ACNC Repeal Needs Consultation
Tuesday, 3rd December 2013 at 9:46 am
Those supporting the Federal Coalition’s plan to abolish the national regulator, the ACNC, should be careful about what they wish for, writes Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.
The move to abolish the newly established Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is another disappointing decision from the Government, and is one that has significant implications for the community sector.
The mantras about “reducing red tape” and “the best for the sector” just don't ring true.
Moves that effectively put the ATO in charge of regulation of the Not for Profit sector are a step backwards and cannot be good for simplified administration and a reduction in red tape.
The ATO’s role as both the decision maker on charitable status and the government’s revenue collector is likely to leave the sector as the losers. I do find it a bit ironic that the ACNC was accused of being too heavy handed when first getting established, when the consequence of getting rid of the ACNC will be handing over control to the ATO.
Those who have been lobbying against the ACNC should be careful about what they wish for. A leopard doesn't change its spots, and in this case, neither does the Coalition or the ATO.
Remember that many of the same people who were in power under Howard, and who were complicit in his attack on the sector, are part of today’s Government.
They are also strongly attracted to the UK model for the provision of services, which is having significant negative consequences for both service providers and their clients.
The Not for Profit reform process undertaken by the 43rd Parliament involved a lot of hard work from people across the sector who were committed to seeing the principles of a vibrant, diverse and independent civil society underpinned by legislation.
Any reform process is a work in progress and there have been issues with the commencement of the ACNC, but the Commission and its associated legislation is largely supported by the sector. Many regard it as a significant step towards the modernisation needed to ensure organisations are better equipped to operate in the 21st century.
In recent Senate Estimates hearings, the Government confirmed that Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has already undertaken “informal consultations” about the process of repealing the ACNC, though there was no detail available as to who was consulted or what was discussed.
I'm wary of any informal consultation process, given the fact it tends to be highly subjective and yield the answers you're looking for.
It is crucial that before any decision on the ACNC’s future is made, the Government undertakes a full and proper open process of consultation that reaches out to the sector and encourages their extensive involvement.
This needs to include the opportunity for providers to prepare and lodge submissions and for hearings and consultations to be undertaken around the country.
At the moment, there seems to be no time frame for any such process, so this situation of limbo will continue to cause concern for the sector.
Many people are concerned that abolishing the ACNC at this point in time would see the work of assessing charitable status and Not for Profit regulation handed back to the ATO.
I’m not convinced that the process the Government talks about will ensure good governance, accountability, transparency and streamlining of reporting. Nor will it enable a national approach that reduces the multiple compliance reporting and regulatory requirements of the different state and territories currently impose.
The ACNC has a specific role in reducing red tape and has to report to Parliament on its progress towards this outcome. I haven’t heard anything from Government that reassures me that there will be a body that is specifically responsible for this or that will be required to report on it, if the ACNC is scrapped.
Community and charity organisations work hard to serve, defend and promote the broader needs of our community, and need to remain strong and independent to do their best work. I’m concerned that removing the body that is set up to streamline compliance obligations will, in the longer term, just make things harder for many organisations.
About the Author: Senator Rachel Siewert is the Australian Greens Whip, Spokesperson for Families, Community Services and Disability Issues and Chairs the Senate Community Affairs References Committee. Prior to entering the Senate Rachel spent 16 years as the Coordinator of the Conservation Council of Western Australia.