Uncharitable cut? Aust’s not-for-profits regulator stands tough

Australia’s two-year-old charities regulator is busy building the nation’s first not-for-profits database with an axe over its head. Commissioner Susan Pascoe talks to The Mandarin.

Susan Pascoe

Susan Pascoe

Susan Pascoe’s Docklands office at the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission in Melbourne overlooks a humble brick warehouse that houses one of Australia’s richest car collections. Lindsay Fox’s 50-odd prestige vehicles can be viewed for a few hours three times a week — with the $10 entry fee distributed to charities.

Fox probably doesn’t know the commissioner of Australia’s philanthropic sector looks down on his unlikely charitable venture. Most Australians might be surprised Fox’s shrine to his wealth would be under her purview, among some 60,000 charities listed on the ACNC database.

So what is a charity? “There’s a few basic criteria,” Pascoe told The Mandarin in an interview earlier this month:

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  • Ted Flack

    Whilst the ACNC Register is a start, it’s a long way short of some of the claims made for it. It’s important to recognise that charities in Australia do not have to register with the ACNC to be legally recognised charities. Should they choose, they can continue to register only with their State and Territory charity regulators (it is a State responsibility under our Constitution) and it is only when they want to access Commonwealth tax concessions that they need to register with the ACNC. It it also possible for charities that are not registered with the ACNC to obtain the advantages of being able to offer donors tax-deductibility of donations (DGR status) by having a “partner” charity who is registered with the ACNC. This is not disclosed on the ACNC register.

    The sensible process of reform of charity law in Australia (including transfer of regulatory powers to the Commonwealth) has been spoiled by failure to start with the transfer of the powers and then build a single national regulator. Instead what we now have is both State and Commonwealth regulation of charities. So far only South Australia and ACT have cooperated with the ACNC in red tape reduction (not elimination) of the duplication caused by charities having to register at both Commonwealth and State level.