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ALP will streamline tangled fundraising laws in government

13 April 2022 at 3:04 pm
Jonathan Alley
The Labor opposition has promised to tackle Australia’s morass of outdated fundraising laws across all states and territories, if elected.

Jonathan Alley | 13 April 2022 at 3:04 pm


ALP will streamline tangled fundraising laws in government
13 April 2022 at 3:04 pm

The Labor opposition has promised to tackle Australia’s morass of outdated fundraising laws across all states and territories, if elected.

Outdated fundraising regulations dictating rules for Australian charities may finally be reformed after more than two decades of lobbying by the sector – if the ALP gets to keep an election promise announced this week.

Labor’s shadow minister for charities, Dr Andrew Leigh, announced on Tuesday that a Labor government would “fix fundraising” saving charities millions of dollars each year.

Current fundraising legislation pre-dates the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and the internet.

While traditional face-to-face fundraising still exists, raising money for charity in broad terms is now wholly reliant on digital platforms – donations via websites, promoted by strong social media activity and e-letters. To raise money using these methods, charities have to seek permission from each state and territory (barring the NT), then comply and report under the conditions of each one.

Leigh said these seven sets of forms could often take charities up to a week to comply with.

“Sucking up resources that could otherwise support causes like assisting with rising costs of living and helping Australians rebuild their lives after natural disasters,” he said.

“An Albanese Labor government will fix this – bringing to an end the old-fashioned mish-mash of regulations that depletes resources charities could be using to support vulnerable Australians.”

Sue Woodward AM, chief adviser in not for profit law at Justice Connect told Pro Bono News that “if you look at the dates of the legislation you can see that these laws are so old that they were done at a time when fundraising was in your local community with a tin.”

“None of these laws even refer to the internet. It really is absolutely outrageous,” she said.

Key players in the sector cautiously welcomed the news, agreeing that the financial and time costs inherent in complying with current laws were a drain on sector resources.

Save the Children acting CEO Mat Tinkler said he’d long supported regulatory reform.

“Fragmented state and territory fundraising laws limit the ability of charities to raise much needed funds in times of crisis, like a global pandemic, bushfires or floods,” Tinkler said.

27 years of lobbying to finally pay off? 

 While the current federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has announced that the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) would make charitable fundraising reform one of its top 10 priorities for 2022, the sector has been pushing for reform since the Keating government was in power. 

Woodward said the first report on the issue was in 1995 by the industry commission, which was the forerunner of the productivity commission. 

“Fixing fundraising regulation requires the cooperation of all the state governments and the Commonwealth and it’s always fallen by the wayside,” she said. 

“If there was a sort of inconsistency across state borders for the business sector, hampering the ability to do business or innovate, there’d be an outcry. That was why we formed the Fix Fundraising Coalition, to state out loud that this sector is both economically important (it employs one in eight Australians) and socially critical. 

“This sector has been labouring under laws that have been clearly identified as not being fit for purpose for decades. We’re not asking for money. We’re just asking for better regulation.”

David Crosbie, CEO of Community Council of Australia and co-founder of the Charities Crisis Cabinet, said the lack of action on the issue has long been unacceptable.

“I have lost count of how many inquiries, recommendations, working groups, and commitments for reform have been given to address the dog’s breakfast of dysfunctional unfit-for-purpose, out-of-date regulations that charities have to contend with if they dare put a ‘donate here’ button on their website,” he told Pro Bono News.   “The situation is beyond bizarre – and yet still we wait”.

Opportunity for stronger sector education 

While the streamlining of these laws would free up financial and time resources in the charity sector, another benefit would lie in better education for sector practitioners.

A Justice Connect research report published in May 2021 reflected that 39 per cent of sector respondents were unaware of current online fundraising regulations. 

Woodward feels streamlined laws logically provide an opportunity for streamlined sector information.

“What we need to do is make law simple, and make sense. The small groups that contact us say, ‘just tell us what we have to do, and we’ll do it’. But not if they need to read a guide that is 53 pages long, just get an overview of what to do,” she said. 

“It needs to be nationally consistent and principles-based which is why we, as a coalition of peak and sector bodies, came up with what we call the Australian fundraising principles.”

Those principles, and an explainer on #FixFundraising can be read here

Jonathan Alley  |  @ProBonoNews

Jonathan Alley is opinion editor at Pro Bono Australia.

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