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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11087

Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (20:55): I rise to speak on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012. This is an important topic. Not-for-profits, charities and volunteer organisations are at the heart of our society. Indeed, they are as old as society itself, and they reflect the best of us—a commitment to helping others who are in need. That is why we, as members of this chamber, should do all that we can to help, not to hinder, the work of these organisations, to create an environment where they can do their work without being overburdened by compliance and red tape.

This is the essence of the debate and this is why the coalition opposes these bills, because these bills before the House will see the establishment of an independent statutory office, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, a new Commonwealth-level regulator for the not-for-profit sector, and a commissioner, who will actually increase the red tape, not reduce it. Instead of standardising terms, codifying conditions, clarifying rules and creating a one-stop shop for regulation, this legislation that we are debating before the House tonight will increase the compliance burden on Kooyong's clubs, its congregations, its schools, its volunteer groups and all of those that help in the not-for-profit sector.

Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Scott, you do not have to take my word for this. You just have to look at the testimony before the parliamentary committees where these bills were debated. Take the Australian Conservation Foundation. It said:

… ACF is concerned that rather than remove duplication, the ACNC and its Bills will duplicate reporting obligations.

The Australian Council for International Development said:

The present drafting of the … Bill does not reassure ACFID or its members that it will actually reduce red tape …

And there is more. Mission Australia said:

Our over-riding concern is that rather than reducing red tape and compliance … the ACNC will add another layer of compliance and that nothing will be taken away.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia said:

… the regulatory burden will be increased on individual non-government schools creating costly and confusing duplicative governance and reporting situation.

This is pretty damning stuff from organisations as diverse as environment groups, not-for-profits, aid groups and schools—and there are more. The Australian Baptist Ministries said:

… the reporting requirements for medium sized entities are too onerous. In our view the increase in compliance obligation will make it more difficult to fill volunteer roles within local congregations as well as requiring more time to be spent on compliance matters and therefore less time on matters that will provide a benefit to the community.

That quote goes to the heart of the problem with these bills. By increasing compliance and red tape we are handcuffing these organisations and reducing their ability to do the work that they want to do. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have said:

The lengthy list of powers proposed in the ACNC Bill focuses on matters which appear more appropriate for a criminal investigation authority rather than a body which is intended to promote and educate.

The Anglican Diocese of Sydney has not missed the opportunity to put in its twopence worth. It said:

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. I am sure we will not be alone in this regard.

Well, I have news for the diocese: they are not alone in this regard.

None of these organisations have a political axe to grind. They represent a diverse range of interests in our local community. They do not represent a political party; they represent members, volunteers and people who want to help others less fortunate than themselves. In fact, they represent our community. They do not want this new body, and they do not want what comes with it: a complex web of obligations.

The piece de resistance in my opinion is the quote from the architect of the government's school policy, Mr David Gonski, a man who is well respected in commercial circles and a Life Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He said: 'It concerns me massively that we might be the first country in the world that makes being a director of a not-for-profit more onerous than being on a for-profit.' The member for McEwen, who is sitting opposite, knows the truth. He knows what this bill is about to do. If passed in the House, this bill will restrict the ability of the not-for-profit sector—the volunteer organisations, the community sector—from doing what it wants to do, and that is help others.

Under these provisions this new commission will have the authority to inspect and to seize records, to remove parish ministers, to disqualify a director without a court order and to suffocate community organisations in a web of red tape. This again denies these organisations the ability to do what they want to do. And it does not sound right to have a not-for-profits commission that is governed by legislation which explicitly sets out its 'information gathering powers', its 'monitoring powers' and its 'powers to gain warrants'.

This is all pretty heavy handed. What is more, the premise of this legislation before the House tonight is based on the states and the territories winding back their own red tape, but this has just not happened. Memorandums of understanding between all territory and state governments and the federal government are not in place. Despite this, the Gillard government is pursuing this heavy-handed approach when it does not have its prerequisites in place.

This legislation is being introduced before government departments, which already impose heavy reporting obligations on the not-for-profits, have promised to remove their own red tape. For example, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations will still require non-government schools to fill in financial questionnaires and data collection materials under My School on top of the requirements to comply with state and territory governments. How many layers of red tape do you want? As the shadow minister, the member for Menzies, has said, we are going down the path of a commission when other countries like New Zealand are walking away, announcing that they are closing their commissions.

It is interesting that the Assistant Treasurer is in the chamber right now, because he has said that this legislation will not solve all the problems overnight. Well, that is an understatement if ever I heard one! This legislation is going to create problems overnight, not solve any problems overnight.

It is time that the Gillard government got out of the way of the volunteer sector and did not introduce increased uncertainty and increased compliance. What is more, they should get the process right. They should get agreements from the states and territories before they pursue this path. They should get their own federal departments in order and allow a sufficient time for these bills to be debated.

Instead, the government have conducted this process in secret and allowed only nine working days for people to make submissions on the exposure draft. In a democracy, when you introduce heavy-handed legislation with wide-ranging effect, you have to do better than that. But we should not expect better from this government, because right across every portfolio they have increased regulation. So I say that if we get into government—I am hoping that we do, sooner rather than later—the coalition will repeal this legislation and it will retain the regulatory powers of the ATO and ASIC to do their job. We will ensure a one-stop shop for these not-for-profits. We will ensure one contact in each department rather than multiple contacts. We will simplify the auditing process and we will set up a small charities commission as an education and training body for the sector—not this big regulatory body which is going to over burden the not-for-profits.

I said before that this government has an atrocious record when it comes to regulation. Would you believe that since Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007 this government has introduced more than 18,000 new regulations and repealed fewer than 100? They promised to do exactly the opposite when they came to power in 2007. Again, they were misleading the Australian people.

This is a very important bill before the House. It is no wonder so many colleagues of mine on the coalition side have taken the opportunity to express their concerns, because they have their ear to the ground in their electorates. They understand that the sporting clubs, the schools, the congregations, the groups helping people with disabilities and the socially disadvantaged, and the international aid groups do not want this legislation. They want a simplified process, not a more complicated one.

What this government is doing is going to make the job of our not-for-profit and charity sector and their hardworking volunteers that much harder, because the money that they raise will be spent on compliance, and the time that they currently devote to their important work will be spent on compliance. The coalition is committed to repealing these bills. It is committed to doing so for very good reason. It is committed to helping the not-for-profit sector, the volunteer organisations and our charities. First and foremost, we will get out of the way and let them do their job.