Department of Internal Affairs annual meeting for charities

  • Jo Goodhew
Community and Voluntary Sector

E aku rangatira, tēnā koutou katoa. Ka nui te honore ki te mihi ki a koutou.

It is my pleasure to join you this afternoon.

I extend my very warmest greetings to representatives of registered charities, to members of the wider charitable sector, to officials – and to the wonderful speakers who are sharing their stories and knowledge with you as part of today’s forum for charities.

I hope you find this a valuable opportunity to listen and learn, and perhaps glean some new ideas, and also to share your own experiences and ask questions.

I also extend a warm welcome to the members of the independent Charities Registration Board who are able to attend today’s forum – Roger and Kirikaiahi.

It is very pleasing to see so many of you here today. Some of you may know that some of my personal background is in the community and voluntary sector. I understand from first-hand experience how vital this sector is, the challenges that you face, and the many benefits that your work provides for New Zealanders.

My experience is that members of the charitable sector are generally passionate and dedicated people, who have deep convictions about the work that you do, and the people and causes that you are helping.

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 sincere appreciation for your ongoing support of our communities and the people who live and work in them.

I’m grateful for the opportunity today to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work of the staff and volunteers who give purpose and life to our community organisations. To recognise and thank you for your many wonderful achievements.

Recent years have been very eventful for charities. It is in times of hardship or disaster that your support and services are most called upon. We certainly saw an increased demand for charities’ services as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes and the Rena grounding. And of course that was on top of the countless daily situations where you are the people that others turn to first.

I am thinking of the new emigrants who come to New Zealand and need help with establishing themselves; of the family whose house and all their possessions have been lost in a fire; of the abandoned and ill-treated animals that need care and protection; of older people and children and adults with disabilities or particular needs who need extra support.

I also keep in mind the work you do in protecting and preserving our heritage and our wildlife, and of the many, many other social, community, health, educational and faith-based activities in which you play a vital role.

I am very conscious of the need for government to allow you space to get on with your valuable work, and of the amount of change you have experienced in recent years. A regulatory regime for charities has been introduced and is still bedding in. And the challenging economic environment has caused all of us – business, the government and the community sector alike – to continually and critically review our objectives and operations. We have all had to find ways in which we can be more efficient and effective.

I have very carefully monitored the effects of the disestablishment of the Charities Commission in July this year, and the transfer of its functions to the Department. One of my concerns has been to ensure that the change was carried out with as little impact as possible on the charitable sector. I am pleased to note that this has largely been achieved, with a smooth transition and little, if any, direct impact upon registered charities.

If anything, I believe the change has increased government’s focus upon the need for charities’ regulation to be as efficient and effective as possible. It has renewed our focus on the need to maintain the transparency and compliance of the sector, so the public can feel a high level of trust and confidence in the charities they support.

I thank the Department for the work you have done to integrate the Charities Commission’s functions into Internal Affairs, and to provide continuity and support for charities during the transition. I know this work will be ongoing as we seek to leverage the benefits of joining up these functions with the Department’s other community-facing activities.

I believe there are still some issues that need to be resolved as urgently as possible – in particular, the queue for applicants seeking registration status. I have asked for this to be treated as an urgent priority. I appreciate the efforts that are being made by the Department to reduce the waiting times while maintaining the integrity and consistency of decision-making.

At this point, I would also like to acknowledge and thank the newly-appointed members of the independent Charities Registration Board, who apply the law and make decisions about the charitable status of applicants. Your job is certainly not easy – charities law is very complex. And it must be applied rigorously to ensure that registered charities meet all of the law’s criteria in order to merit the tax-exemption and other benefits of registration. I understand that you have met four times so far, and have already been grappling with some of the tough issues associated with charities registration.

From next year, I am also conscious that a new financial reporting programme will be introduced to charities. This will necessarily bring changes for many of you over the following couple of years. I trust that one of its consequences will be to provide an increased level of transparency and comfort for members of the public who support charities. I hope that these changes also ensure that an appropriate but not onerous level of financial reporting applies, thus reducing unnecessary reporting for smaller entities.

I am also expecting to see the reports resulting from the reviews that the Law Commission is currently conducting into the Incorporated Societies Act 1908 and the Law of Trusts, which are due for completion in 2013/14. Some of the findings from these reviews are likely to be relevant for the charitable sector, as many charities are incorporated as either charitable trusts or incorporated societies.

I recently announced that the government will not review the Charities Act at present. Instead we will allow the transition of the disestablished Commission’s functions into the Department to bed in completely, and the independent Charities Registration Board to establish a body of decision-making about applications for registration.

Believe me, this was not an easy decision. I am aware that a review had been scheduled for some time, and I did consider undertaking a more narrowly-targeted review focused only on the charitable purpose definition, rather than a broader review covering the entire Charities Act.

However, the current definition appears to be working relatively well. I am also aware that the definition is still evolving – and will continue to evolve – as the courts consider new cases and new arguments that reflect our society’s changing expectations and values.

Given this, and the current fiscal climate, I believe it would be fundamentally dishonest to conduct a review when the Government would not necessarily be able to act on its recommendations, if they were to suggest a broadening of the definition.

So, after carefully considering the issues surrounding the definition, I think it better to defer any further additional change that is likely to have far-reaching impact on the charitable sector.

I have asked the Department to continue to monitor the situation, and to advise me if anything changes that should cause me to revisit this decision.

I would like to conclude by thanking you again for your continued hard work, and your contribution to our communities and our wider society. I hope that you are able to take a little time for yourselves and your friends and family at the end of the year, and to recharge your energy ready for 2013.

If you have any questions or comments, I would be happy to spend a few minutes responding to them.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.