Reduce ‘red tape’, not much-needed capacity for Australian charities

29 October 2014

On the eve of the Government’s second ‘Repeal Day’, the peak body for Australia’s community services today said the Federal Government’s plan to abolish the sector’s compulsory reporting through the Charity Register would undermine efforts to reduce red tape.

“We support the government’s efforts to cut unnecessary and costly legislation and regulation. But attempts to scrap newly established mechanisms like the Charity Register or Charity Portal are effectively throwing out the good with the bad,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“We want to see a reduction in the regulatory burden that can cripple our ability to get on with the job of doing what we do best – serving our communities.

“In our sector, the worst ‘red tape’ is reflected in government funding processes that require extensive reporting yet provide very little value back in terms of knowledge about the sector.

“Despite reams of reports to government funders, basic questions have gone unanswered for years, like how many organisations, doing what activities, in what parts of the country. The Charity Register has for the first time provided a routine, reliable and nationally comprehensive process to answer these questions, through a modest mechanism for reporting by all charities. Why would we want to do away with a mechanism like that?”

“Compared to countries like the USA, Australian charities report very little of the most important information,” said ACOSS Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, who has recently returned from a Fulbright Scholarship looking at transparency and accountability across America’s charitable and philanthropic sectors.

Dr Boyd-Caine said, “We need to move away from the myth that any reporting is ‘red tape’. The right reporting, through purpose-built mechanisms like the Charity Register, can provide critical knowledge that helps community organisations and the broader community understand what charities do and why it matters.

“It is crucial that we have routine, enforceable collection of basic sector data. This means a Charity Register that is enforced to ensure it is nationally comprehensive and reliable; and resourced to provide information back to the sector and in the interests of public confidence,” Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Dr Goldie said, “Our charities make an enormous contribution to Australian society and the economy. The first report from the national Charity Register reflected this, with the sector contributing 5% of GDP and 8% of employment nationally. Charities also provide welcome occupation to over two million volunteers. This type of industry-relevant information is vital to maintaining our effectiveness”

“Meanwhile, charities continue to spend a median of 40 hours paid staff time reporting to government per year, or about one working week. One in five charities reported spending more than 100 paid staff hours (or two and a half weeks) reporting in the last year.

“Cutting these types of red tape will be of far greater benefit to the community. But it requires a strong commitment from governments to fund community services for effective, sustained outcomes. We welcome moves by the Federal Government towards long-term funding cycles. This must be backed up with adequate negotiation periods and guaranteed rollover periods where future funding has not been determined.

“Any effort to reduce red tape must have the support of the relevant industry. Charities and not-for-profits are no different.

“We strongly urge the Government to rethink its plan to abolish the important regulatory reforms that have established a nationally consistent, fit-for-purpose approach to charity regulation. They have received widespread support across the sector and are contributing to the vital objective of reducing unnecessary regulatory obligations on many of Australia’s civil society organisations,” Dr Goldie said.


Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155