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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8395


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (13:55): The coalition will be opposing these two bills, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012. When the legislation was first mooted, I went looking for the examples of charity fraud that would require legislation of this depth and breadth. Where were the cases involving billions of dollars being scammed and defrauded out of charities? Where were the cases of the boards and governance in charity groups deliberately siphoning off funds to terrorist organisations or to tax havens? There must be of course billions of dollars going into this area in the same way as we have seen fraud and poor governance in organisations like Trio Capital, Storm Financial and dozens of others that have required the strengthening of our governance rules with regards to corporations and investment funds. So there must be millions of dollars being scammed off all over the place in terms of charities or there would be no need for legislation of this magnitude and at this cost.

Of course there is not. There is the odd case of a problem gambler who has defrauded the organisation they work for. There certainly have been some interesting investigations undertaken by ASIO and others into how some groups are functioning. But we do not have an endemic problem within the functioning and the governance of their charity organisations.

Once again we have the ridiculous situation of this government announcing its reform, which will involve all the states and territories agreeing to hand over their power of course, and then telling us after the bills have passed that that is when they will go and check if the states and territories think they would like to hand over the legislation. Many, many small charities are more than ably governed by the current state and territory bodies and should remain so, except for the empire-building delusions of the government.

For example, let us look at one of the proposed amendments to this bill being put by Senator Xenophon. The bill of course is called the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill and it will set up an Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Yet one of the amendments being proposed is that we actually come up with a definition of charities. Wouldn't that be nice? No, no, let us set up the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and then decide what the definition of charities is and what the definition of not-for-profit is, and then we will go and ask the states and territories whether they agree to it. We will do all of that later, having invested millions of dollars in the establishment of the commission and in getting staff involved in the commission. It is another complete bungle of empire building by this government, which will achieve nothing except extra red tape and extra cost. We are not in any way persuaded by the government's argument that this is true reform. It is not. Certainly there is nothing to suggest that what this government is proposing to do will improve in any way the governance of charities in Australia. As I said, there is no overwhelming evidence to suggest that there is overall poor governance in this sector. Certainly, there are lots of volunteers doing their very best, and there may be some ignorance of governance, but in no way is it dishonest, fraudulent behaviour.

Debate interrupted.