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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6049


Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (12:48): I rise to speak on the Charities Bill 2013 and the Charities (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013. The Charities Bill seeks to introduce a definition of charity and charitable purpose. The new definition would apply from 1 January 2014 across all Commonwealth legislation. This bill serves no purpose and is unnecessary. The definition of the word 'charities' is ingrained into our history and our culture, and it is a definition that is universally understood. The definition of charity has stood the test of time and is some 400 years old. British Commonwealth law has served us well. Since Federation, the definition of charity has remained clear and consistent. It has remained a cornerstone of what constitutes charitable endeavour and charitable activity across this nation.

The government are seeking once again to rush through legislation that has not been properly considered, with a lack of public consultation. The public consultation phase on the draft definition was open for less than four weeks. It is astounding to me that this government would think that they know better and, without extensive consultation, would seek to change 400 years of history that has served civil society well.

Let me remind the House what happened in September 2000, when the then Prime Minister John Howard announced an inquiry into the definition of charity. The inquiry reported in 2001, making some 27 recommendations. Former Treasurer Peter Costello released draft legislation in 2003 which took the traditional four heads of charity and divided them into seven heads of charity in line with the inquiry's findings—namely, the advancement of health; education; social and community welfare; religion; culture, natural environment; and any other purpose that is beneficial to the community. The Board of Taxation reported on the workability of the draft legislation in 2004 and the then government, through the then Treasurer, announced:

The common law meaning of a charity will continue to apply, but the definition will be extended to include certain child care and self-help groups, and closed or contemplative religious orders. The Government has decided not to proceed with the draft Charities Bill.

It perplexes me then why, after an extensive inquiry has already been completed into this issue and found that the common-law meaning of charity is still relevant and the most appropriate to use, this government is tracking down an alternative path. Why depart from 400 years of clarity and consistency that is relevant today and has worked and continues to work? Let me be clear in this House that we will seek to repeal this bill if elected. The coalition's approach to the charitable sector is based on the belief that Australian charities and not-for-profit organisations strengthen our nation through their contribution to communities right across Australia. We believe in empowering this sector. We understand that the charitable sector plays a role and fills a gap that government never could.

Before entering parliament I worked as a social work across Greater Western Sydney for 20-odd years. In my work I saw many charitable organisations on the ground doing incredible work in their local communities—some at a local level, some at a national or more regional level. These organisations are made up of mostly volunteers. Volunteers are on management committees. Volunteers develop and share a vision and a dream to make a difference in the communities, whether it is helping those who are disabled, empowering young people to have a better future or the continuing work done over the years by St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and so on. The many organisations that make up the charitable sector are trusted pillars in our community and our nation. The Red Cross, St Vinnie's, Wesley Mission—the list goes on. They continue to have a significant impact on our society and our communities. Families, single parents, the elderly and troubled youth rely on the helping hand of these organisations to bring support and hope during the tough times.

The community trusts civil society, and the coalition trusts civil society. It is Labor that assumes that we should look over their shoulder and force them to comply with overburdensome regulations. This is why we have announced that, if elected, we will abolish the ACNC. The purpose of the ACNC is to create more red tape and more costs for a sector that is already under great pressure. The ACNC is predicated on the belief that Australia's charities and not-for-profits are doing something inherently wrong and need greater government oversight. I reject this belief. The ACNC has made life harder for volunteers and will discourage involvement in voluntary and community endeavour. By failing to work with the states and territories to create a single national framework, the Gillard government will increase the cost of running charities and not-for-profit organisations and give the government more say in how they are administered. While the ACNC will initially only cover those charities with exemptions, Labor's framework will allow an eventual expansion.

Only the coalition understands that a government's role is to support and serve those organisations that are looking after the needs of our community. The last thing that the coalition want to do, especially in these fiscally difficult times, is hamper the activities of civil society in delivering on its aspirations and responding to the needs of individuals, families and communities. The coalition will oppose this bill, and, if we are elected to government later this year, we will repeal it.