On the 23 June 2021, the Australian Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston named three institutions which she said had failed to fulfil their moral obligations to sign up to the National Redress Scheme (“NRS”). Those institutions were Forrest Tennis Club (Australian Capital Territory), CYMS Basketball Association (Victoria) and Devonport Community Church (Tasmania).
The Devonport Community Church describes itself as a meeting place “for the worship of God, the preaching of the gospel, Christian fellowship and care, as well as being an outreach to those in need.”
At the time of making the announcement Minister Ruston stated that these institutions would be ineligible to apply for any future Commonwealth grant funding and were at risk of having the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (“ACNC”) revoke any relevant charitable status.
Following the announcement in June 2021 the Pastor at Devonport Community Church, Pastor Neville Overton said that the members of the Church had collectively decided not to join the NRS because it is operated behind closed doors and could be easily abused. He went on say that they had received a number of letters putting pressure on the Church to join the NRS but had not been provided with details of who had made complaints against the Church.
On 30 November 2021, the ACNC revoked the charity registration of Devonport Community Church.
The ACNC have not disclosed why the Devonport Community Church charitable status was withdrawn as it is unable to do so due to confidentiality provision in the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012, (however, these confidentiality provisions are currently being reviewed).
In an earlier blog published on 8 January 2021 we discussed sanctions that the Australian Government were going to introduce for charitable organisations who failed to join the NRS.
As part of these changes in February 2021 the ACNC introduced a new Governance Standard to promote participation of affected charities in the National Redress Scheme.
The new Governance Standard 6 obliges a registered charity to take reasonable steps to become a participating non-government institution if the charity is, or is likely to be, identified as being involved in the abuse of a person either:
- in an application for redress made under section 19 of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018or
- in information given in response to a request from the National Redress Scheme Operator (Secretary of the Department of Social Services) under section 24 or 25 of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018 .
The stated objective underlying Governance Standard 6 was to enhance public trust and confidence in the not-for-profit sector by ensuring that a registered entity’s governance enables it to be accountable for its past conduct relating to institutional child sexual abuse.
As with all of the ACNC Governance Standards failure to act in accordance with the standards can give rise to sanctions which can include in the most serious cases, withdrawal of charitable status.
As stated above while the ACNC has not disclosed why the charitable status for the Devonport Community Church was withdrawn (as it is prevented from doing so), these recent developments will no doubt be of interest to other organisations who have been or are likely to be identified in applications to the NRS and such organisation will now have to weigh the possibility of losing their charitable status as part of any decision that they make not to join the NRS.
For charitable organisation In Northern Ireland and Scotland who are currently negotiating with national governments about possible contributions to national redress schemes this development is also something to bear in mind.
It seems likely that this development will also have come to the attention of IICSA and may form part of their considerations as they set about finalising their outstanding reports and recommendations.