And the Winner is…the Not for Profit Sector
Thursday, 9th September 2010 at 6:01 pm
David James, Pro Bono Australia
If we trust the pre-election commitments of Labor and the Greens, the election of the new government is a major win for the Not for Profit sector, says Pro Bono Australia co-publisher David James, in this assessment of the election results.
In their protracted speeches before the assembled media both Tony Windsor or Rob Oakshott gave many reasons justifying their decision to support Julia Gillard’s Government. Regional assistance, broadband, health and education – along with stability – all got a good airing.
At no point did the interests of the independents mention the Not for Profit sector. Nor, we can be sure, did the sector’s interests become a point of negotiation during the 17 days of a hung parliament. It goes without saying that there would have been no consideration of the Productivity Commission’s report, The Contribution of the Not for Profit Sector, and its suite of recommendations.
Hardly a surprise. In the big scheme of things, the recommendations of a Productivity Commission report on the Not for Profit sector would never warrant attention, not when the formation of a government is at stake.
And yet, despite its seeming invisibility, the decision of two of the three amigos to support the Gillard/Brown coalition represents a major win for the Not for Profit sector.
How this happened has a lot to do with you, our readers. In the first week of the election campaign Pro Bono Australia, in cooperation with the Centre for Social Impact, conducted a survey of readers opinions on the major recommendations made by the Productivity Commission. We did not expect much of a response. It is dry stuff, technical, but we hoped, given its significance, we might get 400 responses. We were wrong. Fully 1,520 people completed the survey. Around 320 of those added rich comments.
Numbers make a difference. We found we were readily able to engage the attention of the parties to the issues raised in the survey, because the response has been so high, in so short a timeframe.
We published the survey findings in the form of a Manifesto: Towards a Thriving Not for Profit Sector. We asked Labor, the Coalition and the Greens for a pre-election response. We made numerous phone calls, to the offices of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries (actual and shadow), and to people connected with the parties.
The result was gratifying. Two weeks later, the Labor Party convened a special Press Conference, detailing a response to the Productivity Commission recommendations. Importantly, the Press Conference was conducted by fully three Government members: Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Community Services, Nick Sherry, the Assistant Treasurer, and Ursula Stephens, the Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion.
Later that same week, the Greens reponded, directly to Pro Bono Australia and through a general press release, stating their support for the Labor Party’s response.
The Coalition decided not to respond. This was a deliberate decision. We understand that the campaign head honchos wanted to stay strictly ‘on message’; they judged that making commitments on relatively minor matters, like our Manifesto, would be a distraction. While this was disappointing, this does not necessarily mean or even imply that the Liberal Party disagree with the Manifesto. The possibility for bi-partisan support remains real.
What did the NFP sector win?
Overall, the Labor Party and the Greens gave broad support for the Productivity Commission report and its suite of recommendations. Within that, the Labor Party specifically made a commitment to:
- A new Office for the Not for Profit Sector, located within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to drive and coordinate the policy reform agenda supported by a new Not for Profit sector Reform Council made up of representatives from across the sector.
- Immediate commencement of a scoping study to determine the role and design options for a national ‘one-stop-shop’ regulator for the non-profit sector to remove the complex regulatory arrangements currently in place and streamline reporting arrangements. The scoping study will be finalised early in 2011 and will guide the reform program.
- Reducing red-tape for government-funded NFP organisations by developing a common form contract or ‘master agreement’ and reviewing tendering, contracting and acquittal arrangements between the Australian Government and NFP organisations to streamline and reduce compliance burden commensurate with risk.
The Labor Party also committed to working towards greater harmonisation and simplification between the Australian and State and Territory governments on NFP sector issues, including regulation.
For their part, the Greens, thought Senator Rachel Siewert, Spokesperson on Community Services, welcomed the Labor Party’s commitments, and undertook to closely monitor these reform commitments to ensure they are delivered.
At the time of writing, the new Ministry has not been formed. So we do not know who will be responsible for implementing these commitments.
However, whoever it is, we very much hope that the process adopted will be reflective of the ‘new paradigm’ that has emerged in Canberra: of openness and consultation, driven by a strong sense of urgency to get things done.
For now, Pro Bono Australia, and its partner in the Manifesto, the Centre for Social Impact, expresses its thanks, once again, to each person who participated in the survey, which proved so instrumental in securing the pre-election commitments. We await further developments.