Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What is the real intent behind plans to abolish Australia's charity regulator?

This government does not like campaigning and advocacy organisations, and the removal of the ACNC as an independent regulator simply exposes those organisations to attack.  
Greg Ogle

Excellent piece by Greg Ogle,  Independence of Charities Under Threat,  on the real intent behind Abbott Governments plans to repeal the national charity regulation body — the 18-month old Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC)- and hand back the regulation of charities to the Australian Tax Office. 

Ogle argues that repeal of the ACNC paves the way for a return to the political attacks of the Howard Government years (1996-2007), particularly attacks on environmental and campaigning groups involved in public advocacy, direct action and activism.

The Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC) was set up less than 18 months ago by the Federal Labor government to regulate the charitable sector. The governing legislation for the ACNC ensured the independence of charities and their right to advocate for charitable causes.

The objects of the Act that established the ACNC committed to ensuring a “robust, vibrant, independent and innovative” charity sector. The legislative provision ensured that the governance standards required to be met by charities did not constrain advocacy. 

In essence, the legislation gave charities some protection for pursuing advocacy and activist campaigns that challenge Government policy or corporate malfeasance.

Ogle reminds us of the Howard Government's direct attack of advocacy and campaigning by charities and NGOS: 
Under the Howard government, the tax office was used to attack and pressure charities who were advocated for policies the government didn’t like. This was at a time of recurring public and parliamentary attacks on those charities by senior Liberal politicians like George Brandis, Brett Mason and Eric Abetz, echoed by industry groups and right wing think tanks. The pressure meant that between 2004 and 2007 The Wilderness Society, for instance, faced at least 20 different public calls for them to be stripped of their charity status. They passed the three Tax Office audits of their “political” activity, but other groups like AidWatch had long court battles to secure their tax charity status.
In a separate article, Andrews leads fight to abolish Charities Commission, Mike Seccombe shows how the campaign to abolish the ACNC was driven by the self interest of the financial services sector (who administer charitable trusts) and influential parts of the Catholic Church, who are concerned about revealing financial details of the Church. 

Seccombe notes how Cardinal Pell, former Head of the Catholic Church in Australia and confidant of Prime Minister Abbott and Minister Andrews, made it clear that he opposed the ACNC.

Although there were some initial concerns among charities about the likelihood of increased compliance and regulatory costs, the majority of the charity sector now support the ACNC. Seccombe describes the campaign waged by the powerful financial services industry to abolish the ACNC

While the financial services industry claimed they are concerned about the cost of complying with its financial disclosure requirements, Seccombe shows that their real concern is the likelihood of scrutiny by the ACNC of their  administration of charitable trusts, that would reveal the grossly excessive fees they take for looking after the bequests of philanthropists.

Seccombe quotes Tim Costello CEO of World Vision Australia and Chair of the Community Council of Australia: 
“It’s pretty apparent there are only two main groups that are strongly opposed. The trustees, who handle dead people’s money, are a major source of opposition because they don’t want transparency about what they charge. The other is the Catholics".
Ogle refutes the Minister's claim that the abolition of the ACNC is designed to reduce red tape, by highlighting  other ways that the Federal Government could reduce red tape, but refuses to do so.

 Ogle gets to the heart of the matter:
This government does not like campaigning and advocacy organisations, and the removal of the ACNC as an independent regulator simply exposes those organisations to attack.
Spot on!!! 

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