23 May 2019 at 8:47 am
How do we make our values more relevant and significant in contemporary Australia, asks Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie, in the wake of the federal election.
There is a dead wallaby on the Hume Highway and further up the road there is a dead politician – both hit and killed by cars. What is the difference? Skid marks before the wallaby. (One of Bob Hawke’s favourite jokes as told by Phillip Adams, ABC).
A lot of charities are struggling to come to terms with the outcome of the federal election. Rightly or wrongly, many charities in areas like the environment, education, childcare, overseas aid, housing and welfare felt the policies of the Labor party offered a better way forward for Australia.
Some CCA members have told me they feel as though the election result is a kind of rejection of their mission or purpose. But election results are not just about policies.
What matters to most voters is the overall impression, the messaging accompanying the leaders and their suite of policies, the way these messages are amplified or dismissed in the media and public discourse.
We know that many Australians have declining trust in our institutions, especially our Parliament. The revolving door of prime ministers under both major parties, the seemingly endless internal power games and lack of leadership in critical areas has become the new normal. And as the Bob Hawke joke highlights, politicians have never enjoyed high standing in Australia. We are not a hat doffing nation.
Nor are we a nation that readily embraces change, especially if the change is beyond our control or comprehension. The perception that we are a nation at risk – our economy, our culture, our religion and traditions all under threat from globalisation and immigration – finds fertile ground in Australia as it does in some other parts of the world. It is challenging to propose new changes in a society already concerned about the impact of existing rates of change.
Surrounding the very important campaigning, selling of leaders, message and misinformation creation by supporters and barrackers, this election campaign was held within a cultural and ideological context in which many Australians were distrustful of politicians, anti-government, anti-leadership change, anti-policy change. Both the major political parties may claim to put forward policies that promote aspiration and fairness, but the backdrop is suspicion, fed up with change, not interested in brave visions of the future when today and tomorrow feels like a struggle.
Given this broader community context the election result sends some clear messages to charities.
Aside from the many direct winners (eg non-tax-paying franking credit recipients) and losers (eg early-childhood educators who will no longer get a pay rise), this election has again highlighted the importance of linking the values of the charity sector to the kind of Australia we want to live in.
Charities generally promote a core set of shared values, many of which are outlined in the Australia We Want report: just, fair, safe, inclusive, equality of opportunity, united, authentic, creative, confident, courageous, optimistic, generous, kind and compassionate.
The contrast between these values and the values that seemed to drive some aspects of the election campaign are quite stark. But rather than lament the role played by values such as fear and greed, I think the election provides all charities with a challenge – how do we make our values more relevant and significant in contemporary Australia?
Clive Palmer has argued that his $60 million misinformation campaign spend was of more value to the community then if he had given it to charity. He may be right, if the community value he was talking about was actually his own wealth. He will pay less tax under a Coalition government, and will be less likely to have to repay redundant workers their entitlements.
Clive Palmer ran a $60 million campaign grounded in the value of greed.
If the charities sector is to diminish the impact of selfishness and fear, we need to work much harder at promoting and enacting our values. For me, this starts in the way we look beyond our own interests and support broader collaboration.
This election has highlighted the importance of working closer with colleagues, supporting our fellow travellers towards a better Australia, not just a better economy (important as that is).
I want organisations like: Volunteering Australia, ACOSS, Philanthropy Australia, the Centre for Social Impact, Pro Bono Australia, Justice Connect, Australian Scholarships Foundation, Our Community, Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, and others working to support the whole charities and not-for-profit sector to be much better resourced, supported and engaged.
I want more charities and individuals to support our work at the Community Council for Australia, to become involved in our policy development and advocacy as members and supporters.
I want a much stronger charities sector that is less vulnerable, more prominent, more outspoken, more effective in shifting the national focus from the economy to the community.
CCA has been arguing for some time that Australians are so much more than just individual economic units, passengers in an economy. We all want to live worthwhile lives in our families, our workplaces, our communities, but to do so we need to work together, not as individuals.
If we cannot support each other better, empower our peak bodies and charity advocates, Australia risks becoming a mean mini-America, where the dollar speaks loudest, self-interest triumphs, and broader community interest is relegated to the fringes of public discourse and public spending.
Charities are the antidote to fear, the connectors, enablers, the curators of understanding, hope and opportunity. We can and must do better in the contest of ideas that sets the context for our elections. If we want a better Australia, we need to work for it, regardless of who is in government.
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 News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.