Oct 17, 2018

Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 5) Bill 2018 – Second Reading – Wednesday, 17 October 2018

They want to shut down the capacity of people who don’t agree with them to have a voice. That’s why so many charities feel that this government has been more determined to intimidate them than concerned with actually listening to the issues that arise in our society. The fact is that many people in our community are much better off than they were decades ago, but it’s also a fact that a lot of people feel as though they are being left behind. They are being left behind and they are increasingly reliant upon charity for themselves and their families, just to get by from day to day. It’s also the case that the community sector should be able to have the capacity to speak out on a range of issues. That doesn’t hurt us. I’ve been a government minister and had to deal with community sector people who mightn’t agree with every issue. Every time you build an infrastructure project there will be someone who is adversely affected. What you need to do, though, is not to ignore them. You need to listen to them.

It’s the same across the board. Sometimes you need to make decisions in which some people feel aggrieved, but, if they have had an opportunity to put their view, they at least will feel like they have been heard. What’s more, it may well be that they come up with better solutions.

One of the things about a democracy, as opposed to a totalitarian regime—which I think those opposite sometimes resemble in the way that they conduct their affairs—is that a democracy allows for different voices, including dissenting voices, which strengthens outcomes.

Here we have, though, the quite extraordinary situation, as the shadow Assistant Treasurer has raised, of the appointment of the anti-charity advocate Gary Johns as Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. It is quite extraordinary that we have someone who has advocated over this entire century—since he had his conversion!—having done quite well out of life himself, just as all parliamentarians are relatively well off!

Gary Johns did very well out of life. He got to be a minister. As a former minister, he’s on a parliamentary pension which is significant. Yet he feels as though it is legitimate for him to essentially deride and ridicule and undermine those people who are not as well off as he is. The fact that this announcement was made public at the time that the marriage equality vote was being celebrated in this parliament says it all.

This was literally taking out the trash, when it comes to Gary Johns and when it comes to his attitude towards charities. It is quite indefensible, having been the darling of the new Right movement in Queensland and, indeed, nationally. He has regular columns in The Australian which, of course, continually mention he is a former minister for a Labor government. Quite frankly, so what? Lots of people change their views. Mark Latham, who is now a member of a far Right party, once sat in this chamber in a Labor caucus with me. I was never a fan of Mark Latham, I’ve got to say, and I was never a fan of Gary Johns. I was right on both occasions. This appointment wasn’t appropriate, but it says a lot about the cynicism of this government. By all means, Gary Johns may well have been appropriate for a pro resources sector job or—I’m not quite sure; I’m trying to help him out here, but I can’t think of much.

Certainly it’s the amendment I’m speaking to, and it’s a very good amendment by the member for Fenner, it must be said. I think the government is considering supporting this as they listen to the strength of our arguments.

Mr Falinski: You’ll have to do a better job than this to convince us!

Mr ALBANESE: The member for Mackellar, you can tell, was ready to cross the floor as soon as the member for Fenner raised his predecessor. The bells went off in his head and he was ready to walk across the chamber.

The fact is that in Anti-Poverty Week it is appropriate that the member for Fenner has moved this amendment. It is appropriate that we consider this government’s attitude towards charities and not-for-profits. People who work for not-for-profit organisations, by and large, do it out of absolute commitment to their fellow Australians. They don’t do it for the income that members of parliament receive for the job that we do; they do it out of their commitment. I know so many people who work in that sector who end up giving their own money to people when there’s not enough money in the till for the particular fund, and I pay tribute to them. Of course, they rely on volunteers to keep those organisations going, to feed the homeless, to look after people or to visit elderly Australians in their homes. Many ethnic communities in my electorate rely upon volunteers who speak the language of the people concerned because many people, as they get older, lose their English and go back to their first language. People who work in youth work, looking after people who might be affected by drugs and alcohol, are trying to get them on the right track. There are organisations like Reclink, which I’ve had a lot to do with. There are people like Bill Crews and people like Father Chris Riley. These are the inspirations. When we look at the charity and not-for-profit sector, they could have done better than to have Gary Johns as their head. I commend the amendment moved by the member of Fenner to House.