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Charities and Associations Law (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2023

Vica Bayley MP

Vica Bayley MP  -  Thursday, 16 November 2023

Tags: Legislation

Mr BAYLEY (Clark) - Mr Speaker, I rise to talk about the Charities and Associations Law (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill. I thank departmental staff for their briefing the other day. It was very helpful and assisted us to get our heads around this bill which we are broadly supportive of, notwithstanding having a few questions for the minister to clarify.

I want to say at the outset how important this kind of legislation and bill is. The charity sector is incredibly important across the state and indeed across the whole country and the generosity of people supporting the charity sector is fundamental to its survival and its capacity to do the work it does. Speaking from experience working 20 years or so in an environmental charity, I know how important this is, both in terms of its need for fundraising and therefore for the sustainability of organisations and to sustain its capacity to do the very good work it does, but also the public confidence around charities and how they do their work and do their fundraising is absolutely critical.

I have also separately started from scratch with an organisation to have it registered as a charity through the process of having it registered under the ACNC and I can tell you it is a pretty long, arduous and rigorous process. It takes a lot of effort, there can be quite a lot of backwards and forwards and the Australian Tax Office gets involved as well. I know the ACNC do fantastic work regulating this sector and facilitating legitimate charities to have their charitable status recognised, have deductable gift recipiency status awarded and monitoring that going forward into the future.

We are very keen to support anything that makes improvements in this space and certainly with that confidence that the ACNC agree with the broader purpose of this bill which is to harmonise with federal legislation and ensure that the ACNC covers the activities of charities no matter what jurisdiction they are working in. The ACNC does really good work and removing the regulatory burden on a charity to be reporting and requesting the capacity to engage in fundraising in different jurisdictions is welcome because that can be quite arduous.

The 16 national fundraising principles are obviously supportable and bringing Tasmania into line to implement those is very welcome. I am interested in the code of conduct, the new mandatory code of practice to be prescribed through regulations under the Charities Act. I am very interested in hearing the minister unpack what the process for that is going to be and how it is going to be developed. How is the charitable sector going to have the capacity to feed in be consulted on the development of that code of practice to make sure it is appropriate and also manageable? I think one of the things we need to recognise when it comes to the charity sector is the very nature that they are a charity. Having to go out to the public for donations means that they are resource constrained and that is not only financial but that translates into human resource constrained. Making sure that a code of practice and compliance with the code of practice and that it is an appropriate code of practice and that compliance with it is not too onerous is important. I am keen to understand what process you propose to develop that code of conduct and prescribing through regulation.

I support increasing the audit threshold from $250 000 to $500 000. The capacity to reduce the burden on charities with regard to their compliance and reporting requirements by raising that threshold to $500 000 is welcomed, although $500 000 is still not a very big charity and those at the smaller end have some challenges in meeting their requirements. We support strengthening the enforcement provisions. Public trust and confidence in the charitable sector and in fundraising is critically important. We are alert to a misuse of enforcement provisions.

There are some charities out there that some people, including in this House, would like to remove their charitable status, to remove their capacity to raise money to do the work that they do, arguably including the charities I have worked for in the past. We want to watch this carefully, but increasing the statute of limitations from up three years with a six-month period in which to commence proceedings does seem reasonable.

Minister, I was interested to see in clause 2, the commencement of this bill on proclamation as opposed to on Royal Assent. Why is that the case? What things do you need to get in place before it can commence?

I also want to ask a question in relation to section 6A and whether this gives the commissioner the power to refuse a charity from fundraising in our jurisdiction? There is a role for the commissioner to be notified, but do they have the capacity to intervene and refuse the ability to fundraise?

Ms Butler has articulated a range of concerns, particularly in relation to the definition of charitable purpose. The Law Society and others have raised that as well. I concur that having a charitable purpose here that is different to the federal legislation when we are in the business of harmonisation does seem like a curious approach.

We have not seen or heard about potential amendments coming from the Labor Party. We will take them on merit if and when we see them. I will be interested to look at what is being proposed about the unlawful use of donations. That is captured in the federal legislation and therefore translates down. There are sectors of industry and community that would like to significantly constrain the charitable sectors, particularly the environment sector's ability to raise money. That is not supported on our side of politics.

I broadly indicate support for the bill as it stands. I look forward to the committee process. I will probably have a few more questions as we go through clause by clause. I will be all ears for Ms Butler's amendments, if they come, and be watching those carefully.