Sector hails new charities chief

Posted on 23 Nov 2022

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

The community sector has reacted with glee to the appointment of a self-confessed not-for-profit “nerd” to head the national charities regulator.

Sue Woodward
Sue Woodward has been appointed to head the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

Prominent not-for-profit lawyer Sue Woodward AM has been appointed to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) for a five-year term which began on December 12, 2022, a week after the 10th anniversary of the authority.

Tellingly, her Twitter handle is @nfp_nerd.

Ms Woodward will succeed acting commissioner Deborah Jenkins, who held the fort after the resignation of Gary Johns.

Mr Johns’ appointment by the Coalition government caused uproar, given his history as a strident charities critic, while his moves to stymie advocacy efforts by activist groups during his tenure also proved divisive.

Charities minister Andrew Leigh had promised before the federal election to “end the war with charities”, and the appointment appeared designed to soothe the sector.

“The Albanese government believes in the value that charities bring to our economy and society, and respects their role in our democracy. The charity and non-profit sector comprises around one-tenth of employment, and a significant amount of GDP,” Mr Leigh said.

“The ACNC is the independent national regulator of charities, and works to support a strong, independent and innovative not-for-profit sector. It is vital for Australia that the ACNC be headed by an experienced leader who commands broad respect across the Australian community sector.”

Until her appointment, Ms Woodward had most recently been the chief adviser of the Not-for-profit Law arm of Justice Connect, and a lead player in the “fix fundraising” campaign that aims to unravel the complex web of regulations affecting charities.

But she has a long history of working in the sector and sitting on NFP boards, including, until now, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) and the Australian Communities Foundation. She was also involved in the formation of the ACNC.

Ms Woodward told her LinkedIn followers she was “very lucky to have this opportunity to lead the ACNC as it heads into its second decade”.

“I know a lot will, rightly, be expected of me and I am committed to listening and working with the ACNC team to deliver a world class charities regulator that promotes public trust and confidence in this amazing and important sector.”

In contrast to their dismay following Mr Johns’ appointment, community leaders were effervescent in their praise of Ms Woodward’s appointment.

The chair of the Community Council for Australia (CCA), Reverend Tim Costello, described it as “a great appointment” of a leader with a reputation for “outstanding work on behalf of charities”.

The CCA’s chief executive, David Crosbie, praised Ms Woodward’s work in reforming fundraising, NFP law and volunteering and said the appointment had generated new optimism in the sector.

“All charities want the ACNC to succeed. We are tired of seeing the bad behaviour of a few misguided individuals being used to drag down the public perception of the value and effectiveness of charities. We want a regulator who will not only stamp out inappropriate behaviour, but also work for charities in reducing red tape and ensuring governments and other regulators do not react to any situation by piling more and more pointless administrative tasks on charities.”

Former commissioner Gary Johns hasn’t held a major role in the sector since stepping down in July last year, but instead has recently published The Burden of Culture, which seeks to “dismantle” the “Aboriginal Industry”.

His predecessor and the ACNC’s inaugural commissioner, Susan Pascoe AM, remains active in the sector, including as chair of the Community Directors Council, which advises the Institute of Community Directors Australia, an Our Community enterprise.

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