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Coalition Wants New NFP ‘Philosophy’

18 July 2013 at 1:10 pm
Staff Reporter
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.

Staff Reporter | 18 July 2013 at 1:10 pm


Coalition Wants New NFP ‘Philosophy’
18 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. 

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  • CommTogether says:

    Sounds like an interesting debate and while I will leave the politics out of it, the important point here is one I have been blogging about for some time. The term not-for-profit is outdated and a real problem for the sector. We need to shift the mentality so organisations can set about making money to be more sustainable in the long term. They need to make money to invest in the future. They need to make money to compete. They need to make money to be less reliant on government.

    We need to move away from the mentality that every cent of donations goes to service provision – no organisation can survive without infrastructure and investment.

    I’ll put up my hand and offer to help in any way I can to ensure the sector (whatever it is called and whoever is overseeing it) is not just viable, but vibrant and competitive.

  • Tim Vial says:

    Once again, the Coalition has only rhetoric! What is their so-called “new philosophy”? They are throwing about catch phrases without anything to back them up.
    Mr Andrews, tell us all what your plans are for the sector so we can make an informed comparison and judgement as to who has the better policy in relation to the NFO Sector!

  • Peter Mathie says:

    This is a fascinating debate and I am becoming increasingly intrigued at the blurring of definition between corporate reporting (that is what public companies and Indigenous corporations are well used to) and the need to report to government sponsors and funders on the application of funds to the purpose of grants (the acquittal process).

    I think it is time to settle any confusion.

    Indigenous corporations, charities established to serve the needs of Indigenous communities, have been providing governance reports to the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations and providing comprehensive acquittal documentation to funders for a very long time. No complaint there, the registrar takes a broad view about the community interest and the funding bodies assess the value achieved against the purpose of the grant. Makes sense.

    Over a number of years I have been hearing loud complaint, particularly from large organisations that seek and receive numerous grants from multiple agencies of government to service multiple communities in various ways. These organisations logically need to acquit all of their grants individually and it would be much easier if this could be streamlined.

    Of course this streamlining will further enhance central organisations’ capacity to compete with small locally based community organisations. Now, this takes us back to why we think it is important to have a strong not-for-profit sector and why government ought favour it in the contracting of government services.

    There in no virtue in corporate form alone. (although the efforts of the ACNC might drive in that direction) Virtue is found elsewhere and in relation to NFP’s I believe it is found in strong community involvement, accountability and responsiveness to changing community needs and aspirations.

    So lets be clear about what we mean. If we are committed to local community action and involvement, lets work at keeping locally based community organisations strong and well supported. If we are looking for something else then lets say what it is.

  • Jenni Czislowski says:

    Is there something fundamentally flawed within me that makes me sceptical about the whole charity/not for profit society in this day. Twenty years ago I would not have blinked twice at the ideology of charities and NFP.

    But today – today I see charity and NFP’s as a bastion for retired professionals, ex and current bankers, IT specialists, marketers, lawyers, solicitors, accountants and politician’s. Everyone seems to be jumping over themselves to get into the helping field. Properties are bought, lots of them, branding, rebranding and more rebranding leaves one scratching their heads about what the direction of organisations actually are.

    Mindfulness seems to require blindfulness if asking any hard questions of some of these organisations and the many structures of business they are involved in. Sorry I’m just not convinced that all is as it seems at any level.

  • Anonymous says:

    Mr Andrews – one of the issues the the Government has addressed by creating the ACNC is the mischief of the regulation of charities by the Tax Office, whose primary role is to maximise revenue for government, not to promote the vibrancy of the sector. Why would you take us back there if you are in favour of a robust civil society?

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