Charity watchdog, with the axe hanging, reports good work

By Jason Whittaker

August 21, 2014

The Abbott government wants to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, the Labor-established watchdog for charitable organisations. But data released by the agency suggests its work is having an impact.

The ACNC says it has revoked the charity status of 246 charities it has not been able to locate, including religious organisations, preschool and parent clubs, trusts, foundations and health-related organisations. Labor says it proves the decision to cut the agency is folly.

The charity register administered by ACNC now has about 4000 organisations whose charity status is likely to be revoked. It means the groups don’t have access to Commonwealth charity tax concessions and the Tax Office is notified of the revocations.

There were 60,000-plus charities on the register as of April, with 3076 registered by the ACNC. Since being established in December 2012, almost 700 complaints have been received; 272 warranted an investigation. ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe said in a statement:

“It is important that we hold accurate information about registered charities so that donors, funders and members of the public can be assured that charities are well regulated and the information available on the national ACNC Charity Register is up to date …

“The ACNC has undertaken extensive efforts to locate and identify whether these charities are still operating, from sending mail, internet and register searches and making phone calls, to working with peak bodies, government agencies and other regulators and the media to get the message out there that we have been trying to contact these charities. Further, these charities had failed to lodge a 2013 Annual Information Statement.”

Kevin Andrews, the federal minister responsible, has said ACNC has created “unnecessary and duplicative red-tape burden” for a sector already highly regulated by government. Some of the functions of the organisation will return to the ATO once it is abolished.

But shadow minister Andrew Leigh says the ATO is already struggling with its workload, with 3000 more staff to go by October. “It is highly unlikely that its already-stretched staff will be able to provide the same level of oversight as the charities commission currently offers,” he said yesterday.

“With the government’s flimsy consultation process on replacement options for the commission closing today, it is time for Kevin Andrews to acknowledge that it is actually doing great work and drop his ill-advised plan to axe it.”

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