Hey – look over here!
Wednesday, 17th July 2019 at 5:47 pm
Charities are too important to be relegated to the bottom of the government priorities pile, writes Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie, reflecting on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first major public speech as head of the newly-elected government.
It usually takes new governments a while to acknowledge and support the critical role of charities. This is not surprising. Governments have so much to attend to, so many “higher” priorities including: addressing the needs of business and finance – often described as the engine room of our economy; ensuring our place in the world, our security and our trading relationships; and reigning in expanding government expenditure while maintaining or increasing government service delivery.
It is often only when governments begin to understand the inter-play between charities and these higher profile issues (the economy, international relations and security, public sector reform) that the charities sector gains serious policy attention. In all three areas, charities play a critical role.
Charities are a big part of the economy, employing over 1.3 million tax paying Australians and engaging with close to 4 million others working in volunteer roles. When considering Australia’s economy and government revenue, charities have a very big economic footprint – and that is before we start adding in the economic value of the work they do.
Our safety as a nation is grounded in our international relationships. International relationships are at the very heart of the international development sector, a sector with a proud history of forging positive relationships that have increased Australia’s standing around the world.
Safety within our country is also driven by relationships. In communities across Australia it is charities bringing people together, creating engagement, trust and understanding – all values that undermine the destructive power of fear and division within communities.
If efficiency and reform of government services is a critical issue, charities need to be at the table discussing better ways of offering more responsive services to communities across Australia in big ticket areas like; health, education, training and employment, disability, housing, welfare, culture, aged care, justice, arts, emergency services, environmental management, etc.
These interactions between the work of charities and the higher priority issues of government are only the beginning of what charities contribute to Australia. In every community across Australia, it is charities that hold us together throughout our lives in good times and bad.
I point out the role of charities in these areas not because they are unknown, but because they are so often ignored. And so it was with the first major public speech given by our incoming prime minister, the leader of our newly elected government.
Speaking in Perth on 24 June to a largely business audience at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the prime minister addressed what he saw as the key themes for his incoming government.
The prime minister began by emphasising the importance of the economy:
“Without a strong economy, all else is in vain. Jobs, funding for schools and hospitals, combatting youth suicide and the NDIS.
“And so today, at the start of this new term, I want to speak to you about getting on with the job of building our economy to secure your future.”
The importance of our global relationships:
“The Treasurer’s reports from his recent trip to the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Japan as well as to London, Berlin and Washington, confirm that international risks have increased over the first half of the year.
“As a trading nation, this week’s G20 Summit will be an important opportunity for the world’s leading economies to map out the way forward from here.”
The importance of creating investment and employment:
“Our job post-election is now very clear – to get Australians off the economic sidelines and on the field again.
“The only way to create more jobs is to increase the levels of investment in our economy. Job creating investments that unlock productivity gains and enable Australians to earn more.
“This relies on businesses having the confidence, capability and incentives to back themselves.”
For most of the speech the prime minister addressed three issues he saw as critical to the economy – tax relief, red tape reduction, and innovation.
Not once throughout this speech did the prime minister refer to charities, community groups or not for profits.
This was particularly apparent when he talked about red tape reduction – including the removal of unnecessary regulations.
“By focusing on regulation from the viewpoint of business, we will identify the regulations and bureaucratic processes that impose the largest costs on key sectors of the economy and the biggest hurdles to letting those investments flow,” Morrison said.
“What are the barriers, blockages and bottlenecks? How do we get things moving?
“I urge the business people in this room and around Australia to engage with this process.
“Step one is to get a picture of the regulatory anatomies that apply to key sectoral investments. Step two is to identify the blockages. Step three is to remove them, like cholesterol in the arteries.”
While many of us readily accept the need for removing unnecessary red tape from business, would it have been so hard to at least acknowledge the counter-productive regulatory burden faced by charities?
If ever there was a blood blocking build-up of cholesterol impacting on the capacity to invest in programs that will improve Australia, it is the current inconsistent set of seven fundraising regulations imposed on charities across Australia. Add to that mess the average length of a government contract falling below two years and all the flow on work for government-funded charities having to almost constantly engage in a cycle of preparing tenders and applications for funding of programs operating on ridiculously short time frames.
Assistant Minister for Charities Zed Seselja has publicly and privately acknowledged the need to reduce red tape imposts on charities, but this message was not part of the prime minister’s first major agenda setting speech. His message was all about business and government reform.
Charities are too important to our communities, our economy, our well-being and our development as a global nation to again be relegated to the bottom of the government priorities pile. It would take so little to improve productivity across our sector. It would take even less to acknowledge our role.
We can only hope that sooner rather than later the government will not only notice charities, but acknowledge and support the need for reform if we are to more effectively fulfill our role of building flourishing communities.
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.