Regulator Watch on Funds to Overseas Aid Charities
7 October 2014 at 9:48 am
The national charity regulator is working with the Australian Federal Police and other intelligence and enforcement agencies to share information on funds going to charities operating in areas of conflict such as Syria and Iraq.
Charities operating overseas were the focus of a speech by ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM at the launch event on Monday of the recently released Curtin Australian Charities 2013 Report.
ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM spoke about the importance of the report’s findings, including the international activities that Australian registered charities undertake.
“We know from our own work and that of all the other international charity regulators (that) we need to reduce the risk of misuse of funds sent overseas, including through charities,” Pascoe said in her speech.
Pascoe said the Curtin Report revealed 17 per cent of registered charities are involved overseas – through directly operating in another country, or by helping people outside Australia.
“Charities operate in more than 100 countries. In 2013, outside of Australia, Australian charities were most involved in India, the Philippines, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
“Charities were also operating in areas of conflict such as Syria and Iraq. The war in Syria has caused terrible human suffering with over three million refugees.
“In a recent speech, William Shawcross, the Chair of the Charity Commission of England and Wales said it is the role of a charity regulator to ensure that charities operating in high risk regions are fully aware of their duties and responsibilities.
“He also said that protecting charities from terrorist penetration is a vital element of a charity commission’s role.
“The ACNC takes our oversight role as the national charity regulator extremely seriously.
“The ACNC works with the Australian Federal Police and other intelligence and enforcement agencies to share intelligence and referrals on these issues.
“Australian Transaction Reports and Transactional Centre (AUSTRAC) have stated that charities working overseas are especially vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist supporters.” AUSTRAC observes that money raised legitimately to help people suffering in conflict zones can be commingled with funds raised specifically to finance terrorism.
“The ACNC acknowledges that the vast majority of charities working or sending money overseas do so for legitimate purposes and have strong procedures in place,” Pascoe said.
“It is vitally important that the public do not become fearful about donating to established charities, as in many parts of the world the need has never been greater.
“Our advice is to only send money to trusted family and friends or to reputable humanitarian organisations. Always research humanitarian organisations and other potential recipients before sending your money.
“If the humanitarian organisation is a charity, we recommend that you always check the ACNC register and find out where the funds will go and how they will be used.”
Pascoe said the ACNC has also partnered with the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), which is the peak council for Australian Not for Profit and development organisations, to make complying with the ACNC governance standards easier for these organisations working overseas. (97 per cent of ACFID members are also registered charities with the ACNC.)
The Curtin Report, commissioned by the national charity regulator, revealed a complex Not for Profit sector that has grown by two per cent annually.
Curtin Charities 2013 Report shows that Australian charities employ nearly one million people and that over 90 per cent of these are employed by only 10 per cent of charities.
Additionally, charities manage around two million volunteers. The sector has a combined total income of more than $100 billion, and the report revealed the sector has grown by two per cent annually since 1990.
It also found that the majority of regulatory burden is felt by a minority of charities.
The report analysed data from more than 38,000 charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).