Oz Charity Regulator Saved from Bonfire for Now

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April 8, 2015, The Guardian

The Australian Assistant Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, told a meeting of nonprofit sector representatives that while the government had not formally abandoned its desire to scrap the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), it would not treat these efforts as a priority.

He said the Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, would consult stakeholders before deciding on the next steps. His announcement reinforced previous comments by Morrison that he was focusing on more important issues, including the families package that would be part of the government’s next budget.

The right-of-center Australian government introduced legislation in March last year to abolish the ACNC, which registers and monitors charities, as part of what some called “the biggest bonfire of regulations in our country’s history.” However, the government has been beset by numerous problems since then, including failure to get its 2014 budget approved by the country’s senate.

A long list of previous cost-saving commitments has been reversed by the government in the face of senate and public opposition. These have included previously announced cuts to education, disability aid, legal aid services, and indigenous welfare.

The government had argued that the regulator, which was created by the previous Labor Party government and had only been active since December 2012, took “a very heavy-handed approach.” However, many of Australia’s best-known charities disagreed and repeatedly asked the government to rethink its decision. Abolition of the ACNC would have led regulation and reporting by charities to return to multiple agencies.

Tim Costello, the chairman of the Community Council of Australia, the nonprofit peak organization, said the sector supported the regulator because transparency was important in maintaining community confidence. “There is for the first time in our history a dedicated body in the charities sector that is a cop on the beat,” Costello said. “It’s already got rid of at least nine fraudulent charities.”—John Godfrey