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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

ACNC - The Loss for Our Future

Thursday, 13th February 2014

Much has been written about this subject since the Coalition first announced its intention to abolish the ACNC as part of its pre Election commitments. True to its promise, once elected the Government has unerringly focused on following through – against the vast majority of informed community voices and against a solid evidence base that the majority of the sector who have engaged with this issue do not want to abolish the ACNC. See the 2013 Survey.

I have no problem with a new government wanting to make their stamp on the way things are done. I really don’t mind if they call departments different names, if they have their foci in different areas – after all the Australian people voted them in and the Coalition waited a long time to be able to make those decisions. What I do mind is when they kill the many future possibilities that the ACNC promised without due consideration and propose no significant or effective alternatives.

The ACNC is not just about cutting red tape – although that’s important, and it’s not just about harmonising fundraising legislation or prosecuting crook charities – although that is very important too.

What the ACNC does is give a dimension and voice to the possibility of a more effective future for the sector.

Should the ACNC ever be allowed to gather enough information over an extended period of time, say over five years, imagine the richness the multitude of stakeholders – donors, governments, trustees, regulators, beneficiaries, related businesses, charities, volunteers, sector employees, media, researchers, policy makers and the public – would be able to get from this centralised repository of information.

Some simple scenarios…

Imagine if:

I was a member of the public feeling passionate about a particular issue and wanted to start a charity. I could access the ACNC and see who was already doing what in the same area – and possibly link in with them or learn from them or even help them rather than starting a charity of my own from scratch where I could be competing for donors and government funding.

Imagine if:

I was a policy maker/researcher/government and wanted to find out which organisations were doing what across Australia in family violence to get their views about the interventions that worked the best, in order to deliver good and effective policy, programs and inform funding decisions.

Imagine if:

I wanted to donate money to a particular issue and wanted to find out more about the charities operating in the area to support my decision.

Imagine if:

I was a charity and found other charities doing similar programs and began to share stories about what worked and what didn’t.

If the ACNC doesn’t exist the resulting data to enable all the above won’t exist.

Nor will the ability to collate, measure, dismantle, reveal, study and disseminate the big data the ACNC can generate over time about the power and effect this sector has – all in the name of the common good.

The sector has been very busy over the last few years reinventing itself to ensure increased efficiencies, increased collaborations, increased impact and effectiveness and to develop alternative means of funding.

The jargon – impact investing, collective impact, collaborations, social enterprise, strategic philanthropy, cross-sectoral collaborations – have all been part of required reading and learning. We are out to self-improve.

We know that like any sector we aren’t perfect and we want the ACNC to continue to help us on our way to innovation and independence and to provide a solid foundation for the work, free from the conflicts of interest that existed when sector regulation was under the ATO.

A Centre of Excellence, a Charity Navigator model, business community partnerships – none of these would enable us to have a clear macro view of the scope, activities and potential of the Charitable and Not for Profit sector in Australia.

The loss of the ACNC means a loss of what could be and nothing the Government has proposed so far replaces it. Nothing comes close.

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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