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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11040

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (17:20): I commend the member for Longman for his excellent speech 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.

What do we have before us? We have more Gillard government incompetence. Only this government could set up a commission to reduce red tape that will actually create it. Its incompetence knows no bounds.

An opposition member: Incompetence on steroids!

Mr TEHAN: It is incompetence on steroids. If this was a one-off you could say, 'Okay, we can sort of understand.' But it is not a one-off. Look at what we had last week. We had a bill before this parliament on which the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities had to rush in amendment after amendment because, when it was first introduced, it wanted to ban the use of fishing rods. It wanted the minister to be able to prescribe that he could ban the use of fishing rods. That is how incompetent it was.

Again we have the minister who has become famous in this place as the minister of the clawback. Every time she has spoken in this place it has been about clawing back. Now what does she want to do to community organisations and charities? She wants to break their backs. She wants to use red tape to break their backs. This is what she is all about. Forget the clawback. This minister wants to break their backs. She wants to get red tape and regulation and break their backs.

The sad thing is that this commission has been set up to do the opposite, yet it is just going to, sadly, burden community groups, who do fantastic work, who bind together. I must say that whenever I travel around my electorate nothing makes me prouder than seeing the work these not-for-profit organisations and charities do. What is their reward for their giving? This government is going to saddle them with red tape which is going to make their lives harder. As the member for Longman said, every minute that they spend on this additional red tape is a minute that they are not doing the valuable work that they do within our communities.

If the government had a good conscience it would take this bill back and say: 'We got it wrong. We haven't done a proper job. We haven't consulted properly.' Nine days of rushed consultation has led to this bill. Take it back, start again and do the process properly. Surely you can learn that what leads to gross incompetence is rushing stuff before this parliament. We have seen it time after time. So step back and say, 'Okay, we're big enough to admit we got it wrong,' and start again.

I will just give you an idea of all those who have problems with this bill before us today. I think it is worthwhile for the House to hear about these groups, because they are not the sort of groups who raise concerns about legislation on a whim. If they are concerned about it, the government should stop and listen. We have Add-Ministry Inc., the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Australian Baptist Ministries, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Australian Conservation Foundation—a key supporter of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and of the government. We have the Australian Council for International Development, the Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Australian Institute of Public Directors, Carers Australia, Catholic Health Australia, Catholic Social Services, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Western Australia, the Community Council for Australia, Community Employers WA, the Conservation Council of South Australia—

Mr Tudge: It's a long list.

Mr TEHAN: As the member for Aston says, it is a long list, but I have not finished. I am going to continue so that we might just be able to get a message through to this government that maybe they need to step back and think again. We have the Financial Services Council, the Australian Financial Services, the Housing Industry Association, the Independent Schools Council of Australia—

Mr Tudge: Schools as well!

Mr TEHAN: Schools as well. We have the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia—accountants as well. We have Makinson & d'Apice Lawyers—we have lawyers as well. We have Mission Australia, National Disability Services, the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations, the Not-For-Profit Sector Reform Council, the Philanthropy and Exemptions Unit of Treasury, Research Australia, RSM Bird Cameron chartered accountants, the St Vincent de Paul Society—

Mr Tudge: Vinnies as well!

Mr TEHAN: Vinnies as well. And what wonderful work Vinnies do. Yet what are they going to do to Vinnies means that, instead of doing the wonderful charity work that they do, they will be filling out paperwork. They will be smothered with red tape. We have Surf Life Saving New South Wales, the Salvation Army in Australia, the Smith Family, the Uniting Church in Australia, UnitingCare, World Vision Australia, YWCA Australia and Neumann & Turnour Lawyers. And I am sure there are many more.

Mr Tudge: Unions?

Mr TEHAN: I am not quite sure about the unions, but if you say so.

Mr Tudge: It doesn’t cover the unions.

Mr TEHAN: It does not cover the unions?

Mr Tudge: Funnily enough!

Mr TEHAN: Why doesn't it cover the unions? That's a surprise! They obviously were able to go to the government and say: 'We don’t want this amount of red tape put on us. We don’t want our backs broken by red tape. Please exempt us.' Why didn’t they do the same for the accountants, the lawyers, the church groups and the charity groups? I do not know. It is a good question—maybe we will get some answers when those on the other side speak on this bill. Or maybe they have run out of words now and they just want to usher this through as quietly as they can.

This bill is opposed by all those organisations and more, and the reason it is opposed is that it will drown them in red tape. We must ask: what is the government's motive, what is it driving at here? Why did it set up this commission? Is it trying to regulate these not-for-profit organisations and charities so that, after they are brought into this commission, the government will have the ability to tax them? Is this a plot to help try and achieve their fanciful budget surplus? They are prepared to attack these community groups, these not-for-profit organisations and charities, to try and obtain their budget surplus because of all their wasteful spending. Is this what this is all about? It is hard to tell, but hopefully we will get an idea.

The other thing which is important to raise here is that this cannot work without the states. If the states are not involved in this it will not work. What consultation was done with the state governments? My understanding is that none was done. The states have made it very clear that they do not want to go down this path because they do not want to burden these organisations with extra red tape. They understand that you do not set up a commission to reduce red tape that actually increases it. They do not want to head down the path of incompetence. That is why the government has not consulted with the states and has not been able to get them involved.

It is not only the burdening of these organisations with red tape which is of concern to us on this side; it is also the powers that this bill gives to the commission. The worst power of all is that, if the commission decides, it can revoke any registered entity. Where is due process here? What are the mechanisms for these community organisations or charities to say, 'Enough's enough. We're not going to let this big, regulatory body come in and crush us'? What if they say, 'No, we are not going to put up with it'? They could have their licence revoked as a registered entity. It is not only going to smother them; there is a big stick waiting there to whack them. No wonder the unions did not want to be part of this. Instead it is left for our poor old community organisations and charities to have to fight against this commission.

I am sure those opposite at some stage will ask: what is the alternative? Let us be clear that we have put up an alternative. We put up an alternative some time ago which is to: implement one contact with the department for each agency instead of multiple contacts; require the department to negotiate the content of the contracts with the agencies instead of simply imposing it upon them; simplify the auditing process to require only one financial report from each agency annually; and replace the current system of rolling audits with an initial benchmarking audit that has a period of five years with spot audits to be undertaken if the Commonwealth is made aware of any adverse contact on behalf of the agency. We will streamline the process. We will not set up a wonderful, big, new Orwellian commission to stifle or to create such red tape that these bodies will be spending more and more of their time dealing with the red tape rather than being able to do the wonderful charity work that they do.

Let us just stop for a minute and think back. As this new commission is being set up to break the backs of these charities and these community organisations with red tape, let us remember the commitment that this government gave in 2007. For every piece of red tape that was going to be introduced they were going to take one out. Where has that got to? What happened to that commitment? It has disappeared. It has absolutely disappeared. Now what we are seeing from this government is that, at every opportunity, they are increasing red tape and green tape wherever and however they can. I will say that this needs to stop because, if this government continues unabated, this country is going to drown in red and green tape.

I would say to the minister for clawback: forget about the clawback and concentrate on not breaking the backs of our charities and community organisations. If you keep doing it you are going to absolutely eat at the fabric of our society. These groups do such wonderful work within our communities that you should be doing everything you can to encourage their work, to help them with the great work they do, to help them raise the moneys so that they are able to give to those who are needy in our community, and to help those community organisations which keep our clubs and organisations going. They deserve government support. They do not deserve a government which wants to make it harder for them every step of the way.

I ask you again, step back, and think again. Say, 'This legislation is not going to do the job that it set out to do.' This is not a commission to reduce red tape; this is a commission to increase it. It is going to lead to perverse outcomes. It is going to do exactly the opposite of what it has been set up to do. Halt, stop, think and realise that this is another incompetent piece of legislation which has been rushed. Stop, step back and adopt the coalition way, because you can do this in a simpler and neater way which will enable these organisations to continue doing the great work that they do.