000-person operation. A one size fits all approach might be too burdensome for a small organisation but might not provide enough protection to the supporters of a large organisation. I suspect at the moment the best way is going to be for the ACNC to lead a conversation about best practice data approaches and to work collaboratively with the sector.
SHIRLEY: Yes, are there certain measures that may be, regardless of the size of a charity and what it does that you would expect they would meet, that they would protect their contributors from?
LEIGH: Given what we've seen lately, yes, you're certainly right. There might be common standards that are put in place. We're early days in this conversation. We've lost a lot of time in terms of cybersecurity. Clare O'Neil has said that as a country, we're probably five years behind where we should be on hardening up in response to cyber threats. That's as true for the not-for-profit sector as it is for the business sector.
SHIRLEY: And Dr Leigh, regarding competition as well and I'm thinking about your role in looking at the way multinationals pay tax and countries and other organisations. As the world's eyes are on Qatar and some of the way it deals and it works. I don't know whether you or the government broadly has a position on things like human rights breaches or ways of doing things in Qatar given the World Cup is about to get started.
LEIGH: Yes, we've certainly been concerned about a number of the human rights issues that have arisen in Qatar. I'm aware of representations that have been made in the past. I'm not aware of the exact state of play of those representations but the fact that we're playing sport in a particular country shouldn't affect our values and our willingness to stand up for fundamental human rights. On a day when Sean Turnell is coming back to Australia, having been locked up for three years for his valuable development work, it's a moment to remind ourselves that Australia needs to stand tall on the world stage on human rights.
SHIRLEY: And if we think multinational relations and in that bigger frame, would you be satisfied or support Australian players in Qatar? If they wanted to show their concerns through protests about Qatar's human rights record.
LEIGH: I'd be very supportive of them being standing up for their values, but I would also be concerned that in so doing they are ensuring that they were safe.
SHIRLEY: At the same time, it's interesting to see the way those many issues locally now fold into an incident or I guess a whole celebration of football like the World Cup where sport and politics start to mix, even though people might not want it to be that way. I appreciate your time today and thank you for it.
LEIGH: Pleasure, Adam. Thanks again.