Charities Still Waiting to be Heard?
18 February 2014 at 10:30 am
Any doubt that charities are the little people in political discourse and national policy debates is being clearly dispelled by the Coalition Government’s continued enthusiasm for dismantling the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) writes the CEO of the Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie.
'So take a step back and see the little people
They may be young but they're the ones
Who make the big people big
So listen, as they whisper, "What about me?"'
Garry Frost was working in his day job at a charity for autistic children when, during a lunch break, he noticed a child not being served at the local shop. It inspired the 1982 mega hit song he co-wrote with Frances Swan for the band Moving Pictures.
A lot of gifted people work in charities. The charities and Not for Profit sector employs over one million Australians, generates almost 5 per cent of GDP and turns over around $1 billion a year. Charities are not only major economic players, they also play a vital role in our lives, holding communities together in good times and bad.
While governments across Australia offer a consistent chorus of support for the charities and Not for Profit sector, actions speak much louder than words. Unfortunately the actions of current governments suggest charities remain where they have been for most of their history – part of a third sector, well behind government, well behind business.
Charities are welcome to express a view in the same way that children are allowed to share a story about their day at the dinner table when there is a lull in the adult conversations. What would charities know about the big issues like productivity, the economy or national security? Governments listen politely, encourage them, smile and then get on with making the important decisions.
From a government perspective, payments to charities are a little like pocket money – something discretionary when the fixed costs are met. If governments need to reduce expenditure you know they will leave the big political power players like the Pharmacy Guild of Australia with its $3 billion a year agreement alone, but a $100,000 grant provided for community integration of new refugees can be cut with minimal political cost.
Any doubt that charities are the little people in political discourse and national policy debates is being clearly dispelled by the Coalition Government’s continued enthusiasm for dismantling the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC).
Organisations including World Vision Australia, the Smith Family, RSPCA, Musica Viva, the Big Issue, Wesley Mission, ACOSS, Australia’s Major Performing Arts Group, Philanthropy Australia, Drug Arm Australia, Lifeline, Social Ventures Australia, Australian Charities Fund, St John’s Ambulance, Save the Children, Good Beginnings and thousands of other charities big and small across the country, have all demonstrated support for the ACNC.
This widespread endorsement (surveys show over 80% support) is an outcome of years of reviews and hundreds of submissions.
The ACNC is important to how charities do business – they know what the operations of the ACNC mean in real terms. Yet the Government chooses to ignore the vast majority of charities in deciding what it will do.
Over 1 million Australians have already viewed the ACNC national charities register; the ACNC has registered almost 1000 new charities with a turnaround time of less than two weeks; responded to over 40,000 inquiries and resolved over 200 complaints about charities. The ACNC is more efficient than the government regulators it replaced, is doing good work and deserves a chance to achieve its three goals of reducing red tape, increasing public trust and strengthening the charities sector.
Patronising free market poli-tanks have been in the media telling charities why going back to the future with the Australian Taxation Office as their regulator is good for them. Not surprisingly, this approach has attracted little support. Charities know what it was like to be regulated by the ATO and do not want to go back there.
Cutting the ACNC would be a very clear sign that government is not interested in the considered views of the charities sector.
Charities and Not for Profit organisations may be quietly waiting at the counter for a place in the national policy and political debate, their voice may be a whisper, but if you continue to ignore and patronise the little people, there will be a price to pay.