Govt Moves to Ban NFP Gag Clauses
19 September 2012 at 10:58 am
The Federal Government is set to introduce legislation to ban gag clauses.
Legislation will be introduced to ban gag clauses in Commonwealth contracts with the Not for Profit sector.
The Federal Labor Government says the move will allow for ongoing engagement and open debate between the Government and the sector.
The moves comes as the Newman Queensland Government’s Health Department began using a clause which prohibited Not for Profits for advocating for legislative change if their group receives half or more of its funding from the department or other state agencies.
“The past few weeks in Queensland have reminded us of the dark days of the last Coalition government, when John Howard attacked the rights and legitimate role of the NFP sector and diminished its capacity to represent and advocate for its members,” Social Inclusion Minister Mark Butler said.
In 2008, the Labor Government removed the gag clauses imposed by the former Coalition Government that restricted the sector from engaging in policy and political debate.
“Now we’re seeing Campbell Newman try to do the same in Queensland,” Butler said.
Federal Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury said the new gag legislation would build on the Government’s reforms to the NFP sector, including the new charities commission, by ensuring gag clauses are not used in any Commonwealth funding agreements.
“Our reforms recognise and embrace the critical role the sector has in advising and developing public policy and in advocating on behalf of members and constituents,” Bradbury said.
Meanwhile, the legislative move has been welcomed by the Not for Profit sector.
The peak body for Australia’s community welfare sector, ACOSS, said that preventing groups from speaking out on the basis of funding is an anathema to being an independent non-government organisation.
“ACOSS had recommended this reform be included as part of the establishment of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“We urge the government to move quickly to legislate this protection as part of the package of reforms currently before Parliament. We look forward to seeing the detail of the proposal, and the legislation passed as soon as possible so this new regulator is up and running on 1 October as planned.”
The Queensland Law Society (QLS) said the attempt by the Newman Government to gag those who receive 50 per cent or more of their funding from speaking out about legislation was extremely concerning.
An extract from a funding contract signed with the state government stated: “Where the Organisation receives 50 per cent or more of its total funding from Queensland Health and other Queensland Government agencies, the Organisation must not advocate for State or Federal legislative change. The Organisation must also not include links on their website to other organisations' websites that advocate for State or Federal legislative change.”
QLS President Dr John de Groot said community organisations who are at the coalface of service provision have the professional know-how and practical experience to intelligently inform government policy.
“By making a condition of funding the restriction of free speech, the government is robbing Queenslanders, and itself, of the ability to use these skills to consider sensible proposals for legislative reform and identify service efficiencies,” Dr de Groot said.
The Chair of the Community Council for Australia (CCA) and CEO of World Vision, Rev Tim Costello, also confirmed his support of the legislation.
“The time has come for all governments to respect charities, to free them up from unnecessary red tape and compliance, and to enable them to do what they do best – support the communities they serve,” Costello said.
“Civil society is at its best when the voice of the Not for Profit sector can be heard loud and clear.
“The removal of gag clauses is a critical part of the reform process, and one charities and Not for Profits will strongly welcome.”
The Chief Executive of CCA, David Crosbie, said that the recent behaviour of the Queensland government in imposing gag clauses on health organisations was “reprehensible”.
“The imposition of conditions limiting the capacity of not-for-profits to fulfill their primary mission of trying to achieve positive change in their communities is indefensible,” Crosbie said.
“The removal of gag clauses from all Commonwealth contracts is one good measure of the relationship between governments and the not-for-profit sector.
“It is a measure we would expect all governments and all political parties to endorse.”
Others to offer their support included Heather Neil from the RSPCA and Dr Stephen Judd from Hammond Care, both who emphasised the importance of an independent Not for Profit sector.