Owning Our Future Post Trump – What Will You Do?
17 November 2016 at 9:16 am
If we are to “make Australia great” it will need much more than blind rhetoric about nationalism and bigoted appeals to those struggling to accept change, writes Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie.
The first speech made by a newly elected prime minister is usually one to make the heart swell – “we will govern for all Australians and make it a better place…”.
Even Donald Trump made that speech on election night in the US (this will be the one and only mention of the president-elect).
This nation building acceptance speech didn’t happen in Australia immediately after the last election. As we all pondered the possibility of a hung parliament, a reluctant incumbent prime minister appeared after midnight to give an angry speech about campaign tactics that left most of us wondering what was happening.
In many ways, election night in Australia symbolised the diminution of the authority of government that seems to have been escalating over the last six years. Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull – too many prime ministers in too short a time – and the demise of each involved sustained undermining.
Combine this instability with a shifting Senate where various crossbenchers have effectively held a balance of power and you have the ingredients for legislative gridlock.
The instability of leadership and a challenging Senate may not have completely shackled government if strong policy infrastructure and capacity had been maintained. It wasn’t.
The Abbott-Credlin government sought to close down or silence many of the major policymaking bodies. They argued there were too many unelected, unrepresentative national policy groups and advisory committees. Government needed to be smaller. In those areas where committees had to be retained, like the National Health and Medical Research Council, the new approach was to simply replace the existing people with people they knew. It was described to me by one government minister as a “clean out”.
Best to be on their team if you wanted to play. Many very good policy players with immense knowledge and experience who had no political affiliations (many appointed by previous coalition governments) were dismissed from their advisory roles leaving major gaps in policy capacity.
Recent events suggest this government does not welcome fearless and frank advice.
I should note here that I see policy capacity as just as important as hard infrastructure like roads or bridges. Ripping it down leads to having to build something new in its place and that takes time. It also takes expertise. I increasingly find myself wondering why people believe that being a good businessman provides you with the skills to be able to make good social policy?
The combination of instability, unreliable Senate numbers and a depleted policy-making capacity has stalled Australia in a backwater of inactivity. We now have a prime minister who is very happy to be prime minister, but appears to be impotent in the prosecution of any significant reform.
As I make my regular visits to Parliament House I find myself the fortunate beneficiary of empty car spaces near the entrance, even during sitting weeks, a phenomenon that was rare in previous years. I cannot be certain about what this means, but when I talk to experienced colleagues, it seems many people have stopped trying to achieve change through government advocacy and government action. The centre of national democratic policy making has gone quiet. And that is not surprising.
The loss of national leadership provides an opportunity for all of us. As Bill Shorten said in an address at the National Press Club “the charities and not-for-profit sector punches well below its weight”. If ever we had an opportunity and a need to start throwing our weight around, it is now.
The not-for-profit sector employs enough people to sway any election – more than one million Australians. Collectively our sector serves most of Australia’s 25 million population in one way or another, and we engage with more than five million volunteers and helpers.
Imagine if we could mobilise our sector and our friends in support of a better Australia, the kind of Australia we dared to describe in framing the Australia We Want report? Perhaps more importantly, imagine where we are headed if we do not take a more active role in national public policy?
Clearly we can no longer rely on government to drive reform or to invest in longer-term social policy. Recent Community Council for Australia experience revealed a high level of resonance in the media and across the broader community for achieving the values and the indicators we outlined in the AusWeWant report.
If we are to “make Australia great” (spare me the baseball caps), it will need much more than blind rhetoric about nationalism and bigoted appeals to those struggling to accept change. We will not only have to build on the achievements of not-for-profit organisations delivering stronger more resilient communities across Australia, but we will also need to promote that work so it can survive and be enhanced.
CCA will be working with our members and others to create a convoy of events, using similar call signs, to build on the amazing successes in our sector, and to create increased value about our roles.
What will you do?
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono Australia News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.