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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 10975

Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (12:47): The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 is a throwback to the lazy philosophy of Labor and the misguided principles of centralisation. Centralised policy is slow, ineffective and expensive. Liberals believe in establishing a minimal charity commission. This body would have the explicit and transparent objective of education and training. Devolution and a competitive marketplace of ideas are the key tenets of the Liberal philosophy. This bill will enshrine a negative outlook in legislation—a normative framework that sees people as inherently corrupted, failing and in need of protection from each other. But we need protection from the real threat: government overreach.

What Labor are proposing with this bill is no great surprise. It is no surprise in the sense that they will introduce another layer of bureaucracy and red tape, but it is frightening for small charities and not-for-profits. There are a number of areas of the bill which trouble both my constituents and me. The stated goal of this bill is to establish 'one stop, many uses', to streamline the regulatory process surrounding the operation of charities and not-for-profit organisations in Australia—streamlined regulation with a new level of federal red tape. Really? I cannot see how states would give up this right of jurisdiction. Without states jumping out, the new commission is simply jumping in with more regulation and more administrative burden.

Constructive engagement was never really a priority—not with the states, not with the charities and not with Australians. The only certainty is the additional $4.8 million net expense saddled on the taxpayer this financial year. Page 5 of the explanatory memorandum states:

The compliance savings from introducing the ACNC and a new regulatory framework are hard to quantify, particularly for this sector, due to limited data availability.

Limited talent, more like! There is a $4.8 million net expense to make doing good in our communities more difficult, not less. This is the sentiment of David Gonski, the chair of the government's education review panel. He said that we are:

… the first country in the world to make being on a NFP as a director more onerous than being on a for-profit.

This tired and troubled government is out of touch with reality. Labor is good at spending other people's money. That $4.8 million of extra red tape would keep many of my constituents' bank accounts out of the red. In WA the Water Corporation have thrown an extra $21.6 million on the backs of their customers because of the carbon tax. That $4.8 million would go a long way.

The reality is that good and honest people in my electorate like Mr Colin Waddell—managers in local not-for-profit community enterprises—are frightened. In a submission to the Catholic Church during the committee hearings, fear is the factor—fear of the unknown. With so much regulation and so little time, organisations and individuals are afraid. The penalties are real, immediate and consequential. With so much regulation, so much legislation and so much dislocation, mistakes will happen. I support the recommendations and the view taken by the Catholic Church: if the prime objective is simplification—and I am in favour of that—then, instead of having categories of 'deductible gift recipient' and 'basic religious charity', why not get them all to register for an ABN? Charity begins at home. President Reagan used to quip that the most important charities are made at the kitchen table. The bill before us today will make those decisions much easier—easier to put off saying, 'I can and I will give back to my country.'

Again, the explanatory memorandum accompanying this bill acknowledges that the total cost of action will increase, with the cost of compliance increasing exponentially for small not-for-profits and charities. Small entities that currently have no reporting obligations are a minor exception. These entities would be required to report to the ACNC, increasing compliance burden. The coalition will go big for the little guy. If we do not, there is no doubt the ACNC will only grow in its scope and power will go big. It is explicitly stated as such in the bill and on page 13 of the explanatory memorandum:

… the role of the ACNC will expand …

From an economic perspective, having many efficient, competitive regulatory markets is optimal. Having minimal incidence of regulatory capture is ideal. Common sense, that rarest form, dictates that one should not fix something if it is not broken. What does a small charity or not-for-profit in Tangney have to gain with the introduction of this bill? The one thing that a small charity is said to gain from the ACNC is an online presence through the web portal infrastructure. Yet the very same experts have an average of 350 views on their own YouTube channel. Paint drying has more channels and on average the paint-drying clips have more views. Not value for the trade-off: a new, powerful ACNC federal body with oversight and monitoring powers for 350 views. A page on the ACNC website is the benefit they are selling us? Really?

Our charities and not-for-profits are more than circumspect. Their fear is well founded. The government knew this all along, and that is the reason one group was given just 11 days to make a submission—this on a bill where the explanatory memorandum alone is 351 pages. I ask: how can the bill principally call this constructive 'engagement with stakeholders'? The machete management mafia will goad the unwilling into the light. It looks like intimidation. It smells like compulsion. In WA we call it Labor. The Gillard government is saying it is a voluntary sign-up. But if an organisation does not sign up then tax and concessions are withheld. They have six months to opt out and it is only reviewed every five years. Never in the course of a government has so much been found so wrong with what is so right by so few.

I will just list a few highlights. The ACNC Bill establishes a charity passport. What is it? Why do we need it? The ACNC Bill also defines what a charity is. The bill states that receipt of government grants precludes an entity from being a basic religious charity. Why? With the not-for-profit sector being worth $43 billion and employing eight per cent of the labour force, and given the ACNC has information-gathering powers, the checks and balances for this commission are more than insufficient. This bill is the epitome of a federal government that takes too much tax from people, takes too much authority from the states and takes too much liberty with the Constitution.

Simple, honest enterprise is the Australian way. The coalition will honour those values and support them in our every endeavour. We are proud of our people and optimistic in their goodness, knowing always that a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.