Charities Act commences but Government reaffirms abolition plans – February 2015
During 2014 uncertainty surrounded the immediate future of uniform national charities regulation. The Charities Act 2013, administered by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), came into operation on 1 January 2014 after Government legislation intended to delay the start-up date by nine months failed to pass parliament in 2013.
The ACNC continued to operate as normal throughout 2014.
The Charities Act 2013 too effect on 1 January 2014 but Minister for Social Security Kevin Andrews re-affirmed his intention to abolish the ACNC. However this depends on passage of legislation which remains uncertain.
The Charities Act 2013 which took effect on January 1 introduced the first statutory definition of charity and charitable purpose. This definition will now be used in assessing any application for recognition as a charity.
The Department of Social Services has issued an advisory notice for organisations seeking recognition as charities.
It points out that “It is important to note,” says the advisory, “ that Minister [for Social Services, Kevin] Andrews proposed an amendment in the spring sittings of the parliament to delay the commencement of the Act by nine months to 1 September 2014 as part of the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013.
“The amendment to delay the commencement of Charities Act was designed to allow for the Government to consult with the sector on a range of issues including abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and establishing a Centre for Excellence and a possible national register of charities.
“The delay would have allowed the Government to work holistically with civil society, consulting a range of stakeholders, including charity law specialists ahead of the Charities Act commencing.”
The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 did not pass the parliament, but the department says the Government still intends to consult this month on the establishment of a new National Centre for Excellence and associated issues including the future of the Charities Act 2013.
“The outcomes of the consultation process will inform the future direction of legislative frameworks such as the Charities Act 2013 which may result in amendment or repeal of existing legislation and therefore may impact eligibility,” the department says.
In a speech on 29 January Mr Andrews reaffirmed his intention to abolish the ACNC. He said, “we’ll abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, which in the view of this Government imposes an unnecessary and ponderous compliance burden on the sector. …. There’s no reason for a Government to reinvent a smoothly turning wheel.”
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, “Mr Andrews said the commission, which has been bitterly opposed by Catholic charities, would be replaced by a more voluntary approach to regulation.”