Labor Creates New Shadow Ministry for Charities
25 July 2016 at 5:24 pm
Andrew Leigh has been appointed to the newly created position of shadow minister for charities and Not for Profits as part of Labor leader Bill Shorten’s front bench shakeup.
Leigh told Pro Bono Australia News on Monday that Labor would take a holistic approach to working with the sector.
“Whereas the Coalition tends to lump charities within the social services portfolio, Labor recognises that social services charities are just one of the many kinds of charities,” Leigh said.
“We’re keen to take a holistic approach to charities.”
He said that his focus in the new role would be supporting the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).
“Last term was all about saving the charities commission, the charities commission was in some sense the main game for charities because the sector had fought for so long to have a one-stop regulator,” he said.
“Now it’s much more about making sure the charities commission works as well as it can. We need to work with states and territories to encourage them to cede powers to the charities commission and also to make sure that the charities commission has the resources it needs to really service the sector.”
In March the federal government decided to keep the ACNC after two years of speculation about its future. Leigh said he hoped the move signalled a new era of the Coalition’s approach to the sector.
“I hope that the government’s decision to end its war on the charities commission does signal a more positive approach,” he said.
“I hope that they will move away from the temptation to put gag clauses in contracts, which is something that has taken away a valuable advocacy role that charities have played, but really that’s up to the government as to how constructive they’re willing to be with our great charity sector.”
Liberal MP Christian Porter will continue to oversee the sector as minister for social services.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made few changes to his cabinet, he made Zed Seselja the assistant minister for social services and multicultural affairs. Seselja previously said the government needed to collaborate better with charities and the ACNC.
Leigh also said he looked forward to working with the sector.
“I think there’s a lot of shared wisdom in the sector and it’s about trying to make sure we bring together those conversations.”
He said the other main focus of his role would be addressing the decline in civic engagement.
“One big challenge is that civic engagement, social capital in Australia has declined in many measures over the course of the last 50 years,” he said.
“We’ve seen fewer Australians joining formal groups, being active in volunteering, being willing to engage in activities such as organised sport. And so I think there’s a conversation to be had about what successful charities can learn from one another about how to turn around that problem.
“The decline in civic engagement was something that I documented in a 2010 book called Disconnected.
“Now as shadow minister for charities, I’m less interested in the academic evidence about what’s happened and more interested in the practical challenge of how we turn it around.”
Leigh, who also retained his position of shadow assistant treasurer and picked up the roles of competition and productivity, and trade in services, said he was the right person for the position of shadow charities minister.
“Certainly for the last three years I’ve had primary responsibility for the charities commission, and I’ve been doing that over the last three years,” he said.
“But also I think having written Disconnected I’ve got a window into the challenges that our charities face, and a real passion to try to make a difference.
“This isn’t necessarily an ideological challenge, but it’s one that really matters for Australia because the more people we have donating, volunteering, giving their time and energy to our charitable sector, the stronger a country we’ll be.”
On Monday it was widely reported that Leigh, who is a non-factional independent, took a $40,000 pay cut from $230,000 to $190,000 because Shorten’s expanded shadow ministry of 32 members is beyond the number allowed to be paid.
But Leigh said he wasn’t fazed by the pay cut.
“I don’t think anyone ought to be worrying about whether a politician is in the top 1 per cent or top 2 per cent of the income distribution,” he said.
“The face is inequalities widened a lot over the last generation, and those of us at the top are doing just fine.
“But there’s a lot of Australians who are struggling to get by, who’ve seen their incomes fall, who are homeless, who are really living in vulnerable circumstances, and it’s them we should devote our energies to.”