Speech - Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission

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13 June 2014

I rise today in support of the Member for Fraser’s motion regarding the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, in particular his call for the Government to drops its ill-considered and unpopular plan to axe the commission.

 

For ease of delivery, I’ll refer to the Australia Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission as the Commission from this point forward.

As mentioned in the motion before the House, the commission was set up for the right purposes following an extensive 15 year period of review and consultation.

And it’s doing exactly what it was set up to do, operating efficiently and effectively to help charities, donors and taxpayers.

Quite simply, the Abbott Liberal Government’s plans to abolish the Commission is an insult to the good work of the charitable sector, and to all Australians that want accountability and transparency when it comes to their generous donations.

It’s not just Labor who believes in the Commission and the good work it does.

Charities support the Commission, the public have flagged the need for the Commission, and the governance role it plays is vital in regulating a very large sector within Australia.

 According to a recent survey, four out of five charities support the work the Commission is doing. In a separate survey, only 6% of charities wanted responsibility for charities to be returned to the ATO.

Deputy Speaker, that’s a massive 94% endorsement of the current arrangements under the Commission.

Indeed, some of Australia’s most well established and respected charities felt so strongly about the issues that they took the very courageous step of publishing an open letter urging the Government to reconsider.

  • Lifeline,
  • ACOSS,
  • Save the Children,
  • the RSPCA,
  • Youth Off the Streets,
  • World Vision,
  • St John Ambulance Australia,
  • the McGrath Foundation,
  • and Wesley Mission Australia are among many those have signed the letter and called on the Government to keep the Commission.

The organisations confirmed a number points in their letter to the Prime Minister, including that they:

Want to make it very clear to the Commonwealth Government and wider community that like most charities across Australia, we value the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, and we want to see it continue its impressive work.

And that:

The ACNC has done what few new regulators achieve – gained widespread support across the sector it is regulating.

These are strong words, that should be taken heed of.

The charities and not-for-profits sector, plays a vital role in our community, contributing both economically and socially. The sector

  • employs more than one million Australians,
  • turns over around $100 billion,
  • involves almost five million volunteers,
  • and nurtures and supports all of our communities - including my community of Newcastle.

According to the Commission’s charity register, the Newcastle electorate is home to more than 450 registered charities.

That’s 450 organisations, large and small, doing great things to support our local community.

None are more or less important that than the others. From the Dixon Park Surf Life Saving Club supporting our young nippers, to our homelessness support organisations like Samaritans, our disability service providers like Connectability or our many local school P and C groups.

Charities support our entire community, not just the vulnerable.

They need the support of a strong, dedicated regulator, a job the Commission is doing aptly.

Another important role the Commission plays is helping to reduce and eliminate scammers.

In our current day, where unfortunately we are exposed to so many scams, we need the Commission to help protect registered charities and members of the public who donate their hard-earned money to worthy causes.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Little Black Book of Scams details the situation well – scammers will try anything to get our money.

Charity scams in particular, are not uncommon and misdirect money away from legitimate, registered organisations, into the pockets of scammers.

A common tactic it to exploit natural disasters and crises in the news to collect funds, or to masquerade as a charity worker, or in fact, create a fictitious charity to fool people into making donations.

They are usually scams that play on emotions, looking to collect for a cause that will likely secure sympathy.

A recent example of a charity scam was exposed last week in the Daily Telegraph.

A caller, masquerading as a charity worker from a charity from India rebuilding forests, took advantage of an elderly North Sydney resident, conning her into donating more than $100,000 to the fraudulent charity.

In the same way that ASIC provides investors with the confidence they need to buy shares in companies, the Commission provides donors with the confidence that registered charities are actually performing charitable works.

Then we have the case of consultation by attendance, where those simply in a forum audience regarding the Commission’s role were listed as having been consulted on its abolition.

In response to a question on notice asking for details of who has been involved in consultations about what might replace the Commission, the Minister responsible listed 31 people representing 23 organisations.

Yet some on the list believe they were not consulted. They have written to the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, noting there concern that the Minister has sought to mislead the public about their involvement in consultations with his personal staff and the Department of Social Services (DSS).

One correspondent wrote: 

“It was in no way a consultation and I will write to the DSS and the Senate Committee to have my name removed from the list as I was not consulted in any other forum or at any other time.”

This is a Government hiding behind an illusion of consultation to ram home an ideological agenda.

As the Community Council of Australia has warned, abolishing the Commission would be a sign that the government is not interested in the views of the charity sector.

It would harm charities, who will lose visibility and governance support.

And it would be bad for the public who will be more exposed to fraud and scams.

I call on the Government to abandon their ludicrous plans to axe the Commission and to support it in the great work it is doing.

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Authorised by Sharon Claydon MP, 427 Hunter Street Newcastle