Charity lawyer to navigate NFP reform

The ACS NSW & ACT State Conference is next week, and asks delegates to ‘Maintain the Rage’. Charity lawyer Claire Jones will be there to chart a course through the legislative process for Treasury’s NFP sector reforms.

Above: Claire Jones

By Stephen Easton

Not-for-profit aged care providers and their representative bodies must soldier on despite ‘submission fatigue’, and stay proactively engaged with the second major reform process that affects them.

This is the advice of Claire Jones, a director on the board of the Australian Charity Law Association, on the government’s moves to reform the NFP sector in a range of ways, including the establishment of a single national regulator and taxation of income from ‘unrelated commercial activities’.

The charity law expert, who is also a senior associate with NFP specialist law firm, Prolegis Lawyers, will explain how to ‘navigate and survive’ the reforms in a presentation at next week’s ACS NSW & ACT State Conference on 10 May at Australian Technology Park, Sydney.

Ms Jones said the presentation will be premised on the fact that NFP aged care providers – whose staff members will make up most of the conference delegates – have been dealing with two massive packages of reform happening at the same time.

“The issue for these organisations – and we’re feeling it too, from a practice point of view – is ‘submission fatigue’. There is just so much going on that we begin to feel like we can no longer engage with the process,” she explained.

“Part of what I want to be encouraging is that we continue to engage with the process; that we continue to consult and review and do all of those things.”

The reform process has taken longer than the government hoped; one of the final acts of the former Assistant Treasurer, Mark Arbib, was to push back the starting date for the new regulatory body, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), to 1 October after an exposure draft of legislation to establish the ACNC attracted some rather robust responses.

A tax on unrelated commercial activities that was originally planned to apply from budget night last year has also been delayed, and will now apply from 1 July this year, meaning it will be tax time in 2013 before NFPs have to pay any extra tax under the new system, which aims to “better target NFP tax concessions”.

NFPs should rest assured the government is serious about listening to them, despite the sometimes opaque Treasury consultation process, Ms Jones said. 

“I think the consultation is real; we’ve seen evidence of that fact. It’s not just lip service. That means we need to keep stepping up and assessing the legislation for unintended consequences.

“We need to keep challenging the government to ensure that the end result actually achieves the outcomes that the government has set as priorities – that it represents world’s best practice – so we’ll get a package of reforms that will support and stimulate the charity sector into the future, not burden and hamper it.”

Ms Jones said she would make the case that NFPs should seek consensus within the sector because it was clear that some reform was needed, and the current legislative process represented the NFP sector’s best opportunity to achieve a good outcome.

“…You do certainly see divergent views, but ultimately it’s the government’s view that will prevail. It’s fair to say that after 15-odd years of submissions and reports, we’re lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of how charities are regulated.”

She will also argue that smaller organisations in the NFP sector can still have constructive input through their representatives, or by reading and endorsing comprehensive and well-researched submissions, such as one by the University of Melbourne.

“I think part of it will be to make use of the peak bodies and recognise that each individual doesn’t necessarily need to lodge a full submission at every stage in the process, but can use the peak bodies effectively and can engage with the peak bodies and have them voice those concerns.

“So part of it is to get together more, and I think the aged care services area already do that quite well. I think one of the advantages we have in the charities sector is that because it’s not as competitive, it does tend to be quite a collegiate sector, where people are willing to bounce their ideas of each other.”

Claire Jones will give her presentation, Navigating and Surviving Treasury’s Reforms of the Charity and Not-for-profit Sector, at the ACS NSW & ACT State Conference, ‘Maintain the Rage’, which is being held next Thursday and Friday, 10-11 May, at Australian Technology Park, Sydney.

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