Civil Voices Survey Takes the Temperature of Not for Profit Advocacy
17 August 2017 at 8:37 am
Social sector leaders in Australia are being called on to speak out about the ability of their organisations to advocate on matters of public interest, as part of a nationwide survey investigating concerns over “alarming” trends that “threaten to silence a sector”.
Pro Bono Australia has launched a new survey in a bid to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing not-for-profit organisations that contribute to advocacy and public policy debate.
Civil Voices, aims to collect an evidence base to the current state of advocacy in Australia at a time when the government is discussing reforms to Deductible Gift Recipient status and the sector has expressed concerns organisations are being silenced.
Those working in the sector are encouraged to take the opportunity to have their say.
The findings of the research, being carried out by academics at the University of Melbourne, will be used by Pro Bono Australia in collaboration with the Human Rights Law Centre to stimulate public discussion on these issues and will also be published in academic journals.
Pro Bono Australia founder Karen Mahlab said it was an “important and timely” project that sat firmly within the remit of Pro Bono Australia’s social impact mission to give a voice to civil society organisations.
“As the major news service for the social sector in Australia and as part of our mission to activate good intentions Pro Bono Australia conducts occasional surveys on issues we consider to be important for the sector,” Mahlab said.
“We recognise that the media plays a pivotal role in upholding democracy and we wish to ensure civil society organisations have ongoing freedom to advocate at a time when their voices are being actively silenced.
“We know from a previous sector wide survey conducted by Pro Bono Australia in 2015 that nine out of 10 respondents considered recognition of their advocacy role as the most important factor in developing a thriving not-for-profit sector.
“This survey will take the temperature of the current state of advocacy in Australia. The results will be illuminating.”
The survey comes after the HRLC, backed by 15 non-government organisations including Pro Bono Australia, published a report in June highlighting an “urgent need” to safeguard independent civil society voices and put a stop to a trend that “threatens to silence a sector that has much to contribute”.
Defending Democracy, which was launched by former Australian Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs, drew attention to financial and political pressures being put on civil society organisations to discourage them from speaking out.
In speaking about the Civil Voices project, HRLC director of legal advocacy Emily Howie said there was “an alarming trend in Australia of governments using a range of financial levers to restrict the free speech of not-for-profit groups”.
“This not only silences groups that have critical expertise and experience to contribute to public debate, it is damaging to the free exchange of ideas in a democracy,” Howie said.
“This survey will provide much-needed data to show just how free Australian civil society is to speak out on matters that they are expert in and care deeply about.”
One of the lead researchers for the project University of Melbourne Associate Professor Sarah Maddison said she hoped not for profits would engage with the survey.
“A similar survey, undertaken in collaboration with The Australia Institute in 2004, found that not-for-profit organisations were feeling a great deal of pressure to withhold public advocacy around the issues that concerned them, especially when their messages were critical of government,” Maddison said.
“Following up on this research over a decade later is an extraordinary opportunity to again assess the health of Australian democracy.
“We hope the organisations participating in this research are frank in sharing their experiences as a vital part of Australia’s democratic landscape.”
The survey is open now until Friday 22 September 2017 with a report expected to be published at the end of October.
To complete the survey see here.