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Newman Speech:Labour's Uncharitable Approach

Dr Muriel Newman Speech:Labour's Uncharitable Approach To Charities

Speech to the ACT Auckland South Conference; Sunday November 7, 2004

The Auckland City Mission provides an excellent example of the huge contribution that the charitable sector makes to New Zealand society.

This 30,000-strong sector - and the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who work in it - makes an enormous difference to the lives of many New Zealanders.

That is why it is so disappointing to see that the Government still seems hell-bent on passing the Charities Bill to regulate the sector - even though it got the first draft so wrong that almost the entire sector opposed it.

The re-written Bill is expected to be available within the next few weeks, then rail-roaded through Parliament before Christmas. This timeframe will ensure there can be little consultation.

The real concern about Government acting in such a dictatorial fashion is that, as we all know with legislation, the devil is in the detail. All too often, it takes the robust scrutiny of an open consultation and submission process to expose serious problems.

Given that Labour got its proposed Bill so wrong the first time - and that excessive regulation has the potential to seriously damage fragile voluntary organisations - I am calling for a completely open consultation process regarding the new Bill.

New Zealanders who oppose the regulatory obsession of the Labour Government - which clearly believes that people cannot be trusted to run their lives, and must have every aspect controlled by State regulation - should sign my petition, on www.charitiesbill.co.nz (http://www.charitiesbill.co.nz/) . This petition calls for a full consultation process before the Charities Bill is rammed into law.

Like most other New Zealand charities, the Auckland City Mission is finding the cost of complying with the Government's existing requirements excessive. When the Charities Bill goes through, that compliance cost burden will escalate. For some voluntary organisations, it will be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Civil society underpins a strong and healthy democracy. Organisations that work in the charitable and voluntary sector provide help and support for citizens in need. The Government has statutory responsibilities, with regard to income assistance and welfare requirements. But it has traditionally been the churches, trusts and charities that those in need turn to. With many of these organisations largely funded through private contributions, they have been forced to speak out and advocate for people and against the Government as they see fit.

In light of the apparent attempt to censor such free speech in the Government's first Charities Bill, there is no guarantee that such a provision has been removed.

The Labour Government in general - and the Prime Minister in particular - do not view criticism warmly. It would be a very worrying development if that desire to eliminate the outspokenness of some in the charitable sector led to an effective banning of free speech and the imposition of blanket censorship. That is why it is so important that the new version of the Charities Bill is opened up to a proper and robust consultation process.

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