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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6042


Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (12:19): The report-once, use-often framework will allow charities to report once to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and for authorised government agencies to then access this information, therefore eliminating the need for charities to report the same information to different government agencies. While the initial focus of the commission is to reduce reporting duplication at the Commonwealth level, it is also discussing the role it can play with states and territories. The commission is already proving to be an invaluable resource for charities and not-for-profits and demonstrates that this government's reforms are transforming the sector.

The bills we are debating today, the Charities Bill 2013 and the Charities (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, are a part of this government's reform agenda. These bills introduce a statutory definition of 'charity' that applies to all Commonwealth legislation. The meaning of 'charity' and 'charitable purpose' has not been previously comprehensively defined for the purposes of Commonwealth law, but, rather, it has been administered on the basis of principles derived from common law. This has resulted in a charity law that is sometimes inconsistent and does not necessarily reflect the contemporary Australian charity sector.

The development of a statutory definition of charity and charitable purpose was first recommended in the report of the 2001 inquiry into the definition of charities and related organisations. It was reiterated in the recommendations of the Australia's Future Tax System Review in 2010. The Productivity Commission, in its 2010 report Contribution of the not-for-profit sector, also recommended the introduction of a statutory definition. A single statutory definition of a charity will provide greater clarity and certainty for charities, the public and regulators in determining whether an entity is charitable. In keeping with the government's broader reform agenda, it will also cut down on compliance costs for those wishing to establish charities and make the definition more accessible and easier to understand for the community. Importantly, the statutory definition will not be absolute; rather, it will retain the flexibility inherent in the common law that will enable the courts and parliament to continue to develop the definition within the statutory framework, maintaining its relevance to this evolving sector.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the public consultation that has been undertaken in the development of these bills. In my electorate of Canberra, we are home to a great many charities and not-for-profit organisations, as well as those that service the Canberra community, and we are home to many national and international organisations who choose to be based in our nation's capital. I know that these organisations were actively involved in the development and consultation on the statutory definition and I thank them for their contribution.

Finally, on Saturday I visited a wonderful charity in my electorate, the St Vincent de Paul Society—or 'Vinnies', as we know it—op shop at Narrabundah. I am sure many of my parliamentary colleagues all have a Vinnies op shop operating in some capacity in their electorates and know of the important work they do to help those less fortunate in our communities. Last Friday, Vinnies at Narrabundah celebrated its 50th anniversary of serving the Canberra community. It is an incredible milestone. Vinnies is an example of a charity that works tirelessly to support the community, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the countless volunteers who have given up their time and effort and energy to work at Vinnies over the past 50 years, particularly Maureen Johnston, the store's current manager. It has remained in the same location in Narrabundah for 50 years. While there have been a few revamps to the shop and the shopfront, it is essentially in the same location, serving the same strong community for 50 years. It is an extraordinary achievement.

This government is dedicated to supporting a strong, vibrant, diverse and independent charity and not-for-profit sector. These bills enable that and I know that they will be welcomed by the charities and not-for-profits in my electorate. I commend these bills to the House.