ACNC Commissioner, the Hon. Dr Gary Johns
In June 2018, the Senate established a Select Committee on Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century, to inquire and report on fundraising regulation in Australia.

The committee is calling for written submissions that address the key issues within the current framework, and provide suggestions for necessary reforms.

The ACNC will be making a submission to the inquiry in the coming weeks, but I encourage anyone with interests or insights to consider making a submission to the committee.

For more information or to make a submission, visit the Parliament of Australia website.

Recent media coverage of ACNC investigations

Recently, the ACNC has been the subject of media stories in relation to investigations of two registered charities – Catholic Education Melbourne and 350.org.

The strict secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act often prohibit the ACNC’s ability to confirm or comment on investigations – however, the ACNC is able to clarify matters about the conduct of investigations to correct the public record.

Catholic Education Melbourne is the subject of an investigation by the ACNC, because of the activities and statements made on behalf of this one charity during the recent by-election for the Federal seat of Batman.

I recently published a statement to clarify and correct a number of matters, and a letter to the editor of The Australian, on our website at acnc.gov.au.

The Australian also recently published a story regarding the ACNC’s investigation into registered charity, 350.org. Due to the secrecy provisions mentioned above the ACNC cannot normally comment on compliance activity – however, I have sought permission from the charity’s CEO, Ms Blair Palese.

The ACNC opened an investigation into 350.org after concerns were raised following some high-profile activities conducted by the charity. The charity cooperated with the ACNC over an 18-month period.

We closed the investigation in June 2018, and provided the charity with regulatory advice. As regulatory advice is not a formal compliance action under the ACNC Act, we do not, and cannot, publish a record of this on the ACNC Charity Register.

During and after the investigation, 350.org expressed a desire to work with the ACNC to ensure that it remains a registered charity. The charity has shown a commitment to ensuring that it, like all charities, continues to have only charitable purposes and does not have any disqualifying purposes, such as promoting or engaging in activities that are unlawful, or promoting or opposing a political party or candidate for office.

The ACNC supports charities carrying out their charitable purposes – however, charities must swim between the flags. To that end the ACNC often provides regulatory advice at the conclusion of an investigation where stronger action is not required. We also publish a great deal of guidance on our website to help charities understand and meet their obligations under the ACNC Act and Governance Standards.

I trust this clarifies some of the recent reporting regarding the ACNC’s investigation into 350.org.

Charity revoked after ACNC compliance action

The ACNC has recently taken compliance action against a charity, revoking the registration of The Genevieve Audrey Foundation (ABN: 49769685389).

The organisation was endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office to access the following Commonwealth charity tax concessions:

  • Goods and Services Tax concession
  • Income tax exemption, and
  • Fringe Benefits Tax exemption.

This charity has now lost access to these Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

We are prevented from disclosing further details due to secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act. However, we publish instances where we use our formal powers, including revocation, on the ACNC Charity Register and at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

Every month we receive around 100 concerns about charities, many of which are submitted to us by members of the public. If you have concerns about a registered charity, you can raise them formally by visiting acnc.gov.au/charityconcern, or by calling 13 ACNC (13 22 62).

Recent webinars now available on the ACNC website

In July, the ACNC’s Education team have hosted two webinars aimed at charity board members – one on managing of conflicts of interest within a charity, and one focusing on internal disputes and how to resolve them.

ACNC webinars are free resources, designed specifically for people working or volunteering for a registered charity. They provide insights on a wide range of topics that may impact your charity.

You can view the videos and presentations of our past webinars, or sign up for the remaining sessions in 2018, at acnc.gov.au/webinars.

A compulsory donation is not a gift, no matter who receives it

I would like to close this column with a reflection on some recent research in the charity sector. David Griggs and Liam Smith from Monash University have published a paper about ‘Giving for Good’, which recommends making a charity (or community) ‘donation’ compulsory for high income earners. The rationale is that it would ‘close financial gaps in society’. The paper contains two major errors and one suggestion that they may want to reconsider.

The first error is the assertion that ‘closing financial gaps in society’ could be a charitable purpose. Alleviation of poverty is a charitable purpose, relieving disadvantage is a charitable purpose, but reducing inequality is not a charitable purpose.

The second error is the idea that a donation can be made compulsory. A donation is voluntary, it is a gift with no expectation of reward. To compel someone to donate, is to convert a donation into a tax.

Of course, there is some satisfaction in knowing that your taxes go to a good cause, but there are many essential, but non-charitable, uses for taxation monies.

The suggestion, which they may want to reconsider, is that someone may direct to which cause their taxes go. Such voluntary taxation can backfire.

If taxpayers get an appetite for directing their taxes to some programs and not others, how is this to be sorted in a practical way? Should the entire revenue side of the Commonwealth Budget be voted on by taxpayers?

And, what happens if some programs fall short of funds due to lack of taxpayer support? I guess there is always charity.

Best wishes,

The Hon Dr Gary Johns

A note from our ACNC Advisory Board Chair, Tony Stuart

The ACNC Advisory Board meets four times a year, and at our last meeting we raised some important issues:

  • In relation to the proposed ASIC industry funding levy, the Board asked Minister Morrison for monies charged by ASIC for charity regulation be transferred to ACNC or that charities be exempted from the ASIC levy. We are pleased to advise that the latter has been approved.
  • The Board were concerned with recent legislation around foreign interference and the impost on charities, and committed to continue to raise why charities should be exempt from this. Charities have since been exempted from the recently passed Foreign Influence legislation.
  • The Board discussed the ACNC review, and are cautiously optimistic that the panel recommendations are in line with our submission.
  • The Board had a good conversation with the Commissioner regarding the governance of not-for-profit entities, especially around the role of the Board to be more accountable to the charitable purpose of the organisation, where we seem to be in concurrence on ensuring greater reporting of charitable purpose.
  • The Board also discussed with the Commissioner the encouragement of more efficiency and effectiveness through education, and creating more of market information on the ACNC website to help avoid unnecessary duplication of charities.

The Advisory Board will meet again in August, and we look forward to providing an update on the key topics from that meeting at a later date.

Kind regards,

Tony Stuart
ACNC Advisory Board Chair

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