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Tag Archives: ACNC

Are we a secular state or a bunch of Pell pleasers?

According to Wikipedia, “a true secular state should steadfastly maintain national governance without influence from religious factions.”

Considering Australia is a supposedly secular state, religion plays not only an inordinate role in policies, it costs the taxpayer billions each year.

Charities are eligible for a range of tax concessions, including refunds of imputation credits, income tax exemptions, FBT and GST concessions.

To be a charity, all of your not-for-profit’s purposes must be charitable, except purposes that are ‘incidental or ancillary’ to (further or aid) the charitable purposes.

The law recognises many kinds of purposes as charitable.

The Charities Act 2013 (Cth) lists twelve charitable purposes:

  • advancing health
  • advancing education
  • advancing social or public welfare
  • advancing religion
  • advancing culture
  • promoting reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance between groups of individuals that are in Australia
  • promoting or protecting human rights
  • advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public
  • preventing or relieving the suffering of animals
  • advancing the natural environment
  • promoting or opposing a change to any matter established by law, policy or practice in the Commonwealth, a state, a territory or another country, (where that change furthers or opposes one or more of the purposes above) and
  • other similar purposes ‘beneficial to the general public’ (a general category).

According to a Herald/Nielsen poll conducted in the lead-up to the 2010 federal election, 84 per cent of people surveyed agreed with the statement ”religion and politics should be separate”.

More recently, a worldwide poll conducted by Win-Gallup International, found that 48 per cent of Australians said they were not religious; 10 per cent declared themselves “convinced atheists”; and 5 per cent did not know or did not respond. Only 37 per cent were religious.  Yet the increasing influence and funding of religion in Australia persists.

Considering the vast array of differing beliefs and the disharmony that religion has caused throughout history, I fail to see how “advancing religion” is, in itself, “beneficial to the general public” when the majority of the public are not religious.

The Howard government outsourced a lot of social welfare to various religious organisations.  By shifting a costly and complex social responsibility to religious providers, the government also exempts them from anti-discrimination laws. This is particularly evident with faith-based aged care providers that are free to discriminate against gays and lesbians on the sole basis that religious ethos overrides the principle of fair and equal treatment of all people.  Faith-based schools can refuse entry to children on the basis of their religion, or lack thereof.

We also spend hundreds of millions on school chaplains for state schools.  This appears in contradiction to the separation of church and state.

Australia is one of only three countries in the world where even the commercial enterprises of religious organisations are granted tax concessions.  They are not required to report the breakdown of their charitable, business or investment activities.

Federally, these apply to income tax, fringe benefits tax, and the goods and services tax. State government exemptions cover land tax, payroll tax, stamp duties and car registration fees. Local governments provide exemptions from municipal rates. Concessions may also be granted for some water and power charges.

In 2008, the Secular Party of Australia made a submission to Treasury where they estimated the government’s financial assistance to religious institutions to be in the order of $31 billion annually.

They suggested that more accurate estimates of this kind could be obtained if the information was available, but it is not. It is standard budgetary procedure that the loss of revenue arising from exemptions, for example those applying to superannuation pensions, are listed in budget papers and can be quantified. It is anomalous that no such requirement exists for religious organisations, even those that may be involved in significant business and investment related activities.

Further anomalies occur in relation to the application of the Fringe Benefits Tax and the Goods and Services Tax. As the FBT is exempt to employees who are religious practitioners, eligible employers can provide remuneration packages that are biased wholly in terms of fringe benefits, thereby avoiding any income tax. This device can also create an unwarranted entitlement to social security benefits.

In relation to the GST, an anomaly occurs in relation to ceremonies for weddings and funerals. If performed by a civil celebrant, GST is payable, whereas if done in a church, it is not. Apart from being grossly inequitable, the situation is of doubtful legality in the light of equal opportunity laws that prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion.

The SPA made the following recommendations in their 2008 submission.

  1. We submit that the definition of “charitable purpose” be reformed to exclude “advancement of religion”, which would reflect the modern view that religious worship and indoctrination into any sect, cult or religion are not charitable activities in themselves.
  2. We submit that the activities of any charitable organisation, religious or not, should not be exempt from accountability or from taxation.
  3. We submit that the investment and business related activities of any organisation should not be exempt from taxation.
  4. We submit that only the bona fide charitable activities not connected with religious worship or indoctrination should be tax exempt.
  5. We submit that a Charities Commission be established for the purposes of regulating and making accountable the charitable activities of all non-profit organisations. This should include religious organisations, and ensure that tax exemptions are provided only in relation to bona fide charitable activities, and are not used to disguise religious worship or indoctrination.
  6. We submit that all not-for-profit and religious organisations should be required to submit annual reports that are audited, and publicly available in a manner similar to that for public companies.
  7. We submit that if religious organisations receive tax exemptions, these must be provided only to the extent that their activities are bona fide charitable. Where an organisation is involved in religious worship and indoctrination, their business activities, investment income and other taxable activities should be separated, either through an accounting division or through operational separation.

In 2012, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) was established largely as a result of a 2010 Productivity Commission report that criticised the existing regulatory regime, in which charities were overseen by a combination of ATO, ASIC, and the states, as cost-inefficient and unnecessarily complex. Moreover, the Productivity Commission deemed the preexisting system as insufficient for ensuring transparency in the allocation of funds by charities.

In 2013, Pro Bono Australia, an independent information agency for the sector, conducted a survey of 1500 non-profits. The survey found that 80% of respondents supported the ACNC.  Despite this, the Coalition will move this year to abolish it and hand its functions over to the ATO.

Why would they ignore the overwhelming support from the NFP sector for the ACNC?

Fairfax Media reported that the Coalition’s plans to abolish the charity regulator, the ACNC, was in part due to “the lobbying power of church conservatives, the Catholic Church in particular, and the office of Sydney Cardinal George Pell, more particularly still.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the links to articles in the Age and the SMH about that story no longer work.

However another faith-based Not for Profit, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council has called on the Federal Government to abandon its ideological opposition to the ACNC.

“Rather than abolishing the ACNC, the Government would be well-advised to listen to the voices of the charitable and Not for Profit sector,” Chief Executive Dr John Falzon said. “The ACNC has built excellent relationships with the community sector in an effort to move towards a more supportive and less burdensome regulatory system. We are astonished to see the Government showing such strident opposition to the very sensible role of the ACNC.”

Community Council for Australia Chief Executive Officer David Crosbie said that a very broad range of people, other than some groups in the Catholic community, had shown support for the ACNC.

“For a long time people have been talking about the Not for Profit sector needing to have a voice and I think that yesterday it had a voice,” Crosbie said. “That can only be a benefit to the sector and that level of attention to our issues can only benefit the sector.”

“This is the kind of repeal you have when you don’t know what to do. The focus of this bill is solely to get rid of the ACNC. There’s no real plan, no real narrative or vision for what will happen when the ACNC is disbanded.”

Watch for a reintroduction of gag clauses to stop NFPs speaking out about funding cuts, banned by Federal Labor in 2013  but alive and well in Queensland and NSW.  Talk and we cut your funding.

This is now in the hands of SS Commandant Morrison who will no doubt ban all scrutiny, accountability or transparency citing “on-god operations”.

George Pell will be well-pleased.

 

Conspiracy of silence

Image by thethingswesay.com

Image by thethingswesay.com

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]”
― Harry S Truman

If you think that Scott Morrison is justified in keeping “on-water” operations secret for safety and security reasons, perhaps you can explain to me why this secrecy extends to onshore activities like detention camps and gagging people who work with asylum seekers.  Perhaps you can explain why the carers of the two boys, recently disappeared by Immigration officials, are too scared to speak out for fear of losing their job which is to make a home for these kids.

There is a concerted campaign going on to remove accountability, avoid questioning, and silence dissent and it is not just in the area of border protection.  Advocacy groups for anyone other than industry are being systematically dismantled.

If you visit the government Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website you will be greeted by the following message:

“Thank you for visiting the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website.

On 18 September 2013 the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, was sworn in by the Governor-General. On this day, the Governor General signed the Administrative Arrangements Order and the Social Inclusion Unit and the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector was disbanded.

The Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, will have responsibility for the community sector, volunteering and philanthropy. The Minister for Human Services, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, will have responsibility for service delivery policy.”

We might have got a clue when Abbott announced his Cabinet.  No Youth Ministry, No Early Childhood Ministry, No Science Ministry, No Climate Change Ministry, No Disability Ministry, No Aged Care Ministry, No Workplace Relations Ministry, No Multiculturalism Ministry, BUT there’s a Minister for ANZAC Day!

Another red flag was raised when the community sector was not represented on the Commission of Audit and it has not been invited to make a submission to the McClure Welfare Review being conducted by former Mission Australia chief executive Patrick McClure.

“As far as we know no one was invited to make a submission. The review has no terms of reference, has held no public meetings and has issued no interim discussion paper. We have had discussions behind closed doors but there’s been nothing in the open,” Ms Goldie, head of ACOSS, said.

And if any further proof was needed, there was the inexplicable decision to sack Graeme Innes, Disability Commissioner, and replace him with an IPA sock puppet.

Two weeks after the budget, Mr Morrison withdrew funding for the Refugee Council of Australia, which had been allocated in the budget papers, saying he and the government did not believe that “taxpayer funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group”.

Government funding for a wide range of community organisations including ACOSS expires on December 31 after a budget decision to extend it for only six months while new long-term arrangements are developed.

The organisations have been told their grants might be put out to tender.

A vital component of Non Government Organisations (NGOs), as the name suggests, is that they remain independent of the government.  Such independence is needed in order to effectively advocate for the marginalised, the environment and for those who can’t speak up for themselves. But because of a heavy reliance on government funding, and increasing use of gag clauses, NGOs are at risk of losing their vital independence.

Governments, at both the state and federal level, are increasingly contracting out services to independent providers, which is typically seen as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, more NGOs and community groups are providing services on behalf of government, in essence becoming contractors for government programs. As Browen Dalton noted recently in The Conversation, “Australia has a higher proportion of human services provided by [not for profits] than almost any other country, with the sector turning over $100 billion a year.”

However, this outsourcing means that NGOs are more reliant on government funding. And increasingly, government funding has come with heavy restrictions that threaten to jeopardise the indispensable independence of Australia’s NGOs.

The community sector plays a vital part in a democratic political system. These organisations are pivotal in shaping public advocacy and in representing those who fall through the cracks. They ensure that every person is considered in the democratic process. They also fill in the gaps where government services and programs fail. Community groups provide much needed services in homelessness support, education, refugee resettlement, disability care, arts, and many other community programs.

In a 1991 report, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs stated:

An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents.”

The nature of government funding is a threat to this independence.  As funding for some of the most vital services comes from government rather than through the public, it is the government decides which services are more important and inevitably controls the direction and delivery of such services. This model undermines the independence of NGOs, and ignores the expertise of those working on the ground to decide where services and funds need to be allocated.

Last year, the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, stated that “to benefit civil society as a whole, the Government has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, with repeal legislation to be introduced into Parliament next year”.  He introduced a late amendment to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 to delay the introduction of the Charities Act2013 from 1 January 2014 to September 2014.  This was referred to a Senate Committee.

In February, the Centre for Independent Studies advised the Federal Government to act on its pre-election promise to abolish the ACNC it “is not achieving its main objectives, which were to improve public trust in the not-for-profit sector, reduce red tape, and police fraud and wrongdoing”.  The vast majority of the sector disagrees.

In June we read that

The Senate Committee report into the abolition of the charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), has failed to break the deadlock between the Government and other parties, and if the majority report is implemented it would be retrograde step for public trust and confidence in sector, the ACNC Advisory Board Chairman Robert Fitzgerald has warned.

Fitzgerald said despite 80 per cent of submissions received by the Senate Committee supporting the retention of the ACNC, the majority senate report recommended the ACNC Act be repealed.

“This recommendation was saying the Australian community had no right to information about a sector that receives substantial tax concessions and benefits every year.   The charity and Not for Profit sector is one of Australia’s fastest growing and important sectors. It has taken 17 years, at least six inquiries, 2000 submissions and volumes of evidence to get an effective national regulatory model. And now the effect of the majority opinion is would be to undermine basic transparency, the tackling of duplicative reporting and proven and effective regulation.

By moving to abolish the ACNC, the Government is going against the tide: England and Wales has had an independent charity regulator for more than 160 years; Scotland and Singapore established regulators and a public charity register following charity scandals; New Zealand has had a charity regulator since 2005.  In the last 12 months Ireland, Jamaica and now Jersey have moved to establish independent charity regulatory bodies and public registers. Hong Kong has also recommended establishing a public charity register.

Since the ACNC’s inception, three separate surveys have each found an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with respondents supporting the ACNC.

In a relative short period of time, the ACNC has created Australia’s first free, publicly available national charity register, provided sound education and advice services to support charities in their governance, and implemented the Charity Portal and Charity Passport, which is critical to reducing duplicative reporting across government.

It is now a matter for the Parliament to determine if it wishes to have an efficient and effective regulator, or return to a regulatory regime that will ultimately increase compliance burdens on the sector and fail to deliver transparency to the Australian public.”

Since the 2013 election

AXED

Social Inclusion Board

National Housing Supply Council

Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness

National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing

National Children and Family Roundtable

Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing

Immigration Health Advisory Group

DEFUNDED

Refugee Council of Australia

Australian Youth Affairs Council

Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services

ADDED

Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council

Australian Treasury Advisory Council

Not for Profit Advisory Group to the ATO

Innovation and Technology Working Group

Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership

Indigenous Advisory Council

Aged Care Sector Committee

 

Note:  Two groups who argued vehemently for the abolition of a watchdog were the Catholic Church through Cardinal Pell’s office and the IPA.  The ATO will now be asked to take over the duties of watchdog even though they will be shedding about 900 staff over the next six months.  Happy days for tax cheats.

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