Joint Interview with
Mark Butler MP
Minister for Social Inclusion
1 November 2012
SUBJECTS: Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, alcohol pricing
I'm joined here today with my Ministerial colleague Mark Butler, Minister for Social Inclusion and a number of representatives from the charitable and community sector - Lin Hatfield Dodds from UnitingCare, David Crosbie from the Community Council for Australia and we also have Rachelle Towart who is from the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre.
Today is an historic day for the charitable sector. The Parliament has just passed reforms that will introduce in the first time in our history a national regulator for the charitable sector - the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. This has been a reform that has been called for by many in the sector for decades. There have been numerous inquiries, and inquiry after inquiry has recommended that a new national regulator be established for the charitable and not-for-profit sector. This is an important reform because it will strengthen the charitable sector. It will make sure that a sector that already has such a good name in the Australian community will be consolidated and reinforced with additional transparency and accountability, but most importantly with new measures designed to reduce red tape. This is important. In reducing red tape, we are determined to make sure that Australian charities can get on with the job of doing what they do best, and that is to provide assistance and support for some of the most vulnerable Australians. It's a significant reform, it's one that has been very hard-fought and today we join together in welcoming the passage of legislation that has brought into effect the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
I'll now hand over to Mark Butler.
Thank you David and thank you for all your work in this historic passage of the ACNC legislation. This is, as David has said, a reform that the sector has been calling for for many, many years. The not-for-profit and charitable sector is a critically-important part of our economy, contributing well more than $40 billion to GDP every year, employing hundreds of thousands of people and importantly as a part of the economy that is growing much faster than general economic growth in Australia, so they make a net contribution to economic prosperity in this country. But more importantly, it is a critical part of the delivery of basic social services and has been for decades and decades. Services that support the needs of the most disadvantaged in our community, but also fundamental social services like health, aged care, education and many, many more.
In areas of reform the Government is committed to implementing and in the process, in many cases, of implementing, in disabilities, in aged care, in mental health, and in many other areas we rely very, very much on the work of the not-for-profit and charities sector so ensuring they are able to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible is an obvious area of microeconomic reform and it is why we're so proud of the passage of this legislation. I'm also proud that we were able to introduce into this legislation a ban on gag clauses. Every government should be big enough to allow a free and open political debate, including a perspective from our charities and not-for-profits sector. We're very disheartened, very disappointed that the Queensland government in particular has reintroduced gag clauses that prevent charities and not-for-profit organisations participating in an open and vigorous debate about the delivery of government services, among other things and there is no way the Gillard Government would be a part of that. We've introduced a safeguard into this legislation that will prevent any Commonwealth government now and into the future, introducing gag clauses in the contracts between the Commonwealth government and the not-for-profits sector without going back to the Parliament without having to justify why that would be case and we call on all state governments to introduce the same measures into their contracts with the not-for-profit sector and charities. Every government, state or Federal, should be big enough to be able to participate in an open and vigorous debate in the not-for-profit sector.
I really want to thank the sector for their support in this not-for-profit reform process. We're committed to allowing this sector to do their critically important work, as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is an important micro-economic reform of the type when we introduced in Australia a single system of registration for companies in the late 1980s, but to get maximum impact and maximum effect from this reform, we need state governments to get on board. We're very pleased that the South Australia government decided to align their regulation in this sector with the Commonwealth's ACNC legislation. Every state government now has to come on board and ensure we have the most efficient and effective regulation for this critically important sector into the future.
I'll hand back to David to introduce our guests here today.
Thanks very much Mark. I also would like to take the opportunity to thank those in the sector who have worked so hard to make this reform become a reality. There aren't many stakeholders out there that come forward and welcome a proposition to introduce a new regulator but to those within the sector who have recognised the importance of having a regulator that understands the needs of the sector and is able to strengthen the sector into the future, I want to say thank you for your efforts.
Today, I would like to introduce to you Lin Hatfield Dodds from UnitingCare who has been a great advocate for the sector throughout this process.
Thank you Minister. I'm Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia. UnitingCare and the Uniting Church have been strong supporters of the establishment of a national regulator and we are delighted to see it pass through Parliament in the last 24 hours.
It's important for the sector to have a national regulator and the [inaudible] by the government around anti-gag clauses will enshrine, as Minister Butler said, our independence and our capacity to advocate with and on behalf of the people that use our services. It's the services at the front line of Australian communities who have the expertise and who understand what vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens most need in order to help them build the basic building blocks to deliver a decent life. So it's critical that we're able to speak freely, without fear of having our funding removed, to the government of the day so that national policy is improved.
It's also important that the Australian government has committed to a serious effort to reduce red tape. We know that we're in a difficult funding environment. In the community sector, we always are, we manage on a shoestring. What's really important is we make those shoestrings as strong as we can. Getting rid of the overly bureaucratic red tape processes that tie up so much of our service delivery time and effort is incredibly important. So those two things - independence of speech, working on red tape to make the whole system more efficient, and most importantly having a national regulator to ensure that the sector is transparent in how it operates. These three things together indicate that the sector has come of age, it's a very exciting moment for us. Thank you.
Thanks very much Lin. I'd also like to introduce David Crosbie from the Community Council for Australia.
Good morning. I'm David Crosbie, the CEO of the Community Council for Australia and we represent groups as diverse as the RSPCA, Music Aviva, Surf Lifesaving, World Vision and Mission Australia, and to give you some idea of the breadth of the charities sector it employs around a million Australians. It's a sector that, by and large, has been left behind in the reforms that have benefitted small business and large business across this country. It's been strangled by regulators and every inquiry into the sector has found that. This reform, the beginning of a new regulator for the sector that's responsive to the needs of the sector is the first time, really, that the sector will have the opportunity to drive change. I think for a long time people have perceived the charities sector as the victim, a kind of group that struggles at the bottom end of our funding and our community. I think the sector is finding its voice and the establishment of this new regulator is part of finding that new voice. I can ensure you that once the regulator is up and running the sector will hold it to account to achieve its objectives. Its objectives are to reduce red tape, are to build a stronger sector as well as providing more transparency. We've been waiting for this for over a decade and we're just delighted that it's happened. We commend the government and all who've been involved in getting this regulator up and we want to acknowledge the work of interim Commissioner Susan Pascoe who has done tremendous work. I think the sector is going to remember 1 November for a very long time, not just because it's about the new regulator getting through Parliament, but because it's about the sector having a voice, having its own regulator and being able to drive its own future, instead of simply relying on handouts from government and handouts from the community. It's about taking control and we're very delighted with this very important structural reform. Thank you.
Thanks very much David. Are there any questions?
Minister, one Coalition Senator has described the regulator as saying it treats charities as untrustworthy? What do you make of that?
I think that most Australians recognise that the charitable sector plays an absolutely critical role in delivery of services and support for some of our most vulnerable Australians. But equally, I think that all Australians, whether it be those that donate their money, or their time as volunteers, to the charitable sector, all Australians want to know that the monies that are contributed are being spent in an appropriate fashion and that there is some transparency and accountability in the sector. I think that those in the sector that are using the limited resources at their disposal, operating on the shoe string budgets we know they operate on, they also want there to be that accountability so that people have continued confidence in the sector, and it is critical that we have that confidence. Of course, if you don't have a strong and robust framework in place, then if there were to be any major difficulties in the future, then that of course would require a very strong and perhaps even knee-jerk response in a regulatory sense down the track. We are being proactive, but we are also putting in place a framework that would allow the Commonwealth to take leadership and to work with the states to eliminate duplication and unnecessary regulation. That will benefit our charitable sector so that our charities can get on with the job of doing what they do best and that is supporting vulnerable Australians.
Minister on a different issue, you've seen two reports in the last week discussing minimum prices on alcohol and also volumetric taxes on alcohol. Has the government come to any feeling, or perhaps you have a personal feeling, about the best way to deal with alcohol-related problems.
Well we've seen advocacy from some in the public health sector around floor pricing for some time so the report released earlier this week is not a new perspective, though there's some added detail in there. As to the report this morning that appeared in News Limited papers around a forthcoming piece of work by the preventative health agency, that is just a draft report that has not yet been received by government so I've not seen, it's not come to me and I obviously can't comment on its contents. But can I say two things about it, to stress first that when we do receive it it will be a draft report that will go out for further consultation with the community before final recommendations are provided to the government around pricing issues, particularly the idea of a minimum or a floor price on alcohol. The second thing I would stress is that a report from an agency like the preventative health agency will be one of a number of considerations the government would weigh when considering pricing issues, if we do come to considering pricing issues around alcohol. In response to the Henry Review, in last year's tax forum, members of the government, including the Treasurer, have said that some of those issues would include the supply of grapes in the wine industry, industry restructuring and a range of other issues. So it is very early days, we have not received a report that is a draft report that will go out to the community for further consultation, so for that reasons we don't really have anything further to add to this issue. I think it is important that that draft report be the subject of further discussion in the community around this issue.
Do you think it's right that you can bottled water for more than you can buy a bottle of wine?
Well when we receive the Preventative Health Taskforce Report in 2009/2010 and made our response in 2010, we did accept the recommendation of that taskforce that a public interest case be developed around the issues of minimum floor pricing, which is essentially at the heart of your question, Sue, and when the preventative health agency was established, that task was giving to this agency. Now, we take that process seriously, we think the community takes it seriously, stakeholders in the public health sector or in the alcohol manufacturing sector would expect that process to be respected by us and we will. A draft report will be received by us soon, it will then be released by the agency, not by the government, for further community consultation over a period of some weeks and then a final report will be developed. We think that's the proper way to develop thinking around this issue, providing evidence and having some proper process in the community. For that reason we don't intend to express a view about these issues.
This could solve your budget problem, though, couldn't it? You could raise $900 million by taxing wine at the same rate as you tax beer.
Whether the question is put from the perspective of budget or from a perspective of public health or comparing the price of water, my answer will be the same. We've set a very clear process in place that we think needs to be expected by the government and by other stakeholders in this argument.