Next government urged to prioritise the ACNC
Thursday, 18th April 2019 at 5:26 pm
Not-for-profit leaders are calling on Australia’s next federal government to prioritise the charity sector by cutting red tape, fully resourcing the charities commission and protecting advocacy.
The NFP University of Western Australia Research Group has released a report examining the findings from a NFP summit it held in November last year.
Bringing together people from across academia, regulators and the NFP sector, the summit found there was an overriding concern around unnecessary regulatory requirements imposed on charities.
Summit attendees called for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to be fully resourced to support a vibrant, independent and innovative NFP sector, and for it to become a one-stop-shop for charities like it had been originally envisaged.
Report author Professor David Gilchrist told Pro Bono News these were changes that could be implemented fairly easily and quickly if a government was willing.
“These issues have been dealt with in other spheres of regulation for many years, I don’t think there’s any complexity that would take a long time,” Gilchrist said.
“It’s a sheer factor of willpower on behalf of the government to actually get on and do it.”
Gilchrist bemoaned that the ACNC was “unfortunately never really a particular priority” for government, noting the Coalition was yet to respond to the ACNC legislative review report tabled last August.
He said the government could cut red tape significantly for charities if it raised the tiers used to identify small, medium and large organisations for reporting purposes.
“I’m hoping the government will react very quickly and very decisively to put in place a number of things that I don’t think have any political impact at all and are almost universally supported in the sector,” he said.
Advocacy was also a major issue raised during the summit, especially given the government’s recent foreign donations bill which charities argued would stifle advocacy and impose unnecessary red-tape on these organisations.
While the bill was eventually amended after a concerted campaign from charities, the sector’s fear of an advocacy crackdown remains.
Gilchrist said this was an area the sector needed certainty on.
“There is still some uncertainty and concern over the ability of charities to advocate either systemically or for individuals,” he said.
“I think that’s an area that really needs to be tightened up but also liberalised so the charities can be allowed to speak to the topics they feel they need to in order to execute their mission.”
Gilchrist added it was absolutely critical the ACNC’s capacity was increased so it could talk to the wider community and the sector, specifically in relation to investigations it’s undertaking for the sake of transparency and public learnings.
The ACNC Act currently imposes a secrecy regime that means the commission cannot generally publish reasons for its enforcement decisions and cannot even confirm whether it’s conducting an investigation.
One recommendation from the ACNC review was for the commission to have discretion to publicly disclose information about its regulatory activities, including investigations, when necessary to protect public trust and confidence.
Pro Bono News has reached out to the government seeking clarification on when it will release its response to the ACNC review.
Shadow charities minister Andrew Leigh meanwhile has vowed a Labor government would strengthen the role of the ACNC and look to cut red tape for charities as much as possible.
Leigh also promised the ALP would take action to make the ACNC a one-stop-shop for charities to make philanthropy and charitable activities easier.