Organisations refusing to join redress scheme face loss of charity status
30 November 2020 at 5:08 pm
“It is completely unacceptable for named institutions to refuse to accept their moral obligation and responsibility to acknowledge the wrongs committed,” the social services minister says.
The federal government is introducing legislation to strip organisations of their charity status if they fail to join the National Redress Scheme for child sexual abuse survivors.
Through sanctions set to be tabled in Parliament this week, the Australian Charities and Not-for profits Commission would be given the ability to deregister a charity which does not take reasonable steps to participate in the redress scheme.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the Morrison government has been absolutely clear that it expects all responsible institutions to join the scheme and fulfil their moral duty.
“It is completely unacceptable for named institutions to refuse to accept their moral obligation and responsibility to acknowledge the wrongs committed,” Ruston said.
“This proposal delivers on the prime minister’s commitment to place further sanctions on recalcitrant institutions and we hope this will encourage them to reconsider their position allowing child sexual abuse survivors to receive the redress and recognition they undeniably deserve.”
The National Redress Scheme offers eligible abuse survivors a redress payment of up to $150,000, access to psychological counselling, and a direct personal response – such as an apology – from the responsible institution.
To date, the Commonwealth, all state and territory governments and 358 NGOs are participating in the scheme.
But about 80 institutions which offered an intent to join before the 30 June 2020 deadline are yet to sign up.
Abuse survivors have long called for organisations to be stripped of their charitable status for failing to join.
Blue Knot Foundation president Dr Cathy Kezelman AM said she welcomed this move by the federal government.
She said it was indefensible that around 80 institutions were “abrogating their moral and human responsibility” for the significant harm caused to children under their watch.
“It is impossible to reconcile religious or community groups purporting to do good works while at the same time presiding over a complete lack of accountability or responsibility for lives lost and decimated,” Kezelman said.
“Every child who is sexually abused is one child too many. Every survivor living with the long-term impacts of trauma and abuse is one person too many.
“It is time for zero tolerance to the systemic ducking and weaving and abject moral decay institutions failing to join the scheme perpetuate.”
She singled out the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their failure to join, noting the royal commission heard the organisation had allegations involving 1,800 children and 1,000 perpetrators.
The shadow assistant minister for charities, Andrew Leigh MP, also called on the Jehovah’s Witnesses to take action.
“Charities that don’t sign up to the National Redress Scheme for survivors of child abuse shouldn’t get tax deductible status,” Leigh told Pro Bono News.
“It’s not too late for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to do the morally right thing and join the scheme.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses has previously argued it does not have the “institutional settings” necessary to be a part of the redress scheme, and said it would respond directly to individual claims.
Lakes Entrance Pony Club, Kenja Communications and Fairbridge Restored Limited are among the other organisations yet to sign up.
Basic religious charity definition set to be amended
As part of the proposed changes, a new ACNC governance standard will be implemented requiring charities to take all reasonable steps to participate in the redress scheme if a claim has been, or was likely to be, made against them.
Assistant Minister for Charities Zed Seselja said the government will also introduce legislation to amend the definition of a basic religious charity (BRC) in the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Act 2012.
This will remove a religious institution’s eligibility to be classified as a BRC if it has been named in an application but refuses to sign up to the scheme.
“Together these changes will result in a registered charity which fails to join the scheme or take reasonable steps to participate in the scheme becoming subject to a suite of the ACNC’s existing compliance powers, including deregistration,” Seselja said.
“Deregistration would result in the entity losing access to a range of Commonwealth benefits, tax and other concessions.”