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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 30489

Mr HUNT (11:56 AM) —The Extension of Charitable Purpose Bill 2004 is about people on the ground on the Mornington Peninsula, in Western Port and in all the different parts of Australia. It is about people who give of themselves for the benefit of others and, in so doing, create a better, stronger society. One of the great privileges that each member of this House comes across during the course of their work is the opportunity to work with not-for-profit charitable organisations. These groups comprise people who are genuinely committed not only to themselves but also to the notion of community and the service of others.

That is one of the profound realities of Australia and it is something which we do not sufficiently recognise—that is, the notion of community spirit and the sense in which that plays a fundamental role in defining what we are as a country, who we are as a society and how we operate as a community. Those are the key things which come from the work of charitable organisations. They have a direct and immediate impact on people's lives, whether it is the fire brigades, the country fire authorities, people who help in charitable first aid organisations such as St John Ambulance or Western Port First Aid in my electorate of Flinders, people who are involved in voluntary literacy teaching or people who are involved in all sorts of different community groups that assist veterans, the aged, the impoverished or children. You see it in each part of society.

I have to confess that, even though I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and around Western Port, before coming into this job, I did not have a complete sense of the way in which charitable organisations with charitable purposes have a profound effect on the life and role of every feature of society. But as a member of parliament you learn and you discover that what you thought was an important role is in fact an indispensable role in society. So the first thing I want to do in speaking on the Extension of Charitable Purpose Bill 2004 is to say a profound, sincere thank you to all of those organisations, whether it is the convenors of Vinnies Kitchen in Rosebud, some of the surf clubs or other groups who have an impact on the lives of individuals through their own generosity, commitment and time.

Against that background, what this bill does is clear. There are two key elements. Firstly, it maintains all existing definitions of `charities' and `charitable status'. Those elements are governed by the common law, and there is no change to the basic provisions of what constitutes and represents a charitable organisation—that which has been will continue to be. Secondly, this bill establishes and extends the definition of `charity' to specifically include three classes of organisation which may have been subject to some doubt or question. It extends the common law meaning of `charity', primarily for the purpose of deciding which organisations are eligible for accessing tax concessions to allow them to receive donations, and thereby build their organisations and allow the givers of those donations to receive tax deductibility as a consequence of that. The three classes of charitable organisations which will now be recognised without question and beyond doubt are not-for-profit child-care organisations, self-help groups and closed or contemplative religious orders. All of these groups will be regarded as charities as a result of this bill. It is an important step forward. The provisions will apply effectively from 1 July 2004. So, after passage through this House and hopefully through the Senate, we will see an immediate extension of the range of benefits available to different charities. I think that is a critical and important step forward.

There is an increasing awareness of the role of nonprofit organisations in society. One of the key proponents of this is the Treasurer, and it draws on his personal background and his fundamental beliefs. The Treasurer and others have talked about the work of not-for-profit organisations in helping to build specific services to different parts of the community and, more importantly, a sense of social capital. One organisation with which I have had the privilege to work is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I was recently fortunate to undertake a 19-day, 500-kilometre walk around my electorate to help raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The walk took in over 50 schools and over 50 towns and communities. It took me through each of the different parts of my electorate of Flinders: the Mornington Peninsula; around Westernport to the northern parts of Westernport—towns such as Tooradin, Clyde, Cardinia, Koo Wee Rup and Lang Lang; down the Bass Coast to Grantville, Corinella, Coronet Bay, San Remo and little towns such as Kilcunda and Dalyston; and all the towns on Phillip Island.

To see the public support for an organisation such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation was profoundly moving. The walk raised over $65,000, which was a positive step. But what struck me was that people from the hamlet of Kernot raised over $200, through the Kernot Hall Association. The community of French Island raised almost $200; it is a very small community but one which is passionate and which has within its midst a sufferer of juvenile diabetes. These are examples of the work of a self-help group, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Its members are primarily people who suffer from diabetes, but there can be no doubt that it plays a profound and positive public role and has a profound and positive public benefit. All those things together indicate to me that these selfless, not-for-profit charitable organisations—whether it is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or an organisation dealing with asthma or any of the other afflictions that affect people—have a profound effect.

I want to check whether the member for McMillan is to speak next.

Mr Zahra —This is parliament, you moron, not question time!

Mr HUNT —I just wanted to check.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—The member for Flinders will refer his remarks through the chair.

Mr HUNT —Mr Deputy Speaker, I was. Clearly the answer is no.

Mr Williams —Or he doesn't know.

Mr HUNT —Or he doesn't know. There are approximately 700,000 not-for-profit organisations in Australia. As shown by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, these organisations have an impact on Australia. They work throughout each community. To be considered not-for-profit and a charity, an organisation must qualify under the common law against a series of criteria: firstly, it must be nonprofit; secondly, it must have a charitable purpose; and, thirdly, it must ensure that its dominant charitable purpose is for the public benefit. Those three things are the essential elements that define organisations that qualify for charitable status under the taxation laws. In essence, no individual can receive funding or profit from the activities of that organisation, it must be working for the public benefit and that must be its dominant role. Those are its key elements. One of the challenges is that certain institutions or funds which are clearly intended for the public benefit may have difficulty satisfying certain aspects of these criteria. That is where this bill comes in. This bill allows certain nonprofit, child-care and self-help groups and closed or contemplative religious orders to meet all aspects of these criteria. It does that by specifically extending the benefits available to them.

What are the major features of this bill? The bill provides a statutory extension of charitable status to the following different groups so that they can be regarded as charities. The first group is organisations providing child care to the public on a non-profit basis. It is important in this context to note that the government, as part of its recent budget announcements, made provision for 40,000 additional child-care places within Australia.

Mr Cox —Getting your instructions?

Mr HUNT —No. I was just finding out who was speaking next for the opposition, because they do not seem to have organised it or to have made any provision for notification, which is a basic courtesy that one should extend in this House. If you are not willing to extend those courtesies—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—The member for Flinders will refer his remarks through the chair—

Mr HUNT —then you should apologise, because that is a basic courtesy which I will always extend to members of the opposition.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —and not respond to interjections!

Mr Cox —There is the speakers list.

Mr Laurie Ferguson —Downer says you are a good time filler.

Mr HUNT —Oh, my friend! The second group is self-help bodies. Organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and a range of different groups will, if they have open and non-discriminatory membership, have the capacity to be charitable organisations. The third group is closed or contemplative religious orders. In practice, that includes organisations such as the Carmelite nuns and, in my electorate of Flinders, the Gyuto monks—wonderful, generous, kind people. They are essentially a closed and contemplative organisation, and under this legislation, if all the criteria are fulfilled, they will definitely be able to receive assistance. For all those reasons, I think this is an outstanding step forward. Can more be done? Yes. Is this a step forward? Absolutely. For the three groups included it is a fair and appropriate recognition of their work. Because of the extension of charitable status to groups that provide child care, groups involved in self-help and certain religious groups, I am delighted to commend the Extension of Charitable Purpose Bill 2004 to the House.