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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8565


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (09:31): It is up to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Commissioner to determine the size of an entity for a financial year. There are also some concerns in the industry as to how the commission will use the prescribed enforcement tools. Don't we just love that? When you read about enforcement tools you know you have something to worry about. How the commission will actually operate on a day-to-day basis is yet to be clearly established. How typical of this government—the devil is always in the detail. I note that that is quite an apt phrase to use today of all days—the devil is in the detail. We are waiting for the detail on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. We are waiting for the detail on the Charities and Not-for-profits Commission so we can understand how this will work in practice. This government is constantly lacking.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012, which are before us today, will provide the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission with the authority to, amongst other things, issue warning notices, issue directions and enter into enforceable undertakings. These powers will make the commission amongst the most powerful of all of our government agencies—not a power to look at the areas of concern in our community but a power over those committed to caring for our community.

There is dispute about the role of the advisory board and its advice being provided on request. How much advising will the advisory board really get to do? The Smith Family outlined its concern in its submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics. It stated:

While understanding the advisory nature of such a Board, the inclusion of the phrase ‘at the request of the Commissioner’ in relation to the provision of advice … is, in The Smith Family’s view, unnecessary and undesirable, as it could result in the Board not offering advice in a proactive way.

Policy direction is still decided by the Australian Taxation Office. The ATO determines charitable status and the eligibility of the not-for-profits to access tax exemptions and other concessions, but the ATO's aims may not always be the same and it therefore may not be independent enough, as it is responsible for revenue raising and deciding if a not-for-profit should be given charitable status. As I have said, the states have made their desires known around the relinquishment of their powers to the commissioner, yet large not-for-profits will have to submit the same information to a number of different agencies and so the cost of compliance obviously will be high. The Productivity Commission says a variation in legislation reporting will also add another layer of complexity. I think we can justly ask why there is a need for an increase in power. As Mahatma Gandhi said:

I look upon an increase in the power of the State with the greatest fear because, although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the heart of all progress…

Across civil society; that is my little added extra there. I think we need to be wary of those things. We have got an entity being established with unheard of power over people and organisations. The coalition have a better idea, one that is going to focus on innovation, advocacy and education. Above all, it will introduce measures that would make it easier to meet the reporting and contractual requirements of charities and the not-for-profit sector. I will not be supporting these bills.