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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11065

Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (19:17): I am very privileged to follow the member for McPherson and the member for Fadden, who have been very passionate in relation to the consequences of this bill. They have very eloquently put their case in relation to the impact upon our communities and their communities. I rise today on behalf of the Macarthur community to speak on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012 and the Tax Laws Amendment (Special Conditions for Not-for-profits Concessions) Bill 2012. This bill represents yet another half-baked idea from this Labor government. Their stated intention and the actual reality are, once again, two very different creatures. This bill was sold to electorates and the wider public as relief from the burden of red tape facing charities and those organisations operating in the not-for-profit sector. The not-for-profit sector has traditionally operated within the many regulations and regimes of Commonwealth, state and territory and local governments—each with their own classifications, reporting requirements and regulations.

At face value, a move to consolidate all of these different regulatory and reporting functions to one overarching body should in theory reduce the regulatory burden on our charities and not-for-profit sector. But what we have here is an underhanded move to create an additional layer of federal regulation for the charity and not-for-profit sector without doing anything to reduce existing layers of regulation. This bill is Labor to its bootstraps; it is bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy, creating additional red tape without delivering on the promise of removing or streamlining existing regulatory arrangements.

Indeed, as my esteemed colleague the member for Wright pointed out, the ACNC's plan for reducing the regulatory burden on the not-for-profit sector is to 'go to the states and have them reduce their regulatory burden on the sector'. What a plan! This government's approach will add yet another layer of bureaucracy to a sector that is already overcome with reporting and compliance burdens. And they ask us to believe that, by adding this further imposition on not-for-profit organisations, other reporting and compliance bodies will simply disappear or just reduce their levels of compliance. This is nothing but policy on the run. This is not new for the Labor-Greens alliance—yet another knee-jerk response—as the member for Fadden has said on numerous occasions.

In my electorate of Macarthur, our community is blessed with a large number of well-supported charities and an abundance of volunteers willing and ready to lend a hand for the many worthy causes. I have had the honour of visiting and spending time with many of the different charities and not-for-profit organisations during my time as member for Macarthur. These people—our community volunteers and organisations—are the backbone of our society. I would dare any representative from across the chamber to try and justify this package. Those across the chamber have struggled all day trying to justify this new bill.

Across Australia there are 600,000 entities which together play a major role in our society. They support our community's poor, sick and disadvantaged. They provide social, cultural, sporting, religious, professional and communal interests for millions of Australians each year. A large number of our independent schools are run by charities, not to mention our sporting clubs and welfare agencies, with many relying on the hard work and time donated by volunteers. In fact, it is estimated that the dollar value of the hours worked by volunteers within these organisations is in excess of $14.6 billion. This is a huge contribution from this sector to Australian society—a contribution that we should be proud of and do all we can to support and protect.

I think that most, if not all, Australians would agree with the coalition's view that these volunteers and their organisations should be supported by, not hindered by, the state. We believe that their ability to operate and function should not be weighed down by unnecessary red tape and regulations. That is what we in the coalition, and our constituents, want to see coming out of this legislation. Yet sadly, but not surprisingly, these bills before us today will achieve just the opposite. It is for this reason that I and the coalition cannot support this legislation. This legislation has failed its core objective, which is to cut red tape and regulatory burden—not to mention the cost of complying with these regulations. It has even failed to meet its own regulatory impact statement.

Many speakers on the other side of the House have spoken about how this legislation has received sector-wide support. This is simply not true. A large number of well-respected, large and small, charitable organisations have voiced their concerns regarding these bills and opposed the wide-ranging changes the ACNC will bring in their submissions to various parliamentary committees and inquiries. As Mission Australia commented in their submission regarding this suite of bills:

We support the notion of the ACNC as a one-stop regulatory stop and support the notion of a Charity Passport that will see us provide our financial and governance information once, to be used often. Yet it is disappointing to see no evidence of how this is being achieved.

Our overriding concern is that rather than reducing red tape and compliance burden, the ACNC will add another layer of compliance and that nothing will be taken away.

The Australian Conservation Foundation stated in their submission:

… ACF is concerned that rather than remove duplication, the ACNC Bills will duplicate reporting obligations.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors stated:

We have had member feedback … all saying basically the same thing as we have said. I will quote from one which I think is very pertinent. It comes from an aged-care CEO:

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

The Australian Council of Social Service stated:

… the Bill does not yet contain any provisions that make it explicit that the reduction of unnecessary compliance and regulatory burdens is a core object of the Bill, nor does it identify these kinds of reforms as policy directions or drivers of the ACNC’s purpose or activities. There must be a direct link between the reduction of red tape and the objectives and functions of the ACNC.

While I am very concerned about the cost of complying with this added regulation and red tape, what concerns me even more are some of the more controversial changes proposed in this legislation, which come in the form of director liabilities, enforcement powers and penalties.

The reforms in these bills are insidious and far reaching. The government have tried to candy-coat their objectives so as to draw attention away from the more unpleasant aspects of their own legislation. Some of these reforms include giving the commission the power to remove responsible office bearers from charities and not-for-profit organisations—very disconcerting. These powers go so far as to give the commission power to remove ministers from churches and parishes through to the archbishop of a diocese.

Other aspects of this legislation give the commission the power to deregister an organisation if it is conducting its affairs in a way that may cause harm to or jeopardise the public trust and confidence in the not-for-profit sector. However, what this legislation does not do is give certainty as to what 'public trust and confidence' will be considered to mean. Churches and large charities, aged-care providers, Aboriginal welfare groups, conservation groups and even through to professional bodies such as the Institute of Company Directors have all tried to draw the government's attention to the very serious consequences for their organisations caused by this legislation. As David Gonski, a life fellow of the Institute of Company Directors, said regarding the plethora of changes within these bills:

It concerns me massively that we might be the first country in the world to make being on a NFP as a director more onerous than being on a for-profit.

It is very concerning. However, it seems that their genuine concerns have been met with the usual dismissive arrogance we see on a daily basis from the Greens-Labor government.

The coalition, on the other side, have a plan to help the charities and the not-for-profit sector. We support a smaller commission with a focus and core understanding to promote innovation, education and advocacy within the charities and not-for-profit sector. The coalition will cut red tape, not create additional layers of it, for our charitable organisations. One of the easiest and most effective ways of doing this is through contracting reforms, as demonstrated in our proposal in the family services area, which will make it easier for agencies operating in civil society.

Every Australian knows and appreciates the good work that our charities and not-for-profit organisations do for our nation. It is self-evident in the support they receive back from the community, through donations, through support for events like the 24-hour walk for cancer, the New South Wales cancer council's Relay for Life, and Red Cross and Salvation Army doorknock appeals among thousands of other causes. Our charities and not-for-profit organisations do not need these bills and their plethora of rules, regulations, penalties, restrictions and further red tape. They do not need the legal uncertainties created by unsupported phrases like 'public trust and confidence'. They do not need powers given to the ACNC to inflict penalties and controls that are greater than those already in the Corporations Act. As with any organisation, for-profit or not-for-profit, red tape costs money. For charities and not-for-profit organisations, this money does not come easily. I think many Australians would agree that it should be spent on delivering for our communities.

An old saying goes along the lines of, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' This old truth underlines many of the concerns that have been raised by organisations about the far-reaching powers under the ACNC. The Corporations Act and case law that underpins the registration, directors' powers and responsibilities has served the not-for-profit sector well. While there is the issue of red tape and regulations caused by various levels of government regulation, it begs the question of why this government is trying to create a complicated and onerous set of new laws to oversee not-for-profit organisations. These new laws include powers to determine whether or not an organisation of this nature can be registered. Even more disturbingly, these new powers give the government the authority to deregister charities and organisations on a whim.

It is time that this government saw the light about what governments should be doing. It is not the role of government to expand their tentacles into every reach of civil society. This government should get out of the way of civic organisations and support our volunteers and not-for-profits, rather than tying a ball and chain around their ankles to hinder their activities. In fact, if we look at this conundrum from an international example, we are turning back the clock in terms of delivering positive outcomes for our civil society. Our closest neighbour, New Zealand, with which we share many similarities of regulation and legislation, is closing its charities and not-for-profits commission. As reported in Civil Society, the head of not-for-profit activities in the Australian Taxation Office has noted that efficiency initiatives in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Singapore and elsewhere are also reflecting this trend.

It is simply common sense and good government not to create endless reams of red tape for our not-for-profit sector. This legislation reflects this government's fundamental belief that more government, more bureaucracy and more red tape will solve any, and all, problems in society.

The government's heavy- handed approach will do nothing to h elp our not-for-profit sector. Instead, we need to support our volunteers and organisations that operate in civil society. We should be working with these organisations to lift standards through education and training, rather than imposing overbea ring regulation and penalties. For these reasons, I cannot, and will not, support this legislation. I would urge all members of the H ouse to do the same.