Back from the dead: charities regulator now to be ‘retained’

By Jason Whittaker

Friday March 4, 2016

The federal government said Australia’s charities watchdog was dead, buried and cremated. After wandering around zombie-like for almost three years, the body will now be fully resurrected.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission will be “retained”, the government quietly announced this morning, despite vowing to dismantle it in opposition and previously refusing to commit to its future in government.

The Labor government set up the ACNC in 2012 to regulate a sector rife with fraudulent operators. Then social services shadow Kevin Andrews complained the body, based in Melbourne with about 100 staff, was wrapping legitimate charities in red tape.

Andrews maintained his opposition in government, vowing to wind the regulator up. But when Scott Morrison took over the portfolio he appeared to back away from that stance, saying he had “no immediate plans” to move legislation because he was focussing on “higher order priorities”.

The third minister to have carriage of the issue, Christian Porter, has now given the body certainty after consulting industry. He said in a statement:

“We have given this very careful consideration. The government’s consulted with, and listened to, all interested stakeholders. While there are a variety of views, within the charitable sector there is sufficient support for the retention of the ACNC.

“It is intended that the ACNC will have a renewed focus on working with charities to help them to become more effective, and helping them to improve their governance.”

The ACNC always rejected the notion it was a regulatory burden on charities. An Ernst and Young report from 2014 found the regulator is only responsible for 0.1% of the overall red tape burden on charities.

But Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer believes the regulator still has work to do to cut red tape. She said in the statement:

“The government will now work with the ACNC to remove duplication and increase accountability and transparency. The government will continue to work with the ACNC, states and territories and the sector to identify areas where we can reduce the burden of red tape for charities and not-for-profit organisations.”

Speaking to The Mandarin in 2014, ACNC commissioner Susan Pascoe said the plan to scrap the body came down to political philosophy:

“There’s a preference for ministerial decision-making rather than statutory entities. There’s a preference for small government and, explicitly in relation to civil society, there’s a preference for government getting out of the way. There’s a view that charitable entities are inherently good, that they operate altruistically and that there’s no need for government oversight.”

The ACNC regulates some 60,000 charities and not-for-profit bodies. It has reported stamping out hundreds of dodgy charities and has worked with authorities to provide counter-terrorism intelligenceYesterday it announced new template rules to help small unincorporated charities with registration.

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