When doorknockers with a children's education charity Care4Kids rang the doorbell of homes across Melbourne and Sydney, they got a warm reception.
Nearly a million dollars was raised for 'work helping children with cancer, leukaemia, other illnesses and learning disabilities whose education has been compromised'.
But there have been questions raised about exactly how the money raised by the charity actually benefited children at risk; the people it was intended to help. There is little information to show exactly where the money went.
Alas, this is not an isolated incident. Formed at the end of 2012, the independent Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) received 202 complaints in its first year, including 48 for fraud or criminal activity.
This goes to show just how important a well regulated charitable sector is. In the same way that ASIC provides investors with the confidence they need to buy shares in companies, the ACNC provides donors with the confidence that registered charities are actually performing charitable works.
It is not only the direct victims of fraud who suffer when a charity defrauds donors; it is the charitable sector as a whole. For every story you hear about a dodgy charity, you'll be just that little bit less likely to donate to the volunteers who rattle tins for the Salvos or Surf Life Savers.
Anything that leads Australians to give less is a tragedy. The inexcusable actions of a few dodgy organisations are being allowed to undermine the fantastic work undertaken every day by the huge majority of Australian charities.
This is one of the key reasons why the former Labor Government established the ACNC in 2012 after an extensive period of consultation. It was recommended by the Productivity Commission and the Henry Tax Review, and supported by the charity sector.
The ACNC helps charities strengthen their transparency and accountability so the public can have confidence in the sector and the good work they do.
It does this by making charities and not-for-profits visible with a national register of charities. The register is a major weapon against scammers taking advantage of your goodwill. If donors are worried about whether a charity is legitimate or not, they can simply carry out a free check of the ACNC's register: an online database nearly 60,000 charities. The register contains information such as a charity's tax status and where it is based. In coming months the register will contain more information about charities, including their activities and financials.
The ACNC also helps our charities with governance, legal training and advice. Many charities have told me how much they appreciate the ACNC's friendly approach and expertise.
The ACNC will reduce the duplication that can arise in a federal system. Thanks to the ACNC, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia have said that they will exempt nationally registered charities from also having to register in their jurisdictions. Other states would do well to follow. Our reforms make it much simpler for charities to run their organisation – so they can spend less time filling out forms, and more time in the community.
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