As the acting Commissioner of the ACNC, I am pleased to commend the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Annual Report 2016-17, which was tabled in Parliament on Friday 27 October.

There have been many highlights from the last financial year, including a 37 per cent jump in searches of the ACNC Charity Register and a 13 per cent increase in the number of Annual Information Statement submissions completed by the due date.

We’re also pleased with the developments in our red tape reduction work, with legislative changes in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT resulting in streamlined reporting requirements for thousands of charities.

Additionally, the ACNC hosted more than 52 events and conducted more than 76 speaking engagements – providing support, education and insight to charities across Australia.

The ACNC’s 2016–17 annual report is available at acnc.gov.au/annualreport.

Senate Estimates hearing

In the last week of October, Assistant Commissioner David Locke and I were in Canberra to represent the ACNC at the Economics Legislation Committee, as part of the Senate Estimates process which occurs three times a year.

Amongst other things, there was noted interest in the role of charities in advocacy, which provided an opportunity to talk about the guidance we have published on the subject, entitled Charities, elections and advocacy. In short, the guidance outlines that charities are able to advocate on issues relevant to their charitable purposes – but must avoid a purpose of supporting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office or any illegal purpose.

The Hansard of the ACNC’s appearance at Senate Estimates is available on the Australian Parliament House website

ACNC Advisory Board meeting

The ACNC Advisory Board met in Melbourne last week and we were pleased to welcome two new members, Peter Hogan and Susan Alberti AC. The Board meets each quarter, and provides valuable advice and feedback to the ACNC.

On the afternoon before the meeting, the ACNC’s executive team and the Advisory Board members met with representatives of aged care charities to discuss the opportunities and challenges currently facing the sector. The ACNC Advisory Board are keen to continue meeting with different groups of charities whenever the opportunity arises, and learn more about the subsectors of charity in Australia.

You can find more information about our Advisory Board, including membership, meeting dates, and communiques, at acnc.gov.au/advisoryboard.

Streamlining non-government school reporting

Last week, I was pleased to chair a meeting of various non-government school authorities and the Department of Education and Training to discuss opportunities to streamline reporting for non-government schools that are registered charities.

Meetings such as this exemplify the value of open and respectful engagement between regulators and regulated communities, in order to support charities and advance our efforts to reduce red tape.

As a result of this important red tape reduction work, we are now able to accept the financial information provided by non-government schools to the Department of Education and Training – significantly reducing red tape for non-government schools registered with the ACNC.

More information about the reporting for non-government schools can be found on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/nongovschools.

Risks and opportunities in international development

Last week I also had the opportunity to meet with financial officers of various overseas aid organisations who are members of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID). We discussed areas of mutual concern regarding international development – including a the outcomes of Australia's NPO sector risk assessment, conducted jointly by AUSTRAC and ACNC.

Many sector participants contributed to the assessment process - and we particularly acknowledge the participation of ACFID. The risk assessment report is available at acnc.gov.au/nfprisk.

On the topic of ACFID, I would like to congratulate former ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM on her recent appointment as President of ACFID. We are pleased to see that Susan is continuing to serve Australia’s charity sector in her post-ACNC career.

AASB consultation

The Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) have recently released a research paper on the current financial reporting requirements for charities, as part of the wider Australian Financial Reporting Framework project.

The AASB are hosting a series of outreach events throughout November, designed to offer charities the opportunity to have their say on financial reporting for the sector. The sessions are designed to facilitate open discussions on current reporting issues and potential options for a future reporting framework.

I encourage all interested parties to participate in the consultation.

Events are scheduled to be held in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne over the coming weeks – register now via the AASB website.

Enjoying the voices of the Stroke A Chord Choir

One of the joys of engaging with the charity community is to see the outstanding work of the sector first hand.

Last weekend I was thrilled to be involved in the Annual Concert of the Stroke A Chord Choir in Melbourne’s outer east. The Stroke a Chord Choir, an initiative including registered charity Yooralla, began in 2010 following an observation from stroke survivor Wendy Lyons that people left without speech after their stroke (a condition known as aphasia) could still sing. The program allowed this group of people a chance to hear their voices again, and express themselves through song.

It was a great celebration of voices, and my pleasure to be in attendance.

2017 Annual Information Statement now available

As many charities prepare to submit their 2017 Annual Information Statement, I’d like to take the opportunity to remind charities of the variety of resources available to assist. The 2017 AIS Hub, available on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/2017AIS, contains a checklist and a comprehensive guide.

We have also recently released a report which discusses the major trends identified through the 2016 Annual Information Statement process – including the most common errors found throughout the required annual reports. The analysis is available now at acnc.gov.au/2016reportingtrends.

These resources will help your charity submit on-time and accurate information to the ACNC, which in turn allows us to populate the Charity Register. The Charity Register has been searched over 2 million times, and traditionally we see a spike in searches just before Christmas, a common time of the year for donating to charity.

CPA Scholarships available now for registered charities

CPA Australia and the Australian Scholarship Foundation are offering five scholarships for managers and financial officers of registered charitable organisations.

The purpose of the scholarship is to enable managers to enhance their knowledge and skills, in order further contribute to the management and accountability of charitable not-for-profit organisations. The scholarship entitles recipients to exemption from all CPA Program subject fees, and could be a great benefit to one of Australia’s registered charities.

Applications are now open at the CPA Australia website. Applications close Thursday 30 November.

Warm regards,

Murray Baird