NFPs Urge MPs to Pass Charity Bill
17 June 2013 at 3:18 pm
Community and philanthropic organisations have joined forces to urge all members of Parliament to pass the Charities Bill 2013, which is set to re-enter the House of Representatives for debate this week.
Eleven peak community and philanthropic groups, including Community Council for Australia, Philanthropy Australia and Changemakers Australia have called for an all-party approach to deliver “essential reforms” they claim are vital for the charitable sector.
The Charity Bill is expected to update the current definition of charity to reflect current day society and bring it into line with legislation in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
It is also expected to clearly articulate the role of Not for Profits and charities in Australia.
Philanthropy Australia CEO Louise Walsh said a uniform definition of charity throughout Australia would reduce red tape and, in turn spearhead a new era of strong growth for charitable giving in Australia.
Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosby said it was”bizarre” that 21st century charities were still relying on 400 years of case law dating from the 1600s to determine what a charity is.
“As we have repeatedly seen in the past, relying on legal interpretations of centuries of case law will often leave governments, regulators, charities and the broader community unsure about when a charity is a charity and when it is not,” he said.
A statutory definition of charity was recommended by an independent inquiry 12 years ago, with resounding support from the Not for Profit sector. The Charities Bill 2013 has taken two years to develop and been the subject of extensive consultation. There was consultation on an exposure draft of the Bill, resulting in a number of changes and as a result there is strong support for the Bill to be passed by this Parliament.
Changemakers Australia Director Trudy Wyse said greater certainty about what constitutes a charity and what activities are charitable was key to growing high impact philanthropy in Australia.
“The money foundations spend on legal advice to work out what they can legitimately fund could be better spent on organisations doing good works,” she said.
Public Interest Law Clearing House Executive Director Fiona McLeay said the new legislation would assist small, volunteer led organisations who currently face the task of trying to comply with old laws that are “unclear and sometimes inconsistent”.
“By transferring 400 years of case law into one Plain English statute, the bill will make life easier for hard working individuals, serving the community,” she said.
The Charities Bill 2013 and Explanatory Memorandum is expected to:
- Transfer 400 years of case law relating to charities into a single, plain English statute. Australia is well behind other common law countries in adopting a statutory definition of charity, with statutory definitions already enacted in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Ireland;
- Expand the current ‘four heads’ of charity to 12, explicitly codifying some important charitable purposes in their own right such as ‘advancing the natural environment’ and ‘promoting or protecting human rights’;
- Integrate the 2010 High Court of Australia decision on Aid/Watch v Tax Commissioner, clearly articulating a role for charities and foundations in promoting informed policy debates and advancing civil society in Australia;
- Resolve a number of anomalies which stymied particular charities. For instance, the definition of disaster relief has been expanded to enable charities to go beyond the relief of individual distress after a disaster, by including rebuilding, repairing or securing Not for Profit community assets after a disaster.