July 11, 2023

Charities welcome changes to secrecy provisions but caution against their misuse

The Stronger Charities Alliance, an alliance of around 130 civil society organisations dedicated to supporting and advancing the interests of charities and the not-for-profit sector, welcomes the Albanese government's announcement of further improving the integrity of the charity sector. But the Alliance recommends that the government takes a more cautious approach in implementing the proposal and continues close consultations with the sector to avoid any unintended consequences from the proposed reforms.  

"We appreciate the Albanese government's commitment to empowering the charity sector and enhancing its integrity. The government has already taken several steps to strengthen the sector in its first 12 months, but we urge caution in implementing the announced reform. Changes to secrecy provisions, which presently prevent the Australian Charities and Not‑for‑profits Commission (ACNC) from disclosing information about investigations into potential misconduct by charities, should be approached carefully to prevent unintended harmful impacts on the sector", said Hassan Mirbahar, the Coordinator of the Stronger Charities Alliance.

Stronger Charities Alliance believes transparency is vital in maintaining public trust in the charity and not-for-profit sector. The proposal to change the secrecy provisions appears, at face value, to align with this objective by allowing the ACNC to release information regarding ongoing investigations. However, it is crucial to ensure that these reforms are executed properly to avoid potential harm and the misuse of information against charities, particularly those engaged in advocacy work.

"What we want to ensure is that charities that are critical of the government of the day are not unfairly targeted like we have seen occur over the last decade. Even if cleared of wrongdoing, the reputational damage to charities could be irreparable.", said Saffron Zomer, the Executive Director of Australian Democracy Network, a member of the Alliance. 

Therefore, disclosure of new and ongoing investigations could adversely impact a charity's donations and grants and its ability to recruit volunteers, staff and directors even when they are found to have done nothing wrong. 

Hassan added, "There's a balance to be struck here, and we believe the government can get the balance right. We welcome that the government will hold public consultations, which will be a good forum to discuss with charities about putting safeguards in place to avoid problems while ensuring transparency and trust in the sector. We look forward to engaging with the process and ensuring that our members' voices are communicated".