Coalition Wants New NFP ‘Philosophy’
Thursday, 18th July 2013 at 1:10 pm
The Federal Coalition has told the Associations Forum Conference in Sydney that it will bring a ‘new philosophy’ to the Not for Profit sector if it is elected to office during a debate on the status of the new charity regulator, the ACNC.
The Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services, Kevin Andrews told a panel debate at the Closing Plenary of the 2013 Associations Forum National Conference that he would prefer to call the Not for Profit sector ‘the civil society’.
“The description ‘Not for Profit’ immediately connotes an economic framework, whereas civil society conveys a different, broader notion, of which the economy is one part,” he said.
Kevin Andrews confirmed the Coalition’s plans to dismantle the new Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) saying the Coalition’s strong, principled belief that the political community – the State, the Government and its bureaucratic agencies – should be at the service of civil society.
“The current Government’s approach to civil society has been a paternalistic mix of treating the sector as a mere extension of government – an agent of social service delivery – and as an otherwise obedient servant and at times mouthpiece of government.”
The panel debate on whether or not the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) has been successful in its aims included representation by the ACNC Chair and Productivity Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald emphasised the need to see the fledgling regulator as a “work-in-progress”, pointing to what had already been achieved in the areas of registration of charities, governance standards and the public register of transparency.
But it was in the area of red tape reduction and the ‘report once only’ developments that Fitzgerald said: “Here I’m truly excited because what is possible because of the ACNC starts to become imaginable.”
He pointed to the memorandum of understanding recently signed with ASIC and that two states and territories have already agreed they will use the information and that negotiations are in place with other states and territories.
“Now we have a possibility of a single registration point with one financial report to cover all states and territories if they would agree,” he said.
However, Kevin Andrews said: “The Coalition has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.”
“For months, I asked the Government to identify the mischief that the ACNC was to address," he said.
“For months, we heard nothing but deafening silence. More recently, I have read the bizarre claim by the Commission that the sector doesn’t want “any reporting or any accountability and transparency,” and that “there is no reporting at the moment” – ignoring the various reporting and accountability mechanisms that were and remain in place.
“When the ACNC was mooted, many organisations greeted the idea warmly, believing that it would elevate the sector and reduce red tape. What has emerged however, is another regulator, more red tape, and yet another level of bureaucratic control of the sector.”
Andrews warned delegates that under the current system there was a danger of the sector facing incremental increases in the ACNC’s regulatory scope, saying: “Then you’ll have a great big, new regulator covering a whole lot of areas and that basic question – what’s the mischief – still has not been answered.”
“Regulation would return to the arrangements in place before the creation of the new big regulator – a new bureaucracy that is all about regulation and enforcement – that is all about looking over the shoulder of civil society, rather than empowering it.
“In its place we will establish a new, small, centre for excellence.”
Robert Fitzgerald rebuffed his stance, arguing that the reforms had been designed with an “optimal setting” in mind, rather than to fix something that was broken.
“It is surprising that the sector fails to understand that a solid base will provide an optimum outcome for the sector going forward.”
While Fitzgerald and Andrews took their opposing sides, the other members of the panel raised some continuing concerns with the reforms.
Among the issues raised by Brian Lucas, general secretary, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, were anxieties about the possible “misuse” of the information contained in the public register of transparency.
“Many of the charities are concerned about the way in which a public portal runs the risk of misuse so that financial information that’s provided could lead to certain conclusions that could be misused.”
His concern was taken up by Tim Timchur, corporate and legal issues committee member, Chartered Secretaries Australia who said there was the opportunity to include commentary with the information provided to the ACNC.
“I think that in fact it is a good idea to provide more information rather than less as a way of moving forward.”
Chief Executive Australasian Corrosion Association Ian Booth was most concerned about the fact that the scope of the ACNC still currently failed to include the sub-sector of the sector that included industry associations, technical societies and civil organisations.