Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Bill 2012
Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Mr COULTON (Parkes—The Nationals Chief Whip) (19:30): I too rise tonight to speak on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012. These bills establish the a new national regulator and regulatory framework for the not-for-profit sector, and provides the powers that the commissioner will have in regulating registered bodies.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is supposed to reduce red tape and to simplify the interaction between not-for-profits and government. The bill has the opposite effect. The Smith Family has raised concerns that multiple compliance, reporting and regulatory requirements do not necessarily provide the type of transparency that would strengthen the sector.
From all over my electorate I am getting reports from not-for-profit organisations that are concerned about this compliance issue. We have to remember that organisations in the not-for-profit sector have mostly started on a very small basis and then grown. The not-for-profit sector relies on the goodwill of volunteers. The last thing they need is extra red tape to deal with.
The bill does not have the support of the not-for-profit sector. I was a little surprised to hear, in some of the speeches from the other side and from the minister, before they gave up speaking on this bill, that the not-for-profit sector was in support. I wonder where they got that information and who they have been speaking to.
This commission will put an onerous level of compliance on this sector. I am not saying that the situation that we have at the moment is perfect, but to bring in another level of red tape and compliance is certainly not the way to go. The national Secretary of the Salvation Army Australia has said,
The promise of the ACNC that lured us all together and in support of it was the significant savings in red tape reduction and simplification of our life, and that is still yet to be seen.
The other issue is that the states are not on board. If we are going to have a system that is truly going to streamline the not-for-profit sector it will require all levels of government. Without the support of the states I feel that this will be very difficult to get off the ground.
Take as an example Meals on Wheels. I am a convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Meals on Wheels. The Meals on Wheels organisation is one of the largest groups of volunteers in the country. There are over 50,000 volunteers in the organisation, and it has been going for some time. While the term 'meals on wheels' is fairly generic and would be well known across the country, some may not know that the way it is managed is a condition of the way it has grown. Meals on Wheels was started by a lady who was delivering meals to elderly and frail aged people on a tricycle. Can you imagine, in this day and age, under the onerous compliance conditions of this commission, someone starting up a charity, which was going to grow into one of the biggest charities in this country, delivering meals to people around the district on a tricycle?
As Meals on Wheels has grown, nearly every town has a different system of management. Some Meals on Wheels, like the one I have in Dubbo, seem to have a wholesaling role. They have a large amount of cold storage. Just as an aside, they are getting absolutely hammered by the carbon tax—with taxes on refrigerants and increased electricity costs—but that is by the bye.
The Dubbo Meals on Wheels supplies frozen food to other Meals on Wheels centres across a large area. In other towns the Meals on Wheels centres have their own kitchen. The meals are cooked by volunteers and delivered by volunteers. And that is done completely within those towns.
In other areas, Meals on Wheels is managed by HACC, Home and Community Care, and in some places Meals on Wheels is attached to the local hospital. Indeed, in my home town of Warialda Meals on Wheels are delivered through the kitchen at the local hospital. And that is what makes this organisation special: each community has its own committee, and those committees have volunteers who have been doing this for a long time.
I ran a competition within the Meals on Wheels organisation a couple of years ago. The winner of that competition, Mrs Pearson from Walgett, came down to a Meals on Wheels morning tea in Parliament House and had a tour of Parliament House in Canberra as a reward. She had been delivering Meals on Wheels in Walgett for 50 years.
Those sorts of organisations are already starting to have difficulties with some of the compliance issues aside from this commission. They are having issues with police checks. They are having occupational health and safety issues as they enter houses. They are having issues around how they interact and the amount of time they can spend in these houses. These sorts of regulations are starting to creep in. But having the whole organisation having to come under this national commission would be like a wet blanket for these fabulous volunteers.
I think there is no better organisation than Meals on Wheels to encapsulate the Australian volunteer and not-for-profit sector. They do great work. Meals on Wheels is not just about delivering nutrition to the frail, aged and elderly; Meals on Wheels is about society, about community, about caring for those that need our help. Quite often, for the people that get those meals delivered to them, it is the only contact that they have with the outside world on a daily basis. This legislation would put organisations like this in jeopardy. It would just become far too onerous for those volunteers to do the work necessary to for compliance, and those organisations would have to pay for a lot of the work they would have to do for compliance. It would be a shame to see that happen.
In the not-for-profit sector—the local clubs, sporting organisations and the like—compliance is already onerous. To add this extra burden would mean that in our communities we would really struggle to get coaches, managers and people to look after sporting teams. We already have police checks and other requirements. To have to deal with compliance with a national regulator would be the straw that broke the camel's back.
These charities have generally started from the idea of just one person or a couple of people and then grown into the organisations they are today. I will use the example of Can Too. Anyone that witnessed the Sydney marathon on the weekend would have seen a whole heap of people running in orange Can Too T-shirts. They were running to raise funds for cancer. I will mention my two daughters—one ran in the marathon and one ran in the half-marathon. In the last couple of months, those two girls have raised $4,000 for cancer research. Every cent that Can Too raise goes into cancer research, and corporate sponsorship covers the running costs of the organisation. Can Too was started in 2005 by Anne Crawford. One lady started Can Too and, by the time they get to Christmas this year, Can Too will have raised $10 million for cancer research.
I would like to pose a question. This is an organisation started by one lady, who was driven to this by the premature death of her father—who, incidentally, grew up in my electorate, in the town of Condobolin. One lady, inspired to do something because of the premature death of her father, started a charity that not only has raised $10 million for cancer research but has promoted health and wellbeing in hundreds if not thousands of people throughout the country. With this legislation in place, how would such a charity get off the ground? How would they start? The red tape would be too much.
Do we only want our charities to be supercharities? Do we want the larger charities to become almost semi-government organisations? Any community assistance that has to be delivered from the federal government to the community is going to go through a not-for-profit bureaucracy. Basically, it will only be the very, very large charities—that we all know and that do a great job, I might add—that will have the wherewithal and financial ability to deliver this. This is the mindset of this government.
I tie that into regional development. At the moment, the only organisations that can attract regional development funding are those that have large amounts of money. Funding came to my electorate for an athletics field—no doubt a very worthwhile project—but the council that applied for that funding spent $50,000 on the application. So only the big organisations would be in a position to deal with this government. That would be the real tragedy of this legislation.
As with a lot of legislation that this government introduces, I do not doubt that it was done with the best intentions. I am not critical of the intent of the government to try and streamline the not-for-profit sector and reduce red tape. But, as with nearly every program this government has put in, the opposite will be the case. Instead of helping the not-for-profit sector, I believe that this legislation has the potential to be the death knell of some of the smaller organisations. I suspect that, under this legislation, some of the larger charities will grow and prosper and some of the smaller ones will shrivel up and die. Unfortunately, the ones that will shrivel up and die will be in the towns that I represent, the small rural communities where people who do not have services from the government get together to provide these services through charitable organisations, through goodwill and hard work, putting in their own time. They are the ones that are not going to be able to jump through the hoops required by this legislation. They are the ones that are going to pay the price.
If the larger charities get even larger to deal with the compliance requirements of this bill, I do not see how they will be able to relate to the small communities. No-one knows the needs of the Meals on Wheels, for instance, of a small town with 400 people better than the people that live there. A charity based in a capital city could not possibly be connected enough to know where that assistance needed to go. I just ask the government: please, look at this. Nearly everything that this government has implemented has come back to bite the people in the bush, the people that I represent, the people that do not seem to be understood in this place. I thoroughly reject this bill.