Well planned charities commission has made an impressive start

This week, I spoke in Parliament on the importance of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission.


Monday, 16 June 2014

Dr Leigh: I move that this House:

(1) recognises that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) was established in 2012 after external inquiries in 1995, 2001, 2010, Parliamentary committee reviews, issues and discussion papers, exposure drafts and consultations with experts, and is operating efficiently and effectively, helping charities, donors and taxpayers;


(2) acknowledges that:

(a) the vast majority of submissions to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee's inquiry into the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Repeal) (No. 1) Bill 2014 speak positively of the ACNC's work and urge the Government to retain the charities commission as a one-stop shop;

(b) the evidence to this inquiry provided by eminent Australian, Mr Robert Fitzgerald AM, strongly supports the retention of the ACNC;

(c) in a survey, four out of five charities support keeping the ACNC, while only 6 per cent like the Government's idea of returning the regulation of charities to the Australian Taxation Office;

(d) in an open letter, more than 40 charities, including Lifeline, Justice Connect, ACOSS, Social Ventures Australia, Save the Children, St John Ambulance Australia, Community Colleges Australia, Sane Australia, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Myer Foundation, Danks Trust, the RSPCA, Youth Off the Streets, the Ted Noffs Foundation, Music Viva Australia, Wesley Mission Victoria, the RSPCA Australia, World Vision, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Odyssey House, the McGrath Foundation, the Australian Council for International Development, Changemakers Australia, Volunteering Australia, YWCA Australia, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, the Consumer Health Forum of Australia, Hillsong Church, Churches of Christ Victoria and Tasmania and Wesley Mission Australia, called on the Government to keep the ACNC; and

(e) the Australian Capital Territory and South Australian governments are already working to reduce the paperwork burden on charities and not-for-profits by cooperating with the ACNC to reduce duplication in reporting;

(3) notes that some of those who the Minister for Social Services claims to have consulted with have written to the Government to make clear that they have never been consulted on the ACNC repeal; and

(4) calls on the Government to drop its ill-considered and unpopular plan to axe the ACNC.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Ms Gai BRODTMANN: I second the motion.

Dr LEIGH:  In 2006 the House of Representatives Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs was asked by the then minister, the member for Berowra, to report on the harmonisation of legal systems. Recommendation 18 of that 2006 report brought down under the Howard government was:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with the not-for-profit sector and the States and Territories investigate the establishment of a single national regulator for the not-for-profit sector

That was a unanimous report of the committee, a coalition dominated committee which included the shadow Prime Minister, I mean the Prime Minister's shadow, the member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull. This was just one of five major inquiries over more than a decade that have recommended a charities commission—a charities commission which enjoys broad support across the sector.

More than a million people have viewed the ACNC's National Charities Register. The commission has registered almost a thousand charities, responded to more than 40,000 inquiries and resolved more than 200 complaints about charities. As Robert Fitzgerald, the Chair of the ACNC's Advisory Board and the presiding commissioner on the Productivity Commission's 2010 inquiry has noted, the choice for the Commonwealth parliament is about retaining well-developed, proportionate and appropriate regulation or returning to an ad hoc system of inefficient and non-transparent regulation. As he puts it:

Corporate Australia long ago rejected such a regime and begs the question as to why the not-for-profit sector should be burdened by such a cumbersome regime?

As Mr Fitzgerald has noted, the one-stop shop regulator at the Commonwealth level is an essential element in that strategy and has already demonstrated its effectiveness, including in negotiating outcomes with state authorities. It has been my pleasure to join Andrew Barr in the ACT and Gail Gago in South Australia, two jurisdictions which are working with the ACNC, to reduce the paperwork burden on Australian charities.

As Mr Fitzgerald has noted, many of the concerns that have been raised by critics have been dealt with by the ACNC itself. Religious institutions were concerned about the impact on small parishes. That has been addressed by providing for financial and governance exemptions for basic religious charities. Schools were concerned about duplicate reporting, and this has been addressed through an agreement that avoids such duplicate reporting. Charities incorporated as companies limited by guarantee wanted arrangements to ensure they did not have to annually report to both ASIC and the ACNC, and the arrangements to report once only have been put in place. Certain philanthropic funds did not want their details published to avoid unsolicited requests, and the commissioner has exercised her discretion to ensure that non-disclosure of key information can occur.

The result is that the key beneficiaries of the repeal of the ACNC are really only those organisations who do not want independent public accountability or transparency but which seek to continue to receive large benefits from the Australian community. As the Queensland Law Society's submission into the ACNC Senate inquiry has noted, the two-stage process generates uncertainty for the sector and makes good administration by the current ACNC extremely difficult. The Queensland Law Society is particularly concerned that the explanatory memorandum and regulatory impact statement are less than rigorous and do not meet the usual high standards and disciplines of Commonwealth legislative processes. It also points to multiple examples of factual mistakes in both the EM and the RIS.

I commend to the House Andreas Ortmann's summary of the submissions to the ACNC Senate inquiry, which points out that about nine-tenths of those submissions support the ACNC. That is true, too, of the Pro Bono Australia survey of the sector, which finds four out of five charities support the ACNC, and of an open letter was signed by more than 40 charities across the board. The government claims it has consulted, but organisations listed by this government as having been consulted have said, in one example, 'Governance Institute has not at any time been consulted by the Department of Social Services.' Justice Connect said that they have been mistakenly listed as having been consulted: 'We note the brief interaction we had with DSS representatives at an event which they confirmed we would not be consulted is clear evidence of this’.

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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.