On 23 December 2015, the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing existence of the Australian Charities and
Not-for-profits Commission (‘ACNC’) was ended with the release of the Exposure Draft Private Ancillary Fund and Public Ancillary Fund Amendment Guidelines 2015. The Turnbull government intends to amend the existing Guidelines to reflect the introduction of ACNC and the Charities Act, giving the clearest indication to date of federal support for the continuation of the ACNC.
These indications of support for the ACNC are a move away from the Abbott government’s policy, which was to dismantle the ACNC, create a National Centre for Excellence for Civil Society in its stead and return regulatory oversight of the
not–for-profit sector to the Australian Tax Office and Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Abolition was a key part of the Abbott government’s overall deregulation agenda as well as their not-for-profit sector policy. However the Abbott government failed to gain Senate support to pass the necessary legislation to abolish the ACNC by the end of 2014, despite a supportive Senate Inquiry. Until December, however, there had not been a clear statement of policy intent in the wake of this failure, putting the ACNC’s future under a cloud of uncertainty.
As late as September 2015, the then Minister for Social Services Morrison was unable to formally confirm the rejection of the policy to abolish the ACNC. It may be that the ACNC can now focus on its objectives to ‘maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the not-for-profit sector’; and to ‘support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative sector’ (ACNC Act ss 15-5(1)(a)–(b)); and allow those who operate within the not-for-profit sector to focus on their own activities and compliance with a regulator in the knowledge of its continued existence.
ELEN SEYMOUR teaches law at Western Sydney University.