Senate backs charities in disallowing proposed ACNC changes
26 November 2021 at 4:27 pm
Charities said the proposed changes threatened to shut down organisations for speaking out, or for taking part in protest
The sector is celebrating a win for advocacy following the senate’s decision to disallow rules cracking down on charities’ advocacy work.
Labor, the Greens and crossbench combined to support a disallowance moved by independent senator, Rex Patrick, on Thursday afternoon.
One Nation also joined to support a disallowance, even though the party previously flagged it would support changes to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) governance standard 3.
For a number of months the charities sector has fought strongly against the proposed changes, which would have expanded the reasons for which a charity can be deregistered beyond indictable offences to include summary offences, such as trespassing, theft, vandalism or assault.
The sector believed the proposal – which was part of a government crackdown on “activist organisations masquerading as charities” – could lead to charities being deregistered for something as simple as tweeting in support of a protest that accidentally ventures onto private land, or providing support to whistleblowers.
Advocates also believed the proposal would force charities to think about potential summary offences for every single employee and volunteer, creating a major red tape burden.
A Pro Bono Australia survey, conducted earlier this year, revealed that the changes were estimated to create between 50 to 300 hours of paperwork for every registered charity.
Around three quarters of all survey respondents also said they would stop making their views known publicly to avoid potentially breaching the new law.
As well as this, an independent report commissioned by the Hands Off Our Charities (HOOC) alliance, found that the regulation would have cost the sector up to $150 million in additional administration costs to charities and not-for-profits in the first year alone.
“Siding with common sense”
A number of high profile organisations and charity leaders have since come out in support of the senate’s decision.
HOOC, which is made up of over 100 different charities and played a key part in campaigning against the proposed changes, described the outcome as an “incredible result”.
HOOC spokesperson, Ray Yoshida, said that charities across the country could now breathe a sigh of relief.
“Despite the government’s efforts to silence those who speak up, the crossbench parties and the federal opposition saw major warning signs in Minister Sukkar’s proposals and stood shoulder-to-shoulder to stop it,” Yoshida said.
“This incredible result means that more than $150 million that would have been spent on administration costs can now be diverted back into essential services such as emergency food relief, family violence and mental health support.”
ACOSS acting CEO, Edwina MacDonald, labelled the victory a common sense win for all charities providing essential services to people during the pandemic.
“We thank those Senators, including Labor, the Greens and key crossbenchers, who voted to protect charities, ensuring these unnecessary, burdensome regulations did not proceed,” McDonald said.
“Over the past 18 months, the community sector has been crucial in helping hundreds of thousands of people endure the pandemic.”
Paul Ronalds, the CEO of Save the Children, thanked the senators that “sided with common sense”.
“These changes would have handed an unprecedented amount of power to the Charities Commissioner to shut down a charity for advocating on vital social issues,” Ronalds said.
“It struck us as totally outrageous that the Government would focus on trying to make life harder for charities in the midst of a global pandemic. Australia’s charities are the lifeblood of our country, and we thank those who sided with common sense today to stop these unfair and unjustified regulations from going ahead.”
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, the minister responsible for the ACNC, previously said that the regulations did not impose a new burden on charities that were already complying with Australian laws.
Pro Bono News reached out to Sukkar for comment, but did not receive a response.