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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11038

WYATT ROY (Longman) (17:15): I continue in this second reading cognate debate on the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission Bill 2012. What this Labor government is telling the not-for-profit sector is that they need a watchdog to promote transparency and trust. In a sector that has given no reason for such distrust—and in a sector that has the overwhelming support of the general populace—this move has come from left field. The government has provided no evidence or identification of suspicious activities that would warrant such a heavy-handed approach.

This bill provides the commission with wide-ranging authority to conduct activities such as issuing warning notices, issuing directions, entering into enforceable undertakings, applying to the court for injunctions, suspending or removing responsible entities and appointing acting responsible entities. In effect, this means that the commission will have the power to revoke the registration of any registered entity without appeal, which is a concern to the many stakeholders.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Social Service, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, highlights that the provisions make no allowance for the commission's deregistration decisions to be delayed until an appeal is heard. She says:

Because there is no capacity to stay a decision in that area, we see potential for organisations to be deregistered in advance of capacity for appeals in advance of administrative review of decision making that might well overturn a decision.

This bill is trying to stifle our nation's culture of giving and volunteering and it is trying to penalise those who are going above and beyond. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission would be established with such far-reaching powers as to make it one of the most powerful Commonwealth regulators.

This legislation has been resoundingly condemned by the sector itself. This could come as no shock to those opposite in light of the extremely limited stakeholder engagement process the government went through for this legislation. A mere nine working days were provided to stakeholders to make submissions on the bill. With such blatant disregard for the input of stakeholders, one can only imagine how little the sector's views were taken into consideration in the final draft of this legislation.

But even with such limited opportunity to provide feedback, stakeholder submissions demonstrated an overwhelming disappointment with and disapproval of the legislation. Overwhelmingly, submissions indicate that this bill will result in a massive regulatory burden. The Australian Council for International Development stated in their submission:

There looks to be a very real possibility that there will be an increase in red tape for charities with the introduction of the ACNC ...

The Australian Council of Social Service points out:

The Bill does not yet contain any provisions that make it explicit that the reduction of unnecessary compliance and regulatory burdens is a core object of the Bill, nor does it identify these kinds of reforms as policy directions or drivers of the ACNC's purpose or activities.

Financial Services Australia's Senior Policy Manager Eve Brown identifies:

The bill therefore creates a new layer of regulation that applies to trustee companies and public trustees as trustees of registered entities. This is unnecessary and incompatible with current federal, state and territory regulation schemes.

The Housing Industry Association stated in its submission:

Governments do not need new legislation or the ACNC to control NFPs' accountability for and management of any government grants they may receive—the current system of contract law is perfectly adequate.

When I consider some of my local housing service providers and the work that they do, I am deeply concerned by any regulation that will take them away from their service to my local community. Every minute spent in filling out paperwork and jumping through bureaucratic hoops is a minute less they can spend finding housing, food and goods for those in need.

This is not to say that some changes in this sector will not be beneficial. Earlier this year the coalition announced its commitment to establishing a small educative and training body for the not-for-profit sector. Unlike the bill that we are debating here today, this initiative would not be a heavy-handed regulatory body that adds to the red-tape burden for charities and the not-for-profit sector. The coalition would not seek to change the way that not-for-profit organisations are viewed and it would not create disincentives for volunteers to be involved in not-for-profits. The coalition is committed to empowering this sector so that it can continue to thrive, for we on this side of the House understand that the not-for-profit sector adds vibrancy and richness to our society that could not be gained any other way.