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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 10981

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (13:12): I rise to speak on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012. The most feared statement in regional and rural Australia is, 'We're from the government and we are here to help you.' I fear in this case that is exactly what we are looking at again. The government in its effort to try and help people has actually got it wrong again and in fact is likely to cause more harm than good. One of my guiding tenets when I came to this place was that we should analyse every piece of legislation and should seek to do the least amount of harm. There is little within this bill that convinces me that the net outcome will be an improvement rather than a retrograde step. The implications it has for the not-for-profit sector, for the volunteer sector, for the community sector are that it imposes costs and burdens upon them which they do not currently face.

In recent times there has been a trend from the government—this is just a handful, I might point out. We have had legislation in the financial services sector and in the trucking industry, instructing trucking companies about staffing, loading and rosters. We have had legislation and regulation in the education export sector, in the regional airport security sector. All these things have imparted extra cost and one must wonder just what the net benefits are for the community. So here we are once again with the government intent on extra regulation on a sector and inventing once again a new statutory office with the announced intention of streamlining the red tape these organisations face. It is difficult to see how a new government department specialising in red tape is likely to make life better.

The not-for-profit sector, the charity sector, along with the business sector, is groaning under the weight of compliance in Australia. I can see my friend the shadow minister for small business nodding his head sagely because he knows. Every day when he and I go to businesses and talk to the organisations within our electorates, including the not-for-profits, they constantly complain, 'You have got to get the monkey of government off our backs. So much of our time is spent filling out paper—in compliance and not in doing the job which we signed on to do.' If this bill seeks to implement further compliance upon these bodies, we can hardly expect those bodies to keep going and performing their jobs to the same level they are at the moment.

Under the years of the Howard government there was a revolution in Australia. That government turned to the not-for-profit sector to deliver services that previously the government had delivered. It has been a revolution. Even those on the other side of the House believe it has been an advance. There have been efficiencies and competition in the supply of these services. It is not to say that the bodies concerned get it right all the time—we all have complaints about the way the system operates. But by and large it has been a great advance. We have organisations out there that are driven not primarily by the need to make a profit but primarily because they want to make the world a better place.

The areas of aged care in particular, employment services, disability services and counselling are but a few of those areas where the not-for-profit sector, at the large end, has become the predominant supplier of services to Australia. And generally they perform with strength and purpose and in an altruistic manner. I do not believe there is a prime facie case that there is widespread rorting of the system, that these organisations are not producing and not providing the services they purport to provide. By and large they are actually doing exactly what they say they are doing—and they are doing an excellent job and they have my support. So I wonder what is driving the legislation.

I understand that in the initial stages when the government were talking to the sector they were saying, 'We will simplify the system for you. The government will get everything into one organisation and we will tidy it up and it will be easier for you.' I understand that initially the sector was supportive of that. But, as with many of the reforms across the nation, and OH&S is but one, finding agreement between the states is long, hard and slow. We should strive to find those agreements and those efficiencies where we can come up with national standards, the one set of rules right across the nation. But in fact it is difficult to do. If we put the legislation in front of the reform, if we have not done the groundwork, if we have not reached agreement before we put legislation in place then we run the risk of just inventing another layer. And that seems almost certainly what is going to happen here. The states at this stage are nowhere near relinquishing their responsibilities in the same area. So this reform that was to streamline the sector is just another layer of bureaucratic red tape which will, in the current debate in Australia, call for an increased number of public servants to run it. And then somebody will have to face up to those terrible realities sooner or later.

I would like to come to a few local issues. I come from quite a small community and I think that the further we get away from the capital cities in Australia the more important become the not-for-profits, the charities, the local sporting clubs and the local church groups. They play a bigger and bigger role in the small community. That is because government cannot deliver all those services to every community. In my own town I think about the show society, the sports clubs, the hospital auxiliaries and the cancer support groups, which are capable of raising enormous amounts of money. I am constantly amazed at what some of the nights and frivolities can raise. There are also the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the progress association and the football clubs.

I would like to tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, a little about my local football club. Twenty years ago we amalgamated three teams to form a very successful club. Twenty years ago the club decided they needed new clubrooms. The club tried very hard to get some government assistance but they were not fortunate enough to get that assistance. During that time they raised over $400,000. They put it in the bank, they looked after it, and that eventually gave them the ability to attract some government assistance—though they still provided the overwhelming proportion of the finance. The club built a magnificent complex. It probably should be valued at around $2½ million, by my estimates, and they built it for less than $1 million. The important point is they built it with the contribution of huge amounts of voluntary labour from the community. Tradesmen were prepared to give their time, farmers were prepared to come in and use their equipment, people became amateur painters and tilers—the whole works.

If governments choose to make things more difficult, they will stamp out that enthusiasm in local communities. Governments will make sure that people are not prepared to go that extra yard, because they know that government will be auditing their books, poring over them, and, importantly, someone in the club will have to do an extra job. You do not join a football club so you can fill out forms and become the accountant; you join it because you want to make a practical contribution.

As I said, I do not think there is a prima facie case for the government to hit this sector with what I call the big hammer—the big hammer to crush a very small nut. It seems as though this Labor government just cannot help itself. It believes government should be at the centre of all enterprise. In fact, with the amount of regulation that has been passed in recent months in this parliament, I am beginning to wonder if the government believes it will not be re-elected. It seems to be leaving the most difficult deck of cards stacked against an incoming government that it possibly can. I hope that is not the case; I am sure there are people of goodwill on that side of the House. But, when you look at the proliferation of interference in people's lives, it is difficult to believe that Labor has an overall view of the effects of its handiwork on our community.

There are organisations in our communities like UnitingCare, Centacare, Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army and carers—I have in Port Pirie, in my electorate, a wonderful branch of Bedford Industries; in Whyalla there is Phoenix, who deal with people in the disability sector. They do not need extra regulation. They are already doing a wonderful job. Why would we tie a hand behind their back and add to their compliance burden so they cannot function at maximum efficiency?

There are things that I see all the time, not just from this government but from all governments, that are eroding our way of life in Australia. I was recently in a butcher's shop. This butcher's shop makes the best ham in South Australia—or at least it used to. Some enlightened bureaucrat brought in a new regulation that said they had to buy a $20,000 fridge to cool down the ham within 20 minutes of cooking. They had been making it for 28 years and no-one had ever had food poisoning. But, no, they were from the government and they were there to help. I have farmers on my hammer because when they shift machinery now in South Australia they have to carry a copy of the government gazette in their tractor. They are very modern farmers; apparently you can get the gazette on your iPad. That is good enough; you can carry your iPad on your tractor. But it is not good enough to have an iPhone. If you drop out of range and your iPad does not work, then you need the hard copy in the tractor glove box. That is another man from the government trying to help. I could go on.

I know those examples are not strictly related to the bills and I thank you for your tolerance, Mr Deputy Speaker, but almost daily when I come into this place I have this great frustration and I am trying to limit the damage the government is doing to our Australian society and in this particular case to the not-for-profit sector. I certainly will not be supporting this legislation, and I call on the government to pause and go back and talk to the sector again and find out what it can do to actually help them rather than hinder them.