430 million reasons why the social sector needs to ‘up its game’ with federal Parliament
11 February 2020 at 7:54 am
Which sectors donated the most money to political parties last year and what does this mean for social sector advocacy? Neil Pharaoh breaks it down in a new fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy.
Over $430 million was donated to political parties last financial year and, for good or for bad, not one of these dollars came from the social purpose sector. Given that most donors expect something in return for their donation, this means it will be increasingly challenging for the social purpose sector to get cut through on their advocacy and engagement issues in the years ahead.
While news stories cover the big donors, what is most interesting to examine in regard to advocacy for social purpose is looking at the particular sectors who have donated the most money, and their subsequent impact on advocacy.
Donation numbers would suggest that the environmental movement will have a tough time getting its message through this year, as over $85 million has been spent by mining, minerals and energy – far surpassing every other industry.
Health campaigners and promotions will struggle against the almost $2 million investment from pharmaceutical and medical, and against the $5 million in political donations invested by alcohol, clubs and gambling. Big pharma then adds another $2 million to this list in the health space.
Finally, when you round out the list with financial services (over $2 million), the big four banks (over $1 million) and add in a dash of guns and weapons (over $200k) and tobacco ($24k), you begin to get an idea of who and what the sector is up against.
This has substantial implications for the social purpose sector. How do you campaign to a politician who has just benefitted from thousands (or millions) from a particular industry? How can you secure change on gambling, alcohol or clubs legislation when these organisations are pumping millions into the pockets of decision makers?
More and more we are seeing not-for-profit and social purpose organisations go for broke in their government engagement – increasing pressure to achieve outcomes for funders. But is the implementation of tighter regulations around using government money for advocacy (gag clauses) and the fact that the not-for-profit sector cannot currently match the depth of skills, networks or relationships of commercial Australia and its lobbyists creating a perfect storm in 2020?
We know from experience that strong, intense, focused advocacy can have substantial effect in Australia. Imagine if the social purpose sector had raised their voices in support of the mineral resources rent tax as loudly as the mining companies and Minerals Council who opposed it did? What could the resulting $24 billion have delivered if spent on social welfare, justice, employment, education and healthcare instead of going to the shareholders of mining companies? While we will never know the answer to that question now, we can all see that money and lobbying is playing a larger and larger role in politics, requiring us as a sector to be smarter about how we campaign.
Three tips to kick off your advocacy journey in February
Build genuine, real partnerships or coalitions for advocacy and campaigning
Genuinely contributing time, talent and treasure to these partnerships will become more and more critical when set against the volume of donations we are seeing from some sectors (health and environment in particular).
Research who your adversary is, in relation to your advocacy or change activities
Check out who they have donated to, how they donated and if they have visited and met with ministers (ministerial diaries are released in some states, including Queensland). Knowing who you are up against is half the challenge.
Be smarter with your use of media
Journalists no longer have the time to cut donation reports into sectors as I have just done, which means you will need to look deeper to cut it yourself. Create a pitch, mount a media campaign and loudly tell the story of how a particular sector and their donated $X millions means you can’t get your reform through.
It’s time to work together, be smart and get loud!
Check out the ABC’s analysis of the donation list here.
About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. He regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems. @neilpharaoh on Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Happenings on the hill is a new fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.
If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at email@example.com or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.