NFPs Address Senate Committee on Charity Legislation
9 December 2013 at 3:31 pm
Not for Profit leaders have told an urgently convened Senate Committee meeting in Canberra that Coalition Government plans to delay the start of new charities legislation puts future planning in jeopardy.
Not for Profit peak body Community Council for Australia (CCA) says the introduction of a Bill which delays the start date of the new charities legislation is “an unfortunate and unwelcome step backwards that will create uncertainty and mistrust”.
Last week the Coalition Government moved to push significant changes on Social Services legislation through the Senate.
After intervention from the Greens, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, which included amendments to areas including a delay in the introduction of the new charity definition, the ACNC, gambling reform, the NDIS, Family Tax Benefit, Parenting Payment, Age Pension, Youth Allowance, and income management on Cape York and Child Care, was referred to a Senate Committee of Inquiry.
However the Committee was only given until December 12 to report.
“The previous parliament passed legislation to provide a clear and widely supported definition of charity which was due to come into force from January 2014,” CCA CEO David Crosbie said.
“The Abbott government is now seeking to delay the start date for this legislation. The charity sector needs clarity in charity legislation and stability for future planning. Any delay to this legislation jeopardises both of these.”
“It is unfortunate that the NFP sector was not properly consulted about whether they want a delay,” Crosbie told the Committee.
“The NFP sector wants to work with the Government on the positive plans they have for the NFP sector – like reducing red tape for grants administration and encouraging more charitable giving and partnerships between charities, business and government.
“The sector does not want to spend further time discussing the Charities Act when in our view it has been settled and is strongly supported across the sector.
“There are some in the charity sector who are concerned that this delay reflects a view held by some in the Coalition that charity is good and advocacy is good, but that charity and advocacy need to be separate.
“These opponents do not support either the new definition of charity or recent case law outcomes including AidWatch etc. In practice the new definition of charity provides a very clear delineation between political activity (which is not charitable) and advocacy. This is one of the reasons the sector has welcomed and endorsed the new definition.”
On September 18, 2000, then Prime Minister John Howard announced the establishment of the Charity Definition Inquiry (CDI) into definitional issues on the basis that “we need to ensure that the legislative and administrative framework in which they operate is appropriate to the modern social and economic environment. Yet the common law definition of a charity, which is based on a legal concept dating back to 1601, has resulted in a number of legal definitions and often gives rise to legal disputes”.
“This Howard Inquiry found that reliance on case law caused confusion even among well-resourced charities on what was or was not charitable. Since then, statutory definitions have been enacted in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Ireland,” Crosbie said.
In Australia there have been many consultations and the new legislation introduced by the former Labor Government has attracted wide support from charity law experts and the charity sector.
According to Crosbie, the new Definition of Charities Bill achieves important goals including:
Enshrining the High Court decision in Aid/Watch to ensure that charities can advocate changes to laws, policies and practices without jeopardising their charitable status; and
Modernising current law to recognise charitable purposes as the protection of human rights, the promotion of reconciliation and tolerance, and to acknowledge that modern charities “advance” their causes by researching, educating, preventing and raising awareness.
“You have to ask why the question why this government doesn’t want a modern definition of charity which also enshrines the right of charities to advocate in legislation?”
Welfare Not for Profits have also slammed the Government’s attempts to dismantle poker machine reform.
NFP leaders who couldn't make it to the Canberra Senate meeting are believed to have provided written submissions.