Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021


Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission

5:35 pm

Karen Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to pay my respects and show my support for the charities and not-for-profit sectors that have spent so many years being beaten and harassed by so many successive Liberal-National governments. I commend Senator Patrick and the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation for pursuing disallowance motions on the disgraceful amendments the government posed to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

I commend this chamber, or at least most of it, for supporting the disallowance and stopping this unconscionable move to silence the sector. Our not-for-profits and charities play a vital role in our society. They provide an enormous range of critical services to our community, including advocacy and community action. I spent 20 years working in the community sector, so I've seen firsthand how important the advocacy role of this sector is. They see what's happening on the ground: the impact of government policy and the impact of changes in our society. They see what's working and they see what's not. They are perfectly placed to undertake advocacy work and to fight for better outcomes for our communities, even if that shines a light on eight long years of cuts imposed by this current Morrison-Joyce government and shines a light on the government's ideological attacks on this sector. Charities make an active and important contribution to our society through joining the public debate and making their voices heard on issues of importance. Our national discourse would be so much poorer without them.

Prime Minister Morrison and his party talk a big game about supporting people's freedoms. But, as usual, they only want to support the freedoms of some people. A huge number of organisations, including some of Australia's most well-known and respected organisations, have spoken out against the changes that have most recently been put to the ACNC, including ACOSS, First Nations legal services, St Vincent de Paul, Anglicare, the Fred Hollows Foundation and many, many more.

Joe Zabar, the former deputy CEO of Catholic Services Australia, warned that Catholic charities will face an action for participating in the annual Palm Sunday refugee rally. I wonder how that interfaces with the religious freedom bill introduced in the House of Reps by Mr Morrison this morning? Kasy Chambers, the executive director of Anglicare was quoted in the Financial Review as saying, of the regulations: 'They are not just an attack on charities. They are an attack on democracy.'

These regulations have also faced unprecedented criticism from the Senate's oversight mechanism, the bipartisan Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation. As a new member of that committee I've seen the effort that goes into working with ministers to iron out issues before recommending that a regulation be entirely struck out. This is not a step taken lightly by that committee. Therefore, it should carry a damn sight more weight than it has in this current debate. In particular, the committee expressed concern that there were no limits or guidelines applied to the commissioner's power to take action. That power could have been exercised merely on a perceived likelihood that an organisation was going to do something. This is enormously subjective, granting huge discretion to a government-appointed commissioner to take action against these organisations without the need to follow any guidelines or meet any threshold.

These regulations are not the first attack on the not-for-profit and charity sector. In fact, this government has been waging war on this sector for eight long years. John Howard tried to crush and silence them. Tony Abbott tried to abolish the Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and, in 2017, the Turnbull government appointed Gary Johns, a man with a history of attacking charities like Beyond Blue, to run a charities watchdog. Now the Morrison government is trying to attack the right of charities and not-for-profits to take public action on issues of significant importance to them. I proudly join with my Labor colleagues in backing the charities and not-for-profits sector. We must stand against these ongoing, relentless and outrageous attacks on democracy. (Time expired)