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Third Sector 'Round Table' Kicks Off

14 August 2002 at 1:08 pm
Staff Reporter
A Peak Body for the Australian Third Sector in the form of a ‘round table’ will be a reality within three months! That's the prediction of NSW Community Services Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM who has been elected to Chair the interim body.

Staff Reporter | 14 August 2002 at 1:08 pm


Third Sector 'Round Table' Kicks Off
14 August 2002 at 1:08 pm

A Peak Body for the Australian Third Sector in the form of a ‘round table’ will be a reality within three months! That’s the prediction of NSW Community Services Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM who has been elected to Chair the interim body.

Robert Fitzgerald is enthusiastic and confident, saying the time is right for a round table that will involve the whole third sector.

Philanthropy Australia has been closely involved in the move to establish a round table which resulted in the meeting of eighteen peak bodies recently, electing Fitzgerald as Chair of the interim body charged with the responsibility of getting the concept going.

Fitzgerald’s credentials are extensive. He is the current NSW Commissioner for Community Services appointed for a five-year term from 1 February 1999 and reports to the Minister for Community Services.

Prior to his appointment as Commissioner, Fitzgerald practised as a commercial and corporate lawyer for 20 years. He was also recently an Associate Commissioner of the Productivity Commission’s National Inquiry in Gambling and is a Councillor with the National Competition Council.

His previous voluntary community positions include National President, Australian Council of Social Services; Commissioner, NSW Catholic Commission on Employment Relations; State President, St. Vincent de Paul Society (NSW); and Chairman, JOBfutures. He has a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Commerce.

With his ‘can-do’ attitude, Fitzgerald believes the round table can involve the whole sector from the arts, sport, education, the environment and welfare and everything else.

Basically, he says, there are some things that are already very clear. There will be a round table for the Not for Profit sector that will be wide in its coverage with peak body members entitled to express their own views and maintain their independence.

Fitzgerald says the great strength within the Third sector is its diversity and strong representation.

He says the dominant word in all this is ‘value’ – that the community and government continue to value the importance and contribution of the Not for Profit sector.

He says the process is starting off with a very strong base of a great deal of good work in the sector.

Importantly, he says the round table’s aim is to value-add by coming together on core issues and that individual efforts are maximised. Put simply, it is increasing the value of the good work that is already being done.

He says the round table will enable the use of existing work without having to recreate the infrastructure across all areas.

Fitzgerald uses the example of ACOSS in the welfare sector saying it has been serving the sector for 45 years dealing with all governments and putting the pressure on by representing the more conservative groups to the more radical groups.

He says its ability to allow individual groups to maintain their individuality is its strength and a round table by nature allows for diversity of opinion.

He says his personal view is that a consensus approach is a flawed approach.

However, he says there is a commonality that can be used to negotiate with government, business and the community.

He adds that the sector is always talking about values, ethics and accountability and the sector needs to be the same – prepared to be held accountable.

The round table approach to a Peak Body is based on a Canadian model discussed previously in Pro Bono Australia e-Newsletters.

Fitzgerald says a proposal will be distributed and hopefully signed off within three months.

He says Philanthropy Australia has agreed to support the initial start-up process and secretariat support however no decision has been made on long term funding.

Fitzgerald says however there is no need for a huge infrastructure to operate the ’round table’.

In November and December 2001, Pro Bono Australia produced a series of articles on whether or not the sector needed a ‘peak’ of peak bodies. Our own polling produced an overwhelming ‘yes’ response.

If you would like read the earlier articles just go to our web site at and click on News in the menu across the top of the home page. Select Individual Articles and search “Peak Bodies”.

If you would like to comment on the current state of play why not join our on-line Forum also in the PBA web site menu.

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