I would like to thank everyone from across the sector, their professional advisers, and the ACNC team for a warm welcome to my role as ACNC Commissioner.
The charity sector is one I am known for being passionate about. Throughout my career, I have focused on legal and regulatory issues of importance to the sector including advocating for the establishment of a specialist charities regulator (now the ACNC) and less red tape.
I am also well known for championing education and support for those involved in running charities so they can understand their obligations. Working to support compliance and education aligns with the ACNC’s approach as a regulator. With this background, I can honestly say I feel privileged to lead this organisation - one that aligns strongly with both my professional experience and personal values.
Perhaps because of my earlier academic background, I am a fan of the ACNC’s rich data resources. After many years of reporting by charities, the ACNC’s data confirms the significant economic value charities add to our economy. With our data we can also look at trends across volunteer numbers, charity size, purpose, activities, and locations. In May we plan to publish our ninth Australian Charities Report as part of our commitment to reporting information back to the sector, government, and the public.
This data comes from our core work - maintaining the ACNC Charity Register. Anyone can search for information about charities for free on their phone, and millions of people do this every year.
The amount and accessibility of information on each charity pales in comparison to what was available before the ACNC existed. When I was working in the sector, I remember reading a newspaper article about a charity facing allegations of mismanagement and a lack of financial transparency. I thought this would make a good case study for an editorial piece advocating the establishment of an independent regulator and national charity register. Even with my expertise and spending many hours poring through various government registers and websites, I couldn’t even access the charity’s constitution (to see what its charitable purpose was), any information about its size, finances or who was running it. How different it is now – the ACNC Charity Register shows details about each charity and its purposes, the names of people involved, as well as financial data and reporting on what they do and who they help. It also includes information about whether we have taken any action against the charity for not meeting its obligations.
As people working in charities, you will know better than anyone that it’s not just about economic value and interesting data. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw charities come to the fore of delivering services and keeping people connected even when they were physically isolated. From community health services working with vulnerable people on testing and vaccinations to domestic violence services adapting how they could respond to greater demand with their home-based workforce – charities innovated to keep us safe and supported.
The ACNC Charity Register also gives charities a trusted platform for the public to see the work they do and consider ways they can offer support – through partnerships, volunteering or donating. Donating time and money is discretionary and relies on the public having trust and confidence that if they do so, their efforts will be used for the charitable purpose they chose. This is why the work of the ACNC (as set out in our legislation) centres on maintaining public trust and confidence in the charities on our register.
As I think about the months ahead, I look forward to meeting with stakeholders in the sector and government, including state and territory regulators. I am eager to continue the work of the ACNC to cement its place as a world-class regulator that is respected by the sector and the public alike – and contributes to inspiring trust in the charities that enhance the social fabric of our society.
Sue Woodward AM