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Overseas aid and development organisations – those with overseas beneficiaries or activities, or who send money overseas – are able to apply for registration with the ACNC if they meet the charity eligibility criteria.

When applying to register, these organisations must identify the charitable purpose of their organisation, for example, 'advancing health', or 'promoting or protecting human rights'.

All organisations registered with the ACNC have ongoing obligations to the ACNC. This includes obligations to:

  • notify us of certain changes
  • keep records
  • report to us each year
  • comply with Governance Standards.

Registered charities who send funds or engage in activities outside of Australia also need to comply with the ACNC External Conduct Standards.

These standards are intended to provide a minimum level of assurance that charities meet appropriate standards of governance and behaviour when operating outside Australia.

Reporting financial and other information

Registered charities report to us each year through the Annual Information Statement. Among other things, charities are required to provide information about:

  • whether they conducted ‘international activities’
  • whether they helped communities overseas
  • the names of the overseas countries where they conducted overseas activities or helped communities overseas
  • the amount of grants and donations they made for use outside Australia.

Governance standards and the ACFID Code of Conduct

The ACNC Governance Standards are a set of key standards which cover accountability to members and suitability of Responsible People. Registered charities must meet these standards.

A number of non-government aid and international development organisations are members of the peak body, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID).

All ACFID members sign up to the ACFID Code of Conduct (the ACFID Code). The ACFID Code promotes good practice and aims to improve international development outcomes and increase stakeholder trust by enhancing transparency and accountability of the members.

Charities that comply with the ACFID Code, its quality principles and commitments, are highly likely to also meet the ACNC Governance Standards.

However, the ACFID Code and the ACNC Governance Standards do not map across to each other in an exact way, and the ACNC may still require your organisation to demonstrate how it meets the Governance Standards.

See our guidance about the ACFID Code of Conduct and the ACNC Governance Standards.

External Conduct Standards and the ACFID Code of Conduct

The ACNC External Conduct Standards are a separate set of standards that impose minimum requirements on the governance and behaviour of charities when operating overseas.

As with the ACNC Governance Standards, charities that comply with the ACFID Code are also highly likely to meet the ACNC External Conduct Standards.

Again though, because the ACFID Code is not wholly consistent with the External Conduct Standards, the ACNC may still require further evidence to demonstrate compliance with the External Conduct Standards, despite ACFID Code compliance.

See our guidance about the ACFID Code of Conduct and the ACNC External Conduct Standards.

Obligations to other agencies

If your organisation has obligations to another government agency it must continue to meet these obligations unless we or another government agency tell you otherwise. This includes agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The ACNC works with other government agencies to reduce unnecessary regulatory obligations. See our guidance about other regulators for more information.

Overseas aid charities, terrorism financing and money laundering

Organisations in the not-for-profit sector have been identified as being vulnerable to misuse for the purpose of terrorism financing.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) - an international and inter-governmental body that sets standards and promotes measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats - published a report on the risk of terrorist abuse in non-profit organisations.

This risk is also monitored by the Attorney-General’s Department, and has been referenced in a 2014 AUSTRAC report on terrorism financing in Australia.

Reducing risk

All charities, no matter where they operate, should exercise due diligence and good governance.

But when sending money overseas, charities may face the specific risk that their charitable funds being diverted or otherwise misused, even if they are working with a local organisation which has similar charitable purposes.

How an overseas charity reduces this risk will vary according to its particular circumstances, such as its size, funding sources, the nature of its activities and the needs of the public.

Registered charities operating overseas or sending money overseas need take reasonable steps to ensure:

  • their activities outside Australia are carried out in a way that is consistent with their purpose and character as a charity, and
  • resources - including funds - given to third parties outside Australia are applied in accordance with their purpose and character as a charity, and with proper controls and risk management processes in place.

Charities should also ensure they are not sending funds or working with any people or organisations on the list of proscribed terrorist groups and individuals to which the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 and Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 applies.

Providing funds to a proscribed person or organisation is illegal, even if they use the funds for humanitarian purposes.

One of the key goals of the ACNC External Conduct Standards is to ensure charities take appropriate steps to reduce the risk that their funds, goods or services are misused or misappropriated.

We recommend charities review the resources below to help them understand the risks, as well as what they can do to mitigate them.

Attorney-General's Department

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)

Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)

Australian National Security

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