Senate Moves to Save ACNC
Wednesday, 24th June 2015 at 5:39 pm
Federal Opposition parties including the powerful Senate crossbenchers have banded together to move a motion aimed at saving the national charity regulator, calling on the Government to withdraw the controversial ACNC Repeal Bill.
Labor Senator Penny Wong, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Motoring Enthusiast Party Senator Ricky Muir moved a joint motion saying that the Government‘s plans to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) are creating uncertainty in the charity sector.
The motion stated that the Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, had already admitted that he has no immediate plans to progress the legislation to give effect to the abolition of the Commission.
As such the motion called on the Government to withdraw the Australian Charities and Not-for- profits Commission (Repeal) (No. 1) Bill 2014 to provide certainty to Australia‘s charities.
“I (Penny Wong) move that the Senate notes that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission enjoys strong support from the charity sector, with over 80 per cent of respondents to Pro Bono Australia’s annual State of the Sector Reports agreeing it is critical to a well-functioning not-for-profit sector,” the motion read.
“[The] Commission saves charities approximately $120 million a year in reduced compliance costs, freeing up resources to spend on helping the community and the Government’s plans to abolish the Commission are creating uncertainty in the charities sector and leading to high staff turnover within the agency itself.”
The motion was passed unopposed – effectively putting the Abbott Government on notice that the Repeal Legislation would not pass through the Senate if it was put to a vote.
Senator Wong and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh said in a statement that the charity sector needs certainty from the Social Services Minister.
“Charities Commissioner Susan Pascoe has stated that the uncertainty about her organisation’s future is leading some Not for Profits to ignore their legal reporting obligations,” Wong and Leigh said.
“It is also creating obstacles for the commission in working with other Commonwealth agencies and leading to huge turnover of experienced staff.
“The Abbott Government made the wrong call in March last year when it first tried to abolish the charities commission.
“(The) Senate motion provides an opportunity to right that wrong and finally give the Australian charities sector some certainty after almost two years of upheaval under the Abbott Government.”
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert agreed that the Government should abandon plans to dismantle the ACNC, which she said “safeguards a vibrant, diverse and independent civil society”.
“The Greens remain advocates of the ACNC because of the vital role that a vibrant charity sector plays in our community, delivering important services to hundreds of thousands of people and leading the debate on important issues such as inequality and poverty,” Senator Siewert said.
“The ACNC provides important modernisations across the sector to help ensure organisations are better equipped to operate in the 21st century. The Government should work with the sector to support the ACNC and abandon plans to abolish it once and for all.”
CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA) David Crosbie said it was good to see common sense prevailing.
“We need to make sure the ACNC can actually get on with its work and deliver the much needed reductions in red tape for the sector. Having no certainty about the future of the ACNC has made this task very difficult,” Crosbie said.
“Given this new emphatic statement of support by the Senate, the time has come to put pressure on all those other regulators, and State or Territory Governments who have not cooperated with the ACNC based on the erroneous assumption that the Parliament of Australia was going to repeal the legislation under which it was established.
“The Parliament will not support closing down the ACNC. The ACNC will continue. The challenge now is to bring everyone on board and make the ACNC work for the sector and the community.”
The ACNC Repeal Bill No 1 was reintroduced into the House of Representatives late in December 2014 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.
Uncertainty continued with the 2015-16 Budget papers revealing that the Abbott Government had committed to funding the ACNC until at least 2019.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has not seen a reduction in its current funding and did not feature on a list of Government Agencies to be abolished or merged.
Budget Forward Estimates also provide funding for the 2016-17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years.
The Assistant Charities Commissioner David Locke, told a Senate Estimates hearing in October 2014 that: “During the last financial year we had a high attrition rate which to large extent could be attributed to the uncertainty. We lost 23 per cent of our staff during that period…so no doubt it has impacted on our ability to regulate successfully.”
Earlier this month the ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM told a Senate Estimates hearing that “we’ve found a reluctance with a number of agencies to effect even simple changes because they think we won’t be around”.
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison gave his first indication that the Coalition had backed away from abolishing the national charity regulator, the ACNC in February.
Morrison was reported as saying: “I have advised key stakeholders in this area I have no immediate plans to be progressing that issue while I focus on higher order priorities.”