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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 10984

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (13:25): I also rise to oppose the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the related bill. In following the member for Grey, I can say that I share his frustration, along with the frustration of many people in Australia today who are finding the government too often getting in the way of legitimate and proper activity and the functioning of Australian society.

My electorate is a good example of the voluntary sector taking a leading role in the charity work that happens through a myriad of organisations. I constantly find suburbs in my electorate at the top of the charitable giving statistics for all the major charities in Australia. We have a high rate of volunteerism and church activity. In my view, that leads to a better structured society. It is a model that Australia has been very proud to replicate for much of its existence. It is something that we want to see continue and encouraged by government, not negated or stopped. I think the member for Grey and other members here and so many ordinary people around the country are frustrated because the government primarily has the power to negate, restrict and prevent, not to create or empower. That is a fundamental difference in the approach to government.

When you look at the bills before us today, you can see that we are adding about 400 to 500 pages of legislation to the voluntary and charity sector. It is a massive amount to even try to read in order to get an understanding of what we are discussing today. The fact that we are adding such a burden to so many institutions in the voluntary sector is something that we should all be concerned about. Negation and prevention are not things we want in relation to the not-for-profit sector. We should not be seeking to prevent, stymie, stifle, restrict or penalise the activity of people engaging in charity work. We ought to be seeking to promote, encourage and ensure that they can continue that work and, perhaps, sometimes assist them. But, frankly, the sector has been doing a great job by itself for a long time.

The motives for these bills and the provisions they contain are really unclear when you consider that the sector has not had any major scandals and is not the subject of major concern within the community. In fact, the community continues to give unprecedented support to the not-for-profit sector in doing the work of government, doing more work than the government could possibly do at all times.

Many entities, such as unions—the Health Services Union—are facing severe scandals. From this government we have seen a lack of response, half-measures and delay. When we consider that, why are we rushing to put in place these bills, which encompass large additions to the regulatory burdens on the private sector? The government says it is to streamline things, to put in place a new federal regulator that will resolve all the woes of the not-for-profit sector with one stroke of the legislative pen.

We oppose this legislation because a great big new regulator for charities and not-for-profits will not enhance the ability of those organisations to do the job that they are already doing. This is the concern we find from those in the sector every day. I have heard from many organisations in western Sydney and in my electorate. When you talk to almost any group—whether church groups or charity groups—you find that all of them have concerns about the lack of consultation on this legislation and about the operation of this legislation. They are expressing their view because—we find what we always find with this government—this legislation is hastily put together. Already the government is bringing forward amendments to correct flaws in its legislative design. This legislation has not had the rigorous and necessary test of COAG. Given our federal system, the states really need to be involved. Memorandums of understanding would greatly assist in the quality of federal legislation.

We also see that the government has not thought out how these burdens will affect everyone in the voluntary sector. Do we really want to put in place barriers that will discourage activity in this sector? The answer, of course, is no; I do not think there is a member here that would suggest that is a good idea. So why the legislation? It is unclear how a new Commonwealth entity—the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission—will reduce red tape and ensure that people can continue their activity long into the future. No argument has really been advanced about how this will enhance and secure the activity of the not-for-profit sector into the future.

Considering the outcry that has been given by the sector, especially in relation to the government's original proposal to start the scheme in March, they were forced to delay until 1 October 2012. This is not a reprieve in relation to the reporting requirements and all the other onerous measures the government have put in place in relation to these matters. This governs approximately 600,000 entities in the not-for-profit sector, of which it is estimated about 400,000 may access Commonwealth tax concessions. So this really is a massive proposal affecting a huge segment of Australian society.

Once again I think the government's approach is, 'We've done something: we've put in place bills to fix that.' It tends to be this government's constant approach—'Look at how many bills we have passed. Look at how many pages of laws we've passed.' But there is the ancient saying: the more corrupt the government, the more numerous the laws. Why do we need 500 new pages of legislation in these bills to regulate a sector that has really been at the core of Australian society for most of our nation's existence? It is very unclear what the government is intending here.

I support the opposition's call for a small—emphasis on 'small'—federal body to assist the not-for-profit sector with training and development and to ensure that they can function as professional entities in the modern world. That is not because I favour new bodies, new government agencies or new government laws to provide for activity which is already occurring; it is because in the complexity of the modern world there is a necessity to assist those organisations and entities to fulfil requirements associated with all of the federal laws we have in place in relation to tax and handouts from government. So a small body to assist with this is a necessary requirement and would be appropriate. I think we could find our way to supporting the government if the government were proposing something sensible like that to assist rather than hinder. This, however, appears to be a big hindrance on behalf of government. These bills appear to be a big hindrance on behalf of the government—hindrance of a sector which we really ought not to be hindering, hindrance of people we really do not want to get in the way of. So why do it?

We have announced that the small educative and training body for the not-for-profit sector would be put in place to ensure that there would be no adding to red tape burdens and to deal with the duplication of state and territory legislation. You cannot really do that without using the COAG mechanism. Sometimes the government says, 'We can't get agreement at COAG' or 'It takes too much time,' but that is the process of getting decent-quality legislation. Time and time again when we stand in this place, when we examine the provisions of these bills, they have not been well thought out. They have not been well drafted. They have been put together in haste. The timings and implementations that are required have been put together in haste. When we see that in the commercial sector and so many of the other different sectors that this government has legislated for, we get an outcry from the sector and they get a bad piece of legislation that is often backflipped on about four times before it is implemented and which then halfway compromises to what people had originally wanted. If the time had been taken in the beginning to get it right, a lot of pain and grief would have been saved in the beginning. But then people are generally happy that they did not get the worst outcome that they could have got from government. But those are the provisions and standards that the government usually applies to so many different sectors of life in Australia.

Why we would do that for the charities and not-for-profit sector is really beyond me, and I am very happy to oppose this legislation, considering that these are the people that we really ought not to be interfering with, that we really ought to be allowing to get on with the things they need to be doing. They do it so well in Australia today. I want to record all my support for the charity and not-for-profit sector in my electorate, which, because of the socioeconomic models that government uses at state and federal level, often does not receive government funding to the level of other areas in Sydney in particular—which, of course, hides disadvantage. There are vulnerable people in every community, and the slack is often taken up by these not-for-profit and charity organisations in communities like mine. The slack is picked up readily and joyfully, with the assistance of so many people in the community, and it is a really good thing to see even though it is very difficult. I want to acknowledge the closure of St Michael's in my electorate, which has done a magnificent job over a long period of time but will be closing due to operational reasons. This will leave a significant gap in my community which government will have to fill.

That is, I guess the key point here—that if we hinder and hold back the ability of the charity and not-for-profit sector to deliver in this regard then we will have to pick up the bill. Government will have to pick up the tab. So why interfere with these people? Why put such an oppressive 500-page regime here as we see in front of us today? Why not consult the states and get in place a memorandum of understanding with each of them so we can get it right and so minimum disruption occurs to the sector? It is something that we need to address and that the coalition has said we will address. We oppose the bills as drafted by the government because, primarily, they add to the burden of the charity and not-for-profit sector and do little to remove regulatory duplication and other problems that legitimately should be removed by government. I support, of course, the coalition's intention to bring into place better training and development and some assistance from the Commonwealth level to ensure that charities and not-for-profit entities get this right. However, in its current form I certainly cannot support the legislation as drafted.