Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Questions without Notice: Additional Answers

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission

5:54 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I table a response to a question taken on notice during question time on 21 June 2021, asked by Senator Siewert, relating to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and seek leave to have the document incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

Senator the Hon Scott Ryan

President of the Senate

Parliament House


Dear Mr President

I write with regard to a question I took on notice from Senator Siewert during Question Time on Monday 21 June 2021, on the matter of the Australian Charities and Not-for- profits Commission (ACNC).

I can advise that Governance Standard Three as currently defined in the law, prevents the ACNC Commissioner from investigating potentially serious breaches of the law by a charity because the unlawful conduct is deemed a summary offence in some jurisdictions. This compromises the ACNC's capacity to be an effective regulator, potentially undermining public trust and confidence in the charity sector.

The proposed changes to Governance Standard Three seeks to redefine the standard to capture the offences of trespass, vandalism, theft, assault and intimidation (regardless of whether they are indictable or summary offences in State criminal codes). This will empower the ACNC Commissioner to investigate such breaches of the law by charities and take enforcement action if warranted.

Charities will still be able to undertake advocacy activities consistent with their charitable purpose, provided it is conducted lawfully. Registered charities that act lawfully and do not use their resources to promote others to engage in unlawful activities are already complying with the proposed changes. The ACNC Commissioner will take a proportionate approach to enforcement, with the objective of giving the public trust and confidence and protecting the assets of registered charities.

The proposed changes implement the Government's response to recommendation 20 of the Strengthening for Purpose: Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Legislation Review 2018. Recommendation 20 states that test case funding should be made available to develop the law in matters of public interest. In response to this recommendation, the Government stated it would explore legislative options to address uncertainty in the law.

The proposed changes clarify uncertainty about the scope of unlawful activities prohibited under governance standard three and resolve the complexity of the law to make it easier and less costly for registered charities to understand their obligations.

The ACNC's governance standards, including Standard Five, are a set of core, minimum standards that deal with how a charity is run. These governance standards require a charity to remain charitable, operate lawfully, and be run in an accountable and responsible way.

The proposed changes to Governance Standard Three reaffirm that compliance with Australian laws sets a minimum benchmark by which all charities should govern themselves. Acting lawfully protects a charity's assets, reputation, and the people it works with.

I have copied this letter to the Treasurer, the Assistant Treasurer and Senator Siewert.

Yours sincerely

Simon Birmingham

Minister for Finance

22 June 2021