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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11056


Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (18:33): I too would like to talk about the two bills before us tonight, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and a related bill. In Australia, we have 600,000 entities carrying out various forms of charitable and not-for-profit work, and 400,000 of those have access to Commonwealth tax concessions. It is a very significant sector. On top of that we have 11,000 not-for-profit entities that are registered under the Corporations Act 2001. So there is already a fair field of people and organisations that operate in the charitable community.

I want to put a slightly different argument here tonight and I want to illustrate this by two examples of things that have happened in my electorate. It would still be happening to one organisation and would have happened to another. They would be caught up in this. I just want to illustrate how the lack of sensitivity from government—I am not talking about any particular party but government in the past—has led to a diminution of volunteerism and charitable enterprise.

The first one I want to talk about is the Rotary Hospital House at Hervey Bay. This is a marvellous organisation. It is a motel like structure with six units and a common lounge area. It took 12 years to raise the funding for this—and then, in more recent years, a lot of voluntary work, a lot of donations of material and a lot of purchase of materials by the Rotary Club of Hervey Bay. It was a huge effort. As they carried out their work, they were assisted by the Rotary clubs, Lions clubs, Zonta, the Hervey Bay Boat Club and the Hervey Bay RSL. All of these made significant contributions to Rotary Hospital House. It has given the Hervey Bay hospital a $700,000 facility. To build that today would cost anything from $700,000 to $800,000. But it cost those clubs, because of the cash donations, the volunteer work, the donations in kind, about—

Mr Albanese interjecting

Mr Simpkins interjecting

Mr NEVILLE: Could I have a go, please?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): Yes, I draw members' attention to the fact that a member is on his feet speaking.

Mr NEVILLE: It cost $520,000 to build that facility. In that $520,000 there was about $250,000 worth of purchases of steel, materials, plumbing, fittings—all sorts of things. In the normal course of events, if that building had been sold to the state government, the Rotary Club could have claimed GST of $22½ thousand. But there was no facility. As that particular Rotary Club was not registered for GST, there was no way they could get that money back.

I thought that was a terrible thing. I thought a volunteer organisation providing this huge facility for the parents of dying children, for sick relatives and for people who needed to be at the hospital, so that people reaching their last stages of life could be surrounded by their family, was a very worthy thing. It is something that governments should provide as part of a palliative care agenda. But they had not. So the volunteers at Hervey Bay, led by Neil Canning from the Rotary Club of Hervey Bay, went to all this trouble for Rotary Hospital House and were not acknowledged by government—a slap in the face for volunteerism.

Also in Bundaberg we had an organisation called Basic, a school-to-work transition organisation. I will not go into all the gory details. It was set up by a number of the schools, with parents and other interested community bodies, to be the administrative body for a number of schools to get their school-to-work transition in place. It was federal government funded. An early CEO in the organisation believed that as it served an educational function GST was not payable on donations. That went on for some years. A new CEO noticed this and felt that the organisation needed clarification. Despite the fact that Commonwealth auditors who had checked their books and the internal auditors of the organisation who had checked their books had never picked this up, there was $100,000 worth of GST. The Commonwealth, through the tax office, insisted that this money be refunded. It was not used for any nefarious purpose or any illegal purpose; it was simply getting kids into work situations whereby they do three days at school and two days in the workplace—a school-to-work transition.

I saw people in that organisation almost run into the ground trying to repay that money. In the end it was really a transfer from one federal government instrumentality to another. If one had paid the other the $100,000, it could have been wound up and put to one side. But those volunteers were pursued relentlessly, although they had no personal interest in this other than providing a function that, again, the federal government should have provided.

I wanted to give those two illustrations to say how important it is not to kill volunteerism and philanthropy. There are 600,000 organisations in Australia doing charitable work, not-for-profit work, education work, health work and community support work, helping the disabled, the sick and the dying, helping children at sport and recreation—all sorts of things. I think this proposal we have before us tonight is just going to be another layer of bureaucracy. I will not go into all the nooks and crannies that my colleagues spoke about earlier tonight, because a lot of it has been said and repeated endlessly. But it seems to me that what we should be doing is trying to dismantle bureaucracy. This is a very wide-ranging regulatory body. Some critics say it will have similar powers to ASIC—even more so, some say—as well as the tax office and so on. This will be a fairly heavy-handed organisation. It will have the ability to punish organisations, to de-register them.

We are talking about volunteers. We are talking about people who give their time. We are talking about people who are picking up the burden of government, not some slaves who can be rounded up with a weapon and told to do this, that and the other. I cannot understand why the starting point of this was not to go to the states and the territories to try to harmonise at that level first, and then see how much overlay was needed, see if you needed some other regulations. It seems to me that most of these charities, other than the 11,000 I mentioned that are registered with ASIC, are registered in their states and territories under charities incorporation acts—as they are called in some states, I think—or volunteer incorporation acts or things like that. There are any number of acts in the states. Why not, at a ministerial council of the Commonwealth, state and territory ministers, get a simple set of harmonisation guidelines in place as a start to doing this, rather than use this heavy-handed, highly regulatory approach to a very simple issue?

It is getting harder and harder in the world today, for various reasons, to get donations. Those of us in public life know just how difficult it is. You will also notice that service clubs do not have the same numbers they had before. With the burden on people running their own businesses, and with the other pressures on their lives, they cannot give as much volunteer time as they did perhaps 20 years ago, so service clubs are not as big as they were, and some have closed.

What we need to be doing is reinforcing volunteer organisations, assisting them and encouraging them to do this work, because in the end the things they do not do fall back on government or do not get done at all, which is perhaps even worse. I did not want to politicise this too much tonight, other than to make the comment that the charities commission the coalition is promising will be in essence a simple organisation with a small educative and training role to help organisations build up their volunteer base, their expertise and their not-for-profit systems. It will give them the ability and the skills to deal with the requirements of government rather than having government come after them with a big stick saying, 'You will do this!' and, 'You will do that!' What a monumental presumption it is to tell 600,000 Australian organisations that they will come under the thumb or else the level of bureaucracy will increase and they will be punished and fined and so on.

Others have argued tonight that it is a very big field now and has to come under a national regulatory and registry regime. I heard all of those arguments a few years ago about the medical profession, about how we had to get all of the doctors and all the health professionals such as physios and podiatrists into a national registry. Let me tell you that I have more bureaucracy and more difficulty with that organisation than I ever had with the state body.

I think we should be trying to simplify these things. It was the role of the states, and in the debate from the government side it has not been clearly demonstrated that this measure is necessary. So my view is that we should oppose it and that the government should reconsider it. The fact that there are so many amendments coming is proof positive that the thing has been rushed and is not likely to achieve its ends.

Debate adjourned.