Turia: Charities Commission Annual General Meeting

Speech – New Zealand Government

I remember someone once saying that an AGM is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted. The Charities Commission seems determined to prove this statement wrong with a very full programme all wrapped up in less than four hours – and including …
Hon Tariana Turia

Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector
Tuesday 30 November 2010; 3.30pm Speech
Charities Commission Annual General Meeting
Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre, Mt Wellington, Auckland

(delivered on behalf of Minister Turia by Hannah O’Donnell)

I want to thank Sid Ashton, the Chair of the Board of the Commission and Trevor Garrett, the Chief Executive Officer, for organising today’s forum.

I am genuinely pleased to be invited to speak to your Annual General Meeting for 2010.

I remember someone once saying that an AGM is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted. The Charities Commission seems determined to prove this statement wrong with a very full programme all wrapped up in less than four hours – and including the fabulous Star Jam as well.

What is even more amazing, is that this is an AGM with a registration list which could potentially have reached into the thousands – with some 25,000 registered charities coming under your responsibility as required by the Charities Act. While I’m sure the organisers of today are relieved that not all 25,000 have shown up, it is heartening to see such a large number of you taking part.

I was also really impressed by the priority you have allocated towards sharpening your focus, including the panel discussion earlier this afternoon emphasizing that charities will succeed depending on the best alignment between the right people for the activities of that group.

I was interested too, by the question posed by Mark Solomon, that an effective charity is one which maintains a focus on learning and improving.

This is a highly appropriate juncture to be considering such a question.
For as we look over the five years since the Commission was first established in 2005, there has been ample opportunity to explore new ideas, to make mistakes along the way, and to learn from them – all steps which are critical for the development of any organisation.

In this context, I am really pleased to see coming through the surveys of public trust and confidence undertaken by the Commission, that most members of the public have maintained high levels of trust and confidence in charities, and that levels of giving have remained steady during the past 18 months.

In fact if you watched the Business Breakfast in the early hours of this morning, you might have seen the breaking news that New Zealanders are giving a lot more to charities than their Australian counterparts – a finding which one again reminds us of the wonderful spirit of generosity we see amongst New Zealanders.

I was interested to see that in the public surveys, 84% said that they are more likely to trust charities that are registered with the Charities Commission.

Another development has been seeing the public use the information on the register to inform their giving decisions. This is a healthy trend that I expect will continue.

It is good that the Commission is using its surveys to measure trust and confidence. The results of these surveys will provide a useful story, over time, of the charitable sector and its place in the community and I encourage you to continue to maintain this focus.

Being able to reflect on your progress and to continually monitor your performance is critical in enabling you to meet the needs of charities and the needs of the sector.
We know there have been some contentious discussions around particular entities which have been deregistered by the Charities Commission, including various issues associated with the tax treatment.

I am hopeful that the first principles review of the Charities Act 2005 – which is scheduled for completion by 2015 – will help us all to determine whether the existing legislation is fit for purpose and reflects the needs and composition of the charitable sector.

As part of this review, it may, for instance include considering whether there needs to be greater consistency between the Income Tax Act 2007 and the Charities Act; or whether there needs to be a more consistent interpretation of statutory definitions of those infamous words – charitable purpose.
I am really proud to announce today that significant progress has been made the review of the Charities Act and Regulations. Cabinet has recently approved a set of mainly technical amendments to that Act that will help the Commission to more effectively carry out its business. If successfully passed into law by Parliament over the next year, charities will notice some improved processes as a result – and this, we trust, will inevitably lead to improved public confidence in the sector.

The review highlighted for me the fact that the regulatory environment the wider non-profit sector operates in is fragmented and confusing. In fact some would call it “antiquated”.

The Department of Internal Affairs will start scoping the work required for the first principles review as early as 2012. I want to see this review expanded to provide for a simpler, more cohesive regulatory framework for the wider sector. I believe the timing is right to do this.

The Law Commission is also reviewing the Charitable Trusts Act 1957 as part of its current review of trust law. This will have important consequences for many of you here today.

Approximately 30% of charities registered with the Commission are also incorporated under the Charitable Trusts Act so any changes in the two reviews that will impact on the charitable sector need to be aligned and undertaken in a consistent manner – and importantly, have the support of the charitable sector.

It has been really pleasing to see the Commission take a leadership role in working with an interdepartmental group to provide clear and consistent messages for the amateur sports sector and those that fund them. Such cooperation around the key communication messages is vital to address the particular concerns for this sector.

This brings me to the education function that the Commission has been developing more and more expertise and enthusiasm for.

It is likely that many of you here today have attended one of the 16 educational forums hosted by the Commission in the last year. The forums included representatives from the Charities Commission, the Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector, the Inland Revenue Department and the Department of Internal Affairs.

I am pleased that the feedback received from these forums has been positive and from what I can gather there has been evidence of government agencies working together; sharing information; co-operating and collaborating for the common good.

The increased education function sits alongside the statutory monitoring and investigative role of the Commission
This last year has provided us with various situations in which the integrity of the register of charities is in the media spotlight. As at 30 September 2010, the Commission’s monitoring function had resulted in 19 charities being deregistered as they no longer qualify for registration.

Registered organisations must continue to qualify for registration, or public trust and confidence in charities will be compromised. Being registered also assures members of the public that an organisation’s activities are genuinely charitable.

And I do want to note, that although we understand that the Commission’s monitoring and investigation of registered charities is an extremely sensitive part of their role, it is essential that the Commission continues to provide assurances to the sector, public and donees –about the transparency and accountability of charities.

Finally, I want to return to the focus of today’s forum, “the qualities of an effective charity”.

I am really pleased to see that the Commission is working with you all, on ways for charities to continue learning and developing is an essential ingredient of effectiveness.

I fully support the Commission in their desire to see an environment that fosters effective charities and enables charities to operate in ways that continue to increase trust and confidence in the sector.

As the Commission moves into its sixth year, its efforts will expand into raising the profile of charities and the register, and to extend its ‘reach’ to the wide range of communities throughout the country. The work that the Commission has begun in the regions, through its relationships, networks and joint projects, has promise.
Through this work, I look forward to seeing an increased range of community groups accessing the benefits of the register.

Finally, I want to publicly acknowledge the tremendous commitment of all members of the Charities Commission, and in particular its Chair, Sid Ashton.

Sid has been a pleasure to work with, and I have been really thrilled to see the Commission growing in leaps and bounds under his leadership. My meetings with Sid and Trevor have been extremely positive and I want to thank them both for the absolute commitment they have expressed in the charitable sector, and the work of the Charities Commission.

I wish you all a great year ahead, and once again, thank you for the important difference you are making in maintaining the integrity, the accountability and the fine performance of our charitable organisations.

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