NFPs Cautioned on Government Control – Hollingworth
Thursday, 11th September 2014 at 10:09 am
A former Governor-General of Australia has claimed that the “essential ethos” of the Not for Profit sector could be damaged if the Government enforces too much control over it.
Reverend Dr Peter Hollingworth presented a speech, entitled Civil Society, Religion and the Rule of Law, at Victoria University’s Sir Zelman Cowen Centre this week where he spoke of some of the challenges facing the sector.
Dr Hollingworth, who was Governor-General of Australia from 2001 to 2003, said Not for Profits needed to overcome several issues.
“The problem confronting the sector is two-fold; on the one hand of being subsumed under Government policy and regulation without much opportunity along the way to question or challenge its directives, and on the other hand, driven by market place initiatives in competing for limited funds,” Dr Hollingworth said.
“Either way the essential ethos of the sector could be diminished either by excessive government control, or the adoption of private sector practice in the market place, or both.”
He also added that Not for Profits needed to be able to criticise the Government.
“A healthy democracy requires not only that individuals are free to speak, but that voluntary organisations have those same rights and opportunities as part of what is called ‘a social inclusion agenda’ which recognises the importance of these organisations seeking to advocate on behalf of people who are marginalised and inadequately represented in the political process,” he said.
“In 2010 the Australian Government signed the ‘National Compact: Working Together’. This committed Government departments to its principles, and allowed Not for Profits voluntarily to sign up.
“A year ago there were some 881 organisations who had partnered under that compact with its social inclusion agenda. This is a very important beginning requiring constant vigilance lest its essential momentum is lost.
“Once again we come back to that notion of partnership, so essential to the idea of a democratic society and the mutual recognition of each of the key actors that are involved.
“Just as it is true that an historic partnership has existed between Church and State, so it is also true that an historic partnership is required between Government and ‘civil society’, of which local churches, other religious groups and voluntary associations form a natural part.
“Failure to recognise those bonds of partnership serves to diminish the degree of social cohesion so essential to the health of its democratic institutions.”
Dr Hollingworth said there were important lessons that those involved with the sector could learn from the past.
“The major task ahead of us here in Australia and in other democratic states is one of building collaborative, civil partnerships to achieve the common good with the rule of law,” he said.
“We talk much about ‘nation building’ which is an important process, but it must be about good values and just structures implemented by local peoples themselves, and in the knowledge that the building of a ‘civil society’ in the west is itself still a ‘work in progress’ requiring further refinement in our day and age.”
Dr Hollingworth used much of his speech to argue against the notion of the need to separate church and state.
“Any reference to ‘separation’ in the Australian Constitution is to do with the separation of powers between the executive functions of government, the legislature and the judiciary,” he said.
“They represent the best means of securing good constitutional and democratic practice through the dispersal of institutional power in accordance with the Westminster tradition as it has evolved over time.
“Those who operate out of a secular framework might be interested to know that the idea of the secular actually comes from Christian roots.”
Three other former and current Governors-General will speak at the university this year and next year as part of a series of lectures.
Major General Michael Jeffrey, Dame Quentin Bryce and Sir Peter Cosgrove will also present speeches in the Victoria University series.