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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11082

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (20:27): I rise to contribute to the debate on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission suite of bills before the House. Charities and not-for-profit organisations—such as our local sports clubs, our local community clubs, the local church congregations, the local disease support groups such as the Heart Foundation and the cancer councils, the locally based scientific institutions—are organisations that underpin our community. Volunteers provide their precious time, out of their out-of-work time, their valuable family time and the time they need to escape and relax from the rigours of employment. Why do they do that? It is to volunteer selflessly to the community, to do their part to be socially responsible. It is an acceptance that without their efforts in whatever charity or not-for-profit organisation they are involved in, without their assistance and that of every other volunteer, the activities they provide or support would not occur.

I am sure that all of us in this place have been or still are involved in a number of local clubs or organisations which battle to fill office bearer positions or continue to rely upon the generosity of those few core members who are always there to get the job done. From my own perspective, I continually engage with charities and not-for-profit organisations and I did that even before I came into this place. At the moment I am the ambassador for SIDS and Kids in the Northern Territory, I am the vice patron of Surf Life Saving Northern Territory and I am a champion for Alzheimer's Australia NT—to name a few. This suite of bills could potentially have a negative impact on all of these organisations that I am involved with, and that is why it is important that I make the voice of those organisations heard.

Let's not be flippant about the impost being a member of such organisations has on individuals, particularly in terms of personal time consumed not only by those engaging in volunteer activities on the ground but also by those who hold office and must attend to the administrative duties necessary for the effective and efficient running of their organisation.

As members of the coalition we believe that the government should not focus on issues that are best dealt with by way of civil society. I might add that government needs to encourage and commend the efforts of charities and not-for-profit organisations, and it must implement measures which serve to assist in the reduction of compliance and red tape roadblocks and not do as this government is proposing to do—which is to seek to add a further level of compliance, a further level of red tape and more unnecessary blockages.

To further emphasise the points I have just made, the states have not agreed to hand over powers relative to charities and not-for-profit organisations to the Commonwealth. Without this, the new regulator proposed will, in real terms, be an additional layer of red tape and not the mechanism to reduce regulation, as has been put forward by the Gillard Labor government.

To further the concerns I hold in respect of the bills before the House, I echo the words of the member for Menzies and other coalition colleagues who quoted the views of the Australian Institute of Public Directors on this legislation. They stated:

The Bill lacks detail about the proposed interaction between the ACNC, the Corporations Act and other legislation, and about governance and external conduct standards, which we consider make it impossible to provide meaningful comment on the Bill as a whole.

Some of my colleagues have referred to the comment from David Gonski, a life fellow of the Institute of Company Directors, who 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.

Comments from Mission Australia indicate that they are not too happy with this legislation either, commenting that the bill:

… is not sufficiently well balanced by a commitment to enable the not-for-profit sector to reduce duplication of reporting and to provide public confidence in the sector.

Carers Australia have said:

We also had serious reservations regarding the constitutional validity of legislating on governance requirements for organisations that are not federally regulated agencies, and the apparent disregard of important administrative law concepts such as procedural fairness.

Australia is a country with a rich history cast upon the value attained from those that volunteer and provide the many services needed to maintain standards within our community. Volunteers, charities and the Aussie ethos of giving your mate a hand are almost a cultural foundation which holds this country aloft. They are examples of a populace willing to pull together when the going gets tough and when shallow pockets and long arms are needed to find the funds to help those in need. We have seen over and over again the generosity of Australians, especially in natural disaster situations such as the recent Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales floods.

We are a nation that gives, a nation that digs deep to help when help is needed and jumps in and assists when assistance is needed. However, we are also a nation that believes money given to charities, money given to help above and beyond when the call goes out, is money that goes to those in need. It should not be lost to administration costs resulting from government introducing more red tape and compliance mechanisms such as those proposed in these bills.

Currently tax concessions exist for organisations with DGR status. I question the broader implications that potentially exist for those organisations in terms of compliance with the 'in Australia' test, a requirement of this bill.

The coalition believe trust underpins the volunteer sector—trust in civil society and trust in those who work in charitable endeavours. How far is this legislation going to go? Potentially the following not-for-profits and charities in my electorate could be impacted by this suite of bills: the Australia Day Council, Council on the Ageing (NT) Inc., Crime Stoppers Northern Territory Ltd, Darwin Symphony Orchestra Inc., General Practice Network NT Ltd, Government House Foundation of the Northern Territory Inc., Junior Police Rangers Land Association, the National Heart Foundation of Australia's Northern Territory Division, the Northern Territory Christian Schools Association, the Northern Territory Council of Law Reporting Inc., Northern Territory Police Legacy Inc., NT Breast Cancer Voice Inc., Northern Territory Fishing Industry Training Advisory Board Inc., the Northern Territory Writers' Centre Inc., Relationships Australia Northern Territory Inc., the Returned Services League of Australia (South Australia Branch) Darwin Sub-Branch, the Top End Association for Mental Health Inc., Total Recreation Northern Territory Inc., Victims of Crime NT Inc., Alzheimers Australia NT Inc,. Cancer Council of the Northern Territory Inc., Carpentaria Disability Services Inc., Diabetes Association of the NT Inc., Down Syndrome Association of the Northern Territory Inc., the Family Planning Welfare Association of the Northern Territory Inc., Foster Care NT Inc., Friends of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra Inc., Kidsafe NT Inc. and Palliative Care Northern Territory Inc.

There are more: Somerville Community Services Inc., St John Ambulance Australia (NT) Inc., Surf Lifesaving Northern Territory Inc., the Rotary Club of Darwin and School Children's Arts Education Foundation Inc., Disabled Sports Association (NT) Inc., Dragons Abreast Australia Ltd, Girl Guides NT Inc., HPA Inc., Royal Life Saving Society Northern Territory Branch Inc., Northern Territory Police and Citizens Youth Clubs Association Inc.; and Riding for the Disabled NT Inc. There are hundreds more charity and not-for-profit organisations in my electorate that could potentially be impacted. I have listed just the ones that I am involved in, that I am concerned about. This suite of bills is going to have major impacts on them. It will impose burdensome red tape on these organisations, which in many cases are already struggling to survive and trying to get volunteers to help out.

But the coalition have a plan. The coalition approached the charities commission and have given an undertaking that we will establish a small educative and training body for the not-for-profit sector. The coalition will not support the creation of a heavy-handed regulatory body that would add more red tape for charitable organisations. We would also seek to retain the regulatory powers that already exist in the ATO and ASIC. This would ensure simplicity and an easy understanding of the regulatory framework. We on this side understand that the regulatory framework should not be complicated by the powers and duties of key Commonwealth regulators.

We do not need this commission, and I concur with my coalition colleagues who have suggested that the money being put into establishing it should be used to support these very important charitable organisations that provide services in our community that are vital to our society. So I cannot support this suite of bills before the House.