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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8570


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:53): My objection to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 is in relation to both its specific detail in various areas and, more broadly, its general philosophy. I think Kevin Rudd summed it up pretty well when he spoke about the Labor Party's approach to power and governance:

Politics is about power. It is about the power of the state. It is about the power of the state as applied to individuals, the society in which they live and the economy in which they work.

That is why I am proudly a member of the Liberal Party, or the Liberal-National Party in Queensland, and could never become a member of the Labor Party: because of its underlying philosophy that they, being the government or the people that run the government, seem to know better how individuals should run their lives than individuals do. We see that so often in legislation that comes before this parliament. Members of the Labor Party—people sitting opposite us, people who are probably mainly nice, honourable and honest but whose experience in life is very limited—have these ideas. I do not know where they come from. Perhaps it is their education or perhaps an unfortunate view of the world, but they have these ideas that there are wrongs in the world that only they and their group of friends can address.

Labor politicians have this broad approach of saying to people: 'You are not good enough to look after yourself. You are incapable of looking after yourself. We know better than you what is better for you and, therefore, we will attain power and we will, for your best interests, impose upon you what we know is best for you.' That of course has always been my great aversion to the way that the Labor Party deals with Indigenous people and always has done. The Labor Party says to Indigenous people: 'Hey, guys, you're incompetent. Because you're Indigenous you're not capable of doing the things that we whiteys can do, so we'll do it for you. We'll tell you what it's all about and we'll make some rules that you'll abide by which we know are better for you.' That is a view that the Labor Party, generally speaking, has about society and which is, as I say, encapsulated by Mr Rudd's famous maiden speech, when he said that politics was about power of the state.

This bill is telling not-for-profit organisations that the Labor Party knows more about how to run them honestly and properly than they do. I venture to say, and again this is a generalisation, that there are not too many people in the Labor Party who have ever been involved in not-for-profit organisations. I know a lot of them have been involved in for-profit organisations called unions but, when it comes to the Apex Club, which I was proudly involved in for many years, or to the local basketball club, which again I was involved in, and people volunteering their time to help others, the Labor Party seems to be either unaware or sadly remiss in understanding the basic philosophies of these not-for-profit community groups.

One would hope that the Labor Party would start with these sorts of regulatory arrangements in the union movement. We have seen with the HSU what an appalling mess the union movement in Australia is in. Nobody can tell me that that is confined to the HSU. The HSU, through the efforts of some courageous members, actually blew wide open the graft and corruption that exists in that particular union. But, as I say, it defies belief that this is not happening in other unions where there is no accountability and where a small coterie at the top seems to rule the roost and use members' money as if it were their own personal plaything. If the Labor Party were interested in regulating something, it should be more regulation of the union movement rather than regulation of not-for-profit community groups. As I read this bill and as I read the evidence that has been given by various parties to the Senate committee on this, I almost get the feeling that this is a move by the Labor Party to better control some of the church groups in our country. Whilst none of the church groups actually gave that evidence, they did give a lot of evidence which indicated that the good works they do would be curtailed by the extra regulation that would be imposed upon them and none of them could really work out—and neither can I, I might say—what ills this bill is supposedly intending to cure. It seems to me, and to my colleagues who were involved in the committee who have gone into this at some length both in their dissenting report and in speeches given here, that this bill will only bring more regulation on the not-for-profit sector for no particular value.

That is why I am delighted that the coalition, and Mr Andrews in his lead speech on this, have indicated that we will be opposing this bill for the reasons that I have mentioned, but as well for the reason that the sector itself sees the bill as heavy-handed and an unwarranted interference in the activities of civil society in Australia. We in the coalition believe—and were we fortunate enough to become government at some time in the future we would act in this way—that there should be a small body in this area that could act as an educative and training body to help lift standards without the quite overbearing regulatory enforcement powers that are being proposed in this bill. That is, we would pursue the opposition's general approach to life and governance, as opposed to that enunciated by Mr Rudd in his speech, on empowering people.

We want to empower people. We want to bring the best out in people. We want to help them to achieve their highest goals. We do not want to exercise power over them. We think that human beings, no matter their education or their background, have an ability to do good, to work things through, to work out what is best for their families and for their society. We do not believe that government should always be there regulating the way people work.

In my life, particularly before parliament, I was involved in many community organisations. People do not always do things correctly. Perhaps at times they cut the corners, but they are striving for the right purposes. They are there for the betterment of their society. To have the government come in now with this sort of regulation will just dampen any enthusiasm people might have had for selflessly giving up their time to help others.

I see Senator Williams in the chamber. Senator Williams is also an Apexian, as I understand, and he would recall the hundreds of hours young men volunteered to help those in society less fortunate than themselves and less able to get things done. People in the days of Senator Williams and I were happy to do that. But here is the government coming in now and saying: 'We want to regulate you. We want to tell you how to work. We want to tell you what you have got to do. We want to tell you that you have got to put in all these forms and do all this red tape and raise a bit more money so you can pay a professional accountant and a professional solicitor to double-check these forms that you have got to fill in.' One of the witnesses to the Senate inquiry—I think it was the Australian Institute of Company Directors—said, 'For every hour we pay for compliance we lose about 1½ hours of one-to-one support for our ageing residents'. No, I am sorry, they were quoting the CEO of an aged care company that was part of the membership of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

So someone in an aged-care home said, 'We can do two things: we can spend an hour filling in additional government forms and regulations or we can spend an hour and a half actually helping the aged-care people that we are here to help'. This legislation effectively says to that organisation: 'Forget the aged people who need your care and attention; for the hour and a half that you would have given to that person—sorry—you will fill in some forms now. You will complete these forms'.

I recently had the following experience that, again, demonstrates what I am talking about. I have not paid as much attention as I should have, I might say, to ABSTUDY matters, but it has become a bit of an issue in the north at the moment because a school that was doing fabulous work for Indigenous kids is in the hands of the receiver. It was likely to close, although I understand that events in the last day or two have led to some arrangement with the liquidators. But the reason this school was in difficulty was that claims for ABSTUDY had not been met by Centrelink.

Centrelink act by the rules given to them by their government, and Centrelink would just say, 'Claim rejected'. I was told that they would not explain why it was rejected—what was wrong with the application; they would just say, 'Claim rejected'. Consequently, the school continued to educate, travel, accommodate and feed the students for whom the ABSTUDY claim had been made but they were not getting the money back to do it. Clearly, they fell into some difficult financial operations. I said to them, 'Why haven't these claims being met?' They then showed me the form—it is 40 pages of questions to be answered by Indigenous people or their parents, many of whom are illiterate, and which I, I might say, as a former lawyer, found difficult in comprehending myself. Very often, the explanatory little note under each question on these 40 pages of questions had 'Refer to some website address for a further explanation'. Madam Acting Deputy President, as you would know, there are many parts of Australia where Indigenous parents do not quite have the access to the website or a computer to actually see what they are supposed to be doing.

This is regulation gone mad: 40 pages to be filled in by either the students or, in many cases, their semi-literate parents. In many cases the school will try to help the parents complete the forms, but in many cases the parents cannot give the information that the school needs to actually complete the form. So the forms go in uncompleted and Centrelink says, 'Claim rejected'. It will not tell them why. Consequently, whilst the school continues to fly the kids down from country Northern Territory or country Queensland and continues to feed them, to clothe them and to educate them they are not getting the ABSTUDY money in because the students—silly kids!—could not fill in this 40-page form that I could not fill in. Or their parents did not have all the information about where the birth certificate was or where other certified information was that had to be attached to the form. This is typical of the philosophy of the Labor Party: overregulation. Again, that exemplifies my opposition and, I am pleased to say, the opposition of the coalition to this bill. I draw the Senate's attention to the evidence given by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. They said this in evidence to the committee:

It is likely that we will need to employ someone on a full-time basis to deal with the compliance issues that this legislation is likely to raise for the Diocese of Sydney—and I am sure we will not be alone in this regard.

That is what they said in their evidence. What is it in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney that the government is trying to regulate that requires them to employ someone on a full-time basis to look at the compliance? I would have thought that the Anglican Church has been going since the days of Henry VIII! I often say to my Catholic friends that the one true church was started by Henry VIII back in the 16th century. But they have managed to get through to where we are today without the need for the assistance of this legislation before the chamber. The Anglican Church—and I am an Anglican—does good pastoral work but also good missionary work where it helps people. That is what its whole philosophy has been for many years. But now, instead of employing someone to go out and help others, they will have to employ someone on a full-time basis to deal with the compliance issues of this legislation.

I ask a government speaker, if there are any government speakers on this, to indicate what it is that they think the Anglican Church needs to do that it has not been doing and that this legislation is going to address? What is the Australian Council of Social Service—which also had very severe concerns that it expressed to the committee—not doing that requires this draconian legislation to overregulate it, to divert its scarce resources into filling in forms to satisfy government red tape?

My colleagues and Senator Xenophon before me have been specific on particular parts of the legislation that need to be addressed. I have not gone there and I will not go there. I simply raise the objection yet again on why it is that the Labor Party thinks it knows better how to control civil society—how it has to better control volunteers doing community work? How is it that members of the Labor Party know better than these community groups on what is good for community groups? I do not want to be offensive or insulting, but you ask me who I would rather have looking after my life and my family's life: members of community groups and volunteers working in the community, or members of the Labor Party government whose basic experience has been the trade union movement? There is really little contest in what the answer would be.

I hope that all parties in the chamber will ultimately see that this bill does not do anything. It overregulates, does not achieve anything and just makes it less welcoming in our civil society for individuals to play their part in our communities and our society.