Not for Profits Grill Assistant Treasurer
9 April 2015 at 12:39 pm
The Abbott Government has been accused of trying to silence Not for Profits as Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg faced a grilling from the sector at a national forum.
Frydenberg was in Canberra to speak at a Community Council for Australia forum attended by some 60 high profile leaders from the social sector to discuss topics around ‘The Australia We Want’.
Founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), Kon Karapangiotidis, who attended the event as a member of Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25, started the questioning, asking Frydenberg why Not for Profits were having their advocacy work defunded.
“I’d like to know why the Abbott Government has, accross the board, been cutting funding to advocacy work of the Not for Profit sector,” Karapanagiotidis said.
“It’s our expertise and in defunding it you’re actually silencing our voice, silencing our ability to actually ensure that Government reflects the will and needs and wants of the community, and I’m deeply disturbed by it and I’m deeply disturbed by the way NGOs are threatened with defunding for getting into that space.
“I’d like an answer as to why. What is the rationale, what is the justification, what is the logic given there is not a single person, i think it’s fair to say, in this room that would support such cuts?”
Frydenberg disagreed that the Abbott Government was not supporting Not for Profit’s ability to advocate.
“I’m never going to give you the answer that you want but we are not intent on silencing voices,” Frydenberg said.
“We’re continuing to fund all those particular areas and obviously if you talk about disabilities the biggest commitment a Federal Government will be making, whether its Labor or Liberal over time, is to the NDIS.”
After the event Karapanagiotidis told Pro Bono Australia News that he was not satisfied with Frydenberg’s response to his question.
“I thought it was a very poor response, it was a non-response, a non-answer. I’m really disappointed because the Not for Profit sector deserves an answer,” he said.
“This is what advocacy is, because the word often has a vagueness around it for the average Australian. Advocacy is charities on the ground seeing the human suffering, disadvantage, inequality and then being able to identify solutions and ways forward and answers.
“In other words our advocacy is our expertise, knowledge and solutions that we want to bring to Government. When you defund all the peak agencies you actually silence the charity sector. You silence its voice, you squander its expertise, you squander its solutions and it’s an unforgivable waste.”
Pro Bono Australia News recently wrote that the Government was investigating the way that environmental organisations undertake advocacy.
Karapanagiotidis said the “silencing” of Not for Profits was one of the biggest issues facing the sector.
“It’s a massive issue. The two biggest issues for our sector from a Government perspective are the complete attack on advocacy, and that’s going across every issue, and the lack of not just guaranteed ongoing funding but guaranteed increasing funding,” he said.
“It’s madness because you’ve got all these words of Josh [Frydenberg] where he’s standing there praising us but in reality this Government is slapping this sector in the face. It’s disrespecting us by not investing in us, by not listening to us and by trying to politicise when we’re funded, how we’re funded and why we’re funded. The community trusts us, why won’t the Government?
“It was lip service with nothing that would give me as a member of our charity sector any great trust, faith or hope as to where this Government’s going in the future when it comes to the viability of our sector.”
Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia, Karen Mahlab, also asked Frydenberg how the Not for Profit sector could better measure the work that it does.
“GDP is 3.8 per cent of us and yet it is widely regarded as a woefully inadequate measure of what the sector does. I’m just wondering as Assistant Treasurer whether you’re looking at or can suggest systems that might be better at measuring the intangibles that our sector represents,” Mahlab said.
But Frydenberg said it was unlikely that the sector would ever be able to put figures on some of its achievements.
“Well that stumps me,” he said.
“Look it’s very hard to measure the knock on impacts of the work that people in this room and their organisations do. If you take somebody who’s homeless and you take them off the streets and save their life, how do you measure that? If you get somebody into the arts at an early age and that fosters a new career for them, how do you measure that?
“I don’t think you’ll ever put a number on the benefits that flow from philanthropy and the Not for Profit sector but certainly the outcomes are very significant.”