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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11072

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (19:45): I rise to speak on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and associated bill. This legislation seeks to provide for the establishment of a new statutory office, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. The ACNC, as it is known, would be the Commonwealth regulator for the not-for-profit sector. Apparently the Gillard Labor government have decided we do not have enough red tape already in this sector. For the first time in this place I see the government continuing to move forward and ignoring the calls from the general public, who are trying to tell them that they are facing the wrong way.

When I talk to charity groups and not-for-profit organisations in my electorate we often discuss a range of things. One of the recurring themes is the amount of red tape that they are forced to deal with—the regulations, the compliance and the administration. The charity workers and volunteers understand that some level of regulation is necessary, but at the back of their minds they know that every hour spent doing paperwork, filling in some red tape, is an hour that is not spent delivering a service to the community or to individuals. So, if red tape is the monkey on the back for most charities and not-for-profits, why is this government trying to load a 300-pound gorilla on top of them? This is what charities and not-for-profits think of this 300-pound gorilla. Robert Wicks, the Diocesan Secretary of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney said in his submission:

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.

He certainly will not be alone. I know that there will be several in my community doing the same thing. What is more, Mr Wicks raised doubts that the legislation could even work. He said:

… one of the requirements currently proposed for being a basic religious charity is that the entity is not entitled to be registered as any subtype other than for the advancement of religion. This restriction is practically unworkable …

The Australian people are big supporters of charities. They are big supporters of organisations that work hard to make a better life for all, especially organisations that help those most in need. When I say 'those most in need' I am talking about the people that most Australians see as most in need. I am not referring to what the Labor Party calls those most in need but the underprivileged, the disadvantaged or society's most vulnerable. I am certainly not talking about down-on-their-luck union officials or former union officials like the minister for industrial relations, who finds it difficult to make ends meet on $300,000 a year.

The CEO and Managing Director of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, John Colvin, said in his submission to the consultation on this legislation:

… if we get this wrong, then the people who suffer are the most disadvantaged people in society which these people are trying to assist.

His view was backed up by the Australian Institute of Public Directors. In their submission they said:

It is clear that some of the measures contained in the bill will hurt rather than foster the activities of charities.

Charities, the not-for-profit organisations who help Australians most in need, do a very good job. They do the best job that they possibly can, given the circumstances. Every community in every corner of this country is made a better place because someone gives a damn and does something to help. Sometimes they are paid for their services but often they are not.

I recently conducted a forum for charities and not-for-profit organisations in Mackay. We got a bevy of people from all different sectors who came along. There was MADEC who do work for youth and in the disability sector. There were conservation volunteers who obviously do work in the environment. There was Engedi who are doing work in the disability sector. There was the George Street Neighbourhood Centre who do fantastic work with a range of people that are disadvantaged, including providing emergency relief.

A minister earlier today in question time quoted a section of my letter to her. I put on the record that the letter was, in fact, to the minister who is sitting at the table now. It was asking for more emergency relief funding on behalf of that organisation. There was a statement made today that there is going to be $800,000 over the next two years for the Mackay region, but my question still remains: will that organisation, which is oversubscribed, get that extra money?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): Order! The member for Dawson is reminded to remain relevant to the legislation before the House.

Mr CHRISTENSEN: I will, Mr Deputy Speaker. I could go on with the different organisations that turned up to this event. There was the Community Accommodation and Support Agency who do a fantastic service for those in need of emergency accommodation. There was UnitingCare Community, the Uniting Church, the Youth Information Referral Service, which is one of the first-class organisations dealing with young people in Mackay, who I know are going through a difficult time financially. There was the Kidney Support Network and the Regional Social Development Centre, for which I had the privilege to serve as vice-chairman for a while. There was Autism Queensland and the National Seniors Association Mackay Branch. There was HTM Community Transport, which is another organisation where I served as chairman for a while. There was Colin McPherson from Community Solutions, which do a fantastic job dealing with young people in our community particularly on the issue of suicide. We also had the Suicide Awareness Mackay group and the Salvos turned up. There are others, of course, in the Mackay region and throughout the electorate. There is the Bowen Flexi Care centre, the Bowen Neighbourhood Centre and the Burdekin Community Association. They are all great organisations doing a great job for their communities.

I thank those organisations that turned up to the Mackay forum. Mackay would not be the great community it is today without those organisations and without the people that work in them and volunteer their services. The contributions they make every day are actually helping people. It is people helping people, groups helping people, and the community helping the community.

I note that many volunteers and people who find employment in this sector and the organisations they work with are linked, in some cases, to religious organisations. I have had a great association with the Maltese Sisters of St Francis of Assisi, who work out of the St Francis of Assisi aged-care centre in Mackay. I have been amazed at their dedication, their devotion to service and the mission they have engaged in. When you walk into the nursing home there you see how pleased the residents are at the service they are getting. They have beaming smiles on their faces, the nuns beam back at them, and you know they are doing a fantastic job. It concerns me when I see governments bring in policies which seek to attack those kinds of groups.

It concerns me even more greatly that one of the government partners, the Greens, do not care one ounce about the work these organisations do and the service they provide to the community. According to the Greens, an organisation is not worthy unless it is pushing the same agenda as the Greens. I was bewildered to read on the front page of the Weekend Australian earlier this month that Greens leader Christine Milne had launched a scathing attack on the Catholic Church, accusing it of being more concerned about cash for schools than social justice. I think what she means is that the Catholic Church is failing to sufficiently advocate for Christine Milne's brand of social justice—because if it is not about the Greens and their agenda then the Greens think it is wrong. The article in the Weekend Australian makes that quite clear. She said:

You have the Catholic Education Office sending letters home to parents in Melbourne about Catholic school funding, but nothing about the social justice of the current political debate on homelessness (or) on asylum-seekers.

So here we have the Leader of the Greens, the one who dictates policy to this dysfunctional government, complaining because the Catholic Education Office is only talking about Catholic school funding. The Catholic nuns in my electorate are doing a brilliant job and are certainly engaged in social justice for the elderly. It infuriates me to hear comments like that. But what infuriates Senator Milne—what sticks deep down in her craw—is that Catholic schools are not shoving Greens policy down kids' necks. There is nothing more pathetic than a lapsed Catholic who wants to heap opprobrium on the Catholic Church to justify the emptiness of their own conviction—they are two bob a dozen. There is more good done by those Maltese Sisters of St Francis of Assisi in Mackay than will ever be done in the entire existence of the Greens.

This bill will introduce another layer of red tape and costs to Catholic and other independent schools. The Independent School Council of Australia made the point very clear in their submission when they said:

The regulatory burden will be increased on individual non-government schools creating costly and confusing duplicative governance and reporting situation. Requiring independent schools to report similar but different data to the ACNC is duplicating effort and adding to the red tape.

But a more disturbing issue was raised by Dr Geoff Newcombe, who is the Executive Director of the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales. He said:

Currently, around 70 per cent of independent schools are not-for-profit public companies limited by guarantee. The commentary—it is not advice—that we have received from the AICD and our lawyers is that the proposed legislation is likely to shift the obligations from the company to the directors or, if you like, it will erode the concept of limited liability of directors … I have been in this game over 40 years. This will decimate school boards. There is enough concern out there now.

It is interesting that Labor and the Greens would want to hamstring charity work with this legislation. Deep down, they do not want people looking after people. That is not the socialist way. That way is for the government to look after people. They want full and utter dependence on government for everything. They want the control that brings: tighter control, tighter regulations. Everybody should be doing what the government tells them to do and only what the government tells them to do. That is what Labor and the Greens think.

But the back end of the blade on this legislation will inflict a wound on the Greens bedfellows as well because many of the organisations that fund the Greens and push their agenda are also listed as charities and not-for-profit organisations. They too will be subject to a layer of red tape—or maybe they will not. We might see the Greens get up here and try to move an amendment to have their organisations exempt. As an aside, there is something wrong when we have environmental groups that play such an active role in lobbying and public debate—enjoying the gift-deductibility status. Worse still is when some of these groups engage in illegal and dangerous acts such as Greenpeace activists scaling coal loaders in Dalrymple Bay, bringing work to a halt for people in my electorate.

I would like to draw a distinction here between green groups with a political agenda and environmental groups that actually get out there and make a difference. Conservation Volunteers and Eco Barge in the Whitsundays, for instance, are about real projects that deliver real outcomes in our environment. That is what a real charity or not-for-profit is about: real service to the community in the real world.

While this government removes itself from the real world and refuses to deal with real issues raised by real people, the Labor Party is changing the world's view of Australia. The Labor Party has taken a masochistic approach to the economy, introducing bill after bill of economic self-harm and carbon taxing our own industries into oblivion. Our competitors around the world must laugh at how Australia gifts them competitive advantage. But this legislation will also be another joke on the world stage. You can imagine the conversation among heads of state at the next whatever summit they have: did you hear the one about Australia? An embarrassed silence as the Prime Minister, the member for Griffith—or whoever it may be at the time—walks into the room. John Colvin from the Australian Institute of Company Directors, whom I quoted earlier, describes the joke like this: fundamentally why should we have a system in Australia which would make us a laughing-stock around the world of having liabilities for volunteers greater than those for for-profits? He was paraphrasing the government's champion, David Gonski, who said, 'It concerns me massively that we might be the first country in the world to make being a not-for-profit, as a director, more onerous than being a for-profit.' That is what this legislation will do. This legislation places an unfair burden on volunteers, an unfair burden on charity workers, an unfair burden on the not-for-profit sector. It will mean less service delivery and it will drive people out of the sector. It will mean less work being done for the community and more work being done on red tape, on paperwork. So in no way, shape or form can I commend these bills to the House—in fact, I absolutely condemn them.