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Inquiry into charitable and related organisations.



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INQUIRY INTO CHARITABLE AND RELATED ORGANISATIONS

Today I am announcing the details of an independent inquiry into definitional issues relating to charitable, religious and community service not-for-profit organisations. In establishing the Inquiry, the Government is honouring the commitment it gave to the Australian Democrats earlier this year to examine such matters.

Charitable, religious and community service not-for-profit organisations play a vital role in our community and are pivotal members of the social coalition. The Government has recognised their importance in a range of policy areas, including the business and community partnership, illicit drugs policy, welfare reform and the Job Network.

We need to ensure that the legislative and administrative framework in which they operate is appropriate to the modern social and economic environment. Yet the common law definition of a charity, which is based on a legal concept dating back to 1601, has resulted in a number of legal definitions and often gives rise to legal disputes.

The Inquiry will provide the government with options for enhancing the clarity and consistency of the existing definitions with respect to Commonwealth law and administrative practice. These should lead to legislative and administrative frameworks appropriate for Australia’s social and economic environment in the 21st Century.

I am pleased to announce that the Chairman of the Inquiry is the Hon I F Sheppard AO QC, former Judge, Supreme Court of NSW and Federal Court of Australia. The other members of the Inquiry Committee are: Mr Robert Fitzgerald, Commissioner of Community Services NSW and former President of ACOSS; and Mr David Gonski, Principal of Wentworth Associates and member of the Prime Minister’s Community-Business Partnership.

This membership ensures that community service and business points of view, supported by expert legal advice, will be reflected in the conduct of the Inquiry. I would like to thank all three members of the Committee for making their services available to the Government in this way. A secretariat drawn from relevant Commonwealth departments and the community sector will support the Committee.

The terms of reference for the Inquiry, which were developed in consultation with the Australian Democrats, is attached. The government considers that wide consultation is a very important element in the conduct of the Inquiry. The Inquiry’s terms of reference require the

Committee to consult closely with interested groups, including the community service sector and will produce an issues paper for public comment. I expect the Committee will report its findings to the Government by 31 March 2001. I have asked the Treasurer to oversee the conduct of the Inquiry.

TERMS OF REFERENCE

INQUIRY INTO DEFINITIONAL ISSUES RELATING TO CHARITABLE, RELIGIOUS AND COMMUNITY SERVICE NOT-FOR-PROFIT ORGANISATIONS 1. The Committee is to examine and report on existing definitions of charitable, religious, and community service not-for-profit organisations, having regard to the following: (a) the attributes, purpose and behaviour of such organisations in light of the current social expectations and experiences; and (b) those organisations that are wholly or partially charitable, religious or community service not-for-profit. 2. The Committee shall examine: (a) any current definition set out in legislation (Commonwealth or State), common law or popular usage, including the continuing relevance of the ‘public benevolent institution’ definition; (b) any current use of the concepts for social, economic, legal, regulatory, statistical or academic purposes; and (c) definitions used in overseas jurisdictions. 3. In undertaking the Inquiry, the Committee is to advertise nationally, produce an issues paper for public comment and consult with key interest groups and affected parties, including, but not limited to: (a) organisations that consider themselves to be charitable, religious or community service not-for-profit organisations; (b) for-profit organisations that provide the same goods or services as those operating in the charitable, religious or community service not-for-profit sector; and (c) Commonwealth, State and local government agencies that provide the same goods or services as those operating in the charitable, religious or community service not-for-profit sector, or that are assisted in the provision and distribution of publicly-funded goods or services by organisations in the charitable, religious or community service not-for-profit sector. 4. The Committee will provide options for enhancing the clarity and consistency of the existing definitions in Commonwealth law and administrative practice with respect to charities, religious and community service not-for-profit organisations. These should lead to legislative and administrative frameworks at the Commonwealth level that are appropriate for, and adapted to, the social and economic environment of Australia. 5. The Committee shall report on the findings of the Inquiry by March 2001.

18 September 2000

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