Many of you will have seen the recent media reports of misconduct by former employees of Oxfam’s British arm while in Haiti. The allegations of sexual misconduct, and the charity’s handling of the situation, have made headlines around the world. The Charity Commission of England and Wales has opened a statutory inquiry into the matter and Oxfam UK’s CEO, Mark Goldring, has already appeared before a Parliamentary Committee.

In Australia, all leading international development charities are signatories to the Code of Governance of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), which contains detailed provisions regarding the safeguarding of children and other beneficiaries.

The ACNC takes issues of safeguarding very seriously and the onus is on board members to ensure that proper procedures and protections are in place to ensure that their charities are complying with their legal and ethical obligations.

The ACNC will continue to work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ACFID, and the sector to ensure that Australian charities have robust safeguarding measures in place.

International development charities respond to the world’s most pressing humanitarian disasters and support millions of vulnerable people in crisis. They depend to a large extent on the generosity of the Australian public, and I hope that the public will continue to support this important work.

ACNC issues a direction to RSL National

On Monday we issued a Direction to RSL National in response to significant governance failings identified during our investigation into the charity. A Direction is one of the compliance powers set out in the ACNC Act, and it requires RSL National to undertake a review of the charity’s board and governance practices.
This Direction is published on RSL National’s Charity Register listing, and at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

On 12 February, the Bergin Inquiry published its report into RSL NSW, RSL Welfare and Benevolent Institution (known as RSL DefenceCare), and RSL Lifecare. The Inquiry’s findings highlighted a range of serious governance failings and made recommendations regarding the individuals involved.

The ACNC has investigations into the activities of RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare. RSL QLD is also under investigation, however, this charity was not within the scope of the NSW Government’s Bergin Inquiry.

I am able to inform the public of our action in these instances as the charities have previously published public statements confirming our investigations.

We have already finalised our investigation into RSL SA, which resulted in the charity and the ACNC entering into a Compliance Agreement in August 2017. You can find the Compliance Agreement on our website at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

We are continuing to work closely with the leadership of the RSLs, and it is important steps are taken to rebuild trust so that they may continue to care for veterans.

For more information about the RSL National Direction, and our other compliance work relating to RSLs, read our media release.

Submissions to the ACNC legislation review closing soon

As mentioned previously, the legislation which established the ACNC is currently under its five-year review, as mandated in the Act itself.

The review panel, chaired by Mr Patrick McClure AO, is accepting written submissions until 28 February 2018.

For more information, to access the terms of reference, or to submit your response, visit the panel’s website at acnclegislationreview.com.au.

The panel is expected to hold further discussions with the sector before reporting on the review’s findings and recommendations by 31 May 2018. Further information about the review process is available on the Treasury Consultation website.

The ACNC has already provided a submission to the review, and this is available to download on the ACNC website.

ACNC submission to Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security

Last week, the ACNC published its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, in relation to the proposed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017. I also had the opportunity to appear before the Committee last week, to discuss the ACNC’s concerns directly.

A range of reforms are proposed in the Bill, including a registration regime for certain persons undertaking activities on behalf of a foreign principal, the disclosure of relationships with foreign principals and more.

The ACNC’s submission highlights our concerns with the additional regulatory burden the changes may place on charities, the significant penalties for non-compliance and the broad definitions of activity identified in the proposed Bill.

The committee will soon conclude its public hearings and is expected to publish a report on the Bill by Friday 23 March.

The ACNC’s full submission is now available on the ACNC website.

177 charities registered throughout January 2018

Many dedicated and passionate Australians have started off 2018 with some good news, as 177 applicants were successfully registered as charities in January. Congratulations!

Most of the charities were based in Australia’s eastern states, with more than 70% registered in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland collectively. Themes among the most recently registered charities include animal rescue, mental health care, assistance for refugees, and education.

To learn more about our newest charities, visit the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/recentlyregistered.

Best Wishes,

The Hon Dr Gary Johns

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