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Productivity Commissioner 'Frustrated' by Policy Inaction

18 June 2010 at 12:16 pm
Lina Caneva
Debate on the best regulatory model for the Australian Not for Profit sector sees Productivity Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald express his 'frustration' at continuing policy inaction.

Lina Caneva | 18 June 2010 at 12:16 pm


Productivity Commissioner 'Frustrated' by Policy Inaction
18 June 2010 at 12:16 pm


Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald says it's scandalous and unacceptable that Australia is still arguing and begging in the area of public policy issues around the Not for Profit sector.

Fitzgerald, who produced the Productivity Commission's Report into the Contribution of the Not for Profit sector was speaking at a Melbourne PilchConnect Forum about the best regulatory model for charities and other Not for Profit organisations in Australia, lead by UK Charity Commission Executive Director, David Locke.

Fitzgerald told the Forum of almost 150 sector representatives that it's scandalous that since 1990 Australia is still talking about the same issues around regulation and the relationship between Not for Profits and Government despite the fact that change is well supported by both sides.

He says Australia will not achieve reform unless the government is prepared to accept recommendations for change and the sector is prepared to articulate the case for change. But he says if it fails again it will be the fault of the sector.

Fitzgerald says he feels a personal sense of frustration declaring that Australia is still at 'base-camp' and no where near reform despite some 11 inquiries and reviews in the past 20 years.

Fitzgerald's Productivity Commission Report, delivered to the Rudd Government late in 2009, called for an independent regulator and one-stop-shop for the charity sector based on a similar model to the Charity Commission in the UK. The Government has yet to make its response to this recommendation.


David Locke with Sue Woodward

David Locke (pictured right, with Sue Woodward from PilchConnect) who is the Executive Director of Charity Services, Charity Commission for England and Wales, is currently in Australia for meetings and forum discussions with Government and Not for Profit leaders.

He told the Forum that Australia must look at an independent, transparent and proportionalised regulatory framework that gets the balance right between micro-organisations and very large organisations.

He says Australia seems to have a lot of regulatory burdens with inconsistencies across State and Federal lines and this is the real issue that needs to be confronted in deciding what model best suits the country.

Locke says Governments should not see the sector as a 'Cinderella service" but rather recognise the role of Not for Profits in a serious way where its influence on the employment numbers and the GDP is bigger than that of the mining industry in Australia.

He says the aim of a regulator should be to provide an environment of public trust that offers simple and consistent regulation.

He told the audience he finds it unacceptable that many Australian Not for Profit organisations don't even have to register or produce any annual financials; a situation which is not tolerated in the UK and should not be tolerated in Australia.

However Locke emphasised that the role of the regulator should be to find a balance between the regulatory burden on very small Not for Profit organisations and large organisations. He says he always reminds his own staff that every time they ask a question of a Not for Profit it costs that organisation in some way.

David Locke also says in the UK, the Charity Commission has strong powers of intervention such as the power to freeze assets in situations of fraud or sham organisations but it also has the option of a light touch in response to other situations where there are different degrees of risk.

He says the Charity Commission's website is the key to keeping the UK public informed about the sector. In the last 12 months 5.3 million people visited the Charity Commission site to check whether an organisation was genuine and how those organisations raise and spend their money.

PilchConnect is responsible for bringing David Locke to Australia with events in major cities co-hosted with QUT's Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS). 

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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