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Leigh faces the sector’s concerns

16 May 2022 at 5:11 pm
Danielle Kutchel
Ahead of this week’s federal election, Pro Bono News sat down with shadow assistant minister for charities Andrew Leigh to put some of the sector’s concerns – raised in our recent election poll – directly to him.

Danielle Kutchel | 16 May 2022 at 5:11 pm


Leigh faces the sector’s concerns
16 May 2022 at 5:11 pm

Ahead of this week’s federal election, Pro Bono News sat down with shadow assistant minister for charities Andrew Leigh to put some of the sector’s concerns – raised in our recent election poll – directly to him.

Dr Andrew Leigh has been the opposition’s spokesperson for charities for nine years, and the deep knowledge of the sector that he’s gained over that time is clearly something he’s proud of. 

Speaking at last week’s Connecting Up conference, Leigh said the time had allowed him to understand the work that needed to be done to improve the sector.

See also: Election 2022 – What the sector wants

But in a move that dismayed many advocates, earlier in the election campaign, Labor ruled out committing to raising the rate of JobSeeker if the party is elected on 21 May, and walked back plans to review the rate.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Bono News, Leigh justified that position by saying that Australia had faced “nine years of cuts” under a Liberal-National government, but that Labor could not “solve every one of the problems that [the Coalition] caused… in our first budget”.

But he added that Labor would review income support payments each budget time.

With philanthropy and funding on everyone’s minds, Leigh will be hoping his plans to double philanthropy by 2030 and fix fundraising regulation will win over voters from the sector who have been calling for these changes for some time.

Yet some organisations are already behind in the philanthropy stakes; First Nations organisations, for example, only get a small slice of Australia’s philanthropic pie.

To address this problem, Leigh said “expanding the pool of philanthropy is the first place to start”.

“We don’t want to have organisations feel as though they’re fighting over a dwindling pie. What we’d like to do is increase the total amount of philanthropy and so that boosts the amount of philanthropy to a range of needy causes,” Leigh said.

“I think if there’s a Labor government, one of our first priorities is going to be a referendum on Indigenous recognition in the Constitution, and I hope that that would be backed by significant philanthropic donations. I’m really keen to have a positive relationship with Indigenous charities.

“There’s an awful lot more that can be done to boost the strength of Indigenous charities.”

Putting an end to conflict with charities

Leigh said another priority for Labor is to reset the relationship between government and charities.

“I think one of the problems with the Coalition’s approach to charities is that so many charities feel as though they’re in a conflictual relationship with the federal government rather than a cooperative one,” he said. 

“They’re always looking over their shoulder, worried they’re going to be attacked for their public advocacy, that they’re going to be undermined in some way by a federal government that seems to see charities as the enemy.”

He said a reset of this relationship is “critical” to the health of Australia’s democracy and the strength of its charity sector.

And it’s clear this relationship is on your minds too – in our recent pre-election poll, more than half of respondents said they were concerned about the risks of advocating in the lead up to the election, and 60 per cent said they were concerned there were restrictions affecting their capacity to advocate during the campaign.

See also: Pursuing purpose in times of politics

Leigh said he would prioritise taking “a careful look” at the ACNC, adding that there had been “a marked deterioration in the relationship between the ACNC and Australia’s charities” since Dr Gary Johns assumed the mantle of commissioner.

Supporting charities to support the community

Another concern raised by respondents to our pre-election poll was around support for volunteers, with many readers suggesting more funding from the government to help them maintain and reward their volunteer workforce as well as a plan to stop the slide in volunteer numbers.

Leigh acknowledged this was “certainly a challenge we need to face”, and said his plans to work more collaboratively with charities would create flow-through benefits for volunteering.

Leigh pledged to continue speaking regularly with charities to find out their wants and needs, and said he wanted to help build a stronger community sector in Australia.

“To have an Australia in which there is a greater sense of kindness, generosity and a stronger community spirit is what I’d really love to see. I’m really ambitious about Australia being able to do much better on that community front,” he said.

“One of the reasons I got into politics was to continue the work that I did as an economics professor around reducing poverty and inequality. And I think we need an Australia that is more a country of we and less a country of need, more a country that values community, less a country that thinks that rugged individualism is the only way to go.

“That means that we need to build community and also build that sense of shared economic prosperity. We need to see these as two sides of the same coin.”

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting.

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