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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11059

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (18:48): Australians have always prided themselves on their generous spirit and their capacity to give a helping hand. With the large number of community organisations spread throughout the country, we can say without question that volunteering is an unshakable part of our national life.

In 2010 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 6.1 million Australians, or 36 per cent of Australians, over the age of 18 participated in voluntary work. This means that one in every three Australians willingly gives their time to engage in unpaid work for the benefit of others. I also note that in the 12 months preceding the ABS report 58 per cent of volunteers worked for one organisation, with 23 per cent volunteering for two and 19 per cent volunteering for three or more organisations.

These organisations and their members work tirelessly and often thanklessly to help support the community and to raise awareness of important issues. They are not created for the purpose of making a profit but rather to create some form of support and assistance for those they are helping. I know that in my electorate of McPherson there are hundreds of organisations doing a wonderful job of building community spirit on the Gold Coast and helping those in need whilst contributing their fair share to the success of the Australian not-for-profit sector.

However, institutions such as independent schools and churches also fall under the broad heading of the not-for-profit sector. McPherson is home to a number of independent schools, which do a fantastic job in providing their students with the tools for success, and also many religious organisations that are very active in their local community in so very many ways.

For some people the term 'not-for-profit' signifies that the sector does not contribute to the economy, but the truth is quite the opposite. For instance, it was identified that 59,000 economically significant not-for-profit organisations contributed $43 billion to Australia's gross domestic product as well as providing eight per cent of employment in 2006-07.

It is against this background that we are debating 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 main focus of the bills is to create a new statutory body to regulate the not-for-profit sector, to be known as the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, or ACNC, as well as a regulatory framework for the sector. The bills propose to provide this new statutory body with the ability to register not-for-profit entities that will then allow these entities to access Commonwealth exemptions, concessions and benefits. After registration, the ACNC can then apply governance standards to those registered entities and enforce those standards through their information-gathering and enforcement powers afforded to them via the various provisions of the bills.

I have said many times before in numerous forums that the not-for-profit sector does wonderful work and almost performs miracles for the Australian community with the limited resources that many of the groups find themselves with. What they do not need is more burdensome regulation; however, my concern is that these bills are proposing just that. Like many government schemes, these bills will only increase the amount of red tape that not-for-profit organisations will have to steer through. Since my election, I have been approached by numerous organisations in my electorate complaining bitterly about how much bureaucracy they have to navigate through just to continue to provide their local communities with the services that are so desperately needed.

As many members of this House will know, the existing framework for the not-for-profit sector is not solely governed by the Commonwealth. To give a very brief breakdown, the Commonwealth, the states and territories, as well as local government, all regulate various parts of the sector at the present time. At the Commonwealth level, the responsibility for regulating the sector is generally shared between the ATO and ASIC. The ATO regulates the access to tax concessions that not-for-profit organisations can receive, whilst ASIC regulates the small number of organisations that are incorporated as companies limited by guarantee. However, the states hold the power to regulate incorporated associations and charitable trusts. They also maintain the ability to regulate fundraising activities and can impose reporting and governance requirements on those organisations that receive funding out of state or territory government funds.

From this very quick summary, it would be plainly obvious to any person who intends to regulate the sector in the manner in which the government is seeking to that they need to get the states and the territories on board with the plan. This development has not yet been forthcoming, as the states have made no commitment to hand over the powers that they hold in regard to such regulation or to harmonise their laws. Without such a commitment, these bills will merely introduce another red tape jungle that not-for-profit groups will have to cut through.

There is also the consideration that, with the creation of the ACNC, other government departments will have to shed their responsibilities and pass them over to the new body or will have to harmonise their regulatory requirements so they operate in conjunction with the ACNC. This has raised concerns from some organisations, such as independent schools, that will now have to report information to the ACNC that they used to give to other regulatory bodies, such as the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the relevant state education department. If these responsibilities are not handed over or procedures are not harmonised, it will mean that information is being reported multiple times and this is hardly a productive use of our resources, both time and money.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia stated in its submission to the House Standing Committee on Economics inquiry on these bills that:

… the regulatory burden will be increased on individual non-government schools creating costly and confusing duplicative governance and reporting situation.

They went on:

Requiring independent schools to report similar but different data to the ACNC is duplicating effort and adding to red tape.

I doubt that another layer of compliance and regulation will help independent schools deliver a quality education to their students when they could be allocating those resources to further developing their school. I fail to see how duplicating systems will help the many not-for-profit organisations that work within the sector.

For those organisations, such as independent schools, that employ people to ensure compliance and reporting standards are being met it will require the additional allocation of resources that could better be used for the benefit of the people that they are helping. For those community organisations that will be caught up in this new system, it will mean that the unpaid volunteers who sign up to help their community will spend more of their time making sure that their reporting is up to scratch rather than doing what they signed up to do. Clearly, that will take the volunteers away from where they are most needed—helping those who are in need.

The Australian Baptist Ministries well addressed this issue in their submission to the inquiry on the bills, where they stated:

In our view the increase in compliance obligation will make it more difficult to fill volunteer roles within local congregations as well as requiring more time to be spent on compliance matters and therefore less time on matters that will provide a benefit to the community.

I am consistently told by volunteers in my electorate that they 'didn't sign up for this', in reference to the increasing bureaucratic maze that needs to be navigated. I question the logic behind these bills. Why is the government trying to make volunteering harder for people, when common sense dictates that the government should be doing whatever it can to make it easier for volunteers to participate? If we want more Australians to help in their local area—and we should and do want that—then let us give them the incentive to do so and give them the help they need to ensure that they are doing the right thing when it comes to compliance and reporting. At the very least, we should not be putting obstacles in the way of their work.

The coalition has previously committed to the establishment of a small educative and training body for the sector. Many not-for-profit organisations are unaware of the various processes and the documentation, especially after changes such as committee handovers. That can happen as frequently as every year. Would it not be more helpful to give them the ability to ask how things need to be done, rather than create a more tangled mess they need to navigate their way through?

Also of concern are the powers that the new body will have in relation to information gathering, monitoring and sanctioning and, more specifically, the ability for the ACNC to remove a director of a not-for-profit organisation. David Gonski, the very man behind the government's recent report on school funding, said at the public hearing for these bills that the sector:

… depends very much on the volunteering of directors. These are people who are not paid and who give back to society, something a lot of directors feel very strongly about and a lot of Australians also believe in generally.

He goes on to say:

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.

This is a very good point. Why should we make the liability for people who are essentially volunteers higher than that of their corporate counterparts? By virtue of their title as a volunteer, I think it is fundamentally wrong that a person who has given voluntarily to the community out of the goodness of their heart should be treated more harshly by regulators than a person who is engaged by a corporate entity. Why introduce heavy-handed punishments and onerous requirements when we could be proactive and provide knowledge and assistance? It makes more sense to assist not-for-profit groups by guiding them through the system rather than place more burdens upon them.

Our not-for-profit sector does a fantastic job and I truly hope that it will continue to grow and remain strong, but I remain concerned that the measures prescribed in these bills will not help but simply serve to turn people away. I am a proud supporter of community groups in my electorate and I always have been. I am always meeting people who gladly and freely give up their time to make a difference to someone's life, and I want to be able to continue to give them the support they need so they can keep doing their great work. I oppose these bills.