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Happenings on the hill  |  PolicyAdvocacy

What 2021 will bring for government engagement

14 December 2020 at 4:51 pm
Neil Pharaoh
Neil Pharaoh shares his five predictions for social purpose engagement and advocacy for the coming year.

Neil Pharaoh | 14 December 2020 at 4:51 pm


What 2021 will bring for government engagement
14 December 2020 at 4:51 pm

Neil Pharaoh shares his five predictions for social purpose engagement and advocacy for the coming year.

Welcome to the last Happenings on the Hill for 2020. Thank you for all the emails, social media comments and sharing across 2020 – many of the updates, insights and ideas come directly from your emails. Please keep any suggestions, ideas and ponderings happening over the festive season, ready to rock and roll again in the New Year.

It is a fool’s game to make predictions, however they are good fun, so here are my five “predictions” or trends for social purpose engagement, government relations and advocacy in 2021 and what you can do to make sure you are on top of it.

Trend one: Voters are becoming more socially conscientious. 

Talkwalker recently conducted a survey and its number one trend for business in 2021 was that socially conscientious consumers, stakeholders and advocates will force companies and government to engage more with topics like mental health, inclusivity and social justice, or become less relevant in 2021. The big leap is whether this transitions to governments taking the same approach, particularly as voting demographics are now skewing for the first time ever, against the baby boomer population.  

My suspicion is that political stakeholders will come under more and more pressure around conscience-based issues, and demographics will accelerate that, as well as global trends. Australia being uninvited to speak on climate change at a world forum recently is an example of how conscientiousness is permeating (international) government decisions. Whether it will lead to a kinder and calmer parliament is still to be seen, but I suspect we will see more genuine mobilization of swing voters around this space. COVID has of course accelerated this, as people turn to plants, renovations, food, baking and everything in between to find connection and meaning. 

Trend two: Contractorisation will become a public enemy. 

Historically it has been casual work which has prompted the chagrin of labour organisations, but I think 2021 will see this shift – whether it is food or transport on demand, or aged care and disability care “delivered” via platform providers, I think the social purpose sector and government will be under pressure in this space in 2021. From community services, the NDIS, aged care packages and everything in between, in 10 short years we have gone from community sector delivery and control, to individual delivery and control, and while choice and control is a great thing, it comes with rights and responsibilities. 

The Senate enquiry will kick things off but community organisations, which typically would compete with each other, will realise their enemy is investment banker and merchant banker based platforms, which are happy to take all of the cream, and shift all of the responsibility, in spaces where typically social purpose organisations used to play. Watch this space. 

Trend three: I am not sure how the 2021 UN General Assembly declared year of Fruits and Vegetables will impact the Australian landscape. 

I added this one partially in jest, but also seriously. Australia and the world is trending away from multilateralism and towards bilateralism, and with this comes ideals of shared responsibility and awareness. We are currently ranked 37th out of 166 countries on our sustainable development goal measures, and of the 17 measures, we are on track to achieve just one and have either significant or major challenges on almost all other goals. 

The consequences of Australia no longer meeting targets on climate change, being way off track on the SDG’s, and continually reducing our aid budget means we won’t be a leader, nor even a follower, but tending towards a luddite across a broad arc of social and environmental policy. This will have real domestic implications, particularly with organisations which rely or work towards international rankings, targets or indicators. 

Trend four: COVID will have a long tail effect on the social purpose sector and we need to start planning now. 

While governments flush the economy with money as an immediate response, mid-term stimulus will be nonexistent as government tries to drag budgets back into surplus. If you are not thinking about funding contracts due in two to four years’ time now, you need to seriously start to put plans in place for when the knives come out to cut everything and anything to return some gold to the chest after COVID has passed. Smart social sector organisations are already planning contract renewals and re-renewals which are not due for two to three years, knowing it will be tough and they need to align every duck they can to pull off those contracts – there has never been a more critical time to think beyond the horizon with government. 

Trend five: We are all knackered.

And everyone genuinely needs some down time over Christmas and the festive season. This year has tested all of us in many different ways. So, remember that switching off may be the only thing which saves your sanity as we buckle up for another turbulent 2021. The first federal sitting week is 2 February, are you ready?

Best wishes to you, your friends and family, and colleagues for this festive season, and see you all in 2021.  


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 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 or reach out to him via social media at LinkedInTwitterInstagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.

Neil Pharaoh  |  @ProBonoNews

Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy.

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