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A wonderful appointment

21 November 2022 at 8:10 pm
David Crosbie
Interim ACNC commissioner Deborah Jenkins provided a breath of fresh air and while Susan Woodward's appointment is wonderful news, she has her work cut out for her. 

David Crosbie | 21 November 2022 at 8:10 pm


A wonderful appointment
21 November 2022 at 8:10 pm

Interim ACNC commissioner Deborah Jenkins provided a breath of fresh air and while Susan Woodward’s appointment is wonderful news, she has her work cut out for her. 

The appointment of Susan Woodward AM to the role of Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) commissioner is wonderful news for the charities sector. It sends a message, not only about Susan and the future of the organisation, but also about the approach of the new Albanese government to important senior appointments.

Susan is clearly an ideal fit for the role of ACNC commissioner. There are few people in Australia who have the same level of experience and expertise in charity law, but Susan is so much more than a charity lawyer. She is also a campaigner, a champion for charities large and small, someone who has pursued positive change in her work both within and outside of government systems.

It is in this capacity of change advocate that I know Susan best. She has displayed a remarkable ability to build coalitions of people from very different perspectives and focus them on achieving agreed goals. Beyond her outstanding professional skills, Susan is one of the most determined people I know, continuing to pursue what is needed when many of us might have called it quits. And yet Susan is also invariably patient and respectful, even when confronted by the self-serving ill-informed myopia of those who think their own role, or their own opinion is what really matters.  

I know it will not be easy for Susan in her new role given the way the ACNC has been run down in recent years, but I can’t think of anyone who understands the ACNC better, who understands the sector better, and who has the personal attributes, understanding, and skills required to achieve sustainable change within complex systems.

The ACNC will need to change, not only to recover its status and credibility as an effective regulator, but also in dealing with the pressures governments and communities are likely to face over the coming five years. Aside from immediate concerns about cybersecurity, and staff and volunteer shortages, we know the economy is becoming more difficult with increases in charitable income not keeping pace with increases in costs. Climate change is taking a big toll, not to mention the pandemic, and many organisations are facing growing community need and increasing numbers of people in at risk situations. 

Building trust and confidence in charities, reducing red tape, and ensuring the inevitable bad actors do not damage the reputation of all charities will present very significant challenges for the ACNC and the charities sector.

The fact that Susan was appointed through a merit-based selection process conducted at arm’s length from the assistant minister for charities is also worth noting. Regardless of the politics, when a government places a higher value on competence than compliance and paybacks, we get better government, and that can only be a good thing for charities and the Australian community.

There is a lot to be pleased about with the appointment of Susan Woodward to the role of ACNC commissioner, and that brings its own obligations on all of us. Susan and her team will need the active collaboration of the charities sector if we are to ensure the ACNC emerges once again as the best charity regulator in the world. 

I think it is important to end this piece by noting that the ACNC and the charities sector has been very well served by acting ACNC commissioner Deborah Jenkins. Deborah has been a breath of fresh air, an experienced regulator who has taken charge and reached out to actively engage with the charities sector. I have spoken with Deborah on several occasions about her approach, and as she told me, her goal was to do the best job she could in setting up the role for the incoming commissioner. I think Deborah has achieved her goal and the charities sector owes her a debt of gratitude for the insightful way she went about this difficult task. 

David Crosbie  |  @DavidCrosbie2

David Crosbie is the CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA).

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