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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 10990

WYATT ROY (Longman) (13:51): I rise to speak to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012. My electorate is home to people with a great sense of community. In my role, I have the advantage of hearing about some of the most generous examples of volunteering and benevolence in my community. I constantly see others giving of their time, their energy and their resources to make our local community an even better place to live. I am so often amazed at the outstanding generosity of those in the community and the amazing dedication that they have to a cause, whether that cause is the environment, helping others find employment, their church community or their sporting club. Whatever their cause, their commitment and passion are strong.

I know that what I see evidenced in my electorate is not the exception but rather the rule. All across Australia there are thousands of groups that have come together under a common idea and with the intention of making their community a richer and better place to live. Australian society itself is underpinned by the notion that as individuals we can choose to come together and celebrate our shared beliefs and make a tangible, positive difference to the lives of others. We have such a rich tapestry that is civil society in Australia which does in fact contribute much to our enjoyment of life. We need to do everything we can to empower this. It is our role as key decision makers to support civil society, facilitating individuals to continue value-adding to our life experiences. It is our role to enable and empower, not to hinder, this process. It stands true for all areas of government that as policymakers it is our responsibility not to govern with a heavy-handed, Big Brother approach. We on this side of the House believe in the virtue of small government, we believe that organisations know how to do what they do best, and we believe that burying them in red tape does not allow them to achieve this.

But we are here debating a bill that proposes to do exactly this—to hinder, restrict and regulate civil society. This bill imposes a great big new regulator on charities and not-for-profits, making it more, not less, onerous for our not-for-profit sector. It increases red tape and duplication and creates far-reaching powers that puts civil society squarely under the control of government.

We on the Liberal side of politics understand that businesses have the best chance to prosper and succeed when government gets out of the way and lets businesses get on with their work. The same can be said for civil society: community groups, independent schools and welfare organisations have a far greater chance of success when government simply acts as a facilitator and keeps out of the way, letting them pour all of their available resources into the valuable work they do.

We all know that funds are scarce for not-for-profit sector groups. Their focus, by their very nature, is on serving others, not on building wealth. Their goals are to create income enough to conduct their work and no more than that. Every available cent is channelled into the outcome of the group and the cause it promotes. Local football clubs spend their funds on team jerseys and sports equipment. Local schools spend their money on providing learning opportunities for students. Local Meals on Wheels spend their money on purchasing food. These are the types of organisations that will be severely impacted by the regulatory authority this legislation seeks to create.

The Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, John Colvin, quoted feedback from one of his members, an aged-care provider, who said:

Every hour we pay for compliance, we lose about 1½ hours in one-to-one support for our ageing residents.

It is the communities, the beneficiaries of our community groups, charities and other not-for-profit organisations, who ultimately miss out when the regulatory burden is increased on these groups. What this legislation will create is a cumbersome regulatory authority that stifles our nation's culture of giving and volunteering. It will penalise the mums and dads, the aunts and the grandfathers who spend their time volunteering for Neighbourhood Watch or for the environmental protection groups that our communities hold dear. It will mean that groups such as these will be forced to spend hours and hours of precious time as well as hundreds, thousands or millions of dollars more—depending on the size of the group—on taking care of all the additional red tape and paperwork that this regulation will create.

One organisation, the Baptist Church of Australia, said in their submission on this bill that the regulation created by the bill would cost $1 million. That is $1 million on top of the already burdensome red tape facing this organisation. That is $1 million that needs to be pulled out of other activities, which include welfare assistance for the vulnerable. What concerns me is the hindrance this additional regulatory burden will be for not-for-profits, particularly for smaller groups such as those in my electorate. It will be a significant disincentive for locals to give their time to volunteering because the joy of giving through volunteering is severely diminished by reams of red tape.

The fact is that this bill and the regulatory body it establishes do nothing to fulfil the rhetoric this Labor government has been espousing for so long. This bill does nothing to cut red tape and regulation for the not-for-profit sector. Conversely, this bill adds to the red tape facing not-for-profit organisations. We well know that a large percentage of red tape comes from states and territories. Much of these reporting requirements are then duplicated through Commonwealth agencies. As well, we know that states and territories are unlikely to forgo their powers and reporting requirements. Additionally, despite the creation of this commission, none of the Commonwealth agencies' reporting requirements will be transferred to the commission. What this means is that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission creates an entirely new level of bureaucracy and red tape for the not-for-profits to content with. I feel that David Gonski, a life fellow of the Institute of Company Directors, gave a good summary of what this commission will truly mean for the not-for-profit sector. He said:

It concerns me massively that we might be the first country in the world to make being on a not-for-profit as a director more onerous than being on a for-profit.

It is a sad day when it becomes more difficult to help others than to help yourself.

Another aspect of this bill I find deeply disturbing is the stance it has taken against the individuals involved in not-for-profit groups. Traditionally, in line with our laid-back Australian nature, not-for-profits have received the benefit of trust from government. What this means is that the previous legislation has treated community groups and their volunteers as trustworthy and untainted for the purposes of their work.

Debate interrupted.