Catholic Church Softens on ACNC Abolition - Opposition
10 September 2014 at 6:50 pm
The Federal Labor Opposition says the Catholic Church appears to have moved away from its support for Government plans to scrap the national charity regulator, the ACNC.
In a newspaper opinion piece the General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Rev Brian Lucas, has argued for what the Labor Party describes as ‘constructive modifications to the ACNC while endorsing a number of its key functions’.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference had previously been regarded as one of the strongest supporters of the Government's move to abolish the charity commission.
Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh says the statements by Rev Lucas show that Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews is becoming increasingly isolated in his crusade to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
“At a time when transparency and accountability in the charity sector is more important than ever, Kevin Andrews must see sense and walk away from his plans to axe it,” Leigh said.
In the opinion piece, Rev Brian Lucas said he rejected the claim by World Vision CEO Tim Costello that one church denomination opposed the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission because it didn't "want a secular, atheistic regulator in charge".
“The Catholic Church has always taken a pragmatic approach to Government regulation. Our concern has always been about the value and extent of the regulatory red tape, rather than the identity of the regulator,” Rev Brian Lucas said.
“We support having light touch national regulation of charities by an expert body to determine charity status, ensure accountability, promote transparency and help reduce red tape.
“We make no apologies for pointing out that additional reporting obligations might be unnecessary and costly, for those charities that already have to meet heavy regulatory obligations. In some cases, particularly for smaller charities staffed mainly by volunteers, additional reporting could be burdensome. What has to be measured is the relationship between risk and regulatory burden.
“Church agencies of course are regulated by all manner of Government bodies, as they should be.
“Under the umbrella of the Catholic Bishops Conference and its specialist tax working group, church entities are committed to work constructively with the Government on charity regulation,” he said.
“The sector needs stability so that charities can operate without further disruption and plan ahead with certainty, providing an outcome that supports charities to undertake their positive work in the community for the public benefit.
“The Catholic Bishops Conference in a number of past submissions has suggested a useful way forward would be to have a body which determines charitable status, removes unnecessary duplication of regulation and works with state and territory regulators to reduce red tape.
“Harmonising state fundraising laws would be an obvious ‘quick win’ but there has been years of talk and little action,” he said.
Rev Brian Lucas said there should be a simple process for endorsement or registration of entities as charities and to access tax concessions.
“The Catholic Church supports a searchable central register, similar to the Australian Business Register, as a starting point to find whether a charity exists and basic contact details as well as information on who runs it.
“Charities can supplement that basic information by providing more details of their activities on their own websites for the information of members, donors, and members of the public.
“There is a strong case that new charities should be able to secure simultaneous Australian Business Number and ACNC/ATO endorsement/registration.
“As the largest group of charities in the country the Catholic Church wants a bipartisan resolution on regulation. One that retains the best features of the current ACNC, while reducing Commonwealth/state duplication and unnecessary red tape,” he said.
CEO of Not for Profit peak body, Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie said he supports much of what Father Brian Lucas has said in his article acknowledging the benefits of a light touch regulator able to determine charitable status, provide some transparency and accountability, and work to reduce red tape.
“This is why CCA supports the ACNC who are, by most measures, doing a remarkably good job in all these areas despite facing a difficult operating environment,” Crosbie said.
“It is important to note, however, that CCA will not support proposals to develop a ‘claytons’ regulator – one that has no power to either collect information from charities or pursue that very small minority of pretend charities seeking to diminish the reputation and standing of all charities by exploiting concessions and gaining other advantages without providing any public benefit.
“CCA will also not support a ‘claytons’ national register of charities – one that has no information about the activities of the charities or does not hold even basic information about their finances,” he said.
“Any proposal to reform the ACNC should be considered on their merit independent of where they come from. The touchstone for any discussion about reforming the ACNC must be about how best to improve what we have, and not just about how to create a compromise that allows some charities to avoid any level of public accountability or transparency.
“CCA is aware that some in the catholic church would prefer not to have to report on their activities or their finances to an independent regulator, yet without these fundamentals in place, it is difficult to see how any regulator can meaningfully provide the level of transparency and accountability that builds and sustains public trust.
“Fr Lucas has a very important role in the catholic church hierarchy and his views are important, but it is what is in the best interests of all charities and the broader community that should inform government policy,” he said.