Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks about charity reforms and the work of charities in Warringah

7 December, 2020


Thank you to the member for Fenner for raising the important issue of reform to the charity sector. Charities have an annual revenue of $155 billion, which accounts for over eight per cent of Australia's GDP. It is incredibly substantial. One in 10 employees in Australia work in this sector—that is over 1.3 million people. They also engage with over three million volunteers, providing over $12.7 billion of unpaid labour. Australia owes them a huge debt of thanks. More than their economic value, though, charities deliver vital services on behalf of the Commonwealth and state governments—from homelessness to disability, education and sport charities and not-for-profits. They are vital for the Australian community. As the motion explains, charities are the most trusted sector in Australian public life, yet the standard of compliance is more arduous and complex than for almost any other sector of the economy.

Treasury's five-year review of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission identified fundraising law as a major burden on charities and recommended harmonising it across the country. Similarly, the Senate Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century called on parliament to harmonise fundraising laws late last year. The reporting requirements imposed on charities by government are far more stringent than those applied to corporate engagements, and compliance for fundraising activities is complicated by the seven different state and territory regimes imposed across the country. For example, in South Australia being a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission is sufficient to give you the right to fundraise, but that's not the case in other jurisdictions. In New South Wales and most other states and territories you have to apply separately to the relevant state authority to fundraise, and then that application comes with a whole set of additional compliance obligations. For example, in New South Wales a director of a registered, non-religious charity cannot be paid unless an exemption is granted. The lack of consistency in fundraising obligations has been complicated further by the advent of digital fundraising platforms. There are just so many anomalies and red tape that need to be streamlined. Charities need to deal with so many things to conduct their everyday operations, and this takes away from their service delivery. We should, absolutely, make it possible for their focus to be on that service delivery. I urge the government to use the national cabinet to reform fundraising laws and to harmonise them across the country.

We can't talk about charities without talking about what a difficult year 2020 has been. The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed its own set of restrictions on charity fundraising. Restrictions on public gatherings, deceased foot traffic in central locations, and the economic downturn have all compounded to restrict the fundraising ability of the charity sector this year, at a time where, in fact, their services and assistance have been needed all the more. Modelling by the University of New South Wales Centre for Social Impact and Social Ventures showed that a drop in revenue by just 20 per cent for the charities sector would leave 88 per cent of charities immediately operating at a loss and 17 per cent would close their doors. That would result in 200,000 jobs lost.

Financial viability of charities is important, as they have less access to raising funds by debt as corporations and they absolutely need all the assistance they can get to comply with very strict and serious compliance regulations. While JobKeeper, for example, was welcomed, many struggled to meet the eligibility criteria of a 15 per cent loss in revenue against previous years, as charities have been growing. Many are start-ups, and hence their growth rate is rapid. While they were not down 15 per cent on last year, they were 80 per cent down against their projections, and demand for their services was much higher. In June I urged the government to bring forward Stronger Communities grants to help the charities sector, which is doing such wonderful and necessary work. I call on them again to do that.

I'd like to use this opportunity to thank the many hardworking charities in the community of Warringah. We have a wide variety of charities and community organisations that do wonderful work here and abroad, from Doctors International, who work overseas, to Community Northern Beaches, who deliver a fantastic range of services to locals. Men's sheds are spread throughout the electorate, providing practical solutions to men's health issues, and the Royal Far West has been educating and caring for the health of children from regional areas at Manly Beach since 1924. There are so many amazing mental health and sporting and disability charities across the electorate. There are far too many to name, but I thank you.