By Stephen Easton
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) will begin operating slightly later than its planned October 1 commencement date.
Legislation to allow the ACNC to begin operating passed the House of Representatives last week, but delaying tactics from the Opposition mean it now cannot be debated in the Senate until October 9 at the earliest.
The Opposition has sided with critics of the ACNC who express support for the government’s stated intention to ‘reduce red tape’, but contend that the three pieces of legislation currently before Parliament will not achieve that aim, and are not fit to be passed without significant amendments.
But the delay will have no “material impact” on the NFP sector, according a joint media release from Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury and the Minister for Social Inclusion, Mark Butler.
The joint statement points out that new governance standards and a new financial reporting framework do not commence until 1 July 2013, and the first financial reports for medium and large registered nonprofits will not be due for another year after that.
The precursor to the new national regulator, the ACNC Implementation Taskforce, has already begun recruiting 90 staff for the Commission and is prepared to begin operating as soon as the legislation is passed, according to director of communications, Jan Sharrock.
“We will be ready to open our doors regardless of the start date,” Ms Sharrock said.
“Whatever the day, whatever the time, all of us at the ACNC will be ready to take that first call, start registering charities and providing a service to the not-for-profit sector.
“We have recruited a great team, we are establishing robust processes and procedures and are ready to prove our value to the sector and the community.”
The Taskforce has also responded to criticisms raised by Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, deputy chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, who questioned whether recruiting 90 staff accorded with assurances from the Attorney-General’s Department that the ACNC would be “a very lean organisation”.
A spokesperson for the ACNC Taskforce said the two largest teams would be responsible for registering and providing advice to Australia’s 56,000 charities, and would replace staff employed currently by the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
“This is work previously done by the ATO and this resource allocation has transferred across,” the spokesperson advised.
Assistant Treasurer Bradbury and Minister Butler accused the Coalition of wilfully ignoring the new national regulator’s “broad support across the not-for-profit (NFP) sector”, in its attempts to slow down the reform.
The ACNC Taskforce spokesperson said the establishment of the ACNC had “overwhelming support from the not-for-profit sector”, and listed the Australian Council of Social Services, Chartered Secretaries Australia, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, CPA Australia and the Community Council for Australia among its supporters.
But some in the NFP sector still do not support the establishment of the ACNC in its current form, even after several amendments were made to the legislation in the House of Representatives.
Catholic Health Australia (CHA), in particular, has been strongly critical of the bills throughout the drafting process – backed up by Aged and Community Services Australia – and proposes five further amendments in its latest submission.