A celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) was held at the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne on Friday. Acting Commissioner, Deborah Jenkins recognised the vital contribution of charities to the Australian community and described the anniversary as a significant milestone.

Other speakers at the event were:

  • Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP

  • CEO Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Sarah Davies

  • CEO and Commissioner Victorian Legal Services Board and inaugural Deputy Chair, ACNC Advisory Board, Fiona McLeay, and

  • Representative of the first charity registered with ACNC in 2012 - Be Slavery Free Co-Director Carolyn Kitto (who recorded a video message)

Key industry stakeholders and those involved in the establishment of the ACNC were invited.

This is an abridged version of Deborah Jenkins’s speech. There are photos from the event below.

The ACNC was established and commenced operating on Monday the 3rd of December 2012.

The official launch took place in Melbourne at Charcoal Lane, just up the road in Fitzroy. Charcoal Lane was such an iconic charity venue - a social enterprise restaurant that provided work experience and training to First Nations and disadvantaged young people. It is fitting that we celebrate together on this occasion at another landmark charity space, the Koorie Heritage Trust, in the heart of Melbourne.

In December 2012, a Pro Bono News article quoted several charity leaders about the significance of the establishment of the ACNC at that time. These are some of the quotes from that article that provide some insights into their thoughts:

The Reverend Tim Costello, Chair of the Community Council for Australia and then CEO of World Vision said: “The new regulator for Australian charities represents a coming of age that will enable the whole sector to grow and change for the better. Well done to all those who have delivered this major reform.”

Dr Lisa Obrien, then CEO of the Smith Family said: “The establishment of the ACNC is an important acknowledgement of the significant role of the charities and not-for-profit sector in Australia and the sector’s growing importance for Australia’s future wellbeing.”

Toby Hall, then CEO of Mission Australia said: “If we want our communities to flourish, we must support our not-for-profit sector and get the regulatory environment right. The ACNC is a critical part of that support.”

Those comments illustrate charities’ goodwill and enthusiasm for the ACNC. That is not surprising given it was charities themselves, all of you, who lobbied to create it. Before the ACNC was established there was nowhere to take complaints, there was no database on charities’ finances and activities, and there were complex and duplicated regulatory and reporting arrangements.

Now as we mark 10 years of the ACNC, we can be confident that most Australian charities are well-governed and operate with sound financial management. Overwhelmingly charities exist to do good, and most do the right thing. They truly deserve the support of the Australian community. The contribution that they make to the community is vital.

As you know all too well, many charities operate with limited funds and resources - around half are entirely run by volunteers. They keep going, year after year, true to their missions, in the face of sometimes extreme challenges. Some of those challenges have been enormous - the black summer bushfires that swept through much of the country, a global COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdowns. More recently, widespread floods and storms have affected many parts of Australia, devastating communities.

In addition to challenges presented by forces of nature, there have been a range of other factors that have created increased demand for charities’ services. There has been a growing awareness about mental health and family violence, for example, leading to a rise in demand for a range of charity programs.

The ACNC’s 10th anniversary is a significant milestone, and a wonderful opportunity to reflect, take stock and ensure the organisation is heading in the right direction. We have very clear objects set out in legislation, and they are our North Star. We strive to maintain public confidence in charities, to cut red tape and support an innovative sector.

We tell charities that they need to be clear about their purpose. That they need to check in as they grow, to ensure their operations are in line with their charitable purpose. That is just as true for us. As the sector has evolved over the past decade, we have changed the way we do things in many ways, but we always stay true to our objects.

We have been continuously improving the data and its integrity on the Charity Register for example. At the end of last year, we implemented significant changes to the Register so that it now provides greater insights into the work of the charity sector, with programs and their locations able to be searched.

The improvements we have made over the years have helped to boost the surge in the Register’s use. It is searched millions of times each year. Last financial year, there were 5.6 million searches. This year we launched new, free short courses to help charities to maintain good governance. While we have always provided guidance and advice to charities, this latest initiative allows them to build their skills and expertise, especially important and useful for those who are responsible for running charities.

One of the strengths of the ACNC is that we work with charities and their advisers. We have added a new form of consultation in the past year. The Consultation Panel adds to the many ways we seek to engage with charities and key stakeholders – such as the Sector Forum and the Advisor Forum.

We also attend many conferences and other events, with the aim of keeping our ear to the ground and learning about the current challenges, priorities and opportunities impacting charities.

Guided by those insights and feedback about our work, we can set a course for the future. In my, just over four months as Acting Commissioner I have experienced first-hand the work of the ACNC and found the ACNC’s staff and management team is deeply committed to supporting a sector that is highly engaged and passionate.

I wish incoming Commissioner Sue Woodward, Assistant Commissioner Anna Longley and the ACNC team all the very best for the next 10 years and beyond.

Deborah Jenkins, acting ACNC Commissioner

Sarah Davies, CEO Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Fiona McLeay, CEO and Commissioner Victorian Legal Services Board and inaugural Deputy Chair, ACNC Advisory Board, and Deborah Jenkins, acting ACNC Commissioner

Anna Longley, ACNC Assistant Commissioner, Sue Woodward, incoming ACNC Commissioner, and Deborah Jenkins, acting ACNC Commissioner

Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury

Some of our inaugural Directors/Executive: Jan Sharrock, former ACNC Director Communications, Sue Woodward, incoming ACNC Commissioner (and inaugural ACNC Director Policy and Education), Murray Baird, former ACNC Assistant Commissioner - General Counsel, Rachel Smith, ACNC Director Advice Services, Education and Public Affairs, and Sallyann Stonier, ACNC Director Registration

Murray Baird, former ACNC Assistant Commissioner - General Counsel, and Peter Hogan, ACNC Advisory Board general member