NFP Policy on the Main Political Stage
26 June 2012 at 10:32 am
The true meaning of the Federal Coalition policy for the Not for Profit sector will be derived from how the words are implemented and what they mean in practice says David Crosbie, the CEO of the Community Council for Australia.
David Crosbie takes a closer look at the address to the Menzies Research Centre by Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services Kevin Andrews.
It is not often that a large group of leaders from the Not for Profit sector assemble to hear a political speech, but the gathering at the CPA Offices in Melbourne on Friday 15 June to hear Kevin Andrews address the Menzies Research Centre was an unusual event. It was billed as a ‘Major Policy Address’ to present ‘The Coalition’s Approach to the Charitable Sector’.
The speech itself was titled: ‘Empowering Civil Society’. Over 150 people including CEOs from some of the biggest charities in the country, peak bodies, Trusts and Foundations, church leaders and policy makers were all eager to hear about the future of charities and the broader Not for Profit sector under a possible Coalition government.
The speech began with a series of references to the ideological principles that informed the Coalition position. Kevin Andrews argued that smaller government would enable the ‘little platoons’ of local associations to build community responsibility, social capital and a sense of civic engagement. (Edmund Burke first used the ‘little platoons’ expression in the late 18th century).
According to Kevin Andrews some Not for Profit organisations have become too dependent on government, thereby diminishing the role of society in owning and addressing their own issues and concerns at a local level. There could never be too many community organisations under a Coalition government.
Within this smaller government bigger society framework, the Coalition believes there is no place for a Not for Profit regulator, particularly one Kevin Andrews portrayed as reaching too far into the operations of community organisations. The Coalition would therefore reject the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission and replace it with a sector led ‘Independent Charities Commission’ with the task of providing education and support services, acting as a ‘one-stop shop’ for information on charitable organisations, advocating and representing the sector, undertaking research and helping foster innovation.
There was also a commitment to reinstating the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnerships and to work with a broad range of groups to increase giving through both personal and corporate philanthropy.
Perhaps the strongest practical measure was the policy outlined to reduce red tape by developing a single agreement approach between charities and government agencies, and a reporting framework that relied less on specific reports and more on the normal auditing practices of charities.
The emphasis on volunteerism was also strong throughout the speech.
Kevin Andrews concluded the speech by again emphasizing a different ideological approach. He portrayed the existing Federal Government as more interested in exercising power than allowing communities to take ownership at a local level – big central government driving reform from the top under the ALP versus big society with government playing a subservient role to community under the Coalition.
In the clustered discussions following the speech some common themes emerged.
From a positive perspective the fact that the speech had happened at all was a welcome sign that the needs of the Not for Profit sector are slowly working their way towards the main political stage.
The acknowledgement of the work of the sector, its value and its role was also seen as very positive, as was the extent of consultations Kevin Andrews had engaged in with the sector prior to the speech.
The Coalition approach to reducing red tape and the expanded role of the proposed sector led ‘Independent Charities Commission’ also seemed like policies that would benefit the broader Not for Profit sector.
From a more negative perspective, the fact that the Coalition seemed committed to continuing to use the Australian Taxation Office as the main regulator for Not for Profits was a definite negative.
As one CEO commented to me following the speech ‘the fox is still in charge of the henhouse’. CCA and ACOSS both expressed their concern about this approach in their joint media release following the speech.
The second concern was that the rhetoric of Big Society has been translated into real cuts for the Third Sector in the UK. No-one on the sector wants the smaller government approach to lead to the kind of reductions in government support that are now evident internationally.
In my discussions with Kevin Andrews’ staff immediately following the presentation, it was emphasized to me that this speech was a starting point for further consultation and refinement of the Coalition policy.
As we all know, words are largely decorative until they find meaning in actions. The true meaning of Coalition policy for the sector will be derived from how the words are implemented – what they mean in practice.
For me, the take home message is that the Not for Profit sector needs to adopt some of the Coalition rhetoric about owning the issues that are important to us. From now until the next Federal election there is a real opportunity to engage with all political parties, to be part of the policy discussion, to argue for a regulatory and legislative environment that works for the sector, not against it.
The CCA Board will again be meeting with Kevin Andrews this week, as well as with government Ministers and representatives from the cross benches. The headland policy speech delivered by Kevin Andrews will form an important touchstone for ongoing discussions with all sides of politics.
Read our Pro Bono Australia News stories on the Coalition policies for the Not for Profit sector here.
David Crosbie is the CEO of the Community Council for Australia and member of the Not for Profit Reform Council.