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A Peak Body? The Debate Continues!

27 November 2001 at 12:11 pm
Staff Reporter
Many Not for Profits are looking for more information about just what a Peak Body for the entire third sector would involve...

Staff Reporter | 27 November 2001 at 12:11 pm


A Peak Body? The Debate Continues!
27 November 2001 at 12:11 pm

Many Not for Profits are looking for more information about just what a Peak Body for the entire third sector would involve. In fact 21% of those who voted on our on-line Instant Poll wanted more information before expressing their view.

As the debate widens it appears there are two approaches to the concept.

One would be a Peak Body to cover all sectional peak bodies that would have a significant political voice.

A second approach would be a Peak Body that looks at the capacity of the Third Sector to share and establish priorities and operate as a leadership group.

Philanthropy Australia’s Elizabeth Cham is one of the driving forces in the debate urging for a combination of the two.

Elizabeth Cham says rather than call it a Peak Body it should operate as a Round Table similar to the successful Canadian model, to tackle the big issues facing the sector.

Cham says there is no doubt that Australia needs to develop such an entity and for the Sector itself to set it up.
The reason this is so important Cham says is that Australia doesn’t have a sense that there is a Third Sector – many know about the welfare side of things but few know about the other areas.

She says the many parts of the sector never get together over issues that affect the entire sector.

Cham’s view of a Round Table is for an entity that has a strong input into government policy, not just responding to it but helping drive it, and that it gives leadership to a community that employs more people than the mining industry.

Cham points to two obvious areas in particular where a Round Table could have and can make a difference.

On the topic of the GST, she says this body could have gone to government and said ‘no’ with a very strong voice and forced the government to exempt Not for Profits. Instead she says parts of the sector fought their own battle and lost.

Cham says even if the GST was the only issue that the body fought and won in a year then it would have earned its keep.

The other urgent area that such a body such as this could immediately address she says is that of a common accounting code for the entire sector, so that annual reporting operates on a common and efficient standard.

Cham says corporates would be able to look at organisations’ annual reports and make a decision on what is working well, instead of the wading through currently diverse reporting methods.

As well she says the Round Table must provide leadership because the work that the sector does is critical to democracy and this must be shown to the wider community.

Many of her comments here follow on from some of the responses Pro Bono Australia had to the story in our last edition.

In particular what are the chances of getting the ACTU, ACOSS, AuSAE and ABL to sit down and agree on a common peak body asked Mark Franklin, the General Manager of Children’s Cancer Institute Australia.

Franklin says Professor Mark Lyons is correct that the climate is not right for such a body (Volume 4 Edition 10).

Franklin says the breadth of the third sector is just so great it would be like getting one body each to represent all of the other two sectors. Some bodies in the Not for Profit sector have each other as their worst enemies (eg Trade Union v. Trade Association) and would want the other to lose any sector benefits.

Judi-Ann Leggett from DSP Australia Inc. says that to have a Peak Body to represent all Not for Profit groups would fall into the same danger area that has occurred in the area of ‘ People with Disabilities ‘.

She says the Executive stifles it a lot and stops the real problems from getting through to government authorities.

Leggett says DSP has found this first hand and has never been listened to in any of its concerns so the many problems their Members have never get corrected.

Elizabeth Cham insists that a Round Table must be about the big things in the sector.

She says people can spend time and money fighting over the crumbs instead of making the cake bigger and sharing the benefits.

But she says it is vital that the sector itself decides the structure of the Round Table and the timing. Some believe that it must be done quickly. Cham says that it could take two years if it is to succeed like the Canadian model.

Already Philanthropy Australia has held meetings in Sydney and Melbourne with funders who have made an ‘in principle’ commitment to the development of a Round Table.

Pro Bono Australia’s founder Karen Mahlab agrees there are many common issues affecting all Not for Profits that a peak body would be able to address for example privacy, insurance, and tax reform.

She says other functions such as news, information dissemination, education and training are all areas that a Peak Body could offer real benefits, even as a coordinator and a resource centre to pull together the best of what is already on offer in Australia.

Mahlab says Pro Bono Australia gets enormous feedback from our e-Newsletter about how useful the information we cover in our newsletter is.

She says the 10,000 organisations we communicate with crave for the information provided on a National and State level and in most other sectors this would be provided via a peak body.

If you would like to comment on this issue why not send us an e-mail to

If you would like to become involved in Philanthropy Australia’s efforts towards a Round Table then send an e-mail to and we will pass your interest on to Elizabeth Cham.

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