Speech to Parliament - Charitable organisations

07 December 2020

House of Representatives

Federation Chamber

Private Members' Business

Charitable Organisations

Monday 7 December 2020

Mr DAVID SMITH (Bean) (12:26): I wish to thank Dr Leigh, the member for Fenner for this motion and, more broadly, for his excellent work on the not-for-profit sector build better communities.

I also thank Senator Catryna Bilyk for her leadership overdue reform in the charities sector. In this time of COVID, many throughout the nation were and are in need of support; but so, too, are those who typically provide that support.

Throughout this year, the challenges of 2020 have placed a far greater strain on our charities. According to JBWere, donations are expected to fall by seven per cent in 2020 and a further 12 per cent in 2021. At the same time, charities are experiencing a massive increase in demand for their services: 50 per cent in the case of Foodbank, and almost 80 per cent for Cystic Fibrosis Australia.

This added pressure led a number of organisations to form the Charities Crisis Cabinet. The crisis cabinet told the government in their pre-budget submission that the time for action on reforming charity fundraising regulation was more than 25 years ago. In a recent past life, I served in the Australian Senate, and I was a member of the Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century. That committee's report was handed down in February 2019, and it picked up and reinforced recommendations from Treasury's five-year review of the Australian Charities and Not-forprofits Commission, delivered on 31 May 2018. As was unanimously agreed by the Senate select committee, an effective way we can help our charities is to cut loose the arm that has for so long been tied behind their back.

If we want to build back better, then we must ensure that the trusted, hardworking charities that hold tight the strands of our Australian social fabric are able to work better, more effectively and without overly cumbersome regulation, including needless duplication of regulatory regimes across state and territory borders.

Those that need these changes are charities both within my electorate of Bean and across Australia. At the beginning of the year, particularly in the ACT and Bean, we saw the unwavering resolve of our volunteer firefighters and SES as they fought some of the worst bushfires in our nation's history. Throughout those same bushfires, Lifeline saw a 10 to 15 per cent increase in its calls over the summer. Yet this was not the end. Far from the onset of the pandemic, calls to Lifeline have increased by 20 to 30 per cent on last year's numbers.

Throughout it all, Lifeline have worked incredibly hard to maintain their critical service. During this time of COVID, Vinnies and many more have continued to work to ensure that those who are struggling and most vulnerable are able to hold their heads high and get the support they need. The community of Bean and communities further afield are strengthened by these hardworking charities. It's time that we, in turn, strengthened them through these noncontroversial reforms.

The Senate report simply called on the Australian government to urgently provide a public response to the recommendations made in the ACNC review and called on the Australian government to commit to working with state and territory governments and the not-for-profit sector to develop a consistent national model for regulating not-for-profit and charitable fundraising activities within a time limit of two years.

This inquiry took multiple submission and held hearings right across the country. These included Heart Support Australia who, working nationwide, explained their frustrations with inconsistencies regarding raffle fundraising and declarations, with one state allowing it to run a raffle up to a certain amount of money and another requiring it to declare every raffle.

Volunteering Australia strongly welcomed changes to the sector, hoping for a cohesive and consistent regulation system, as did a plethora of peak bodies and charities throughout the sector. An issue that consistently echoed throughout was the problem of online donations, as my colleague the member for Fenner has outlined.

Whilst charities are the most trusted sector of the Australian economy, excessive costs on administration work to undermine that trust and work to make scarce resources scarcer. Two years on from these reviews, there is little to show. The government's inaction is not only costing charities, including their workforces and those they support; it frustrates those who support them.

The advent of federation came about, in part, as a solution to the problematic inconsistencies and contradictions between states. One would have thought that 120 years of practice would allow us to understand and deal with an issue such as this. It's time that the minister responsible took some action and made the agreed changes for those in the charity and volunteering sector.