Civil society organisations rallied in Canberra yesterday to protest planned changes to the regulation of charities. This followed an open letter to the Prime Minister signed by more than 70 health, environmental, social and legal organisations, as reported recently at Croakey.
With the changes tabled in Parliament yesterday, the Change the Record coalition is sounding the alarm about the implications for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations working for health and justice. See their statement below, followed by a selection of commentary on Twitter.
Statement by Change the Record:
First Nations-led organisations have expressed alarm at regulations tabled in the Parliament which could silence and deregister First Nations organisations, alongside charities, at a time of national crisis for First Nations peoples in custody, with disability and experiencing family violence.
The proposed amendments are to Governance Standard 3 under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission Regulations 2013 (the Regulations). The changes go against the recommendations of a government review, and would put our organisations at risk if staff were found in breach of a wide range of summary offences (ranging from minor offences, like blocking a footpath or a sit-in in an MPs office through to protest related activities).
We are alarmed at the Commonwealth Government’s moves to attack our organisations in this way, and the particular harm that it would cause First Nations peoples who rely on our services.
Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair Change the Record:
“Like many First Nations organisations, Change the Record is auspiced by ANTaR which is regulated by the ACNC regulations. The Government’s proposed changes threaten our organisations with deregistration for a wide range of activities. These regulations are a thin veil for their attempts to silence crucial and critical voices that highlight the injustices faced by our peoples. We urge the Parliament to disallow these measures which fly in the face of Closing the Gap lip-service and promises of more control and autonomy being given to First Nations peoples, communities and organisations.”
Priscilla Atkins, NATSILS Chair:
“Our legal services across the country and the thousands of people they represent and advocate for must not be silenced. Protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination means that our people can access culturally safe legal support justice when and where they need it, which as we know supports our communities and reduces the over-incarceration of our people.
This nation and its leaders still perpetuate so many injustices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and it is our right to speak out against them. It is our duty to advocate for the changes that will create a fairer, freer and more equitable Australia.”
June Riemer, First Peoples Disability Network, Deputy CEO:
“These changes would particularly target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability and put our organisation under threat. These changes would place an unreasonable administrative burden on small charitable organisations, like First Peoples Disability Network, that are already struggling to meet demand within the communities we support. It’s an unnecesary and unprecedented attempt to silence our organisations.”
Paul Wright, ANTaR National Director:
“In the middle of a government initiated process to determine a First Nations Voice, these proposed regulatory changes would take away the few organisational voices that already try to speak for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In a healthy democracy, governments must be subject to robust scrutiny and the advocacy of the citizens and communities they are elected to serve, these changes undermine democracy.”
Background on the proposed changes
The Government is seeking to expand the powers of the Australian Charities and Not- for-profit Commission (ACNC) under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission Regulations 2013 (the Regulations).
They want to broaden Governance Standard 3, which currently says that a charity must not engage in conduct, or omit to engage in conduct, that can be dealt with as an indictable offence or attract a fine of over $13,320.
This standard was the subject of a review which recommended Governance Standard 3 should be repealed in its entirety.
The proposed changes threaten a charity with deregistration for an enormous range of activities. They impose an impossible administrative burden on our organisations which are already underfunded, under-resourced and struggle to meet the needs of our communities, and they make our charities potentially liable for the actions of others.
The proposed changes add “summary offences” to the list of prohibited conduct which could risk our charities’ registration. These offences could include blocking a footpath; putting a sticker on a light pole; disorderly behaviour; and similar offences. They could also include the offences of others.
The proposed changes would also add a new requirement for charities to “take reasonable steps to ensure that its resources are neither used, nor continued to be used, to promote or support acts or omissions by any entity.”
More alarmingly still, the changes would allow the ACNC Commissioner to de-register a charity that it believes is more likely than not to breach Governance 3 – even if it hasn’t actually engaged in any prohibited conduct.
The Morrison Government recently revised its proposed regulations, but they remain fundamentally flawed and must not proceed.
The laws still target and threaten charities with deregistration for speaking out, still impose a huge administrative burden on charities that means services will suffer, and still hand the regulator extraordinary powers to shutter a charity if he believes an offence is likely to occur in the future.
- An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander charity organises a gathering to increase public awareness about Black deaths in custody where people congregate in a public place and do not move on when asked to; or an employee of the charity does not move on when asked to.
- a staff member erects a temporary placard on the lawns of Parliament House at a rally against the terrible rates of family violence experienced by First Nations women and children, causing minor damage to the turf.
- It engages in lawful activity, such as tweeting to promote a rally where community members plan to peacefully and temporarily gather in the lobby of a Parliamentarians Office to demand in a meeting regarding a loved ones who died in prison.
More commentary, from Twitter
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