Senate debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018


Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Act 2012; Consideration

6:07 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This report is a long-awaited review of the act, the implementation of the act and what's commonly called the ACNC—the Australian Charities and Not-for Profit Commission. It's a long-anticipated review. I note that they have made 30 recommendations.

I will go back to a little bit of history first-up. This was a commission that the previous Labor government put in place that had strong support across the charities and not-for-profits. There were a couple that didn't support it but having been very involved in and, in fact, negotiating some changes to the bills at the time, to ensure that there are better protections for charities and the not-for-profit sector, it was strongly supported by the sector.

Of course, it was opposed by the then opposition, the now current government. When the then opposition came into government, they sought for quite a long time to get rid of the ACNC. The not-for-profit and charities sector fought back very strongly, as did ourselves, and, of course, the opposition.

I'd like to point out that in the report, the review panel say, 'There is strong support for the Australian Charities and Not-for Profit Commission and its accomplishments in the first five years, with the sector acknowledging the collaborative and educative approach taken by the ACNC'. They consider that this approach will continue and there is an opportunity to broaden the use of incentives to encourage good behaviour. They make, as I said, a number of recommendations. Among the recommendations and conclusions, there's a common theme for a national scheme for the sector, including the referral of powers from the states to the Commonwealth. That's about fundraising. This issue has been causing ongoing tensions. Of course, with the ACNC and the issues around fundraising power and regulatory capacity, the states still haven't come on board, nearly six years down the track. There hasn't been a full referral of powers. That causes unending concern and obstacles for charities and the not-for-profit sector across Australia. So they do make recommendations on the need for referral.

Others talk about giving the ACCC responsibility with regard to charities and fundraising. I have quite a bit of sympathy for that, because, at the moment, regulation of the sector is a hotchpotch across Australia. If you're a charity working across the different states, you have to comply with multiple rules and approaches. So, while I have sympathy for that and have in fact spoken to people working in this space for quite a long time about it, I would suggest that a staged approach be taken to full referrals or concurrent referrals of powers around fundraising.

I want to go to some of the other issues. Anyone who knows me and the work that I have been doing in this chamber over the years would know that it is around the role that charities and the not-for-profits sector play in civil society and the role of advocacy. I will quickly note that the panel supports the role of charities to 'promote or oppose a change to any matter of law, policy or practice' that is linked to their charitable purpose. There are a number of recommendations around that, but I want to point out that strong note there around advocacy. They also cover issues on basic religious charities and make some recommendations, which I urge people to look at. I think there needs to be some changes there, which they talk about. If nobody else wants to speak on this report, I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.