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It’s a Labor government: what now for the NFP and social purpose space?


23 May 2022 at 6:14 pm
Neil Pharaoh
The ALP will govern for the next three years. Neil Pharaoh argues that sector idealism won’t help if we want to avoid a return to conservative rule in 2025.


Neil Pharaoh | 23 May 2022 at 6:14 pm


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It’s a Labor government: what now for the NFP and social purpose space?
23 May 2022 at 6:14 pm

The ALP will govern for the next three years. Neil Pharaoh argues that sector idealism won’t help if we want to avoid a return to conservative rule in 2025.

Anthony Albanese has been sworn in as Australia’s 31st prime minister and Labor is on track for a majority government. What does this mean for policy, advocacy, campaigning and engagement for the year ahead?

Much has (and will be) written over the policy initiatives, promises, and commitments of the incoming government, but I wanted to reflect on three macro and higher-level issues yet to enter mainstream discussion in the wake of the election.

Firstly, facts and evidence may start to return to political and government decision making.

Secondly, faith in democracy and integrity may start to matter again, potentially restoring key democratic principles. 

Finally, if as a sector we value the same things as Labor (health, education, environment, integrity, gender etc), we are going to have to learn to “not let the perfect get in the way of good” – or else we may very quickly have a conservative return in Australia.

Labor has shown consistently that it believes in science, facts and evidence. I do not think there is a person in the Labor Party who thinks climate change is a hoax, joke or conspiracy theory – because they appreciate and understand science. This may, I suspect, extend to our new PM, who I doubt will say one thing on camera, then lie about saying it the very next week. This will have substantial repercussions for public policy, as thought bubbles will hopefully be less common, and MPs and ministers will not be able to freelance their way through policy initiatives without support from public servants, and evidence-based proposals.

For the social services sector, this will mean outcomes, impact and measurement will mean something again – we can collectively breathe a sigh of relief – and this will lead to better policy and decision making.

The second point relates to integrity.  The teal independents, Labor and the Greens are in lock-step around an integrity commission. We will very shortly see many of the alleged rorts of the former government potentially investigated in some detail. This will also cause the new government to operate at a higher standard. 

Things like the money drops to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and charities with no history except of political favouritism will be less frequent. This will go some way to restoring faith in our systems. Rorting to the scale we have seen for the past three or four years will hopefully reduce, which in turn means we will all have a bit more confidence in the spending our government is undertaking – whether submarines and the billions wasted there, or dodgy contracts across health, COVID and defence to Liberal and National Party friends and donors, this rebalancing is well overdue. 

My final point is the most alarming. The social service and NFP space historically aspires for excellence and perfection, and we get greatly disheartened if things do not happen as we would like.

Sadly, democracy is the art of the possible and compromise. We may need to be forgiving of this new government: any sector divisions caused by our idealism will be exactly what conservatives will rely upon to return to the treasury benches and government. 

If Labor does not go far or fast enough, or is not perfect enough, remember that ranting over it will only help conservatives. The government needs to take the population along with them. We are a country adverse to change, and for change to become embedded, we need to be patient.

It is this final point which prompts us to examine the history of the Liberal/National Party, and perhaps why the questions being asked about its future matter.

When Australia first became a Commonwealth, we had two main parties, the Protectionists and the Free-traders, and one swing party – the Australian Labor Party.

In 1904, due to a series of events, Labor (under Chris Watson) took government. At 37 years old, Watson became the first Labor head of government anywhere in the world, and while his government lasted just nine months it was enough to set off a substantial change. The free traders and protectionists, who were ideologically opposed, were worried about what Labor may do if it could hold government. So they united. Their common vision, despite their polar ideologies, was simple – we are the “anti-Labor” party. The Liberal and National parties stem from this – they literally stand for not being Labor. 

So, remember when we look back and critique Labor for not doing what we wanted fast enough, or far enough It’s all too easy to hand ammunition to the “anti Labor” party. If we all share the aspirations of climate change, integrity, education, health and beyond, we need to make sure we don’t inadvertently help the return to “anti-Labor”. 

 

In 2014 and 2018, Neil stood as the Labor candidate for Prahran, Victoria. He has previously served as national co-convener for Australian Rainbow Labor, where he co-led the internal campaign that achieved over 200 legislative and regulatory reforms, including changing the Australian Labor Party’s position on marriage equality. 

 

About the authors: 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. Neil is co-founder and director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems. 

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.


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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