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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 6003

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongAssistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation) (19:36): I would like to thank the member for his question and his ongoing interest in the important not-for-profit sector. The member understands that the not-for-profit sector employs nearly one million people and is worth $43 billion in activity to our economy.

Mr Robb interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I know the member for Goldstein does not want to hear about the not-for-profit sector. He had his chance. I would sack your question writer. Returning to the question, and not to be distracted by the interjections of the member for Goldstein, let me say there have been numerous reviews about the future—

Mr Chester interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: The cavalry has ridden over the hill: the member for Gippsland is here; now it will get interesting. We have upgraded the quotient. There have been numerous reviews of the not-for-profit sector. As far back as 1995 there were calls for the establishment of a not-for-profit commissioner in order to streamline the regulation of not-for-profits. As much as members of the opposition interject, it does not stop them from coming around to see the Assistant Treasurer about a deductible gift recipient status for their favourite charities. We hear one thing in the parliament but another thing I am told is: 'You have to understand, Bill, that this is just politics. Let us do business.'

This is important stuff. I believe, all partisanship aside, that the opposition believe in reform for the not-for-profit sector. I know you believe in it. I know the better angels of your nature think that this is important work. What we are looking at doing is establishing a not-for-profit commissioner. We are going to put an interim commissioner in by 1 July. Over the next 12 months we will be seeking to create one central point in government where not-for-profit agencies can go. It will save a lot of red tape. The not-for-profit sector have been calling for it for years and, as I said, there have been plenty of reviews to this point. In addition, what we will do in the next 12 months is to open up a dialogue with the states. We had a choice: we could do nothing and keep talking to the states or we could at least establish a regulator—hopefully to be in place by 1 July 2012—for the 60,000 charities that are currently covered by Commonwealth law. We hope to reach out to the other 540,000 not-for-profits who are regulated by state and territory jurisdiction. We will get a move on and open up what we are doing at the Commonwealth stage. But it is not just that.

We also intend to introduce a statutory definition of a charity. This was a touchy issue under the old coalition government. They liked the idea of a statutory definition of charity but they did not like the idea that groups could be advocates. In other words, they loved the view that you could see a thousand victims of domestic violence, but if that group chose to advocate more reform, that was a different issue and that was going to make it harder. The now opposition—the then government—understood intuitively, instinctively, the value of a statutory definition of a charity; they just did not like groups that advocate. This is a government that welcomes advocacy. We understand the value of the third sector, so we will be putting forward a proposition around a statutory definition of a charity which the regulator will administer. I have to say that we have also made clear a number of other decisions flowing from this. We have said that, for charities that have investments and activities in unrelated commercial ventures, where the money is not remitted back to the charity for the purpose for which the charity was established, that operation will not receive the same tax concessional status. I think most people across the political divide think that is very good.

What we are going to do further with the not-for-profit regulator is to have the back office function provided by Treasury and the Australian Tax Office for the next 12 months. The view is that by 1 July 2012 we will have a completely independent not-for-profit regulator, who will report to the Assistant Treasurer. We have set up an interim task force. We have nominated Mr Robert Fitzgerald, a Productivity Commissioner and former head of ACOSS, to chair the interim task force. He is well respected throughout the not-for-profit sector. He has been a long-time advocate for improvement, reform and modernisation. We are yet to announce the interim commissioner, but that decision, I am sure all members will be pleased to know, is imminent.

We think the not-for-profit sector is a very important part of Australian life. Henry Lawson wrote a story in which the hero sends around a hat whenever someone is indigent and has fallen on hard times. We think that Henry Lawson's values of the mid-19th century still echo in 2011. We certainly believe the not-for-profit regulator will be an agency to assist in sending the hat around. It will be good for philanthropy, charities and the many thousands of people who work ceaselessly in the charities. I acknowledge the work of Senator Ursula Stephens; the Minister for Social Inclusion, Tanya Plibersek; and the member for Melbourne Ports. (Time expired)