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Fault-finding, fear and fabrication – for whom?

By Alan Austin - posted Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is at it again. Undermining much-needed reform, attacking the Government for evils entirely concocted and protecting powerful interests it will not name. All under the guise of defending privacy and freedom.

A diatribe of confected outrage against the new Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) appeared in Murdoch's The Punch on Monday. The ACNC is the body devised to cut red tape for charities, weed out the shonks, ensure tax deductibility for genuine welfare providers and eliminate tax dodgers.

As with previous IPA anti-reform campaigns, we don't know who is paying for it. The Institute refuses to reveal its donors. But by seeing who benefits from their assaults, we may guess.


As usual with IPA attacks in Murdoch outlets, this piece is riddled with factual errors, distortions of the truth and tawdry imputation of motives.

Attributed to Peter Gregory, it opens with shock horror about the "incredible damage the Gillard government is about to unleash on the sector with the advent of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC)."

Just sheer nonsense. Reputable peak bodies have welcomed the initiative. The Australian Council for International Development represents 76 overseas aid agencies. "We welcomed the Federal Government's announcement in May 2011 to establish the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits (NFPs) Commission and have continued to work …towards realising this objective," says ACFID's submission.

Gregory continues: "The ACNC will force charities to adhere to a raft of new tax and compliance requirements, dissuade people from becoming involved with charities and turn people off from donating."

No evidence is offered for this, because it is just false. In fact, the opposite is true. As UnitingCare noted in its submission, current regulation is "often complex, fragmented and resource intensive. It requires not-for-profit entities to navigate and comply with a plethora of regulations from all levels of government …" The agency "believes that a national regulator must have a focus on improving the current regulatory environment ..."

Simplifying compliance is one principal purpose of the Commission. If this doesn't happen, then yes, by all means complain. But to do so before the ACNA opens its doors is just malicious.


"The ACNC will force many charities to submit Annual Information Statements for the first time," Gregory claims. "They will have to give the government detailed information about their activities, operations and volunteers."

At last, a true statement. And thank goodness it is. What is the IPA's alternative? Should we allow operators to start 'charities', solicit funds from donors but keep no records and report to no-one? (If yes, please make cheques payable to 'Save the Austins Fund'.)

"The cost to charities of this will be huge. The Baptist Ministries initially estimated that the ACNC would cost Baptist churches across Australia an extra $1 million on compliance."

There are about 1,000 Baptist churches. Averaging 125 members each, that's $8 per Baptist per year to ensure accountability. Not huge.

"The ACNC will also ramp up the penalties for when things go wrong. Australians currently donate $14.6 billion in volunteer time every year to charities. The ACNC legislation proposes that volunteer board members could be held personally liable in cases of management malpractice ..."

So with $14.6 billion in play, what does the IPA want? No-one liable for management malpractice? No penalties for wrongdoing?

"These measures won't stop people from doing the wrong thing. They will simply discourage people from becoming involved in charities in the first place."

Again no evidence. Again untrue. Clear penalties for proscribed breaches will certainly eliminate many of the shysters.

"Of course, it's also a gross violation of a person's right to privacy for details about their private donations to be handed over to the government."

Absolute drivel. Taxpayers gladly provide receipts for deductible donations at tax time. Money back from the taxman makes this time-honoured Aussie tradition a very happy one.

Gregory worries that, "the government will be increasing taxation to the earnings of NFPs that are deemed to be 'non-altruistic'... To make matters worse, this increased taxation will be applied retrospectively. As in, right now."

Correct. And this is a problem why? Claiming charitable tax deductions for non-altruistic activities is called tax evasion. Measures to curb evasion must be retrospective, or they don't work. Anti-tax evasion 101.

Gregory concludes with, "The ACNC is one of the worst examples of government involving itself where it is not needed or wanted."

Not wanted by whom? Dodgy religious groups? Fake charities? Money launderers? Tax evaders? The IPA and its financial backers may not want the Commission, but most Australian not-for-profit professionals – and donors – do.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nîmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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