Address to Community Trusts of New Zealand conferenceCommunity and Voluntary Sector
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. It is my great pleasure to join you this afternoon. Thank you the Community Trust of Mid & South Canterbury for hosting this year’s conference. I extend a warm welcome to my home town of Timaru and our beautiful region, to distinguished guests, visiting trustees, officials and the talented array of speakers.
Some of you may know that some of my background is in the community and voluntary sector. I know from firsthand experience how vital this sector is, the challenges that it faces, and the benefits it produces for New Zealanders. I’m very pleased, then, to have the opportunity to address you all as the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector and express my appreciation for your ongoing support of our communities.
I’d like to talk to you today about some of the current issues facing the community and voluntary sector. Across the Government, there are a number of different reviews and work programmes with implications for the sector underway, from the Finance, Justice and Economic Development portfolios to my own priorities as Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector.
I expect that the result of all of this work will be a stronger community and voluntary sector. In particular, I see this work as helping the sector to avoid undue compliance costs, especially for small organisations, providing helpful guidance to support sector organisations doing this work, establishing minimum quality standards and encouraging open and transparent governance.
Among my goals as Minister will be working towards stronger government-sector relationships with communities. This will include continuing to work towards more strategic and long-term investment in local communities to help communities, hapū and iwi achieve their goals through the Community-led Development initiative. I will also continue to support and encourage the good practice principles expressed in the Kia Tūtahi Relationship Accord.
I have asked the Department of Internal Affairs to focus on improving efficiencies for community organisations by providing better access to grants, reducing compliance costs, and streamlining grant funding processes, including the use of technology.
Charities Commission and the Charities Act
Transparency around how government funding is spent is a major feature of our current Government initiatives. There is a range of ‘machinery of Government’ changes currently underway, which aim to provide better value for money, less duplication and improved coordination between services.
This is why it is proposed that the functions of the Charities Commission will be moving to the Department of Internal Affairs, subject to the Parliamentary process.
It is important that the Charities Act, under which the Charities Commission functions, is effective, efficient and fit for current purposes. As you will know, one of the key issues with the Act is the definition of ‘charitable purpose’. The meaning of the term has developed over 400 years through case law and, more recently, changes to legislation.
The Department of Internal Affairs is currently scoping a possible approach to reviewing the Charities Act.
I intend to investigate more innovative ways to help community organisations through projects that will identify the most appropriate role for government in growing a culture of generosity and in supporting social enterprise and social finance. There are some wonderful examples of large businesses assisting in innovative ways, be it a day off for employees to volunteer, encouraging payroll giving, and in some cases, shutting up shop so that most employees can work on volunteer projects on one day of the year.
Financial resourcing is important to the success of organisations that seek to meet community needs. In constrained economic times, many community organisations are looking to diversify their income streams through an increased focus on trading. The number of social enterprises worldwide is expanding.
The Department of Internal Affairs is undertaking research, and working with community and voluntary sector representatives, about building social enterprise potential and the role of social finance in New Zealand.
The Department is interested in exploring how government can:
strengthen communities by encouraging active citizenship, particularly through giving and volunteering;
support innovative approaches to addressing social and environmental issues; and
leverage new investment opportunities and financial instruments to strengthen the economic base of communities.
Law Commission reviews
I have been interested to follow the progress of the Law Commission’s review of the Incorporated Societies Act 1908, which was initiated by the previous Minister of Justice. As you know, this Act governs many of our non-profit sector and community organisations. Many consider it to be in need of reform.
Of course, there are plenty of non-profit organisations that operate well under the current system. There are also organisations that could operate more smoothly under improved legislation, and through more guidance on good governance arrangements. To this end, the Law Commission review is looking at standards of good governance, mechanisms for resolving disputes between members and their societies, and processes for the liquidation and dissolution of societies.
The Commission is also reviewing aspects of the Charitable Trusts Act 1957 as part of its Review of the Law of Trusts. Both reviews are expected to be completed by 2013/14. I look forward to seeing what recommendations emerge and the implications for the community sector.
As you will no doubt be aware, we are in a period of major change in how financial reporting standards are set in New Zealand. Last year, the Government established the External Reporting Board (XRB). The XRB will set financial reporting standards for registered charities and any other non-profit entities required to prepare general purpose financial reports.
The XRB is developing simple reporting templates that will assist with preparing reports to satisfy financial reporting requirements. This will form a consistent basis for reporting and will provide some certainty to the charitable sector about what is expected from them.
The Ministry of Economic Development is also undertaking some work on what level of assurance standards should be required for the financial reports of registered charities. This work is of great significance to the functioning of the community and voluntary sector, and my officials and I are following it closely.
As Minister, I want to help empower communities by working with the volunteering sector to develop ways to support and recognise the skills of volunteers. New Zealand is a generous country, and we depend on citizens giving their time and money to support our society. Volunteering can provide social connectedness and pathways into paid employment – for instance, for women returning to the workforce, people with disabilities or who are socially isolated, refugees and young people.
The response to the Canterbury earthquakes is a good, though sobering, example of the strength of this sector. I saw an incredible response from the community, both from existing non-profit organisations and newly formed voluntary groups. Volunteers gave an enormous amount of time and energy to assist affected people and clean up the city.
Neighbours shared resources with one another. Marae took in people whose homes were damaged. Existing organisations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army rose to the occasion. In some cases new roles were created – like the Federated Farmers’ “Farmy Army”, which focused on cleaning up liquefaction. Some new groups arose spontaneously, like the Student Volunteer Army of over 2,500 students who helped clean up after each event, and the Rangiora Earthquake Express, which delivered food and aid parcels to the Christchurch suburbs worst affected. There was also, of course, an outpouring of support from around the country.
I was interested to read a recent article in The Dominion Post about a senior United States government official named Tim Manning. Mr Manning was part of a United States delegation caught in Christchurch during the February earthquake last year. I quote from Mr Manning, who said that in photographs of Christchurch during that day: “you can see one fire truck, you can see a number of emergency vehicles, but if you look across the building, it's almost all construction workers, almost all volunteers, doing the rescue at that time. We as emergency managers tend to plan around how we will respond to an emergency and, very infrequently, plan for how the community, the citizens, the bystanders will respond themselves.”
Mr Manning went on to say that over the last year, witnessing this experience of community engagement in Christchurch has changed the doctrine of emergency management in the United States. I take this as a strong endorsement of the dedication, and performance, of New Zealand’s community and voluntary sector. It shows that our communities and volunteers can make a difference at the local and national levels – and sometimes, at the international level too.
It’s true generally that in cases of disaster, the first responders are often members of the immediate community. They are neighbours, family members and existing community networks. Emergency personnel will, of course, be rapidly mobilising to respond, but members of the public must be resilient themselves, especially for the first few hours or days of a disaster. My colleague the Minister of Civil Defence is working with civil defence organisations to ensure that communities are prepared and have an effective emergency response for themselves, their families and their neighbours.
A key theme of your conference this year is finance and investment. Most of you will be aware that my colleague the Associate Minister of Finance, the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, has delegated responsibility for matters relating to Community Trusts, including appointments.
In my colleague’s portfolio, there are a few upcoming dates that will affect Community Trusts. For example, from 1 April 2012, I understand that there will be a new remuneration framework for the Trustees of Community Trusts. Trustees will now be paid according to predetermined annual rates, as opposed to the current combination of an annual honorarium and a daily rate that has been in place since 2002. I expect that the new remuneration system will provide Trustees, and potential Trust candidates, with a clear expectation of the workload and remuneration involved in the position.
Nominations are now open for the 2012 appointments round for 35 positions across the 12 Community Trusts. For those Trustees here who are seeking reappointment, I wish you luck. If this is to be your last year serving as a Trustee, I would like to thank you for your hard work.
I have greatly appreciated this opportunity to meet so many of you today. Thank you for your commitment and your service to our communities and our country.
The name of your conference this year is Taonga Our Treasures. In the spirit of that theme, I would like to close by saying He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!