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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 10965

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (12:01): I rise to join with colleagues on this side of the House firstly to acknowledge the tremendous contribution the not-for-profit and charity sector make in all our communities around the country, making the fabric of society so strong, and secondly, in large part because of that, to oppose what the government is doing with these bills. We believe fundamentally that the government's approach is wrong. There is a big difference between the approach of the coalition and the approach of the Labor-Greens alliance. We believe in people and in trusting people to manage themselves in an appropriate manner, not overregulating where it is unnecessary; whereas the approach of this Labor-Greens alliance is so often to intervene, handing more power to government to overregulate, in many cases inappropriately, increasing red tape and treating the sector and individual charities and organisations in the community with a lack of trust and hindering their work.

We know that communities and organisations that are from communities know what their community wants. For example, our policy is to pursue self-management of schools—which my colleague the member for Aston argues for so passionately and well—because we know that if you give school communities more power to look after their own arrangements then the schools will be better and stronger. We know that from the evidence in Western Australia, where that program is working just so well in the public system. We know that from the private system, where private schools are managed by principals who have autonomy and can make decisions about their own schools and their future.

We know the same applies for charitable and not-for-profit organisations. I grew up in a family with a father who is a legatee and who has been the treasurer of the Mildura Legacy Club for probably as long as the club has been going. We saw when we were growing up how important these organisations are to local communities. The communities know how important they are because that is why they are there in the first place. They are formed, as Legacy was, by people who wanted to look after their own community well back following the First World War, and they have been strong contributors to the community for that period of time. They do not need a great big new regulator to tell them how to do their job, and that is why we are opposed to this bill.

Equally, the Returned and Services League of Australia, another organisation representing people who have returned from serving our country, do such a terrific job in the community of looking after returned servicemen and their families—servicepeople and their families, I should say. They have small branches in regional electorates like mine, where you have lots of towns and lots of RSLs. You have lots of small clubs, small charities and small organisations which do so much in those smaller communities. My electorate has so many wonderful RSLs, whether on Kangaroo Island, in Victor Harbor or in Yankalilla. There are the Strathalbyn and Goolwa RSLs, of course. There are RSLs in Mount Barker and Lobethal and through the northern parts of the electorate, including Stirling, Nairne and other places. They do a terrific job of representing those people. One in particular I am associated with is the Macclesfield RSL, which is run by a small group of dedicated people who continually not only build and work hard to put on their public display of support on Anzac Day every year—on the Sunday evening immediately prior to Anzac Day they have a public service, which is always extremely well attended for a small community—but also do a lot of work below the surface raising money to help veterans and veterans' families in the area. It is such important work, which in many cases cannot be done by governments.

This legislation will impact on them. Again, we know that not because the shadow minister—who is doing a terrific job in prosecuting why this is bad legislation—has said that but because that is what these organisations themselves are saying. Just on 7 September, a couple of weeks ago, I received a letter from the SA branch president, Brigadier Tim Hanna AM. He is the state president of the RSL's South Australia, Northern Territory and Broken Hill branch. In that letter he raised very real concerns about this legislation. He said:

RSL-SA has significant concerns about the proposed new legislation as follows:

It is not clear as to whether the ACNC's role will expand to include the regulation of NFP entities.

Greater detail is needed on the outcomes of the Commonwealth's work to "reduce duplication" how is this going to be achieved and what are the timelines for reductions—

because, of course, we know that several states have their own arrangements when it comes to managing charitable organisations as it is—

The RSL supports the concept of a national "Charity Passport" as a first step towards a "one stop shop" reporting however more information is required as to how all levels of government are going to implement this and manage the process.

Transitional arrangements are not clear.

It is not clear how the diverse requirements of the various Government bodies that regulate different facets of work undertaken by NFP, for example, aged care, are going to be managed to avoid increasing already cumbersome governance practices.

As most of our Sub-Branches are separately incorporated, small and often part-time enterprises, the cost and effort required to generate the necessary financial reporting is very difficult to justify, will consume a lot of the Sub-Branches' time and will be challenging for those Sub-Branches which comprise older members—

and that point particularly relates to my electorate, with a lot of smaller RSL branches which do such important work with an older group of members, as you would understand—

Given that many of our smaller Sub-Branches do not have computer access or that the volunteers that manage these smaller Sub-Branches do not have the necessary computer skills, we have significant concerns about the adoption of the online processes, including the purchase of compatible computer equipment given that Government funding … has been significantly reduced.

It is unclear how entities will move between reporting tiers.

They are pretty substantial concerns from the South Australian RSL branch, representing all the branches in South Australia. Particularly relating to my electorate are the last two of those issues and the regulatory burden impact this will have on smaller sub-branches. It is just one example from the charitable sector. This will be consistent throughout the charity and not-for-profit sector. Many of my colleagues have referred in their speeches to comments that have come to us from such broad representatives as Australian Baptist Ministries, the Catholic Bishops Conference and even the ACF, of all organisations, who have complained about the regulatory burden, the uncertainty and the direction of this legislation. Many of those organisations have urged us to oppose this legislation because it is bad legislation.

Like in so many policy areas, we believe that we have got a better way. The shadow minister, the member for Menzies, has been talking about the important commitment that we have to our civil society to ensure that the not-for-profit sector and the charity sector are well regulated and well managed. He has said, and he has committed, that the coalition will implement one contract with the department for each agency, instead of multiple contracts, reducing red tape. Senator Sinodinos and his group has been set that task by our leader, to reduce a billion dollars of red tape requirements from the economy each year.

The coalition will require the department to negotiate the content of the contracts with the agencies instead of simply imposing it on them. We will simplify the auditing process to require one financial report from each agency annually. We will replace the current system of rolling audits with an initial benchmarking audit that has a period of five years, with spot audits to be undertaken if the Commonwealth is made aware of any adverse conduct on behalf of the agency. We will simplify reporting requirements for governance arrangements, with registration as a company or unincorporated associations sufficing as evidence of appropriate governance arrangements. We will require all agencies to lodge a one-page annual governance return by the chairperson of the board or governing council, indicating that the agency is governed properly. We will replace the current time-consuming, costly system of data collection with a requirement that each agency file a quarterly report indicating the number of clients seen by the agency, according to the program area, and postcode of the client. We will require each agency to publish on its website its annual financial return and an annual governance statement. We will replace the current system of data collection with a series of cross-sector evaluations of efficiency and effectiveness of various programs. We will work with the sector to ensure adequate and known whistleblower provisions are in place.

These are commitments that reduce red tape. These are commitments that will make it easier for the charity sector and the not-for-profit sector to get on and do what they do so well, which is represent their communities and work on behalf of their communities. It is about trusting those organisations to do the right thing, trusting the RSLs in my electorate—across South Australia and across the country, for that matter—to do the right thing, trusting legacy organisations and trusting aged-care homes. It is about trusting all those charitable organisations that work not for their profit, not for their own personal gain but for the benefit of the community. We know that in our country we have got such a great social fabric, such a commitment to each other through these organisations, that we should not be putting in place legislation that makes it much harder for these organisations to do what we want them to do in the first place. This is also legislation which discourages involvement in our civil society—in that very fabric that makes us such a strong place, whether it be commitments to surf clubs, commitments to RSLs or commitments to working in any charitable or not-for-profit organisation in a local community to make that community stronger.

Throughout my electorate I see it every time I go out. I will be at the local Hills Football League grand final this Saturday, which means so much to so many people. People give their commitment for free as a broader commitment to the social fabric of our society, whether they are undertaking roles that government just cannot do or whether they are doing things for the broader community good. These are organisations that should be supported by this place and by the state parliaments around the country, not have an additional red tape burden imposed upon them.

I will finish as I began, by saying there is a stark difference between what the coalition stands for and what the Labor Party and the Greens stand for. People often say that there is not much difference between the two parties. I would say to them that this is an area where there is a big difference. On this side of the parliament we trust these organisations, we want to invest in these organisations and we believe these organisations play an absolutely fundamental role in our society, and they do these things so much better than governments could ever do. I believe with every fibre of my being that these organisations will do these jobs far better than a government department could ever do them.

Those on the other side believe that the government should be there always, that the government know best, that the government should be undertaking many of these roles. That means that they will want to tax us more so they can have more services provided by bureaucrats. We say let's tax us less and let community organisations get out there and do the right thing—do what they want to do for their own communities and support their own communities. Remove this unnecessary red tape so they can get on and do just that, with that great Australian commitment to our broader society.

On that basis I stand with my colleagues in opposition to this bad piece of legislation. We do not support it. We will not support it when it comes to the vote. I congratulate the shadow minister on providing a very sound alternative plan.