New ACNC Head Expected By End Of Year As Rumours Swirl
29 November 2017 at 5:03 pm
An announcement on the new commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) is expected before the end of the year, but concerns have been raised around the appointment process as rumours swirl about who could take over.
The ACNC has been without a commissioner since Assistant Minister Michael Sukkar – who oversees the ACNC – decided not to reappoint inaugural commissioner Susan Pascoe AM after her five-year term ended on 30 September 2017.
While it was initially anticipated the new ACNC commissioner would be appointed by 1 October, the minister’s office said an announcement was now expected before the end of the year.
The shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits Andrew Leigh, told Pro Bono News that Sukkar’s decision not to reappoint Pascoe had made the sector uneasy about the future direction of the commission.
“I think Susan Pascoe played a vital role in the initial period and many in the sector were deeply disappointed that Minister Sukkar chose not to meet with the board and failed to reappoint Susan Pascoe,” Leigh said.
“So that episode left them very uneasy and now the sector is concerned that Michael Sukkar is more concerned with finding someone that will do his political bidding rather than selecting a candidate that would be best for Australian charities and not for profits.”
Leigh also suggested that the appointment process lacked transparency, and that Sukkar was only looking to select someone that matched his “ideological disposition”.
“Well one of the concerns has been the suggestion that the interview process for some candidates has been surprisingly cursory. And that Minister Sukkar seems to be going through the motions for some candidates, while he looks around for somebody who fits his ideological disposition,” he said.
“No wonder the sector’s worried, they’re fighting the Coalition government on so many fronts: the attack on advocacy by environmental charities, the attempt to include charities in the ban on foreign donations to political parties and the attempt to close down the charities commission which went on for many years.
“Charities are tired of fighting the federal government and again here they don’t feel that the federal government is on their side and looking for the best candidate.”
The Community Council for Australia (CCA) had previously expressed its disappointment that Pascoe was not reappointed, and CEO David Crosbie said it was vital that Sukkar did not dismiss the concerns of the sector.
“It is Assistant Minister Sukkar’s call to appoint whoever he sees as most appropriate for the role of ACNC commissioner. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that we are talking about a very important appointment for a very significant sector,” Crosbie told Pro Bono News.
“The level of knowledge and expertise in the sector and in the current regulator have been internationally acknowledged. The concern of the sector is that the actions of the assistant minister to date have been very dismissive of the sector and the expertise established in charity regulation and good governance.
“Assistant Minister Sukkar refused to meet with the ACNC for over six months despite being the responsible minister, refused recommendations to reappoint Susan Pascoe without even meeting her, and in the process, dismissed the very high recommendations from senior government officials and the ACNC Advisory Board for Ms Pascoe to be reappointed.”
Rumours have swirled in the sector that a preferred candidate had already been chosen for the role, but neither Crosbie nor Leigh were convinced this was the case, although they remained concerned around the suitability of a chosen replacement.
Leigh said he had “only heard grumbling and rumours” about the appointment, but “none of them good”.
“There’s very little suggestion that Michael Sukkar is engaged in a search for the person who would be best suited by way of expertise and experience to tackle this job. Every indication is that he’s looking around for a mate,” he said.
Crosbie added: “Rumours [about a] leading candidate have yet to be substantiated… [But] If Assistant Minister Sukkar wants to establish any credibility in the charities and not-for-profit sector, he might do well to very carefully consider whether his preferred candidate to replace Susan Pascoe will reflect his respect for the sector and provide the exemplary skills and knowledge about charity regulation that are required in the role.”
Sukkar’s office refused to confirm or deny that a new candidate had been chosen, but said an announcement was expected before the end of the year.
In regards to the appointment process, a spokesperson for the minister told Pro Bono News: “The government is conducting a process to appoint a new commissioner. The government is committed to a transparent merit-based process to ensure that the best person for the job is appointed.”
Leigh said it was important a transparent appointment process took place.
“It would have been good if Susan Pascoe was re-appointed, or [if not] that a successor had be chosen in advance. The government is clearly untroubled by leaving the top job at the charities commission unfilled for many months,” he said.
“I would want to see a more transparent selection process, one which was clearly merit based and involved an independent, arm’s-length process from the minister.
“Unless there is a spotlight placed on the process, there is a real risk that somebody unsuitable ends up with the job.”