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Andrew Leigh: Charity Scammers Prey on our Goodwill

Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, writes about the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission and their work in stopping scam charities.

The charities had weighty names such as Friends of the Disabled Children’s Task Force, Friends of the Underprivileged Children’s Task Force and the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease of Australia Incorporated. Inspired by a deep sense of generosity, Australians donated more than a million dollars to them.

But it turned out that there wasn’t much evidence of that money going to the disadvantaged or needy. These charities have since been shut down.

All scammers are dodgy, but I’ve always regarded charity scammers as a particular form of low-life. While other scammers exploit greed, lust and ignorance, charity scammers prey on our goodwill. They take the great Aussie tradition of wanting to help the vulnerable, and use it to line their own pockets.

Cracking down on scams is one of the main reasons that Labor set up the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission in 2012. Before we established the commission, Australians had no central register to find out whether a charity was dodgy or legit. Now, if someone comes to your door asking for money, you can jump on www.acnc.gov.au and check them out in an instant. The charities commission is also proactive when it comes to dealing with scammers. Earlier this year it deregistered two West Australian groups after a five-month investigation showed their benevolent work was a sham.

The commission has also revoked the charity status of more than 240 not-for-profits which failed to report on their activities. This means your tax dollars aren’t being spent on tax breaks for charities which can’t show they’re doing a decent job.

The charities commission also brings welcome benefits for charities themselves. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, not-for-profits such as Lifeline, the RSPCA and Save the Children pointed out that it has cut their compliance costs and reduced regulatory burden. At the same time, the increased transparency provided by the commission raises public trust in the sector as a whole.

Despite the commission succeeding on all these fronts, the Abbott Government wants to scrap it. As World Vision CEO Tim Costello put it, “The sector overwhelmingly believes the government has got it wrong”.

The charities commission is helping charities, and almost all want to keep it. On top of that, there’s a risk that axing the charities commission will increase the number of charity scams. No one wants to see that outcome. The Abbott Government should stop scamming Australians, and keep the charities commission.

This opinion piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 16 September 2014.

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