Susan Pascoe Reflects on the ACNC Five Years On
27 September 2017 at 3:11 pm
The overwhelming majority of Australian charities are well-governed, operate with sound financial management, and are worthy of the trust and confidence of the Australian community says Susan Pascoe AM as she prepares to leave the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
The inaugural commissioner of the ACNC, whose term comes to an end on 30 September, addressed a number of sector leaders on Tuesday reflecting on the ACNC five years on.
She offered a “brief account” of the ACNCs establishment and its achievements to date, saying it had been a “privilege to work as the inaugural commissioner”.
“It is worth recalling that when the ACNC was established, charities were not required to report annually, there were no governance standards they had to meet, there was little guidance and advice, there was no register for quality assurance for donors and grantmakers, there was nowhere to take complaints, there was no database on charities’ finances and activities, and there were complex and duplicated regulatory and reporting arrangements,” Pascoe said.
“How things have changed.”
She said the establishment of the ACNC had resulted in “a supported, supervised and more savvy sector”.
“Charities report annually and the information is publicly available… annual reports on the status of the sector are published and independent research is commissioned; mischief is dealt with – charities must meet the governance standards or face compliance action; there is freely available guidance and advice on the ACNC website, and professional bodies provide support to charities to help them meet their regulatory and reporting obligations; and progress has been made with other Commonwealth and state and territory agencies to reduce red tape,” she said.
“As outgoing commissioner, I can say with confidence, that the overwhelming majority of Australian charities are well-governed, operate with sound financial management, and are worthy of the trust and confidence of the Australian community. Long may they thrive!”
She noted while red tape reduction had “not progressed at the pace envisaged” they had been able to make “modest progress” with the use of the Charity Passport, and “solid progress” with harmonisation with the states and territories.
“And this has been achieved with no explicit powers, no dedicated budget, and uncertainty regarding our future for the first three years,” she said.
Pascoe also addressed a number of challenges for charity regulation for the future, and raised concerns over budget and a review of the legislation.
“We reach a budget cliff this year, in 2017-18, where unspent monies from the special account dry up, and the total budget allocation shrinks by almost $1 million, from $14.8 million to $14.0 million,” she said.
“We have already made some difficult staffing decisions, and have very tight financial management to remain within budget.
“This will be a crucial matter for my successor as we have insufficient budget for core tasks and are spending more on compliance than projected.”
She said those assigned the role of reviewing the ACNC Act would need to consider whether the regulator has sufficient resources to administer its legislation.
She also drew attention to “storm clouds brewing” around political advocacy, which she said was “a matter more properly the province of the Charities Act”.
“This seems to have been aroused following the 2015 Parliamentary Inquiry into Environmental Organisations, and the recent deliberations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee into Electoral Matters on issues such as the suitability of any Australian organisation receiving funding for advocacy,” she said.
“Battle lines have been drawn, and it may be difficult for the government to ignore this matter when the legislation is under review.”
The ACNC is due to come under a five year legislative review in December this year.
Following the announcement in June that Pascoe would finish her five-year contractual term on 30 September, some in the sector had called for her to be reappointed for another 12 months to enable the review to be conducted with her at the helm.
Pascoe told Pro Bono News it had been a privilege to work as the inaugural ACNC commissioner.
“It has been a pleasure to work with the dedicated and selfless people that comprise Australia’s not-for-profit sector over the past five years,” she said.
“During my time as commissioner, which involved establishing a new fit-for-purpose charity regulator, communication with the sector has been vital.”
Meanwhile Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar told Pro Bono News the merit based selection process for appointment of the ACNC commissioner was “well underway”.
“Announcements regarding the commissioner will be made in due course,” Sukkar said.
“In the meantime, Assistant Commissioner Murray Baird and Assistant Commissioner David Locke will be sharing in acting responsibilities.”