Fears for Charities’ Future Demise
28 May 2014 at 12:28 pm
Welfare expert and Brotherhood of St Laurence Executive Director Tony Nicholson has delivered a hard-hitting speech on the future of the community welfare sector warning of the demise of small charities in favour of super-sized welfare businesses.
Nicholson, who is the former head of the Gillard Government's Council on Homelessness, delivered a rallying cry to a packed audience of sector leaders, government representatives, service delivery workers, philanthropic trusts and volunteers at the Brotherhood’s head office in Fitzroy.
He warned that in the next year or two decisions will be made about the sector’s future that in all likelihood will be irrevocable.
Pointing to the Victorian Government’s sector reform platform, Nicholson said he feared that if the wrong decisions were taken they would inevitably lead to the erosion of what voluntary organisations have stood for for more than a century.
He said the idea that the sector could continue to meet society’s current and emerging needs by contracting to government, expanding and aggregating organisations, driving for greater efficiency, and further professionalising, regulating and circumscribing care was fundamentally flawed.
He said that if an amalgamation of organisations was allowed to continue he foresaw “a welfare arms race in which the lion's share of government funding will go to super-sized welfare businesses”.
“… last year the Victorian Government initiated what it called a 'sector reform' process. Its stated aim was to improve how the government and the community sector work together in order to produce a more effective and sustainable community services system,” he said.
“Peter Shergold, the former head of the Commonwealth Public Service, was contracted by the Government to oversight a process that ended in a report said to be a 'road map for reform'.
“Governance, funding and contractual arrangements, localism, partnerships, outcomes instead of inputs and outputs, even citizen participation have all been muted as part of this reform.
“In fact the list of recommendations reads like an aggregated wish list from all the framework documents written across the health and welfare sectors over the last 20 years.
“Frankly, they were so motherhood and high level in nature as to be practically meaningless.
“To my mind, Shergold’s exercise amounted to rounding up all the old hobby horses from within government and the sector, giving them another gallop around the paddock, closing the gate and saying, now you need to form a committee.
“If the trajectory of agglomeration and amalgam of organisations is allowed to run its course over the next two decades, I fear we will see a welfare arms race in which the lion's share of government funding will go to super-sized welfare businesses, some of which will be 'for-profit' in nature, and the smaller, community-based and faith-based organisations will be marginalised or left completely undone.
“This is a world in which these large Not for Profit organisations, for all intents and purposes, function and look little different from similar-sized 'for-profit' organisations.
“I consider the attempts at so called 'sector reform' we see in Victoria are misplaced and doomed,” he said.
“This is not an argument for abandoning the professionalised community welfare sector. Rather it is a plea to establish a sector that re-imagines its place within, and its connection to, the broader community. Where organisations re-discover and re-invigorate their mission as vehicles for harnessing the altruism of their local communities, rather than simply as contractors to government.
“We need to begin, right now, to shape a new community development model for service delivery that can rally local communities, local people, local businesses to invest in creating solutions for vulnerable and disadvantaged people. We need to discover how, in this complex modern world, we can mobilise people – from all walks of life – to enhance our basic service offerings.
“Rather than being expert at the delivery of narrowly conceived services as specified by government funders, our sector needs to build expertise in helping ordinary citizens to support their vulnerable neighbours and strengthen community life.
“We need to develop, or perhaps rediscover, the skills to assist ordinary citizens to give direction to, and exercise governance over, local efforts to provide services and to strengthen community life,” he said.
He said there was an urgent need for the sector to re-imagine its contribution to harnessing community altruism in building community strength and well-being in the decades ahead.
Read the full speech HERE.