Liberals bring charities together, against their policies - Speech, House of Representatives


House of Representatives, 13 August 2018

I was delighted after the last election to be appointed by Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, as the shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits. It's the first time that either major party has had a portfolio for charities and not-for-profits, reflecting Labor's strong belief in the charitable sector. I acknowledge the important work also being done by Senator Louise Pratt in her role of working with volunteers. It indicates very clearly Labor's strong support for our voluntary sector.

But that strong support for the voluntary sector hasn't been reciprocated by both sides of the House. We have seen two open letters – one to Prime Minister Abbott and another to Prime Minister Turnbull – from the charity sector, complaining about attacks on the charity sector. The most recent letter was signed by Volunteering Australia, Carers Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Community Council of Australia, Justice Connect, Philanthropy Australia and the Starlight Children's Foundation.

The fact is the Liberals have brought charities together – against their retrograde policies.

This government has had five ministers responsible for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission: Kevin Andrews, Scott Morrison, Christian Porter, Michael McCormack and Michael Sukkar.

And we saw a period from 2011 to 2016 in which the Liberals were trying to close down the charities commission. Being unable to get that legislation through the parliament, they have now backed off in trying to shut down the charities commission and instead have appointed as head of the charities commission, Gary Johns, a noted critic of charities, who has referred to Recognise as the 'officially sanctioned propaganda arm of the Australian government', who has said that Australia is 'sucking in the wrong type of immigrant' and who has described poor women in Australia as 'cash cows'. We have seen from this government the appointment of a charities commissioner in the hours after the marriage equality vote passed the parliament—not the moment you make the kind of announcement of which you are proud.

Under this government, we have just seen attack after attack on the charitable sector. The most recent has been the attempt by the Liberal government, under the guise of banning foreign political donations—a measure that Labor supports and which we have voluntarily implemented, unlike the Liberals—to wrap in charities to try to stop the important issue advocacy work of charities being funded by overseas donations. This would prevent, for example, anti-tuberculosis work and support by New Zealanders of a state based charity who has helped their children. Indeed, one charity was concerned that it might be necessary, before religious organisations pass around the collection plate, for churches to say, 'If you're not a citizen, don't put money in the plate.' That's what they were concerned about.

So we've seen from this government much warm talk in public forums about the value of volunteering, but when it comes to action we've seen quite the opposite: these continued attacks on charities.

We have in Australia many worthy volunteers. In my role as shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits, I've been holding forums across the country. We've held 14 such forums now, with more than 1,200 charities, speaking with them about ideas that other charities and not-for-profits can learn from in order to build community. Labor is keen to work with Justice Connect on their Fix Fundraising campaign and to work with states and territories to reduce the paperwork burden on charities by having the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission serve as a one-stop shop, akin to an ASIC for charities.

We want to work with the charitable sector, and we're keen to boost volunteering in Australia. According to the census, the volunteering rate's gone up a little, from 18 to 19 per cent from 2006 to 2016, but the General Social Survey tells us it's gone down from 34 to 31 per cent from 2006 to 2014. Either way, we're not seeing a massive upsurge in volunteering, which is what Labor would like to work on with a strong and constructive relationship with our charitable sector.

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra

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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.