Charities Bill – the rural perspective
Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) is concerned over signs that the Government intends pushing ahead with the Charities Bill despite huge opposition to the new legislation.
RWNZ Vice President, Margaret Chapman says that the appointment of Hon Rick Barker as Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector suggests that the Government is poised to enact a registration, reporting and monitoring system for charitable societies.
“This is a source of grave concern since many essential services are supplied to the rural sector through charitable organizations and the Charities Bill will do nothing but stifle them,” Mrs Chapman says.
“We believe that the added compliance costs imposed by the Charities Bill would cripple many charitable organizations, to the detriment of rural areas.”
If passed, the Bill will impact some 30,000 charities in New Zealand that perform a range of functions that the Government can barely conceive of.
“The Government has drafted this legislation without any real knowledge of who these charities are, what they do and why they exist.”
Mrs Chapman says that onerous compliance costs would endanger the existence of rural charities and the essential services and work that they achieve, in addition to deterring communities from doing charitable work.
The proposed Bill seeks to establish a Charities Commission to provide central administration for the registration system. The Commission will be a Crown Agency with its own Board, reporting to the Minister of Commerce. The intention is to increase the sector's accountability, transparency and degree of public disclosure.
“We believe this new layer of bureaucracy is unnecessary, since systems of accountability are already enforced by the IRD and the Financial Reporting Act 1993. If these existing systems need tightening up so be it, but why create a whole new management system that is only going to add an unreasonable level of cost and paperwork?” Mrs Chapman asks.
RWNZ made a submission to the Charities Bill, which they recently presented to a select committee, along with a wide range of other charitable organizations. Earlier consultation on the Charities Bill has not reached rural areas.
While RWNZ adamantly opposes any additional systems of policing and monitoring, they do support aspects of the Bill that provide advocacy for sectors involving high components of voluntary labour.
“Charitable organisations are integral to rural communities, especially since the centralisation of services in health and education has seen the erosion of social services in many areas.”
Mrs Chapman points out that rural communities have always has a strong dependency on voluntary labour to provide services that central or local government cannot afford, citing a range of examples from volunteer fire services through to community action groups and health care supporters.
RWNZ is a charitable organisation that has been dedicated to assisting rural communities since 1925. Services include the provision of education bursaries, emergency relief and home care.
RWNZ owns a non-profit homecare business called Access Homehealth which grew out of voluntary services established over 70 years ago. Access Homehealth is now one of the largest suppliers of homecare services in New Zealand , providing homecare to rural areas that other providers consider too remote and costly to visit.
Mrs Chapman says that Access Homehealth provide the rural homecare service without any compensation for mileage, so travel time is supplied on a voluntary basis.
“The cost to our organisation of complying with the Charities Bill would prevent us from focusing on the real issues of service provision and advocacy that are desperately needed by rural communities.”
Vice President - Rural Women New Zealand