Page 4000 - Week 13 - Tuesday, 17 November 2015

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The purpose of the bill is to close a loophole that the government believes is allowing a bleed of some $2 million of revenue. It is brought about by efforts in WA and the Northern Territory, where various groups have challenged whether or not they are entitled to concessions—and have lost, although there is a case that has just finished in Victoria where it went the other way. So there is some doubt over the approach that is being taken here. Indeed, at the moment I understand that the institute of engineers is locked in ACAT with the ACT government over this issue, as to whether or not they should be listed as a charity.

For those who do not remember the debate back at the turn of the century, the people in government then, the Howard federal government, looked at closing off some of these loopholes and there was an enormous fight over the issue of whether advocate groups could be considered to be charities. The advocate groups were left in the fold. So there is history in this. As a consequence of those efforts early in the century, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission was established. That operates at the commonwealth level. I understand the government is meeting with the ACNC tomorrow. All jurisdictions are meeting with it to look at further harmonisation.

In my consultation with various groups, I had correspondence with and then met David Crosbie from the Community Council for Australia. I would like to read from a letter he has written to Mr Barr and cc-ed to me and Mr Rattenbury:

Dear Chief Minister

I write in regard to the above amendment bill to express our concern that the ACT government is intending to develop an ACT specific definition of charities, ignoring all legal and other conventions, and over-riding existing legislation and regulations.

Such a move has the potential to alienate the whole charities sector if it proceeds with steps to make up its own definition of charity.

There is a definition of charity in the bill. It continues.

We already have a nationally regulated definition of charity; the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, the ruling of the Australian Taxation Office, and well established guidelines have now evolved from High Court decisions. The sector does not need new ACT specific regulations imposed on all charities—there is already excessive red tape and compliance costs.

While we recognise the ACT government has been one of the first governments to support the work of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission and agreed to harmonise its legislation with the national regulator, this new move is a step backwards and counterproductive to the over-arching principles.

Yours sincerely …

It is signed by David Crosbie, CEO of Community Councils for Australia

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