Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Amendment (2021 Measures No. 2) Regulations 2021; Disallowance

3:51 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

This needs to be knocked off. These regulations are all about the government trying to silence its opposition and silence its critics, tilting the level playing field in its favour and tilting the level playing field of democracy in its favour. This needs to be seen as part of a whole suite of actions it's taking currently: stopping people from voting, through the voter ID laws, and the other legislation that's currently in the House, which is making organisations involved in advocating during election times jump through a huge amount of bureaucracy in order to do that.

Basically, these regulations will shut charities down just for speaking out, for being critical of the government—for saying things that this government doesn't want to hear. These regulations will discourage charities from promoting and having a presence at peaceful protests. They will make it harder for charities to share their resources with community groups and, of course, they will wrap charities up in unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and threaten them with deregulation if they fail to comply.

We know that the regulations and the penalties are disproportionate and incredibly punitive. They would see charities being shut down by the regulator because of really minor and inadvertent breaches of the law. But, if that's what the government wants to see, to ping a particular charity because they're particularly getting under its skin and niggling it just that little bit too much, that's the very sort of action that can be taken.

In particular, some of the most outrageous parts of these regulations are that they expose charities to pre-emptive punishment if the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission believes that they're likely to breach the regulations in the future. 'Likely to breach the regulations in the future'—that's shutting charities down for something they may do in the future! That treatment is absolutely unprecedented. Neither for-profit corporations nor political parties can be deregistered because a staff member might do something in the future. This is a complete attack upon the ability of charities to be engaged in processes to advocate for human rights, the environment or social justice.

We have the situation at the moment where charities are operating very fine, thank you. We do not need this sort of really punitive overreach by the government, which is going to have a massive impact—it will have a huge chilling impact. We know, of course that there has been a huge array of charities, right across the spectrum, which have united together through the Hands Off Our Charities Alliance, opposing these regulations. I really want to salute them all. It is remarkable we have had charities right from the environment groups through to quite conservative Christian organisations that have worked together with organisations right across the political spectrum because they all recognise what a huge impact on their operations these regulations are going to have. They absolutely must be overturned for the sake of charities to be able to operate fairly and appropriately in our democracy today.


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