I held a doorstop this morning at Parliament House drawing attention to today's Senate Committee hearing into the ACNC Repeal Bill (1) and the adverse consquences for charities and not for profits if the Bill was passed.
FRIDAY, 23 MAY 2014
SUBJECT / S: Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission; Inequality and the Federal Budget; Falling Consumer Confidence.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thank you for coming everyone. I thought I would say a few words ahead of the Senate Committee's inquiry into the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission.
The ACNC was established by Labor after an exhaustive process. Inquiries had been held going back to the 1990s about the need for an independent voice for charities. The charities commission protects charities because they have a regulator than understands their needs and protects donors who have the confidence that when someone comes knocking at their door, that they are not a scammer. But the Coalition for reasons that can only be regarded as ideology, wants to scrap the ACNC.
This is strongly opposed by the sector. In a survey of charities, four out of five charities said they thought the ACNC should be kept. An open letter was sent to the Prime Minister signed by everyone from the RSPCA to Save the Children, the Hillsong Church to ACOSS. So many organisations have come together to put in submissions to today's Senate inquiry saying they oppose the ACNC repeal. The overwhelming bulk of submissions from the charitable sector supports keeping the ACNC. We've even had Robert Fitzgerald who chaired the Productivity Commission inquiry into the ACNC saying that he sees no need for the ACNC to be scrapped. I hope that Mr Abbott will listen to the strong voice of the charitable sector which is saying as loudly as it possibly could: 'Mr Abbott, back off and let the ACNC stay'.
I've been in the ACT and South Australia recently to hold events with their governments who are committed to reducing red tape, by ceding powers to the ACNC. It means charities can spend less time doing paperwork and more time helping the vulnerable.
I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: The Coalition has argued that reducing red tape might be the best way forward. What's your response to that argument?
LEIGH: I absolutely agree that we need to reduce the paperwork burden on Australian charities. That's why the ACNC was developed and it's why it ought to stay. In both the ACT and South Australia, it's very clear that the paperwork burden will go up if we go back to the old system of dual reporting. Charities in all their submissions, are saying that the ACNC makes life simpler for them. Mr Abbott wants to put charitable regulation back to the Australian Tax Office. We've had a survey of charities to see how many think that's a good idea. Just 6 per cent believe that is a good idea.
JOURNALIST: There's really no need for a charity-specific watchdog though, is there? There are plenty of other watchdogs that can and do a bit of this work?
LEIGH: Charities have said very strongly that a charities regulator understands their needs. The people of the ACNC pick up the phone and understand what it is to be a charity. Just as we have a corporate watchdog in ASIC providing confidence to investors, so too, a charities watchdog or overseer in the ACNC provides certainty to charitable donors.
JOURNALIST: But that's an expensive luxury for charities isn't it? Why can't they deal with another watchdog like everyone else?
LEIGH: The charities commission I believe is saving money for charities and reducing their paperwork burden, and it's ensuring that more Australians donate to charities. Without the ACNC there's a risk that people will be too worried that when someone comes to the door, they're a scammer rather than being part of a genuine charity. But don't take my word of it, listen to the strong voice of the sector, virtually united in their support for keeping the ACNC. Partly they're just frustrated by this governments lack of clarity in even the repeal process. ACNC Repeal Bill No. 1 doesn't say what's going to replace the ACNC, and in fact they're asking the Parliament to pass a bill without knowing what comes next.
JOURNALIST: On a separate matter, what do you make of Tony Shepherd’s intervention today on the Budget?
LEIGH: I think it's frankly pretty extraordinary that Tony Shepherd would describe the critics of the Budget as being somehow narrow or of sectional interests. We've got medical professional against GP taxes, we've got community groups coming out against a heavily regressive Budget that puts all of the burden on the bottom and gives additional goodies like parental leave to those at the top. I think it again just shows how out of touch this Government has become with ordinary Australians.
JOURNALIST: He seems to be disappointed with the response to not only his Commission of Audit but the Budget, why is that? Why do you think that's happened?
LEIGH: I think the disappointment doesn't rest with Australians, it rests with those who put this Budget together. There are so many Australians who are outraged by the broken promises, cutting health, cutting education, cuts to the pension, and the broken promise here in the ACT not to cut more than 12,000 public servants. We've seen conservative premiers calling for an emergency COAG, we've seen community groups outraged by NATSEM modelling showing that so much of the burden of this Budget will be borne by the most vulnerable, and yet the Budget doesn't even manage to reduce the deficit. The deficit now is higher than it was under the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook - the state of the books when the Coalition took office.
JOURNALIST: He says that it's about right that high income earners already pay their fair share through a disproportionately high income tax relative to low income earners, isn't it fair enough now that if the budget is going to be consolidating at least in some way that that burden should be spread across the board?
LEIGH: We've just had a generation in which Australian inequality has increased massively, it's now at a 75 year high. Earnings for the top ten percent have risen three times as fast as earnings for the bottom 10 per cent. CEO pay has gone up twice as fast as average income, and three times as fast as the minimum wage. The notion that now we ought to engage in government-led redistribution from the most vulnerable to the most affluent in the community is just ethically and morally wrong. It makes no economic sense, and it's going to hurt consumer confidence, because this is a redistribution, not just from the poor to the rich, but from spenders to savers, and that's why you're seeing consumer and business confidence in the doldrums.
JOURNALIST: In that case then, is it time to start thinking about negative gearing, the tax concessions in superannuation. Is that a discussion that Australia needs to have in the next few years?
LEIGH: The Labor Party will put together its policies in time for the next election. But it is very clear that there are many better way of achieving savings then the government has gone about. In particular just to identify one, the Government's gone soft on multinational profit-shifting, giving a nearly $1 billion back to multinationals because they're not willing to fairly tax multinationals, yet at the same time ripping money out of the pockets of the most vulnerable Australians.
JOURNALIST: The Labor Party's also thinking about whether to support this deficit levy, why is Labor still talking it? Why haven't they decided yet whether to support this measure or not?
LEIGH: We'll make clear our position on that in the coming days.
JOURNALIST: No, but why is it that there has been this delay? What sort of discussions have you seen in the Labor Party about this?
LEIGH: I'm not in Shadow Cabinet, we'll go through the appropriate processes, and we'll announce our position in the coming days.
JOURNALIST: Isn't there a risk that the ALP could be targeted as anti-business by pursuing this sort of line?
LEIGH: I think the Labor Party's position is in fact pro-business. You've seeing this collapse in consumer confidence, one of the consumer confidence surveys now at a three year low, the other one falling faster than any other time since the Global Financial Crisis. So this Government is hurting business through its heavily redistributive Budget and also through the lack of confidence that the government seems to have in the economy. Joe Hockey is still the Shadow Treasurer in drag, still unable to talk confidently about the strengths of the Australian economy, and the proud record of two decades of uninterrupted growth.
JOURNALIST: Just the pin you down on the debt levy stuff. It is meant to kick in soon, you have made a decision and will announce in the coming days or you are yet to make a decision and then you will announce it?
LEIGH: As I've told you, I'm not in the Shadow Cabinet, Labor's position will be announced in the coming days. As I understand it the legislation is in Parliament on Tuesday.
JOURNALIST: Uni fee deregulation, you were once a fan, but Anthony Albanese this morning described it as appealing to dumb but rich people, would you go that far?
LEIGH: I think the Coalition’s ripping money out of universities is deeply disturbing, we've got one in four students who are at university today thanks to the reforms of the Rudd and Gillard Governments. To go back to a system in which students are unable to access universities worries me a great deal. Investing in universities isn't just a great education reform, it's great social equity reform and a fundamental economic reform for the nation.
JOURNALIST: But this would ultimately deliver more money to universities?
LEIGH: Everything I've seen from the Coalition suggests that their agenda is similar to that of the Howard Government of ripping money out where Labor would have put in more resources. To see so many students who were the first in their family to go to university was a great sense of pride for me as a Labor member of parliament. Jeopardising that would be a bad result for Australia and a terrible blow for those families.