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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9282


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (12:14): A previous government spokesman on this debate cited his work with Lifeline. It is a pity that, on the way through, he did not come to the knowledge that Lifeline joined the RSPCA, the Myer family foundation Victoria and virtually 80 per cent of charitable organisations of any repute in this country in opposing this legislation. Indeed, the debate is very one-sided. On one side we have the minister who speaks of the unnecessary and ponderous compliance burden on the sector—the same minister who, despite his public statements, failed to discuss the issue with the constituency. He might have discussed it with his adviser, Mr Lapkin, a former research officer with the IPA, but he certainly did not discuss it with the charitable sector. Despite this supposed burden, despite this supposed horrible impost on the charities of this country, they actually support this regulation.

For every instance that the previous speaker can cite with regard to compliance, there are people who can cite concerns. The Advertiser newspaper in South Australia on 19 April had a review of those 22 charities involved in the cancer sector. They concluded that only 55 cents of every dollar collected by those 22 charities actually ended up where its predicted recipient should be. In one case they received 23 cents in the dollar. It is interesting to note that Ann O'Connell, professor of law at the University of Melbourne, could comment:

The Commission has said it decided on a “light touch” approach to regulation and compliance, starting with the presumption that charities act honestly and prudently, although it recognised it would be necessary at some stage to deal with those who use charities to obtain private benefits or who engage in fraudulent activities.

Despite that light touch, 240 charities have faced revocation of their rights. It is a situation where Ann O'Connell could also comment that, according to a pre-election survey—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 12:16 to 12:42

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: When interrupted, I was about to cite Ann O'Connell again, a law professor with some credentials in this field, who noted of the previous situation:

Under the ATO regime, there were no annual or other reporting requirements for charities, although the ATO could revoke endorsement if it became aware of wrongdoing. Realistically, the Tax Office did not have time or resources to regulate the activities of charities. So, in one sense, some regulation is the price these organisations pay for access to the tax concessions.

And whilst we have heard the minister on one side and members of the government putting their views, I go to some other credible sources who do not have an interest in the matter—and in some senses it is surprising that they do take this position. We have recently had the sixth International Charity Regulators Forum, and whilst they might not be able to agree about the future of Scotland, two commentators were very supportive of the previous government's legislation on charities. Kenneth Dibble, Chief Legal Officer of the Charity Commission of England and Wales commented:

The ACNC has a mature relationship with the sector as a standalone regulator outside of the revenue office. It is flexible and sensitive to its constituency's needs in a way that allows the sector to thrive.

David Robb of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, equally supportive of the Australian commission, noted that it has done a wonderful job 'learning from the international experience'. In other words, it is up there with the standards around the world for what should be happening. He went on to say, 'They have put together cutting edge practice … and achieved a lot in a short space of time.' So there we have people involved in the regulation of charities—in ensuring that people have transparency, they know the money is going to the right cause, they know they are not being ripped off, they know the charity is not undertaking practices it should not be. Those regulators in both England and Scotland are supportive of it.

Tim Costello, equally, commented in an article that the organisation had 'boosted confidence' and, most importantly, kept regulation out of the hands of the ATO. So virtually all the charities in this country support it. As I noted in a previous speech, the only interest group in this country very opposed to it are those private corporations that have control of charitable trusts around this country—usually corporations—that are very concerned that there might be increased intervention in this area to reduce the amount of money they are taking out each year from these charities. They are on the record as the main opponents of this. What we have seen is a lot of slogans about regulation. It is ironic that the people who are supposedly facing these burdens actually support the regulations. They see the need to be respected by the Australian people, they see the need to convince people that they are legitimate, and they do not mind this regulation.

Debate adjourned.