Senate debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021


Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission; Consideration

5:12 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to draw attention to the 2019-20 report of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission because the ACNC is an absolutely critical regulatory and governance organisation within the Australian Commonwealth bureaucracy. I recall that, when Labor in government first mooted that we wanted to pursue such an institution, it was roundly opposed and criticised by the coalition government. They made one foiled attempt to abolish it—I'm sure they made more than one attempt, but I recall one—yet it appears that finally the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is being recognised by the Australian government as a much-needed institution.

It has been reported that the government is looking to the ACNC to use its powers to crack down on unlawful activity taking place within charities. Frankly, this is what the ACNC was established to do. The proposed changes would see the charities commissioner given powers, for example, to take enforcement action against charities, even if they have not been charged with an offence. Sector leaders say that the proposed changes go against 'every principle of justice, fairness and procedural transparency'. The federal government is now looking at changing the governance standards for charities to make clear that a registered organisation must not engage in offences such as trespassing, theft, vandalism and assault or use their resources to promote or support these activities.

On the one hand the government finally see the worthiness of the ACNC and give it something they would like it to do. However, this government needs to be challenged on this approach—on the way that it handles dealing with the not-for-profit sector and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission—because they may be asking the ACNC to do the government's dirty work for them. For example, with cracking down on activist organisations masquerading as charities, we all know the government's reputation in that regard. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.