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2015 – A Year of Change for the Social Sector


22 December 2015 at 11:30 am
Xavier Smerdon
From the debate around charity mergers, to continuing questions about the government’s plans for the national charity regulator, the social sector has never been far away from the headlines in 2015. Xavier Smerdon takes a look at the year that was.

Xavier Smerdon | 22 December 2015 at 11:30 am


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2015 – A Year of Change for the Social Sector
22 December 2015 at 11:30 am

From the debate around charity mergers, to continuing questions about the government’s plans for the national charity regulator, the social sector has never been far away from the headlines in 2015. Xavier Smerdon takes a look at the year that was.

On 14 September this year Australia watched as yet another sitting prime minister was ousted, this time in favour of Malcolm Turnbull.

The implications for the social sector were huge and the pivotal moment was symbolic of a year of change for charities and Not for Profits.

From the debate around charity mergers, to continuing questions about the government’s plans for the national charity regulator, the social sector has never been far away from the headlines.

After taking office Turnbull appointed the relatively unknown Christian Porter to the social services portfolio.

While signalling that disability and carer payments could be cut to create savings, Porter has yet to reveal where he stands on some of the more contentious issues of his predecessors.

Just this month his office told Pro Bono Australia News that he had not made a decision about the future of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

The charity regulator seemed to have been given a lifeline this year by former social services minister Scott Morrison, who said at a philanthropy summit held in Canberra in September that the parliament supported the ACNC, but perhaps not in its role as a regulator.

The ACNC continued with its task of producing Australia’s first reliable charity register, revoking the status of thousands of charities and registering even more.

Earlier this month the ACNC also released a landmark report showing that the Australian charity sector was worth $103 billion, with just 5 per cent of Australian charities controlling 80 per cent of the sector’s combined income.

But it was the Australian Taxation Office that caused one of the major stirs of 2015 when in February it fined a charity, Donors Without Borders, a record $1.5 million for attempting to exploit the tax system.

It was also a big year for philanthropy, with big names like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledging to give around $62 billion to charity by donating 99 per cent of his company’s shares.

In April the social sector was buzzing from reports that mining magnate Gina Rinehart was planning on giving half of her $14 billion fortune to charity.

Reports indicated that Rinehart and her estranged son, John Hancock, were discussing a plan for the billionaire to give away up to half of her personal wealth to philanthropic causes as part of a settlement of their legal action over the family fortune.

A spokesperson for Rinehart quickly threw cold water on the news though, telling Pro Bono Australia News that any donation made would be significantly less than the amount speculated.

At the start of November leaders of Australia’s social sector gave a stark warning to charities, telling them to merge or shut down amid a climate of competition.

CEO of World Vision, Tim Costello, and CEO of the Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie, led the charge, saying there were too many organisations competing for the same charitable dollars.

The conversation sparked passionate debates within the social sector, which largely remained divided on the issue.  

2015 was also the year for inquiries, with the Australian Senate holding investigations into everything from the charitable status of environmental organisations to the abuse and neglect of people with disability.

The latter inquiry found that there were “horrific” cases of abuse of disabled people within institutional settings.

But despite resistance from the Federal Government, perhaps the most significant thing to come out of the inquiry was the call for a Royal Commission into the issue.

Chair of the inquiry, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, told Pro Bono Australia News that people with disability deserved a Royal Commission to conduct a more in depth investigation into “this national shame”.

But despite a few high profile charities making headlines for the wrong reasons, including Shane Warne’s foundation, it was not all doom and gloom for the social sector.

This year Pro Bono Australia launched its second Impact 25, recognising the most influential people in the social sector.

Domestic violence campaigner, Rosie Batty, was overwhelmingly chosen as the most influential person for 2015.

She told Pro Bono Australia News that she was proud to be a member of the social sector.

“It’s still is really special to continue to be recognised for the work I’ve done. I’ve worked really hard this year. I’ve been so well supported and so appreciated by the sector, it just means a huge amount,” Batty said.

“It’s been a big year and it’s a year that we kind of know that we need to put the hard yards in because we’ve got to make sure that we make the most of this opportunity so that the Government continues the momentum for change.”

In many ways 2015 has been a tumultuous year for Australia’s social sector, but with a looming federal election, Malcolm Turnbull set to deliver his first budget and the full roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme all set to unfold in 2016, the roller coaster ride is set to continue.


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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