Standing up for Canberra

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012

It is a great pleasure to rise to speak tonight about the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Australian Charities and Not-forprofits Commission (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2012, known as bill 2. The existing framework for the regulation of the not-for-profit sector is complex. At the Commonwealth level there are increasing compliance and administrative costs, particularly for not-for-profit organisations. These operate over a number of jurisdictions and therefore new legislation is needed to improve efficiency and make the process of regulation simpler and easier for the not-for-profit organisations in our community.

As we all know, the not-for-profit sector is an invaluable part of the Australian community. We rely on not-for-profit organisations to deliver many, many programs and services. I see it every day in the community of Canberra. The sector is the backbone of so much community activity, especially in areas such as health, social inclusion and welfare. In every community, the work of not-for-profit groups is part of the fabric of our society.

As I mentioned, in my electorate of Canberra I meet every day with not-for-profit organisations through a variety of means and I meet with many, many volunteers who work in the sector. Canberra has one of the highest volunteering rates in Australia. We are very proud of that. People are constantly amazed at the quality of the volunteers we have here, their levels of education and the skill sets that they bring to their volunteering roles. I am always amazed at the commitment and passion that the volunteers bring to whatever organisation they are involved in. Many are involved in many organisations in addition to looking after the grandkids and also taking some time out to do U3A.

So we are blessed in the quality and the skill sets of the volunteers we have in Canberra, which is why I want to draw Canberrans' attention to the National Volunteer Awards that are now open. These awards recognise the contribution of over six million Australians who volunteer in communities across the country. The awards now include a senior volunteer category to acknowledge the invaluable contribution that older Australians make to our community. I particularly note that there are a number of older Canberrans who are out volunteering in the community and doing all sorts of things, from driving trucks to doing the books, to stocking shelves for OzHarvest to knitting jumpers for small children. It is an endless range of work that they are involved in.

Madam Deputy Speaker, with your indulgence I want to quickly go through those categories because I do want to bring people's attention to them. We have the volunteer of the year award, the junior volunteer award, the youth volunteer award, the senior volunteer award, which is a new category, the business volunteer award, the education award, the emergency management volunteer award, the environment award, the innovation in volunteering award and the long-term commitment to community service award. I have been to many of the award ceremonies here in the ACT and the quality of the volunteers—the finalists and also the winners—is just extraordinary. For information on the application process, and I encourage everyone to apply, people should speak to their local member or go to the website. But speak to your local member in the first instance to get the details of that.

As I mentioned, in my electorate I am out and about every day meeting with a number of notfor-profit organisations. One of the largest in the Canberra electorate is Communities@Work. Communities@Work provides services to more than 13,000 clients each year. One of the services that it provides, which it took on probably a few years ago, is now called the Yellow Van service. It used to be called the OzHarvest food rescue service.

Communities@Work has a very long and proud history in the Tuggeranong Valley region and also in the Woden Valley, going back to 1977, when the Tuggeranong Family Action group was formed and began the valley's first childcare centre operating from a house in Kambah. From little things, big things grow and Communities@Work is very big now. Tuggeranong Family Action then merged with the Tuggeranong Community Service to deliver general community services, including services for the elderly, transport for the disadvantaged, referrals and advocacy. It incorporated in 2002 and officially changed its name to Communities@Work.

As I mentioned, one of their very valuable services is the Yellow Van, formally the OzHarvest van. The change of name signals the growth of the work that they do in food rescue operations. It is an integral part of the Canberra community and the social structure of Canberra. Communities@Work is assuming full responsibilities for the Yellow Van and will continue its 35-year history of responding to the needs of Canberrans and helping those when they most need assistance. OzHarvest, which is known throughout Australia for the work they do in rescuing food and then providing it to the needy, is an invaluable program. I want to thank Ronni Kahn, the CEO, and the board and staff of OzHarvest who have been involved in the transition from OzHarvest to Yellow Van.

Here are just a few stats on the Yellow Van rescue mission. In the last 12 months, I think it is, they rescued 18,223 kilograms of food that would otherwise go to waste from regular food donors every month. In June this year the Yellow Van provided 60,744 meals and in total provided over 1½ million meals. They distribute food to around 70 charities and refuges supporting disadvantaged people in the community. They also provide an efficient and effective way to reduce food waste and to assist the most vulnerable in Canberra. By doing that, they also save a lot of landfill.

I have been out on two rescue missions with Yellow Van, one shortly after I was elected. It was very early days then and they were based in a small office in Weston Creek. At that stage they had a number of donors but not many. We went out to women's refugees, old people's homes and a range of other centres. We picked up food from businesses around Canberra. Since then they have expanded this network to include after-school programs for kids at high school. The last rescue mission I went on was to Calwell High School. We dropped off some food there so that kids had a bit of protein and food before they went home while they were taking part in after-school activities. As I said, it provides an invaluable service to the people of Canberra and I welcome the new Yellow Van driving around the streets of our city.

I also work closely with mental health NGOs, such as Lifeline, which provide assistance to those at risk of suicide and depression and meet with Indigenous not-for-profit groups, aged-care providers and many church-run organisations which look after the vulnerable, as well as with women's empowerment organisations such as the Brindabella Women's Group, which offers support for women with young children. I have spoken about these organisations many times in parliament, which is why it gives me great pleasure to speak on this legislation tonight.

The social benefit of not-for-profit organisations is recognised by government support in the form of direct outlays and tax concessions. As a consequence, notfor-profit organisations and other donors influence where community and government resources are directed. That is why it is essential that the not-for-profit sector is transparent and promotes public confidence so that those resources are directed at the most valuable outcomes and tax concessions do not distort markets. It is also important that scarce resources are not directed at excessive regulatory requirements.

I would like to begin by addressing the key issues in bill No. 1. In the 2011-12 budget, the Gillard Labor government said that it would establish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, known as the ACNC, as a national regulator for the not-for-profit sector. Initially, only tax-endorsed charities will be regulated by the ACNC. However, this bill establishes a regulatory framework that has the potential to be extended to all not-for-profit entities.

In terms of the technical aspects, the ACNC Bill will establish the ACNC; charge the ACNC with registering not-for-profit entities and maintaining a public register; provide for the powers of the ACNC Commissioner in relation to the regulation of registered entities; establish a single national regulatory framework for not-for-profit entities; and establish the obligations and responsibilities of registered entities.

Before initiating this bill, hearings were held by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services and their inquiries into the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Bill 2012 and the Tax Laws Amendment (Special Conditions for Not-for-profit Concessions) Bill 2012.

Parliamentary amendments are proposed to address the issues and recommendations raised in the committee hearings. The amendments are minor and noncontroversial. They basically address concerns raised by the not-for-profit sector during the committee hearing. I want to return to some of the comments made by some of the organisations which appeared before the committee, made submissions or just responded to the notion of the ACNC. ACOSS said:

The establishment of a national regulator for community services has long been championed by ACOSS. We welcomed the Government’s commitment to this reform in 2011 and have worked closely with Government and our members towards its establishment.

ACOSS strongly support the ACNC opening on 1 October. The Smith Family, in referring to the bills, said:

The Smith Family would welcome the passing of this legislation and the establishment of the Commission.

The RSPCA, in referring to the bills, said: RSPCA Australia supports of the Government’s reform agenda for the charities and not for profit sector. The Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission— the ACNC— is an integral part of the reforms and provides the enabling mechanism for future regulatory changes that should lead to the reduction of "red tape"— and I will come back to that in a moment— efficiencies and a "level playing field" in the consideration of charitable status and mechanisms that will support charities and financial giving.

Chartered Secretaries Australia said: CSA strongly supports the establishment of the independent statutory office, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission … We have long supported the adoption of a new, dedicated regulator and a reduced compliance burden for the NFP sector and the amended bill is a very positive step in achieving the most appropriate reforms for the sector.

We also have testimonials and positive comments from the Community Council for Australia, the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations and Philanthropy Australia. So there is strong support amongst the community sector and, significantly, peak associations and not-for-profit organisations supporting the ACNC.

The many reviews of the sector have recommended the establishment of a national regulator to simplify regulation. These reforms were an election commitment of the Gillard Labor government. It is recognised that our reform agenda is ambitious. We are implementing the most significant reforms the sector has ever experienced over the last century.

In last year's budget the government promised to establish the ACNC as a one-stop-shop regulator for the not-for-profit sector, to assist in achieving a onestop-shop regulator. We are committed to negotiations with the states and territories on national regulation because we want to reduce red tape. I do want to touch on this point, because it has come up in my conversations with Catholic Social Services. They are deeply committed to reform in a range of areas in this sector and they are equally deeply committed to a reduction of red tape. I met with them a few weeks ago and they were at pains to underscore their commitment to the reform but also to the reduction of red tape.

I have mentioned in this House many times a fabulous organisation in my electorate, Winnunga in Narrabundah. They provide a vast range of services to the Indigenous community here in Canberra and also to the Indigenous community in the region. They provide, depending on the service, between 30 and 50 per cent of our health services to people in the region. They provide services for diabetes, dental, early childhood, infant welfare and maternity. It is an extraordinary organisation. I always take my hat off to them. Recently, along with the Governor-General and the former member for Canberra, I was visiting their organisation, seeing their renovations and learning about what fabulous work they do. At every meeting they always make a point of raising with me the onerous task that they have of filling out the many, many different forms for the many, many different grants. In fact, they employ someone full time to do it, who essentially works not 365 days but just to do the admin work. So reduction of red tape and also reduction of duplication is incredibly important. As I have mentioned, I have met with NGOs and not-forprofit groups on a regular basis and we have been deeply engaged in consultation with the not-for-profit sector on this bill. I commend these bills as important measures to improve the operations of the not-forprofit sector so that their valuable work is made easier, simpler and more efficient.

Download a copy of this speech.