The Australian parliament has taken steps to avoid dual regulation for charities and controversy over public benefit while drawing up its equivalent of the Charity Commission, MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee heard today.
The committee heard evidence from Susan Pascoe, commissioner-designate of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, which is being established as part of a wide-ranging reform of charity law in Australia, and from Murray Baird, assistant commissioner and general counsel of the same body.
The session was the fourth hearing of the committee’s inquiry into the implementation and operation of the Charities Act 2006.
Pascoe told the committee that much of the Australian legislation was modelled on the UK system of charity regulation, but that Australia would have a different system of registration.
Charity registration would be voluntary, she said, but charities would have to register with the commission if they wanted to claim tax relief.
Once charities had registered, she said, the ACNC would be responsible for passing on that information to the tax authorities and registrar of companies.
"There will be a single point of registration," she said. "The forms needed to register with us will be the same as those required for other regulators."
Pascoe said that her commission would also have a wider range of regulatory powers than in the UK, including fining charities for late filing. And she said that the new commission’s website would allow more transparent investigation of charities’ accounts.
She said the Australian parliament was considering removing the presumption of public benefit from religious, educational and anti-poverty charities, but was mindful of avoiding the controversies that have arisen around education and religion in the UK as a result.
Pascoe said she agreed with a view put forward by Bernard Jenkin, chair of the committee, who said that "much uncertainty and heartache could be avoided" if her government "took a firm view" of the definition of charity, in a way that the UK government had not done.
She said that one option was to develop a statutory definition of charity, rather than to rely on case law.