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Justice Connect acknowledges the appointment. It is an important one. The ACNC regulates a sector that employs 1.3 million Australians. The sector is supported by 2.9 million volunteers and millions of Australians donate to charities every year. This diverse sector benefits every Australian – those who enjoy patrolled beaches, walking along nature trails, or anyone who has ever needed a hand up at a difficult time.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) requires the Commissioner to maintain and protect public confidence in the sector, as well as helping to sustain the sector and reduce red tape. The Commissioner has considerable discretions to exercise in ensuring compliance with the Act, as well as being charged with assisting charities by providing them with guidance and education.
We note many previous public statements by the new Commissioner that seem at odds with these new responsibilities. This is of concern.
Justice Connect’s acting CEO Sue Woodward said ‘That from the thousands of enquiries our specialist Not-for-profit Law service has taken since the inception of the ACNC, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive regarding the quality of support and advice from the ACNC, even when people haven’t got the decision they were hoping for.’
She said ‘it is clear the sector holds the ACNC in high regard. When the ACNC speaks, the sector listens. When the ACNC asks them to do something, they do it. This is reflected in very high compliance rates for annual reporting.’
She went on to say ‘a strong sector engagement strategy, a regulatory approach that starts with the assumption that charities want to do the right thing, and a staff culture of client service have earned the ACNC respect from the sector’. ‘As a sector we called for an independent specialist regulator. We want ‘bad apples’ dealt with but we also want a regulator who understands the work we do and why that work often involves advocating for change.’
We hope under the new Commissioner’s leadership the overall regulatory approach of the ACNC does not change.
A loss of confidence in and respect for the ACNC by the sector would be detrimental in a similar way to a loss of confidence by the public in charities.