Feds Move Again to Abolish ACNC
4 December 2014 at 10:59 am
The Abbott Government has rushed to reintroduce legislation to abolish the national charity regulator on the final days of Federal Parliament, coinciding with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s second anniversary.
The ACNC Repeal Bill No 1 was reintroduced into the House of Representatives late Wednesday after previously being introduced in March 2014.
The ACNC was set up by the former Labor Government in December 2012 after numerous inquiries including a Productivity Commission report.
Government MP Alex Hawke told Parliament he supported the abolition of the ACNC.
“Repealing the ACNC is about reducing red tape, reducing regulation and reducing burden on charities and Not for Profits,” Hawke said.
“It may be that some people find the new arrangements acceptable to them, but, overall, I do not believe this will enhance the situation for the vast majority of Not for Profits and, indeed, for the enabling of civil society—a competitive environment where you can get new entrants into civil society. We do not necessarily want to pick the winners and losers.”
Federal Labor Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh said however the plans to abolish the ACNC were “a shambles as the Government attempted to rush through a pointless bill which cannot pass the Senate”.
“The bill to abolish the Commission is supposed to be accompanied by a second bill outlining alternative arrangements for regulating charities, but this is nowhere to be seen.
“Word is that Treasury staff are not even close to finalising this critical piece of legislation. The abolishment bill cannot take effect until that second bill is passed, so the Government is just wasting the last days of Parliament by bringing it on,” Leigh said.
“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,” Leigh told Parliament during the debate.
Leigh quoted from a submission to the Federal Government from ACNC Advisory Board Chair and Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald who said: “…the key beneficiaries of the repeal of the ACNC are really only those organisations who do not want independent public accountability or transparency but which seek to continue to receive large benefits from the Australian community. All of the failings in the past regulatory regime identified so often and in so many inquiries would remain and be entrenched.
“The opportunities offered by the establishment of a one-stop regulator would be forgone. Independence from the Australian Taxation Office will be abandoned, allowing identified conflicts to persist. The sound, well-functioning and efficient agency, highly respected by much of the sector with considerable expertise and experience will be abolished,” Fitzgerald was quoted as saying.
Andrew Leigh also told Parliament that since the Federal Government had announced plans to abolish the ACNC twelve months ago a Pro-Bono Australia survey found that four out of five charities supported keeping the Charities Commission.
The 2014 Pro Bono Australia Survey found that some 82 per cent (compared to 83 per cent in the 2013 survey) believe the ACNC is important or extremely important for developing a thriving Australian Not for Profit sector.
CEO of the Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie was at Parliament House and watched the debate, describing it as “disappointing”.
“This debate on the ACNC Repeal Bill No 1 highlighted how out of touch the Government appears to be in relation to the charities sector,” he said.
“Throughout the debate, Government Members of Parliament (MPs) continually ignored the evidence from the sector from surveys and inquiries that the ACNC is seen by the majority of the sector as a positive development.
“The independent evidence from Ernst and Young about the reduction in red tape (cited numerous times by Opposition MPs) was rejected in favor of individual Government MP assertion and personal opinion.
“Government claims that there was widespread support for the repeal of the ACNC lacked evidence or credibility. Only two organisations were cited as supporting the repeal of the ACNC – Universities Australia and Catholic Health Australia. Almost 50 organisations that supported keeping the ACNC were cited by Opposition MPs as were numerous reports and recommendations highlighting the need for ACNC dating back almost two decades.
“Any Government that continually ignores the views of the Australian charities and Not for Profit sector is risking alienating an economically important and highly respected sector of the Australian community.
“CCA understands that a majority of Senators have listened to the sector and continue to support the ACNC. If the ACNC Repeal is presented to the Senate this week, it is likely to be defeated.
“Almost every Opposition MP drew on the Pro Bono Australia research into the sector during the debate, while one Government MP claimed that the Pro Bono Australia survey was not scientific.”
Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh said outside Parliament that Labor and a majority of crossbenchers will stand against the Abbott Government’s attempts to scrap the ACNC when the Bill reaches the Senate.
The debate was adjourned after 12 speakers and was not expected to resume Thursday.
A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said the Government is committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission; returning its regulatory functions to the Australian Taxation Office and ASIC; and establishing a National Centre for Excellence to support the community sector.
“No evidence has been provided to justify establishing such a big regulatory structure with such extensive enforcement powers,” the spokesperson said.
Hansard of the debate can be found HERE
Read Pro Bono Australia’s interview with ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe to mark the second anniversary of the regulator HERE