Bad Liberal policy will damage charities

Article by MICHAEL PASCOE published in the SMH on 2/9/13

Kevin Andrews’ last big contribution to Australian public life was when he was Immigration Minister and totally botched the Dr Mohamed Haneef case, defaming and wrongly imprisoning the innocent doctor. The indications are that he intends to pick up in the style with which he left off, this time as Family and Human Services Minister.

The current target of Mr Andrews’ zeal is the vast bulk of the charity and not-for-profit sector. As Royce Millar very nicely reported yesterday, Andrews seems to have carriage of Cardinal George Pell’s desire to scrap the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, a body that’s actually designed to help the bodies it watches over.

The ACNC was set up in December with one Susan Pascoe (no relation) as its inaugural commission. Among those who take these things seriously, the ACNC is considered a healthy improvement for the sector - the result of five major inquiries over more than a decade recommending such a thing. It’s something the Labor government seemed to get right.

Kevin Andrews, as the shadow minister for families, housing and human services, ran a particularly ill-informed, ideologically-driven and hugely ignored campaign against it, including a waste-of-space filibuster over the legislation. Despite the ACNC’s subsequent success, Andrews remains unrepentant and promises an Abbott government will scrap it. 

Andrews wants to keep the not-for-profits regulatory function in the Australian Tax Office. The ATO unfortunately has a policy that prevents staff from giving much in the way of helpful advice and support. The ACNC has the ability to help the good as well as to act as the enforcer. 

What Andrews apparently refuses to admit was that the charities and not-for-profit sector wanted and needed its own regulator and that the ACNC could make the administration of the nation’s charities and not-for-profits easier. Andrews’ public stance was only that another regulator was being created by Labor, therefore it must mean more red tape and more public servants and therefore should be taken out and shot.

At the time in a comment in this space, I thought he was just being short-sighted in the negative spirit of the opposition. Now, thanks to Mr Millar’s report, it’s possible to see there’s been a bit more to it with the Sydney Catholic archdiocese lobbying hard and fast against the ACNC from the start. 

The fate of the ACNC could be a small but telling indicator of whether the coalition can successfully make the change from being an especially divisive opposition to being a responsible and reasonable government. And looking after a few close mates at the cost of the broader community is never a good sign.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor