June 2, 2017

CSI Responds to the recent news that the contract of ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM will not be renewed

 Like many social sector organisations, we were surprised to learn on Thursday that the contract of Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM, would not be renewed.

The charities and not-for-profit sector in Australia is a critical player in our social fabric and the Australian economy.

The sector exists for public good. It provides key social and other services to our children, young people and families, contributes to our communities and supports and advocates for our most vulnerable. In addition to social services, not-for-profits in Australia who are registered as charities support our health, education, development, housing, culture, recreation and environment and they support international aid, research and philanthropy.

Economically, the sector turns over more than $134 billion a year, employs 1.2 million people and engages nearly 3 million volunteers. If we were to rank this sector against other industries in Australia, it would be 9th (of 18) in regard to its income and the second biggest employer to the retail industry. And volunteering across Australia has been valued at nearly $20 billion to the Australian economy.

For a sector with such a large social and economic remit, public trust, transparency and accountability, support for a sustainable, independent and innovative sector and decreasing burden on the sector is critical. These are the roles of the national regulator the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

Around the world charity regulators play an important role and the ACNC was set up with a structure that is considered internationally as the ‘Holy Grail’ of charity regulation (see the recently released edited book on Regulating Charities: The Inside Story by McGregor-Lowndes and Wyatt).

Since 2012 and under Commissioner Susan Pascoe’s leadership, among other benefits, the ACNC in Australia has achieved:

  • a better understanding of the size and scope of the charities and not-for-profit sector;
  • international leadership in the transparency, availability and accessibility of digital data on the sector (e.g. the charities register has been search over 1.7 million times);
  • the removal or revoking of over 19,000 organisations as ‘Charities’, which increases confidence that the other more than 50,000 charities are complying with the ACNC Act and governance standards required of them, resulting in;
  • increased public trust in charities for the first time in 6 years (Charity Reputation Index, December 2016); and
  • reduction in the red tape charities deal with because of the different fundraising legislations across states/ territories (e.g. the ACNC have already overseen changes across five states / territories).

Commissioner Pascoe has demonstrated exceptional leadership during her time at the ACNC.

We were shocked to hear the announcement on 1 June 2017 that her contract as Commissioner will not be renewed when it finishes on 30 September 2017, especially since the five-year review of the ACNC is around the corner. The timing of this decision will leave many across the sector to ask questions as to why this decision was made right now.

More than ever, it is a time to remember that a strong, robust charities sector with high levels of public trust and accountability for the spending of public money; an understanding of the role and contribution the sector makes to our society; and a highly skilled, trusted and effective leader at the helm, are vital.

 

Professors Kristy Muir, Jo Barraket and Paul Flatau

 

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