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EXCLUSIVE: Meet the new ACNC commissioner

21 November 2022 at 5:42 pm
Ruby Kraner-Tucci
ACNC commissioner Sue Woodward speaks exclusively to Pro Bono News about her recent appointment and hopes for the charity regulator’s future.

Ruby Kraner-Tucci | 21 November 2022 at 5:42 pm


EXCLUSIVE: Meet the new ACNC commissioner
21 November 2022 at 5:42 pm

ACNC commissioner Sue Woodward speaks exclusively to Pro Bono News about her recent appointment and her hopes for the charity regulator’s future.

It’s a full circle moment for Sue Woodward AM, who will be the new commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) for the next five years.

In an exclusive sit-down with Pro Bono News, Woodward said being selected for the role “feels a great privilege”, particularly given her history with the charity regulator. 

The charity lawyer and advocate was part of a sector push for the initial establishment of the ACNC over a decade ago, and then worked in one of the commission’s first leadership positions as director of policy and education for three years until 2015. 

“Because of the fortunate breadth of experience I’ve had over my professional career, it almost feels as though each part of that experience was culminating in this opportunity in a way that I could never have imagined and never planned.  

“I think the ACNC is at an exciting time in its organisational life cycle. I can’t wait to work with the ACNC team so we can take the ACNC to its rightful place, as a mature world class regulator that will be respected by the sector, will enable growth in philanthropic giving, and can be relied upon by the public and government.”

A celebrated career in the sector

Woodward’s extensive contributions to the sector has spanned not-for-profit organisations, fundraising and the law, efforts that last year earned her a Member of the Order of Australia. She is widely recognised as a legal and regulatory expert, working for the past seven years as chief advisor for not-for-profit law at Justice Connect.

Other titles include sitting on the board of the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Communities Foundation, and senior fellow of The University of Melbourne Law School.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s this experience – as well as her decades spent advocating for a raft of regulatory sector reforms and strong collaboration values – that has culminated in her appointment being effusively welcomed by the for-purpose sector.

“I have been working for, in and with the sector for decades. Over that time, I’ve worked in academia, philanthropy, the not for profit sector, in policy on secondment to government and at the ACNC. 

“People have seen my long term commitment. People know that I have been a passionate advocate for this sector in a range of fields and a range of ways that are complementary to the objectives of the ACNC. I believe in the need for trust and confidence in the sector. I believe in transparency for the public. I believe in reducing unnecessary red tape burdens.

“I have been overwhelmed by the lovely messages I have received. Mostly what people have commented on is that [the appointment] is a great fit, and they’re really pleased to see me in the role. That has meant a lot to me, especially as I know it was a highly competitive process.”

The future direction of the ACNC

While Woodward doesn’t officially take the reins from acting commissioner Deborah Jenkins until 12 December, that hasn’t stopped her from envisioning the future work of the ACNC in addressing prominent issues affecting the sector.

Specifically, she identified the need to grow the volunteer workforce; support charities through a tough labour market; address burnout and stress resulting from COVID-19 and natural disasters; tackle cyber security, particularly for organisations with low resources; understand cryptocurrency donations; foster Indigenous-led non-profits; and ensure that the charity register is as accurate as possible.

Woodward acknowledged she has already been fielding suggestions about the direction of the ACNC from the public, which included references to the ‘Dear Commissioner’ letters published in Pro Bono News.

“The objects of the ACNC are quite broad and give a good framework for the commissioner. I think there are some challenges for the sector where the ACNC can provide guidance and education to support good governance. And we can use ACNC data to help inform policy making.

“Overarchingly, if you look at the clients of many of the charities that would be regulated by the ACNC, you will see that their needs are becoming more complex, and some of them are clients who have never had to navigate social security systems before. That puts greater demand on various charities.

“I have always tried to keep an eye on what is best for the sector, and to make sure regulation enables and supports transparency and good governance, but doesn’t get in the way of what are often very tiny volunteer-run organisations who are working hard for the greater good of our communities, for all of us.”

For-purpose leadership

Woodward is the third permanent ACNC commissioner, following the controversial appointment of Dr Gary Johns, a long-time critic of charities who resigned in July after leading the regulator since 2017, as well as years of the Liberal government cracking down on the sector and creating a climate of fear.

When asked about the type of leadership for-purpose organisations require at this moment, Woodward pointed to the values of the regulator.

“It is a trust regulator – public trust and confidence is maintained and, hopefully, enhanced by the regulator and as a regulator we should be accountable for the way in which we operate. I looked back over the ACNC’s values, and they resonate for me. It’s about fairness, independence, integrity and respect.  

It’s important to me that the ACNC has had a life under governments of both persuasions. This gives it security and acknowledges that it has an important role to play that is beyond party politics.

“My leadership will be about bringing together the best team to understand and work with the sector and other stakeholders to deliver on the mandate that’s set out in the ACNC Act. We will also take decisive action when there is serious wrongdoing.

“I’m looking to the future. I want to deliver the best possible regulator because it’s so important to a sector that I think is the social glue that holds our communities together and delivers services for every Australian. 

“I put my hand up because I think I have the skills and experience and, I hope, support from the sector and the government to do the best possible job I can do. I’m totally optimistic that it is possible for the ACNC to be a world class regulator as it moves into its second decade.”

Ruby Kraner-Tucci  |  @ProBonoNews

Ruby Kraner-Tucci is a journalist, with a special interest in culture, community and social affairs. Reach her at

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