This is my first column as acting Commissioner of the ACNC following the end of Susan Pascoe AM’s term as Commissioner.

I will be in this role for the month of October, and my colleague Murray Baird, the ACNC’s Assistant Commissioner, General Counsel will be acting Commissioner for the month of November.

Engaging with the sector

On Monday of this week I had the great pleasure of visiting St Kilda Mums, a volunteer powered charity based in St Kilda, Melbourne that re-homes new and pre-loved baby and children goods to families in need. I met with the CEO Jessica McPherson and many of the volunteers who sparkled with passion for the work that their charity does.

St Kilda Mums, Geelong Mums and Eureka Mums helped 13,510 babies and children last year, re-homing over 40,000 goods to the value of $5.2 million. They only function through the support of the community and their wonderful 1,591 volunteers. I was delighted to be able to present Jess and the team with their ACNC Registered Charity Tick and congratulate them on all that they do.

Last Saturday I joined Vinnies in Adelaide at their first national congress in 60 years. As we all know, Vinnies work with many of the people in greatest need and provide vital assistance as well as advocating for policy change. I am always inspired when I hear about the amazing work of the volunteers and staff of Vinnies. I was delighted to talk about the role that data can play in helping charities to explain their impact.

New ACNC toolkit to help connect MPs and charities

I am pleased to announce that today we launched a new online toolkit to help charities and their local Members of Parliament (MPs) connect and discuss important sector issues.

The MP Charity Toolkit comprises new Charity Register functionality, which allows searches by federal electorate, and a series of 20 factsheets that cover topical charity sector issues, including fundraising, tax concessions and safe giving.

The toolkit, which is available at acnc.gov.au/mp, was developed in partnership with the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, the Hon Michael Sukkar MP.

The new search function is simple to use, and links directly to the ACNC’s Charity Register – Australia’s first online database of charities.

Since the ACNC Charity Register was launched in December 2012, it has been searched over 2 million times. The Charity Register includes a charity’s contact details, information on who runs the charity, who or what it aims to protect or support, and also includes a charity’s financial reports.

Recent compliance action

The ACNC regulates the charity sector for the public and our consumer protection role is very important. Charities received over $11.2 billion in donations and bequests in 2015 as well as generous tax concessions. It is imperative that the public can have trust and confidence in the charity sector, and that where there is serious misconduct or mismanagement that this is properly addressed.

Charities need to comply with the ACNC Act and Governance Standards to remain entitled to be registered with the ACNC. These are minimum legal requirements, and all board members have a responsibility to ensure that their organisations are compliant. If you have not looked at these for a while I would urge you to familiarise yourself with these.

Where there are serious breaches of the ACNC Act or Governance Standards, then the ACNC will revoke the charity’s registration and will backdate that revocation to the date that we can evidence the breach.

Recently, following investigations into their activities and operations, we revoked the charity status of four organisations:

These organisations were endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions, GST concession and Income tax exemption.

All of these other than the Cm & Ja Whitehouse Foundation were also entitled to access FBT rebate and had Deductible Gift Recipient status.

All four organisations will now lose access to these generous Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

You can find the full list of the ACNC’s compliance activity at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

Late filers: 2016 Annual Information Statement

Another key obligation on charities is to file their Annual Information Statements with the ACNC within six months of the end of their financial years. I am delighted that 48,000 did so for the 2016 reporting period. Whilst this is very positive, more than 2,000 charities are now overdue despite our reminders.

These charities now risk financial penalties, and ultimately revocation of their charity status.

We have published a full list of late filers at acnc.gov.au/latefilers. If you know of any of these, can you please urge them to file straight away to avoid further compliance action.

To assist charities in filing their reports, we have published a suite of free resources at acnc.gov.au/2016AIS. These include a checklist, videos and a step-by-step guide.

HESTA Community Services Awards

I would like to send my congratulations to finalists recently announced for the 2017 HESTA Community Services Awards.

These finalists, representing community sector organisations and individuals, all deserve recognition for making outstanding contributions to the not-for-profit sector.

It has been a great privilege to serve as a judge on these important awards over the last three years. It is always an incredibly difficult task because the calibre of the organisations and submissions is so incredibly high.

The winners will be announced in Melbourne on 24 October, as part of the 2017 ACOSS National Conference. The ACNC will have a booth at the conference, so do stop by and say hello if you’re there.

New ACNC podcast: Susan’s reflections

In the latest episode of our podcast series, ACNC Charity Chat, the inaugural ACNC Commissioner, Susan Pascoe AM, looks back at the establishment of the ACNC and her time in the role.

It’s a very interesting listen. You can download Susan’s reflection podcast, or subscribe to ACNC Charity Chat podcast on iTunes. We also upload the podcasts to our website, and you can listen to them at acnc.gov.au/podcast.

Upcoming webinar – Tuesday 17 October

Our next free webinar will be held at 12pm ADST on Tuesday 17 October.

In this webinar we will look at charities' responsibilities when overseeing fundraising activities, as well as other related issues that charities need to keep in mind.

You can sign up for future webinars and find the recordings of our past webinars at acnc.gov.au/webinars.

NSW Government NGO Registration Scheme

The ACNC has been working with the NSW Government to assist with the development of their new NGO Registration Scheme.

The purpose of this initiative is to help not-for-profit organisations that deliver human services manage the different documents required to secure and report on NSW Government work.

While the new system is voluntary for NSW’s not-for-profit organisations, it is mandatory for NSW state government officials to check it first, before contacting a not-for-profit to seek further information – saving everyone time and effort.

Registered charities will also benefit from the partnership between the ACNC and the NSW state government, as their profile has already been set up, using the publicly available information on the Charity Register. All that registered charities need to do to upload more documents to the system, or update the information that is already there, is to visit bit.ly/NGOregistration.

And for those that would like further information regarding the new scheme or assistance, you can contact the NSW Procurement Service Centre on 1800 679 289 or email them at nswbuy@finance.nsw.gov.au.

Australian Consumer Law

Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ) is seeking feedback on new guidance that explains the application of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) to the activities of charities, not-for-profit entities and fundraisers. This is important guidance and something that the ACNC warmly welcomes.

This draft guidance sets out general principles, supported by examples, to assist the sector in understanding its obligations under the ACL.

CAANZ has invited interested stakeholders to review the guidance and provide feedback via an online survey by 27 October 2017. You can provide feedback by visiting accc.gov.au.I know that there are many calls upon your precious time, but if you undertake fundraising I would encourage you to participate in this important consultation.

With very best wishes

David Locke