2018 in review: The biggest stories in the sector


In another big year for charities and not-for-profits, political upheaval, scandals across the world and advocacy wins and losses ushered in change for the social sector.

As the sector contended with difficult government decisions – from red tape struggles and controversial bills – and with a highly competitive environment, it also achieved some big wins on important social issues and heralded in major community change.

The significant political news that concerned the sector

In arguably the largest scandal of the year, the federal government was criticised over its decision to hand $444 million to a tiny Reef charity without the competitive tender process in April, leaving charities and not-for-profits concerned and confused.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was pressed to come clean on why the large amount was given to this particular charity, with the biggest scandal being its Board Director facing criminal charges. As Turnbull is ousted out of office, he reveals that the mastermind behind the grant was replacement, Scott Morrison.

As this played out, charities and NFPs contended with the foreign donations bill. June saw major concerns over potential consequences that charities faced for operating in locations overseas or for criticising the government within foreign spaces. Amid charity concerns, the bill was amended to exclude threats to public advocacy.

Amnesty International Director, Claire O’Rourke, said in June: “Under this bill charities, including Amnesty, who hold the Australian government to account on its human rights record, could face criminal charges. It’s not only outrageous, it’s downright terrifying.”

More recently, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) charity boss came under fire for comments he made about Indigenous women and charities – which he has refused to take back, despite Labor warning trust would take a hit.

When grilled over why he would not rescind the comments during an inquiry into the ACNC, Commissioner Dr Gary Johns said: “I’m quite public, I’ve written for 30 years about a whole range of matters. Why would I seek to disavow any of that?”

This bought into question how much the charity sector can trust the government and why we are yet to hear from the new charity minister, Zed Seselja.

Some of the leading stories the sector was interested in

The announcement of top corporate givers in July revealed that IAG, Origin and NAB are the top-rated corporations for giving practices and workplace volunteering.

In less positive news, RSL scandals starting in May was a point of contention. First, it was RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare that came under fire for financial misconduct. Then, the RSL National President stepped down, RSL Victoria failed to meet standards and RSL Queensland appointed a new President amid governance concerns.

In December, RSL NSW voted down constitutional changes that would have given the organisation the opportunity to rebuild itself and re-establish trust.

In global news, the United Nations findings on Australia’s commitment to women and girls was released. This follows a year of contention on the treatment of women – like the #MeToo movement. The UN suggested Australia review its treatment of women in July, with particular concern on treatment of Indigenous refugee women and girls.

In more on treatment of women, the top global scandal of the year came from the UN after it was revealed in May that it knew about the “sex-for-food” scandal in the foreign aid sector. This followed on from revelations in February that executives at Oxfam UK used prostitutes after the 2011 Haiti earthquake.

Who got hired and who got fired?

In one of the biggest movement stories of the year, Rosie Batty announced she would close the Luke Batty Foundation to step away from her public role in February. Batty said her time at the foundation had been “gruelling and unrelenting”, but thanked the community for the support during her time at the helm.

In October, Social Ventures Australia welcomed Suzie Riddell as its new CEO, which was highly celebrated in the sector. Riddell said that she looks forward to addressing attitudes in the sector by “removing the barriers to participation and learning”.

The Fundraising Institute of Australia also announced its new CEO, Katherine Raskob, in August. Raskob has been working to meet members’ needs, “so that I can continue to increase the value they get from the membership and grow it in time”.

In a less positive change, White Ribbon announced its new CEO, Tracey McLeod, in June, only to then announce she has stepped down three months later. This followed controversy over her decision to remove White Ribbon’s support of reproductive rights just a day after Queensland legalised abortion and comments from a former Chair.