The Atheist Foundation of Australia notes with concern a report in The Age (“Church lobby in win over charities watchdog”, 1 September 2013) that some church groups and leaders are actively lobbying to reduce the scope of the independent regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). The Atheist Foundation of Australia represents the fastest growing and now second largest demographic in Australia according to the latest census.

Church leaders are reported to have suggested that the ACNC “be of lighter touch”, and have already succeeded in having the ACNC’s legislation significantly watered down. For example, a requirement to prove that a charity actually works “in the public interest” has been removed, and requirements to account for income have been relaxed. Not content with concessions such as these, lobbying is apparently continuing to have this regulatory body abolished entirely, and the Coalition has suggested a desire to do so if it wins office.

President Michael Boyd says, “We are at a loss to understand why religious interests are actively seeking to reduce or remove the independent oversight of their proper use of voluntary public donations. These are solicited from all Australians, and also enjoy generous tax concessions. No-one in our society should be above the law or reasonable public accountability and transparency, and churches and religions are not exceptions in this regard.”

The role of the ACNC is given on their website as:

“The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) is the independent national regulator of charities. The ACNC has been set up to achieve the following objects:

• maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the sector through increased accountability and transparency
• support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative not-for-profit sector
• promote the reduction of unnecessary regulatory obligations on the sector”

It is difficult to see what reasonable argument could be had with those objects, or how they fail to assist the charity and not-for-profit sector. Improving public confidence in the use of charity donations is a goal that all charities, including religious ones, should be working to support rather than undermine.

On behalf of its members, the Atheist Foundation of Australia calls on all political parties to commit to maintaining and supporting the regulatory work and powers of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

Michael Boyd
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PO Box 1062
Lane Cove NSW 1595

Phone: (08) 8835 2269
Email: [email protected]

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