Charities relying on donations will need government support, Covid commission official says

Paul Karp
Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Charities that rely on volunteer fundraising drives and donations through major events will find recovery harder and may require extra support, the head of the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission’s philanthropy advisory group has said.

Tony Stuart, the chief executive of Unicef and chair of the NCCC’s charity, philanthropy and fundraising advisory group, revealed the body wants red tape reduction in the not-for-profit sector and is considering whether an extension of the jobkeeper wage subsidy is the best way to help those at risk.

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It comes as the Morrison government considers changes to the $1,500 fortnightly wage subsidy program in its June review and targeted support for sectors suffering despite the easing of restrictions, including tourism, the arts and construction.

Lesley Podesta, the chief executive of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, said it had been “deeply affected by the closure of all of our major events and community fundraising”.

The jobkeeper payment had “made all the difference and enabled us to maintain most of our staff despite a major drop in revenue”, he said.

“The foundation believes it’s critical that jobkeeper is extended to those industries who will continue to be adversely affected by the reduction in public events and community fundraising.

“As a charity, we cannot raise funds while our annual fundraising efforts are on hold in the interests of public health.

“Keeping jobkeeper going until we can hold large events is vitally necessary to allow us to deliver services to children.”

Asked if the NCCC advisory group is currently discussing whether to recommend the government extend jobkeeper in the sector, Stuart replied: “I think every sector is having that discussion right now.

“We are looking as a group as to which areas of activity that help vulnerable Australians are going to take longer to recover from Covid-19 and what support is appropriate.”

“Some organisations are going to find it much harder for example tourism, and charities which rely on events and volunteering.

“Everyone is trying to ensure the government looks out for vulnerable sectors that will take a lot longer to recover.”

Asked about the group’s remit to consider barriers to service delivery, Stuart said these “often come down to red tape”.

He said that longer-term reform such as achieving uniform fundraising legislation across states and territories is even more important “at times like these”.

In 2019 a Senate inquiry recommended the government work with states and territories to develop a consistent fundraising regulation model within two years. The issue is complicated by online fundraising, which can require a separate registration in each state and territory.

“Charities know there is considerable red tape and regulation around online fundraising and acquittal of government contracts,” Stuart said.

Stuart suggested charities could benefit from an automatic extension of government contracts, a “common sense” move that would “provide charities with some certainty” rather than require them to complete “massive tenders” mid-pandemic.

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The NCCC’s advisory body is also examining “how we can get volunteers back in our sector” because “a signification portion of volunteers have withdrawn their services due to safety and health concerns”, Stuart said.

The assistant minister for charities, Zed Seselja, told Guardian Australia: “The government has worked productively with the charitable sector, delivering much needed support for charities as we have responded to the economic impacts of Covid-19, and I will continue to engage with the sector as we move through the recovery phase.”

Seselja noted the government had “significantly reduced” the turnover test for charities to access jobkeeper, down to 15% from 30%.