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Statement Regarding the Appointment of the New ACNC Commissioner

December 07th, 2017

Philanthropy Australia acknowledges the appointment of The Hon. Dr Gary Johns as the new Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

The Australian charities sector plays a vital role in our society. It tackles disadvantage, builds social and cultural capital, protects our environment and is a voice for the voiceless. It is the first responder in times of hardship, injustice and need.

It is also a major economic contributor to our society. It is the second largest employer of Australians, second only to the retail sector; over 50% of the money used to resource the sector is self-generated; and it is supported by almost 3 million volunteers, active citizens participating in building a healthy and inclusive society.

According to recent research, there is strong public trust and confidence in charities – they are the fifth most trusted institution in Australia, after doctors, police, the High Court, and the Australian Taxation Office.

Philanthropy provides vital support for the Australian charities sector, with charities receiving $10.5 billion dollars in donations and bequests in 2016. The ACNC plays a key role supporting more and better philanthropy through its work ensuring that charities are well regulated and by providing a centralised source of information on charities.

The ACNC turned 5 years old this week and during this time it has established itself as an independent, effective and responsive regulator. The ACNC has worked hard to fulfil its legislative objects – by creating accessible and effective regulatory processes and relationships, promoting public trust and confidence in charities, supporting a vibrant and independent sector and reducing red tape.

It is vital that the ACNC continues to be an independent, effectively managed and responsive regulator – one which respects the diversity of the sector, enables and recognises the different ways charities seek to fulfil their charitable purposes, and continues to value the essential roles and contributions the sector provides to our broad community.

Philanthropy Australia is very keen to continue its positive relationship with the ACNC and will work with the new Commissioner and the ACNC’s staff to achieve this.

There are concerns about statements made by the incoming Commissioner regarding the role of charities and in particular their advocacy activities. It would be alarming if these statements were reflective of the agenda for the incoming Commissioner’s administration of the ACNC. It is imperative that the decisions of the Commissioner are seen as fair, consistent and proportionate.

Philanthropy Australia strongly supports the existing definition of charity within the Charities Act 2013 (Cth), the important critical advocacy role of charities, and the ability of philanthropy to fund such activities.

Charities work on the frontline to address some of our most complex social and environmental challenges. It is essential that they can use their knowledge and experience to advocate for better policies which can address the causes rather than merely the symptoms of social and environmental challenges.

The advocacy role of charities has been recognised as essential to our democracy by the High Court in its decision in the Aid/Watch case.

Philanthropy Australia would strongly oppose any moves to restrict or inhibit the ability of charities to undertake advocacy, either through variations to the ACNC’s enforcement approach, regulatory guidance or through legislative change.

We look forward to meeting with the incoming Commissioner to discuss his new role, highlight the important contribution of the philanthropic sector in Australia and explore ways that we can work together.

-END-

Media Enquires: Ruth Heenan – rheenan@philanthropy.org.au, 0416 565 332.

In conversation with Daniel Lee of the Levi Strauss Foundation

In conversation with Nicole Richards at the Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, Daniel Lee shared his insights on topics including the role of philanthropy as a driver of systems change which addresses root causes of social challenges, the relationship between philanthropy and government and what the new political environment in the United States means for philanthropy.

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