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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6104


Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (16:42): I have the pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on the Charities Bill 2013 and the Charities (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013. For some 400 years the definition of charity has been recognised through common law but today this bill seeks to introduce a definition of charity and charitable purpose from 1 January 2014 across all Commonwealth legislation and to enshrine it in statute. These changes, as with many other changes we see from this government, risk disadvantaging the very charities that we are seeking to support and creating a new wave of legal disputes and test cases at great cost to the sector and ultimately of no benefit to our communities.

Currently, charitable purposes are commonly categorised, following the terminology of the Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemsel rulings as the four 'heads of charity'. These are: the relief of poverty; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; and other purposes beneficial to the community. For a purpose to be charitable within the legal meaning under the common law, the purpose must be within the 'spirit and intendment' of the Statute of Elizabeth, and for the public benefit.

But now we see a change in all of that. The government say that they want to provide greater clarity and certainty for charities, the public and regulators in determining whether an entity is charitable—because they obviously do not believe in the people, the unpaid workers and volunteers who run these organisations. Through trying to provide 'greater clarity', the proposed amendment to the charitable purposes has been changed from the four 'heads of charity' to a list of 12. I do not know how that provides any greater clarity, so let us go through them for the sake of discussion:

advancing health;

advancing education;

advancing social or public welfare;

advancing religion;

advancing culture;

promoting reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance between groups of individuals that are in Australia;

promoting or protecting human rights;

advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public;

preventing or relieving the suffering of animals;

advancing the natural environment;

any other purpose beneficial to the general public that may reasonably be regarded as analogous to, or within the spirit of, the above purposes;

promoting or opposing a change to any matter established by law, policy or practice in the Commonwealth, a State, a Territory or another country, in furtherance or protection of one or more of the above purposes.

That is wonderfully clear. When I examined this legislation, one of the biggest issues I had, particularly because there are many people in the electorate of Forde relying heavily on this particular form of charity at present, was that nowhere in this legislation was the issue of housing reflected and it failed to list it as a defined charitable purpose.

Just this week, an article in the Albert & Logan News highlighted the issue of homelessness and the need for housing. The article stated:

TEN homeless people a week are being turned away at a Waterford homeless shelter before the harshest period of winter even begins.

The general manager, Jason Loakes, said that homeless people are trying to injure themselves, to get into a warm hospital bed, or are committing petty crimes to get a jail cell for the night. I spoke today to Lisa Loakes, the director of this not-for-profit shelter, Sheltered by Grace. She said that, unfortunately, at this time of year this happens. It is true that they have had to turn away at least 10 people on average each week. In Lisa's own words she described the Labor government's fiddling with the charity sector as a 'red-tape bonanza.' She said that the doubling-up of paperwork is unnecessary. She said that the fiddling with charitable purposes does not make any sense. Under existing charitable purposes 'housing' would sit under 'the relief of poverty' but under the new purpose guidelines the only place she could see where it could possibly fit was under 'advancing social or public welfare.' Lisa went on:

In many cases, advancing social or public welfare can only come after the relief of poverty. I don't believe that in Australia we are at the level of advancing social or public welfare. Changing the focus or not putting enough emphasis on preventing or relieving poverty, distress or disadvantage and instead focusing on "advancing" social or public welfare is not enough.

Lisa also went on to comment about some of the features of the new definitions. One of those was:

An entity must have only charitable purposes and must not have an independent, non-charitable purpose. An entity may have incidental or ancillary purposes that may be non-charitable when viewed in isolation but which must aid or further the charitable purpose.

Lisa commented on this particular provision:

Sometimes the independent, non-charitable component will actually fund or prop up the charitable purposes—there is a need to use discretion here so as not to stymy or restrict the work that NFP—

not-for-profit—

can actually do.

Another definition:

The purpose of preventing and relieving sickness, disease or human suffering, the purpose of advancing education, the purpose of relieving the poverty, distress or disadvantage of individuals or families, the purpose of caring for and supporting the aged or people with disabilities, and the purpose of advancing religion are presumed as being for the public benefit, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Lisa further commented:

There is a need to ensure that the definition incorporates the housing of individuals at risk of homelessness or domestic violence. Safe and appropriate housing is the first step in relieving poverty, distress or disadvantage and it may need to be listed independently to ensure that it is included in the new definition.

I am sure that Lisa would much rather be spending her time working on fundraising towards the $100,000 goal to expand the shelter to be able to provide more services but, as I have touched on and as we saw with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012, this sector is getting buried in more and more red tape.

A spokesman from the Salvation Army in Beenleigh was also quoted in this article in the Albert & Logan News, saying that over the past weekend she had been contacted by three families looking for accommodation. She was only able to find one of those families a home because nearby facilities were stretched ahead of winter.

She said, 'Most families are really only a pay packet away from homelessness' and she is not the only person in the electorate of Forde to tell me that.

It is people such as Lisa and the wonderful volunteers at Sheltered by Grace who are part of a terrific community of volunteer workers in Forde. They include organisations such as Nightlight, NAPCAN, Helping out Children, Fishers of Men, the Queensland Youth Housing Coalition, Eagleby Salvation Army, Soroptomist, local Lions Clubs, Rotary, the Eagleby Community Association, the Benevolent Society, St Vincent de Paul, On the Edge, Rosies, Quota, Junior Quota, Beenleigh PCYC, Tudor Park PCYC, local Probus clubs, Neighbourhood Watch, Beenleigh Scouts and the Loganlea Community Centre.

It is these organisations that provide such tremendous services in our community to those who are struggling. Our local food welfare services include Lighthouse Calvary Care, the Twin Rivers Centre, the Soul Centre, Upper Coomera Community Pantry and Centro Care. Together these organisations support hundreds of locals doing it tough.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful volunteers of these organisations and many others for being the backbone of our local charities and the saviours of those who are less fortunate. Without their dedication, selflessness and devotion to improving the lives of others, the community as a whole would suffer.

As we have seen frequently over the past six years, we face a Labor government that believes in big government and small communities. Yet there is an alternative: the coalition side of politics, where we believe in small government and big communities. I remain passionate about continuing to work out how we can all get these wonderful community organisations and charities together in our community so we can continue to identify and solve problems as they arise—hopefully without the need for the government to get involved. But, as we have seen with the legislation last year and this bill today, we keep facing hurdles of increased red tape at the very time when these organisations are working their hardest to solve the problems in our community. I call on the government not to proceed with this legislation and to allow our community and charity sectors to do the work that they are there to do: to look after and care for the needy in our community, not to get caught up in the unnecessary regulatory burden that this government keeps imposing on our community. This legislation 'appears' to be doing something for our charities; but, at the end of the day, it is not solving the problems for this sector. It is only creating more.

As has been said by the previous coalition speakers on this bill, we will be opposing this legislation because of the negative impact it has on the people who are doing some of the best work in our communities to fix up problems that are being created in our communities by the failed policies of this Labor government.