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Unnecessary red tape aimed at silencing charities

  • 17 August 2021
Last Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation chaired by the Government’s Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells tabled a report highlighting problems with a proposed new regulation affecting charities.

There are 59,000 registered charities in Australia. They are the backbone of the voluntary sector assisting citizens in all manner of situations, particularly in times of emergency and particularly in situations of ongoing economic deprivation. Think only of Vinnies and the Salvos. Charities enjoy various benefits from government, including the capacity to offer tax deductibility for donations. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has the job of overseeing charities.

The Morrison government has a strong commitment to reducing government red tape. But at the same time, it has moved to tighten the supervision of charities. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Regulation 2013 sets down governance standards for charities. At the moment, governance standard 3 prohibits a registered charity from acting in a way that may be an indictable offence or an offence carrying a serious penalty.

The proposed new regulation would place a charity at risk of losing its registration if one of its staff or volunteers were to do an act (or omit to do an act) that may be dealt with as a summary offence under an Australian law relating to real property, personal property or causing personal injury or harm to an individual. The charity could also face deregistration if it failed to take reasonable steps to ensure its resources were not being used to promote acts (or omissions) by any entity that may be dealt with as a summary offence. Summary offences are lesser offences which are dealt with by a magistrate. Indictable offences are more serious offences which usually come before a judge and jury.

Toby oConnor the CEO of Vinnies has given an example of the operation of the proposed change. There are over 50,000 Vinnies members who volunteer around Australia. Every year on Palm Sunday, there are protest rallies against the government’s refugee and asylum policy. Under the present law, if a Vinnies member were to disobey a police direction at one of these protests, that would be a matter between the member and the police. It would have nothing to do with Vinnies, and could not impact on the ongoing registration of Vinnies as a charity. If the Senate were not to disallow the new regulation, the ACNC commissioner could instigate an inquiry,