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Fix fundraising: ‘The horse has well and truly bolted’

7 August 2019 at 4:45 pm
The battle to fix fundraising and achieve reforms using the existing state and territory regimes is lost, says the head of Not-for-profit Law at Justice Connect.

Contributor | 7 August 2019 at 4:45 pm


Fix fundraising: ‘The horse has well and truly bolted’
7 August 2019 at 4:45 pm

The battle to fix fundraising and achieve reforms using the existing state and territory regimes is lost, says the head of Not-for-profit Law at Justice Connect.

Sue Woodward, who has been a leading voice in the long-running #fixfundraising campaign, surprised attendees at the CLAANZ conference last week by stating that “despite goodwill and ongoing stellar efforts by some of the states” she believes the issue has been overrun by the digital world.

“Drawing on a three-word descriptor from our former prime minister Tony Abbott, I think the likelihood of being able to achieve a fit-for-purpose charitable fundraising regime, out of the existing seven different regimes, is dead, buried and cremated,” Woodward said.

Stressing that her reflection had not been authorised by her fix fundraising partners, she insisted that she had not given up the fight.

But said digital platforms were “clearly the main game” and she advocated for efforts to be put towards tailoring Australian Consumer Law, rather than fighting to streamline state-based legislation.

“I think instead of trying to push uphill over the next couple of years with state laws as the base, it is better to put our efforts in strengthening and tailoring the application of the Australian Consumer Law, a regime that is already enforced by the states, territories and the ACCC,” she said.

According to Woodward, adapting Australian Consumer Law would deliver a principles-based protection for donors against being misled, deceived, coerced and harassed, and the “simplicity and clarity” would also help fundraisers, be they charities, platforms or individuals.

She told Pro Bono News, that the recent ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report was a further reminder that the “horse has well and truly bolted”.

“Some of the states are trying really hard. I know they are frustrated with their legislation and they are trying to do something, they understand the problem, but I feel for them… it’s just going to be an effort that is wasted. It is redundant now, it is going to be even more redundant soon,” she said.

She said existing CLAANZ guidance showed that the Australian Consumer Law already applied to the vast majority of charitable fundraising activities.

Her comments were reinforced later in the afternoon when the deputy general counsel of the ACCC, Verity Quinn, confirmed in an address to the conference that consumer law does cover charitable fundraising.

Woodward said to move the issue forward now needed political champions.

The work has been done. No one is disputing that there is a problem. It is a very rare thing to get a unanimous report out of a Senate inquiry… but there was a unanimous report that this is a problem and it needs to be fixed. We don’t need anymore reports. We need a leader,” she said.

She urged Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, whose portfolio includes Australian Consumer Law and the ACCC, to work with Assistant Minister for Charities Zed Seselja to tackle the issue.

“Twelve months ago at this conference we tweeted [Minister Sukkar’s] comment that he saw there was a problem and he could see the path forward, so I hope that he hasn’t forgotten those comments,” she said.

“There is a meeting at the end of August with the Australian consumer ministers, I would hope that Minister Sukkar could come and say, the federal government is ready, willing and able to work with you on this, because they have power to block changes to the consumer law and power to initiate changes.”

Speaking a day later at the annual ACNC Regulatory Conference on Friday, Senator Seselja agreed more needed to be done in the area of fundraising, and he confirmed it would be a priority for the government.

“Harmonising and streamlining regulatory requirements across jurisdictions will be a key focus for this government, freeing up resources so charities can do what they do best, delivering tangible benefits on the ground,” Seselja said.

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  • Dr Michael Cole says:

    Lena Caneva claims (in a ProBono article) that ‘fundraising regulation in Australia is inconsistent, fragmented, outdated and rarely enforced’. Many would say this applies to many or nearly all areas of regulation. No regulator can act without there being an offence in the legislation, together with a penalty for committing the offence. In addition the regulator would require some investigative powers. For example, NSW Fair Trading cannot intervene in the conduct of a not-for-profit organisation (NFP), no matter how egregious the conduct, because there are almost no specific offences and almost no penalties in the legislation (with the exception of misappropriating money). And the push by the unregulated for ‘self-regulation’ is delusional. The term ‘self regulation’ is inherently oxymoronic. There are many examples including

    • Sue Woodward says:

      Hi Dr Cole
      We are certainly not arguing for no regulation – rather the #FixFundraising campaign partners are arguing for stronger, smarter and simpler laws to avoid problems with the existing inconsistent and ineffective existing state-based laws. We think there is a role for self-regulation to improve best practice standards and increase pro active monitoring, but only in conjunction with a nationally consistent, fit-for-purpose regime. We think the Australian Consumer Law provides a ready made regime when combined with reporting and monitoring by the ACNC – more about our campaign here
      Sue Woodward
      Head of Not-for-profit Law, Justice Connect

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