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Tuesday, 11 September 2012
Page: 10264


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (20:13): I speak in support of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012. This tranche of legislation is the fulfilment of this Labor government's commitment—a major reform agenda which we took to the 2010 election—to deliver better regulation, reduce red tape and improve transparency and accountability in the sector.

In a submission in relation to this legislation, Dr Matthew Turnour, an expert in the not-for-profit law and regulation and a director of the Australian Charity Law Association, quoted Jonathan Edward Garton's The Regulation of Charities and Civil Society in identifying six overlapping grounds justifying the regulation of not-for-profit organisations. Those grounds are: preventing anticompetitive practices; controlling campaigning; ensuring trustworthiness; coordinating the sector; rectifying philanthropic failures; and preventing challenges to organisational quiddity.

Dr Turnour in his consultation paper said that not-for-profit organisations in general and charities in particular:

… have enjoyed favourable treatment since time immemorial.

…   …   …

Elaine Abery has observed that the favouring of charities is at least as old as Ezra’s return of the exiled Jews. Colombo and Hall pointed to evidence of tax favour for charities in ancient Greece, ancient Rome and in ancient Egypt. They began their work with the words: ‘Exempting charities from various forms of taxation is a practice that appears as old as western civilization itself’. The exemption has applied in the United Kingdom since William Pitt introduced income taxation.

This is an important piece of legislation that deals with organisations that have been around for a very long time in Western civil society.

The not-for-profit sector is a massive factor in our economy, a major player and consists of organisations which do tremendous work, from sporting organisations to church organisations to organisations that work with disability, health, education, conservation and many other forms of noble purpose. It is a sector that comprises at least 600,000 not-for-profit organisations. There are about 180,000 bodies corporate, about 100,000 incorporated associations, 12,000 companies limited by guarantee—I created plenty of those when I was a practising lawyer—and 3,500 cooperatives. It has been growing in size over the years and it has had an annual growth rate of about 7.7 per cent since 2000. Currently it adds about $43 billion to our GDP and employs about eight per cent of Australia's workforce. There are over 4.6 million volunteers who contribute close to $15 billion worth of unpaid work. This is a very large sector of our society. It is comparable, as Minister Shorten pointed out in a speech a couple of years ago, to the transport and storage sector of our economy. So it is a very, very large sector of our society.

Currently there are close to 180 pieces of Commonwealth, state and territory legislation governing the sector and about 19 separate agencies regulating and determining the charitable purpose status of any particular entity. So the system is overburdened with regulation, the taxation arrangements are complex, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the sector, it lacks coherence and there is already a high compliance burden. It is not as if this sector does not have interaction with government, the community and what the member for Menzies called civil society.

The legislation before this House establishes what is called the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission as a national regulatory body. It really establishes that and sets a framework. It charges the ACNC with the capacity to register not-for-profit entities and maintain that public register . It is voluntary to go on the register but, of course, registration is a prerequisite for gaining access to Commonwealth tax concessions. I doubt whether those opposite if they were on the Treasury bench would change that. Other Commonwealth concessions, exemptions or benefits are also contingent on registration.

This legislation comes as a result of many, many reports in relation to this particular sector, and those opposite did not respond to the sector's request for a national regulatory body when they were in power. The reports are many and varied in relation to this particular sector. We have an ambition to create a one-stop shop regulatory body for the not-for-profit sector. We believe that it is important to consult. We have consulted and we will continue to negotiate and consult with states and territories and the not-for-profit sector. It is important to do so. It is of vital importance because this is a major sector that deals with Australians every day from the Torres Strait to Tasmania and from Palm Beach to Perth. The reviews over the last 17 years—including the 2001 report of the inquiry into the definition of charities and related organisations, the 2009 review into Australia's future taxation system and the Productivity Commission report of 2010 titled Contribution of the not-for-profit sector—all make it clear that it is in Australia's national interest to establish a national regulatory body to streamline regulation in the sector.

There will be further amendments in relation to this. One of those relates to requiring the government to consult the not-for-profit sector in developing and implementing governance and external conduct standards. We will also ensure those standards do not prevent a charity from engaging in political advocacy in respect of their charitable purpose except where, of course, that advocacy is unlawful or in support of, say, a candidate for a political party such as, for example, Labor, the Liberals or the Greens.

It is interesting for us to be lectured by the member for Menzies in relation to the not-for-profit sector because the political parties opposite who now say they champion the sector were the very people who when in office banned community organisations and the not-for-profit sector from making public statements without informing the government first—the gag rule—and, even more ominously, were involved in a position where they could dictate staff changes. So they have now had a Damascus road conversion with respect to the not-for-profit sector, previously banning them, effectively gagging them, from criticising and advocating for the causes in which they believed and on behalf of people, whether they were the homeless or disabled or any organisation or individual or group of individuals, to government or in the media. When in government they gagged these organisations and opposed them having a voice. But now they say in opposition that they will support them.

Lest we think that those opposite have changed, we have only to look to my home state of Queensland.

The same political party, the LNP—the Liberal National Party over there—have already introduced the gag clause in any contracts with the not-for-profit sector. Talk about censorship, dictatorship and authoritarianism! They have done that already with health and other organisations in the not-for-profit sector. Following the Howard coalition government doing that, the Campbell Newman LNP government in Queensland is engaged in this authoritarianism with the not-for-profit sector. When we got into power we abolished the Howard coalition gag rule in 2008 because we wanted organisations to be able to respond and advocate for their causes, the people on whose behalf their organisation was formed. We believe they should be able to advocate without fear of their funding being lost.

We believe differently from the Howard coalition government. We believe differently from the Campbell Newman LNP government in Queensland. I think it is in the DNA of those opposite. They have history, they have form and their position in Queensland is contemporaneous. When on the treasury bench, when it comes to the not-for-profit sector, they say: 'Shut up, sit down and say nothing or you will lose your funding.' When in opposition, 'We're your best friend.' I think the not-for-profit sector know the reality of what is going on.

We have supported the not-for-profit sector and there are many organisations that have benefited from that. In Queensland we are seeing the detrimental effect on the not-for-profit sector of an LNP government. We saw it with the Howard government. The not-for-profit sector is now feeling the squeeze. About 23 not-for-profit organisations such as tenancy advocacy services in my home state, including IRASI in Ipswich, will lose staff. IRASI help those in need—the poor, the weak, the vulnerable—on tenancy issues. Last year they supported and represented about 152 people in court. This not-for-profit organisation took 600 phone calls. People go there and speak to them face to face. That is gone now, under the actions of the Campbell Newman government. So much for the Liberals' commitment to the not-for-profit sector. They will not support it. The state LNP member for Ipswich said in relation to this not-for-profit organisation in my city of Ipswich that they can just speak to their neighbours for tenancy advice. That is the attitude of the coalition parties to the not-for-profit sector.

We have situations in my home city where the not-for-profit sector is feeling the pinch, not just in having their funding cut but in losing access to services which assist the people they represent. An example is the Ipswich Women's Centre Against Domestic Violence. I was pleased to be at their fun day the other day. I was there at their party in the park, in Queens Park on 6 September. There were craft activities, face painting, a sausage sizzle et cetera. I spoke to a number of the women there. The LNP government in Queensland is cutting funding to the services for women who seek help who are suffering from sexual abuse and physical abuse. The funding that goes to the health services in Ipswich that assist those women is being cut and jobs are being lost. So do not come into this place and tell us how you are great champions of the not-for-profit sector, as if you are somehow great supporters, because you have form on this issue. You had historical form when you were in government and you have form up in Queensland, my home state, in the way you deal with it.

These people opposite are supporters of the not-for-profit sector so much so that when it comes to actually finding money to assist organisations in the not-for-profit sector in my home city of Ipswich—organisations like CODI, Focal Extended, IRASI, Aftercare, the Endeavour Foundation, CATS, organisations that help people in the disability sector—those opposite and their allies, their comrades and colleagues in Queensland, cannot even come up with $20 million to assist the not-for-profit sector to help people with disabilities. They cannot even come up with that. I heard the member for Menzies go on and on about this, about how they are going to champion the not-for-profit sector. But on this issue of helping the not-for-profit sector they have wrong choices, wrong priorities and wrong values. Once again it is the same old Liberals, saying one thing in opposition and doing another thing in government.

The legislation that is before this place will ensure that governance standards do not prevent—I repeat: do not prevent—a charity from engaging in political advocacy. (Time expired)