Drama, Leadership and Real Politics
3 February 2015 at 10:50 am
David Crosbie, CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA), reflects on what the shock electoral result in Queensland and current speculation about national political leadership might mean for the Australian Not for Profit sector.
The most important policy document any Government releases is their budget.
Federal budgets make or break national Governments. In many ways the Federal Budget stands apart from the spin, theatre and rhetoric that so often accompany it.
The figures are the figures. The Budget outlines exactly what the Government will support and the extent of that support.
It does what most politicians try to avoid: pick the winners and losers.
It is the Budget that reveals the victors and the vanquished in the battle for Government support.
I am highlighting this point because in the day-to-day contest for media cut through and click bait, camouflaged below layers of commentary upon commentary, we sometimes overlook the most fundamental reasons Governments gain and lose support.
Contrary to shrill twittersphere suggestions, the personalities of leaders are probably not that big a factor.
The enacting of a broad-based policy agenda; the narrative a Government offers the nation; the framework for building community engagement; these are the critical factors that matter in political survival.
These factors are embedded in the big decisions about how money will be collected and redistributed by the Government.
While not the sole vehicle of Government legislation and policy making, the budget is invariably the touchstone of political performance.
The budgets of Campbell Newman upset a lot of people across many communities: cutting back Government services; de-funding many organisations in the Not for Profit sector; significantly reducing the number of public servants; and overriding environmental concerns in a crash or crash through approach to the economic agenda.
There were winners and losers, but the impact of budget decisions left too many voters unhappy.
Similarly, the last Federal Budget was less than popular. As the impact of “unfair” budget decisions has played out and the Senate cross benches have been empowered by the concerns of many constituencies, the Government has increasingly struggled to maintain a clear policy narrative.
It seems strange that we are already well into planning for the 2015/2016 Federal Budget when there is still so much uncertainty about the current Budget. (At CCA, our 2015/16 Federal budget draft submission has been circulated and is being finalised with our members this week.)
While the current political discourse and associated media commentary are almost exclusively about the standing of our Prime Minister, replacing the leader will only have a short term impact if Government policies (and the way they are developed with the community and stakeholders) do not change.
There have been mixed signals about changes to policy that will impact the Not for Profit sector.
New Health Minister Ley has pushed for increased consultation, while Social Services Minister Morrison, who is already consulting widely, has put a hold on some funding cuts and redirected funding from relationship counselling.
These are positive measures in that they partly reverse previous budget measures that had little broad support. But these changes are still at the margins.
For many in the Not for Profit sector, ongoing uncertainty remains the major issue, and little has changed.
The Federal Government will be listening more closely to what the sector has to say over the coming months.
The challenge for the sector is to use this increased opportunity to have a say in national policy to ensure NFPs can better respond to the communities they serve.
It is important to remember that good advocacy in this area is often about offering solutions rather than listing problems, demonstrating savings rather than demanding additional expenditure, supporting better rather than more services.
Whether the Not for Profit sector is successful in having their voices heard and influencing the Government agenda will not be revealed in the day to day drama of political leadership battles, shifting ministerial appointments, or even the numbers of meetings and consultations.
It is the next Federal Budget that will tell the tale, not only of the Government’s future, but also of our capacity as a sector to seize the current opportunities and drive real change in Government policy.
NB. Not for Profit organisations still have until the close of business on Friday 6/2/14 to make a submission to the Treasurer outlining their recommendations for the 2015/16 Federal Budget.
About the author: David Crosbie is the Chief Executive Officer of the Community Council for Australia (CCA), and a member of the Advisory Board to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).