17/02/2014 - 16:13

Report fuels charity debate

17/02/2014 - 16:13

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An independent report on the future of the federal government’s Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission has sparked intense discussion across the sector.

Report fuels charity debate
POLITICAL PLAY: David Gilchrist says the ACNC is a victim of politics. Photo: Attila Csaszar

An independent report on the future of the federal government’s Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission has sparked intense discussion across the sector.

The report, by the Centre for Independent Studies, found that the ACNC would fail if retained in its current format.

The ACNC started operation in late 2012 and is tasked with collecting data from organisations to help improve public trust in the sector, reduce red tape, and help police fraud and wrongdoing.

Among those who support its retention is Curtin University’s Not-for-Profit Initiative director, David Gilchrist, who said proposed alternatives could be damaging.

He provides as an example the suggestion that a National Centre of Excellence would replace the ACNC based on what’s called a ‘Charity Navigator’ model of regulation existing in the US.

The CIS study outlined the basis of these independent watchdogs, which operate separate from government and provide rankings of organisations in the NFP sector.

Mr Gilchrist said this model, of which Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has spoken favourably, would be a bad outcome for the sector.

He said such a model would increase red tape and essentially compare apples with oranges if league tables were to emerge.

That could then jeopardise potential funding for certain organisations, if the context in which they operate was stripped from the information provided to donors.

Mr Gilchrist told Business News the CIS study and subsequent discussion offered an opportunity for the sector and legislators to take the time required to adequately consider what was best for the sector – something the Gillard government failed to do.

“It was set up in that part of the election cycle that meant that the federal government had to go hell for leather to be able to put it in place, and there wasn’t sufficient time,” Mr Gilchrist said.

“I think that we need to sit back and do these things with sufficient time for consultation, not sending things out just before Christmas.”

He said the Abbott government’s decision to abolish the commission after only a year was extremely short sighted and premature.

The CIS study has backed up that decision, however, claiming the ACNC was unlikely to make any significant progress despite it having an annual budget of $15 million.

But Mr Gilchrist said it was too early to tell whether it was successful.

“Once you take it out of the political cycle and into the cold light of day there are some very strong policy advantages to having an organisation like the ACNC in place,” he said.

“It’s very much a victim of politics rather than actually having a chance to prove itself.”

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