Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Legislative Review
Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:26): My question is to Senator Birmingham, representing the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer. Minister, as you would be aware there are now over 56,000 registered charities collecting well over $10 billion in donations. However, the secrecy provisions of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act mean that if someone has a complaint against a charity the complainant isn't permitted to know the outcome, and if the charity is subsequently deregistered the public has no way of finding out why it was deregistered. Minister, can you advise whether the secrecy restrictions will be lifted in the legislation government is drafting in response to the 2018 legislative review? When you will introduce this legislation?
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Finance, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:26): I thank Senator Griff for his question. Indeed I do understand that the review of the ACNC legislation concluded that the secrecy provisions of the act are overly restrictive and should be amended to allow the commissioner to disclose information in a wider range of circumstances, including to protect public trust and confidence in the sector. The review went on to state that the ACNC's inability to make any comment, in respect of whether it is or is not undertaking an investigation in respect of a complaint against a registered entity, is harmful to the perception of the ACNC as an effective regulator.
The government released its response to the ACNC legislation review on 6 March 2020, I understand, and has agreed to recommendation 17 of the review, which will provide the commission with the discretion to disclose information about regulatory activities, including investigations, when it is necessary to protect public trust and confidence in the sector. The Treasury is currently engaging with the ACNC and will prepare advice for the minister on how to progress the necessary legislative changes to give effect to that government agreement to the recommendation.
Senator GRIFF : Minister, there's a difference between giving someone discretion and actually publishing issues for complainants. I think it's very important that there is a discretion and it's actually made mandatory. The 2018 review also flagged raising the revenue threshold for a small charity from $250,000 to $1 million, which will give thousands of charities much lower reporting requirements. Do you consider it is appropriate that a charity that receives $1 million in funding should not be required to provide an annual financial report?
Senator BIRMINGHAM : In relation to the first part of Senator Griff's supplementary question there, obviously discretion, particularly in relation to public information about investigations that are underway, is an important factor to strike an appropriate balance, to be exercised by the ACNC, between maintaining public confidence through the release of information but also through not eroding public confidence through, potentially, the release of information prior to investigations reaching a certain point of findings or transparency that would be helpful to the maintenance of public trust. As I indicated, the government has agreed to recommendation 17 of the ACNC review. In relation to threshold limits, I will have to double-check the response that has been provided by the government in that regard, Senator Griff, and come back to you. (Time expired)
Senator GRIFF : Minister, just back on discretion: should there be discretion for a member of the public not to find out why a charity has been deregistered?
Senator BIRMINGHAM : In the main, I would anticipate that where a charity has been deregistered under the reforms that are being proposed it should be made public. There may be elements of such grounds that discretion may be applicable for, but I'm certain the government would be happy to consult with you, Senator Griff, as we are drafting the necessary legislative changes—happy to reach out and work in that regard with you.