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Red Tape, Charities and Politics - A Curious Mix

3 September 2013 at 11:00 am
Lina Caneva
While each major political party may use different words and ideologies, there is generally a shared set of goals for the sector - the difference is how they plan to achieve these goals says the CEO of the Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie.

Lina Caneva | 3 September 2013 at 11:00 am


Red Tape, Charities and Politics - A Curious Mix
3 September 2013 at 11:00 am

While each major political party may use different words and ideologies, there is generally a shared set of goals for the sector – the difference is how they plan to achieve these goals says the CEO of the Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie.

The Not for Profit sector is recognised as a very important economic and social player in Australia by all political parties. And all political parties want charities and Not for Profits to grow stronger, more connected to their communities, having to deal with less red tape and compliance costs, having better access to capital and increased philanthropy, and ensuring there are better information systems available for the sector and about the sector.

The biggest difference between political parties appears to be how you achieve these shared goals, and one of the defining issues that has emerged in this election campaign is the future of the newly established independent regulator for the sector, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission.

In his final pitch at the National Press Club yesterday, Tony Abbott said:

Elect the Coalition and, every year, red tape costs will be a billion dollars a year lower through sensible reforms to regulation. The Productivity Commission, says that there are at least $12 billion worth of economic improvements to be had from red tape reduction and $10 billion of economic benefits to be had from reform to federal-state relations.

It is interesting to note that the Productivity Commission was one of the key driving forces behind the establishment of the ACNC and reducing red tape for the sector is one of its three objects. Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald is the inaugural chair of the ACNC Advisory Board.

It is also interesting to note that in its first nine months of operation the ACNC has registered over 1000 new charities, responded to over 30,000 requests for information, run more than 100 consultations across Australia, investigated over 200 complaints about charities and established the first ever national online database of all Australian charities.  

It has also struck agreements with at least two state governments, ASIC, ORIC, the Independent Schools Commission and others to share rather than duplicate information.  New Commonwealth Grant guidelines requiring all government agencies to use the ACNC data rather than duplicate requests for information have also been put in place.

The ACNC is already showing that for less than $15 million a year it can deliver real outcomes for much lower costs than was previously being provided by government officials for similar, but inferior services.

Yet the Coalition continue to talk about returning regulation of the charities sector to the Australian Taxation Office, a move supported by less than 6% of the sector.

Even more curious is the suggestion that once a Coalition government has dismantled the ACNC it will rely on COAG to reduce the ongoing duplication involved in regulation of charities at a State and Territory level.  COAG have been trying to harmonize fundraising regulations for charities across Australia for the best part of a decade and after countless meetings and endless discussions have managed to achieve the remarkable outcome that they agree to disagree.  When it comes to harmonizing regulations across Australia and reducing compliance costs for charities, COAG is a joke.

Many in the sector are now asking if the Coalition policy is really about achieving a reduction in red tape and compliance, why would you dismantle a body set up to achieve exactly that goal, and why would you spend more money returning it to the ATO and why create a new body without the capacity to reduce red tape?  The contradiction between rhetoric and practice seems undeniable.

There is much to like about the Coalition strategies to strengthen the sector and to reduce compliance costs across government agencies, but when it comes to the ACNC, the Coalition have developed a bad case of tin ear.

The one thing you would expect from any new government is that it does not seek to undo what is clearly working to benefit our charities and our communities.  Is that too much to ask?

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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One comment

  • Anonymous says:

    I heartily agree – it's taken years to get this far and the Coalition want to undo it all. After 25 years in fundraising I There also seems to be a widely held belief among politicians on all sides that all charities get government funding – and that therefore the ACNC's only real role is about simplifying red tape and compliance costs in this area. What about the work of the many, many bodies that get NO money from any level of government but raise all their own funds? The ACNC will provide clear information to the public – and I hope, eventually, consistent national regulation on fundraising! – so that people can compare apples with apples. Charity supporters need to be able to trust that their donations, and the procceds of fundraising events and activities they support, will be used wisely and well. The ACNC's website will be an easy way for "Mr and Mrs Average" to understand how funds are used in the causes they support, and increase confidence in our hard working sector.

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