In conjunction with its determination to abolish the ACNC, the Federal Government proposes to create a Civil Society - National Centre for Excellence (NCE). A process of consultation and engagement with the NFP sector has resulted in the issue on 21 July 2014 of a ‘Mid Project Reports: Draft Models for Consultation’ (report). Click here to access the report.

As lawyers, we normally focus on informing our clients in the NFP sector on issues relating to their structures and governance and their registration and reporting obligations. Changes relevant to that focus are currently the subject of a separate consultation on arrangements to apply when the ACNC is abolished (Click here to view our recent Charities Alert). This article only aims to give a sample of issues raised in the report relating to an NCE.

It seems that an underlying aim of the NCE is capacity building and related support for charities and other NFPs. The writers of the report received some negative feedback on the use of the concepts civil society and civil Society organisations (CSOs). In particular, apart from the general vagueness of the concepts, CSOs will cover a significantly wider range of entities than are charities or other NFPs (possibly also including governments and business entities).

Very broadly phrased potential NCE purposes and outcomes are listed in the report, including:

  • Stronger civil society/a fair and just society/better social outcomes;
  • Strengthen/improve effectiveness/efficiency of the NFP sector;
  • Research/thought leadership/evidence.

The report considers likely core competencies of the NCE. Again, we provide only a summary of these taken from the report:

  • As an aggregator, providing a portal to content, education and services provided by others and develop content (for example, tools, resources, education) via a network of partners and/or from the network;
  • As a facilitator of people networks/communities, including fostering on- line communities, connecting people in local communities with each other and with ideas, tools, resources and services;
  • As champion/thought leader, including providing the evidence–base for approaches that build civil society.

The report contemplates that competencies such as the above will require the NCE to be an outstanding user of on-line technologies and social media; have strong skills in partnership management and collaboration; effectively engage people from different levels in civil society and be a respected thought leader in the space of civil society.

Phase 2 of the consultation process will involve engagement workshops and a second on-line survey. Involvement in either of these processes can be explored through the project’s website www.civilsocietycentre.org.au.

We expect that smaller charities in particular would benefit from support and information from an NCE, particularly if the NCE gave priority to giving support, guidance and information on good governance procedures for smaller charities.