Unnecessary red tape aimed at silencing charities

The Palm Sunday Refugee Rally in Melbourne in 2019 (CAPSA)

If the Morrison Government is going to add another layer of red tape to the operation of charities, it needs to provide a coherent, transparent explanation about what it is up to, writes Fr Frank Brennan SJ. Source: Eureka Street.

Last Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation chaired by the Government’s Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells tabled a report highlighting problems with a proposed new regulation affecting charities.

Australia’s 59,000 registered charities are the backbone of the voluntary sector assisting citizens in all manner of situations, particularly in times of emergency and particularly in situations of ongoing economic deprivation. Think only of Vinnies and the Salvos.

The Morrison Government has a strong commitment to reducing government red tape. But at the same time, it has moved to tighten the supervision of charities.

The proposed new regulation would place a charity at risk of losing its registration if one of its staff or volunteers were to do an act (or omit to do an act) that may be dealt with as a summary offence under an Australian law relating to real property, personal property or causing personal injury or harm to an individual.

Vinnies chief Toby oConnor gave the example that if a Vinnies member participated in the annual Palm Sunday protest rally against the Government’s refugee and asylum policy and disobeyed a police direction at one of these protests, it could impact on the ongoing registration of Vinnies as a charity.

Here is the problem. When questioned about the new regulation, Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission commissioner Gary Johns pointed out that in his four years as commissioner, the ACNC has deregistered only 45 out of 59,000 charities, mainly for misuse of funds.

So why the need for the change? Dr Johns was not able to enlighten the Senate committee. He was not seeking the change.

The committee was unimpressed with the drafting of the proposed new regulation, noting "it is unclear what the full scope of the offences may be".

This is a bad law, an excessive piece of red tape, and a patronising disincentive to public protest by people who care passionately about injustices because they are touched by the lives of those suffering those injustices.

Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, the Distinguished Fellow of the P M Glynn Institute, Australian Catholic University, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).


Unnecessary red tape aimed at silencing charities (Eureka Street

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