Federal Govt reiterates pledge to “abolish” ACNC

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The Federal Coalition Government last week reconfirmed its pre-election promise to “abolish” the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

But there are signs that some elements of the ACNC could still remain in place.

Many smaller charities, which are incorporated associations, were no doubt cheering after the Federal Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said last week that the Government would seek to repeal the ACNC Act early next year. He added the Government was considering interim measures to “begin winding down the Commission’s operations” even sooner.

Since the ACNC Act’s governance requirements were implemented, smaller charities had to know, understand, and comply with two sets of regulatory requirements: their States/territories incorporated associations’ legislation and the ACNC Act.

The previous government was betting that its negotiations with the other jurisdictions would result in them passing their power over charities (or at least having consistent legislation like South Australia) to the ACNC, to stop the duplication.

But the latest news is not so good for charities who were previously under the Corporations Act.

Their governance requirements had substantially dropped when they were moved from the stringent (but sporadically enforced) Corporations Act to the ‘‘softly, softly” approach of the ACNC Act.

They will once again have to negotiate the arcane requirements of Related Party Transactions and other corporate hurdles. But they will probably face far less actual scrutiny and enforcement by an over-stretched ASIC.

Kevin Andrews in his speech to the National Disability Conference last week indicated the government would conduct formal consultation with the charities sector (again) to determine the way the ACNC would be dismantled.

There is some hope that some elements of the ACNC will stay, as the Government has also reiterated its desire to have a “Centre of Excellence” for the charities sector, providing education and information.

A clue to the future direction came from from Susan Pascoe, the inaugural (and probably the last) ACNC Commissioner in her regular column. After meeting the Minister she advised charities that they were still required to lodge their Annual Information Statements.

The information from the statements is available on the ACNC portal, which has had over 5000 hits since it was launched in November, showing that such a centralised source of information is both in demand, and serving a purpose.

Note: The Annual Information Statement due date for charities, whose financial year follows the normal June 30 financial year, is due March 31 2014 (not December 31).

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