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Thursday, 27 June 2013
Page: 4367


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (19:31): Once again I will speak very briefly so that there is some vague hope of others having a chance to speak on this bill. I am sure that every senator who has taken and will take part in this debate, truncated as it is, has the best interests of the charities of Australia at heart.

But I must admit that I continue to look at the large charities and the smaller charities and I see a vast difference. In many cases it is like the comparison between Myer and the local milk bar, such that recently a Victorian advocate for the not-for-profit sector has established a peak group for not-for-profits that employ two or fewer people. They found that necessary because whilst we have the government telling us how every charity in Australia thinks this is wonderful, the only people who have really been spoken to are the corporate charities, the big ones—the Red Cross, the Salvation Army et cetera. These people do great jobs but they are not the representatives of every entity that should be considered a charity in Australia. I have real concerns about how the government has consulted, if at all, and how the government has heard, if at all, the message coming from small charities.

There are also concerns about how this has been put together. Areas have been left out of the human rights aspects of the bill. ACOSS, for example, talked about the lack of clarity when an entity lacks the element of public benefit, and the idea that the way you decide on public benefit is in the absence of evidence to the contrary. If part of this bill is about taking these issues out of the courts and back into the legislature, I have no idea how a section that talks about 'in the absence of evidence to the contrary' assists in this matter.

We also have a section put together by Treasury that looks at the amendments that were accepted to this bill. But they do not look at the amendments to the bill that were not accepted, and nor do we have any explanation as to why they were not accepted. We just have to look at the definition of a charity:

charity means an entity:

(a) that is a not-for-profit entity; and

(b) all of the purposes of which are:

(i) charitable purposes (see Part 3) that are for the public benefit (see Division 2 of this Part); …

No-one has explained quite how op-shops and other enterprises, profit-making enterprises providing profits to charitable organisations, are to work.

Section 6 of this bill talks about public benefit. It says:

(a) the achievement of the purpose would be of public benefit; …

And must be available to:

(i) the general public; or

(ii) a sufficient section of the general public.

What does a 'sufficient section' mean? The bill also refers to 'tangible' or 'intangible' benefit. What does that mean? One imagines that all these matters could be something that will be the matter of court action if people do not like the reasons that a 'sufficient section' is involved or that a benefit is 'tangible'.

As Senator Stephens alluded to, a coalition government would repeal this bill and would set up a body that was simply designed for educative and training purposes. I am sure they could answer all the questions that Senator Stephens has pointed out are there, without a massive new regulatory burden that undermines 400 years of case law around the definition of 'charity'.