HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 7 DECEMBER 2020
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) charities are the most trusted sector in Australian public life;
(b) charities employ over one million Australians and contribute nearly one-tenth of Australia's national income;
(c) charities are the first line of support for the most vulnerable in our communities during times of economic and social upheaval;
(d) meeting the requirements of Australia's seven different fundraising regimes is wasting the time and energy of Australian charities and not-for-profit organisations; and
(e) the Government's failure to act on fundraising reform is costing Australian charities over $1 million every month;
(2) recognises that:
(a) for several years, the charity and not-for-profit sector has been calling for reform of Australia's fundraising laws;
(b) Treasury's 5 year review of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, delivered on 31 May 2018, identified fundraising law as the major reporting burden on charities and recommended that fundraising law be harmonised across the country;
(c) on 14 February 2019, the Senate Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century called on parliament to harmonise fundraising law within two years;
(d) that inquiry, chaired by Labor Senator Catryna Bilyk, delivered a unanimous report, with its recommendations being supported by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, Liberal Senators Eric Abetz and Amanda Stoker, former Labor Senator David Smith, and former United Australia Party Senator Brian Burston;
(e) throughout 2020, the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission's Not for Profit Working Group, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, and the Charities Crisis Cabinet have all identified harmonisation of fundraising laws as a key initiative in helping Australian charities provide strong support for our communities; and
(f) failure to deliver fundraising reform has significant costs to the charity and not-for-profit sector, with the Senate Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century report estimating that the annual cost to charities and their donors is around $15 million; and
(3) calls on the Government to:
(a) apologise to Australian charities for failing to meet the two-year timeframe set out in the Senate Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century report;
(b) now commit to support Australian charities and the communities they serve by ending unnecessary waste of their precious resources;
(c) support the generous Australian donors who donate money to our charities, by ensuring their donations are not needlessly eroded by redundant administrative and regulatory costs; and
(d) confirm a timeline for the commencement of a consistent national model for regulating not-for-profit and charitable fundraising activities.
We tell our kids: 'Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today’. Fix the leaky roof now. Don't wait until it rains. It's not as though the Morrison government hasn't been warned about the importance of fixing fundraising. There has been a slew of recommendations calling on the Morrison government to fix the outdated patchwork of fundraising laws that currently requires a charity that wants to raise money on the internet to register in seven different jurisdictions. Treasury's five-year review of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, delivered on 31 May 2018, identified fundraising law as the major reporting burden on charities. The national COVID commission's not-for-profit working group called on the government to fix fundraising. The Charities Crisis Cabinet has called for it. The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements contains recommendation 21.2: 'Australian, state and territory governments should create a single national scheme for the regulation of charitable fundraising.'
Most importantly, the Senate Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century, on 14 February 2019, called on parliament to harmonise fundraising law within two years. This was not simply a Labor report. It was brilliantly chaired by Senator Catryna Bilyk, but its recommendations were supported by the Greens senator Rachel Siewert, Liberal senators Eric Abetz and Amanda Stoker, former Labor senator David Smith, who I'm pleased to now have in the House with us, and former United Australia Party senator Brian Burston. A bipartisan parliamentary committee called on the government to fix fundraising within two years. Will they do it? Nope. They're going to miss the deadline. Valentine's Day 2021 will come and go with the government having failed to fix fundraising.
The pandemic and the bushfires have shown what a tragedy this is. The national bushfire crisis caused an outpouring of giving. Sure there were some issues around Celeste Barber's $51 million, but it was a demonstration of the generosity of Australians. But the charities who received it had to go through an unnecessary compliance burden. Now we've seen the pandemic shut down event-based fundraising and move to online fundraising. The internet doesn't see state borders, but fundraising law does. Sue Woodward from Not-for-profit Law has been the core advocate behind this reform. She says:
"Ultimately, we have to be able to answer the question of what does a charity do if they put a donate button on their website?" … "If the answer to that question is that they have to look at seven different laws just to work out how to comply… we haven't answered the question and we are holding the sector back at a most crucial time."
The Commonwealth should be leading reform, but instead it is sitting on its hands, unable to act on a key issue to the sector.
They say they believe in one-stop shops, but they fought for years to kill the charities commission. They say they believe in red tape reduction, but they're doing nothing to reduce the single largest regulatory burden that is hurting Australian charities. It comes with a price tag, around $15 million a year—more than a million dollars a month—which means that the Morrison government's intransigence and failure to act for the last two years have cost charities $30 million. Every charity worker, every donor in Australia should be furious at the Morrison government's waste of money at this crucial time.
As an anonymous submitter to Not-for-profit Law @ Justice Connect, when they looked into the issue, said:
With the advent of social media platforms and news sites, all of which have no state boundaries, our work is seen across borders.
The charity’s problem is that they have to hope the donor isn't outside the state, otherwise they have to fill in the paperwork and the reporting for all the different areas. The fact is that the government's failure to act is part of their longer war on the charities sector. They have been at war on the charities sector since they got into office. They have failed to act on this crucial issue. They have appointed a charities critic to head the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, which is what you do when you fail in your attempts to get legislation through parliament to shut it down.
The government should apologise to Australian charities, to the people they support and to the generous Australians who support them and whose money is being wasted by the government's failure to act on this crucial issue.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.