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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6060


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (13:41): I rise to speak on the Charities Bill and the Charities (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, and in doing so emphasise the fact that the coalition—those members on this side of the House and certainly the member for Herbert who has just spoken so eloquently on this bill—support civil society. We in fact trust what civil society has done and the fact that it has taken generations upon generations of hardworking Australians and common-sense approaches to all matters of importance to communities to get to where we are now, and we want to empower civil society with those rights which have been enshrined in law since Federation and before.

The government's approach is, unfortunately, to treat civil society with a degree of distrust and suspicion, to seek to enforce laws which are onerous and uncalled for and certainly unnecessary. This government is all about applying burdensome regulation and creating more and more levels of unnecessary bureaucracy—agencies over the shoulders of organisations which have done a power of good for their communities over generations and a power of good for society over decades. The definition of charity, as we heard the member for Herbert just indicate and as we have heard the shadow minister Kevin Andrews tell us, is 400 years old. Common law has served us well. Why is there any need for this Labor government, which has been there for five years, a blink of an eye—really it is only this particular government in this particular term after the former Prime Minister, the member for Griffith was tapped on the shoulder by the member for Lalor on 24 June back in 2010—to overturn or change something which has served the Western world well for four centuries?

The coalition under the former Treasurer Peter Costello—and he was a great Treasurer—looked at the issue in great detail and put in place appropriate public policy. But that came after careful consideration and after consultation with key stakeholders. That came after doing something that this government has never had a wont to do and that is to talk to the people and the organisations that would be affected by it and to bring about not necessarily change for change sake but something that might improve the situation as it was then.

The United Kingdom experience demonstrates how dangerous it would be to empower public servants to decide what is charity and what is not charity. As the member for Herbert and the shadow minister have indicated in their speeches on this important topic, the coalition, if we are fortunate enough to be elected on 14 September, will seek to repeal this particular bill.

In this place we need to talk about our opposition to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and certainly members on this side are doing just that. We have announced that we will abolish the ACNC and repeal this legislation if we are elected to govern. One thing we do not need is a plethora of new bureaucrats. In my time in this place I have seen how onerous more and more bureaucrats can be. We have enough problems at the moment, with so many crossovers between federal and state departments, federal and state bureaucrats, and federal and state governments without putting another layer of bureaucracy upon those organisations which have long been regarded as pillars of the community—organisations such as St Vincent de Paul, the Red Cross, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Salvation Army. We all know those organisations; they are household names. They are respected organisations within our communities. When we speak of those organisations and others, we know what a power of work and a power of good they do when things go wrong. I refer to some of the natural disasters we have, unfortunately, experienced in recent years—floods, fires and droughts. Those are the organisations to which many people in the community who fall on hard times either through natural disasters or when other things go wrong often turn to first because they know they will be there when they are most needed.

Those sorts of organisations—Vinnies, the Red Cross, the Brotherhood, the Salvos—do not need a layer of bureaucrats looking over their shoulder, telling them what they should or should not be doing. We have seen this Labor government, in so many other ways, enforce and impose upon our society that creeping federalism, those Big Brother tactics that this government seems to think are necessary to enforce upon so many different sections of society which have existed since Federation very well and very nicely, thank you, without this government's intervention but which this government now thinks it needs to impose upon them at this juncture. It is Labor which assumes that we should look over these organisations' shoulders and, as I say, tell them what to do and, more specifically, tell them what not to do with overburdensome regulation.

The government have not demonstrated that the absolute mischief that the ACNC was established to deal with actually exists. They want to enforce and impose these regulations but have not really told us why it is absolutely necessary.

The coalition have announced that they will streamline regulation as it applies to family service agencies. Organisations certainly need to be transparent, something which the government is not. They certainly need to tick the necessary boxes to meet compliance measures, they need to ensure that the money that they are entrusted with is spent wisely and in the way that the community would expect and that it is spent for the good of the people they serve. These organisations are already self-regulated and are already governed by laws of the various states.

We heard the member for Herbert say, 'There's a problem with the way in which some individuals operate in some organisations.' I am certainly not pointing the finger of blame at anyone. But if there are problems, that is why we have the state police forces and it is why we have fraud squads. I am not suggesting in any way that there is a problem. But if ever a problem comes about then that is the correct and proper way for those problems to be dealt with, not through some new layer of bureaucracy or new layer of enforcement imposed upon it by a government which already has its tentacles stretched out far and wide in so many other sectors of society.

That is why this bill needs to be rejected, it is why this bill is totally unnecessary and it is why we should have great suspicion about this government when it wants to impose itself like Big Brother over our charities, which have worked well for many decades without an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy hanging over their heads.

As I said, when we do need our charitable organisations to serve us, they do it superbly, particularly in regional areas. I know you would be well aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, in your electorate of Maranoa of just how well charities operate and, as I mentioned before, particularly when they are most needed in times of crisis.

I note that the shadow minister in his speech talked about the history of the coalition and what we have done to improve certain areas involved in charities to ensure that there was greater transparency. This particular bill does not provide that. But we have certainly helped to enhance these organisations and to help them to better do the job that they are expected and required to do—that is, to help in their communities—and, as I have mentioned, they do a wonderful job in regional Australia.

The shadow minister said that this government is now seeking to pretend that there is some desperate need to legislate in this area, acting as though it is charting new waters. These new waters do not need to be charted. The reality is, as the shadow minister indicated in his speech on this particular bill, it was the former Howard government—and I might just add that that was a good government—that looked at the issue of creating a common law definition of 'charity'. Former Prime Minister John Howard announced an inquiry into the definition of 'charity' on 18 September 2000. The inquiry reported in 2001, making some 27 recommendations. Those recommendations were there to enhance the law as it then stood. They were not there to be some great big octopus like this government is, spreading its unnecessary federal tentacles into every way and means of life, as we now know. They were not there to be onerous, burdensome and unnecessary Big Brother tactics.

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 finding: the advancement of health, education, social or community welfare, religion, culture, natural environment and any other purpose that is beneficial to the community. Certainly, when it comes to health and education there are no two more important aspects of society for most Australians than health and education. 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 childcare and self-help groups and closed or contemplative religious orders. The government decided not to proceed with the draft charities bill. There we have a good government of the day—a Liberal-Nationals government of the day—seeing that there possibly needed to be an inquiry done, enacting that inquiry, consulting with stakeholders, taking the views of all concerned whether they were for or opposed to the inquiry, discussing it in a common-sense fashion, letting it sit on the table for some time while other people could have a say and then coming out and deciding that there was no need to proceed with the draft charities bill.

Why then, in 2013, when we have a government wracked with leadership problems and debt, and which is trying to spread its tentacles into lots of matters which used to be the prerogative of the states, do we have this federal Labor government, which thinks it knows better about everything and which the community knows does not, wanting to force this legislation through in the second-last or last week of the 43rd Parliament and expecting it to be of benefit to those charities which have served us so well for so many years? That is why this bill needs to be rejected. That is why this is not supported by the coalition. That is why I hope that the Greens member, whom I heard chattering behind me a moment ago—no doubt he was supporting what I am saying—does not support it. I know the member for Dobell is behind me, and he calls himself an Independent, but his voting record suggests otherwise.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr McCORMACK: I am watching my back, but I am sure the cameras are there to watch my back for me. But I hope they support the coalition's rejection of this particular piece of legislation. I hope they do it for the benefit of the charities, which, as I say, have supported us so well for so many years and do not need another layer of bureaucracy placed over them by this debt ridden government in a leadership crisis.