Charity Regulator to Host International Regulators
3 April 2014 at 11:14 am
As the fate of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission remains in limbo, the regulator is about to host a meeting of international charity regulators to look at best practice.
Susan Pascoe AM
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) will host the sixth International Charity Regulators meeting in Melbourne next week.
ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM said the forum was for charity regulators from common law countries to discuss the experiences and challenges within their jurisdictions.
When asked if the forum was taking place in unusually turbulent times for the ACNC, Pascoe said that on the contrary it was timely.
“If the Government is looking at models of effective charity regulation then all of the regulators will be in the one spot at the one time, which is incredibly effective in terms of information gathering,” she said.
Delegates from eight organisations will be attending, including the Commissioner of Charities in Singapore; the Chief Executive of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator; New Zealand’s Charity Services Acting General Manager; the Canadian Director General of the Charities Directorate; England and Wales Charity Commission Chief Legal Adviser; the Irish Principal Officer of Charity Regulation; along with the ACNC Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners.
A representative from the Australian Taxation Office and an observer from the Department of Social Services will also attend.
Pascoe said the meeting provided a unique opportunity for participants to meet with peers and explore regulatory best practice and effective measures to support the charity sector.
“It is Australia’s turn to host the meeting, which occurs every 12 to 18 months. Having the observers will ensure that accurate advice goes back to Government,” she said.
Pascoe said the international regulators would work through a negotiated agenda of topics.
Top of the list will be discussions around various models of compliance including how regulators deal with fraud.
Pascoe agrees that each jurisdiction has handled allegations of charity fraud differently. While the UK has made public statements about each allegations and investigation the UK regulator has been criticised for being “benign” in handling some of the case.
“In Australia we have continued with the softly, softly approach and used the memorandums of understanding with agencies such as the ATO and the Federal Police to share information and determine the seriousness of cases,” she said.
“The question is how to come to deliver adequate oversight but take a regulatory approach that works to improve charities.
“We have had some quite serious cases but the charities have all work constructively with us to resolve the issues.”
Pascoe used examples where “boards had gone to sleep at the wheel, people had used a charity for their own private benefit or there had been collusion between family members”.
The ACNC figures reveal that the the regulator has investigated some 240 charity complaints since it opened its doors in December 2012. Under the privacy provisions of the ACNC Act, the regulator does not “name and shame” charities.
“I don’t doubt that there will come a time when we will deliver directions and public statements around charities that have not complied,” she said.
Other issues on the agenda for the regulators include their role in advocacy and lobbying and their place in that country’s politics, the effects of social media on their work as well as annual reporting by charities and balancing that with red tape reduction.
Pascoe said there were a number of broader common issues around where regulators sit in terms of social enterprises, public and private benefit and tax exempt charities.
Pascoe said she remained stoical about the charity regulator and looked forward to the collegiate sense the international meeting will bring.
“This is a meeting of peers that we don’t have in our own countries,” she said.
Pascoe reflected that when the ACNC started up New Zealand assisted with building the charity register, Assistant Commissioner David Locke was seconded from the UK along with a compliance secondee from Canada.
“The Commonwealth countries want to have as consistent practices as possible to deliver effective charity regulation. We will focus on what good regulation looks like in the Australian setting,” she said.
“We expect some very frank exchanges and that will be terrific.”
Legislation to abolish the ACNC under the Federal Government Repeal omnibus has been referred to the Economics Legislation Committee for inquiry.
The move was decided by the Selection of Bills Committee and is not expected to report back to Parliament until June 16, 2014.
The two-day international meeting will be followed by an International Charity Regulators Forum, hosted by the Australian Charity Law Association, in Sydney on Thursday, April 10. Several regulators attending the Melbourne meeting will participate in the forum, which is open to anyone interested in charity regulation.