The Government’s proposed measures in relation to foreign involvement in Australian political campaigns and policy issues continue to be the subject of parliamentary inquiry, and this has been of great interest to the media and not for profit sector.

I’ve previously referenced the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill, which is currently under review by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Earlier this year, the Committee called for public submissions and we have recently published ours at acnc.gov.au.

In our submission, we highlighted several areas of concern with the proposed Bill – including the additional regulatory burden on charities, the significant penalties for non-compliance, and the legislative inconsistencies between the proposed Bill and the ACNC Act.

Our submission is one of more than 140 contributed by the community and the sector. All submissions to the inquiry are available on the Australian Parliament House website.

The committee will soon wrap up its public hearings and is expected to publish a report on the Bill by Friday 2 March.

In addition to the discussion around foreign donations, the Government has proposed the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill, which would establish a new registration scheme regarding foreign influences of the Australian political system.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has opened a public consultation for the Bill, and will accept submissions until Thursday 15 February. I will be making a submission in the next day or two, and this should be published on the committee website .For more information or to make a submission, visit the Australian Parliament House website.

It’s not too late to submit your 2017 Annual Information Statement

More than half of Australia’s registered charities were required to submit their 2017 Annual Information Statement by 31 January 2018.

My thanks go to the 69% of registered charities that submitted on time. Your commitment to transparency and accountability is helping to build a trusted charity sector, as well as providing donors with invaluable data about your organisation and its operations.

For those charities that have not yet submitted their 2017 Annual Information Statement, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. In my last column I noted that our systems were experiencing slowness due to the increased traffic ahead of the 31 January due date. These issues have now passed and our systems are operating again at normal speed.

The Annual Information Statement is an important part of a charity’s ongoing obligations to the ACNC. Meeting these obligations is crucial for a charity to maintain registration and access to Commonwealth tax concessions.

We have useful resources to assist, including the 2017 AIS Guide and Checklist – they are available free of charge on our website at acnc.gov.au/2017AIS.

Recent media coverage of Australia’s charity sector

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sky News Australia and ABC Radio National about current issues in charity regulation – particularly, the ongoing questions about advocacy by charities and the effectiveness of the sector.

I believe it is up to donors to decide which charities they wish to support and why. The ACNC’s 2017 Public Trust and Confidence research found that two of the main drivers of trust in charities are:

  • A high portion of funds go to those in need
  • The charity provides information on how it spends its funds

And while the ACNC cannot and will not set standards for expenditure or effectiveness, or instruct charities on how to operate, we must ensure donors have access to information that allows them to make informed decisions.

The ACNC Charity Register is the repository for this information, and it has been a useful tool for many, with over 2 million searches in the ACNC’s first five years. However, there is room for improvement.

I’m pleased to let you know that work has already commenced on a project to make the Charity Register easier to search, and just as importantly, easier to understand.

I look forward to bringing you further updates on this project throughout the year.

NSCOA environmental scan now available

The National Standard Chart of Accounts, or NSCOA, provides a common approach to the way not-for-profits record and report accounting information, offering consistency in accounting categories and terms. All Australian Commonwealth, state and territory governments have agreed to accept NSCOA when requesting information from not-for-profits.

In December, we released a report on our environmental scan, conducted throughout 2017. The scan assessed the current use and awareness of the NSCOA, as well as aiming to identify the challenges or benefits in its use.

Following an analysis of more than 750 responses from charities, not-for-profits, grant-makers and professional advisors, we have been able to determine a short, medium and long-term plan for our ongoing support and development of the NSCOA. Plans include the creation of guidance, tools and education materials to support the sector, and continued promotion of the NSCOA and its benefits.

Ultimately, we hope to work towards the NSCOA being aligned to the Standard Business Reporting framework – supporting the ‘report once, use often’ framework and helping to reduce red tape for our registered charities.

More information about the NSCOA, including the full report from our environmental scan, is available on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/NSCOA.

Best Wishes,

The Hon Dr Gary Johns

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