University of Melbourne Magazine

Sweet charity

  • Susan Pascoe

    Susan Pascoe, Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission

    Susan Pascoe AM (BA 1973, MEd 1990) understands better than most Australia’s $2.2 billion charity industry.

    The Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has been in charge of the independent national charities regulator since its establishment in 2012.

    The ACNC is the first national regulator to protect public confidence in the charity sector, supporting charities to meet their statutory obligations and providing the public with transparent data on Australia’s estimated 60,000 charities.

    Pascoe says the industry desperately wanted a peak body to deal with the myriad compliance issues facing the giving sector.

    “Charities consistently asked for a regulator, which is quite unusual as in almost any other field you find opposition to regulation.”

    The ACNC has tried to reduce red tape for charities and not-for-profits – organisations previously bedevilled by complex jurisdictional reporting requirements. This focus on centralised reporting and monitoring ensures the ACNC can focus resources on other major issues.

    “One of the positive messages is that overwhelmingly charities do the right thing – they’re well-funded, organised and so on,” Pascoe says.

    “But they are also particularly vulnerable to abuse by those interested in money laundering and tax avoidance.”

    Pascoe says the ACNC’s collaboration with other major national partners – such as the Australian Tax Office (ATO), Australian Federal Police and Austrac – ensures the regulator can properly investigate major matters.

    “Recently we have had an increased role in investigations related to terrorist financing, due to the rise of ISIS.”

    Natural disasters pose particular difficulties, as their suddenness and unpredictability generally result in new charities.

    “We have protocols in place with the ATO and others to ensure we can fast-track charities’ establishment,” Pascoe says.

    “Yet there is constant monitoring as sham charities do pop up at these times – particularly online.”

    Considering the national coordination and federal bodies required to effectively monitor charities, it is interesting the ACNC should be based in Melbourne. Pascoe says this is largely a result of Victoria’s philanthropic history.

    “The taskforce that established the ACNC unambiguously said the organisation should be based in Melbourne or Sydney,” she says.

    “Sydney has a large corporate community, but Melbourne was the favourite destination because it has traditionally been regarded as the home of philanthropy in Australia.”

    Pascoe lists Philanthropy Australia, Justice Connect and Swinburne’s Centre of Philanthropy as Melbourne-based bodies helping charities build effective governance and financial planning principles. She particularly praises the Melbourne Law School, describing tax expert Professor Anne O’Connell as “an outstanding leader in the area of charitable law”.

    The future is starting to look bright for the ACNC. The Abbott Government has softened its original opposition to the body, better understanding the ACNC’s role in harmonising – rather than duplicating – regulatory burdens.

    Now the ACNC can focus on instilling confidence in the industry.

    “Australians are extremely generous,” Pascoe says.

    “We are here to maintain and enhance the public confidence in charities, and therefore the public confidence to give to them.”