Exclusive: Parliamentary Friends of Charities reveals priorities for the year
20 February 2023 at 4:32 pm
Pro Bono News can exclusively reveal the members of the new group, which promises to be a listening friend to the sector.
Co-founders of the Parliamentary Friends of the Charitable, Not-for-Profit and Philanthropic Community, Senator Dean Smith and Senator Catryna Bilyk, say they are working hard to connect with members of the philanthropy and charity sectors, even holding meetings over the Christmas break.
In an exclusive sit-down with Pro Bono News, Smith says the stand-out takeaway is how much those sectors have “fronted up” to disaster after disaster in recent years, from fires to floods to COVID and now, to the cost of living crisis.
He said it’s important to showcase the work of charities both at a local and a national level.
Bilyk confirmed the idea behind the group is to “bring more awareness to the overall issues and highlight [them]”.
She said the friendship group understood that there were many issues facing charities, including lack of volunteers and too much red tape.
But equally as important is celebrating the work of charities, Smith added.
“I think that there are no doubt challenges and they have to be recognized. But I’m someone who believes that in recognising the challenges, it’s always good to applaud and recognize the great works that are being done as well,” he said.
This includes both paid workers and volunteers.
Smith said celebrating the work of volunteers could go some way to addressing falling volunteer numbers by letting people know “that it’s safe and it’s good, and it gives people a strong sense of purpose”.
The friendship group is considering holding a showcase later in the year, where “parliamentarians, their staff, and officials from across the government can come and see the strength of the charity and philanthropic sector in one glance”, Smith said.
“Because politicians’ time is always in high demand, sometimes I’ve thought to myself, wouldn’t it be good if a parliamentarian could come and give 30 minutes of their time and see as much as they possibly could, rather than give up 30 minutes of their time and just see one particular one particular aspect.”
He said the showcase would allow charities and philanthropic organisations to “put their best foot forward… [to] a captive audience”, in a space that would be an efficient use of everyone’s time.
But the priority would be to do it well, Smith added.
“Doing things well is important, is very, very important to Senator Bilyk and myself, rather than doing things quickly or fast,” he said.
He also stressed that charities are able to contact the senators directly too, without waiting for the showcase.
For smaller charities and groups that may not have the funds to travel to Canberra for a showcase, Bilyk said it was likely that the friendship group would need to consider events at a regional or local level like round tables.
The idea, Smith said, would be to show people the “tiles” that make up “the mosaic of the charity and of the private sector”, including the individuals who often aren’t recognised for their contributions.
Bi- and tripartisan approach
Like all parliamentary friendship groups, the Parliamentary Friends of the Charitable, Not-for-Profit and Philanthropic Community will operate from Canberra and will be bi- and even tripartisan in its approach.
Senators Smith and Bilyk said they envisage that this group will act both as a forum in which charities and philanthropic organisations can present their issues, and a more proactive space that actively showcases charities, NFPs, philanthropists and their work.
The group will move between each mode depending on community interest at the time.
It also has the support of charities minister Andrew Leigh, who is a member.
Smith said it is important to recognise that Australia’s democratic and parliamentary processes work in multiple ways, with parliamentary friendship groups acting as “a very, very important and valuable model” of demonstrating “a high level of common purpose, collegiality and cooperation”.
The senators said they’ve already held conversations with charities that have revealed that red tape is a major issue of concern. Fatigue and exhaustion after multiple crises are also challenges, as well as the impact of inflation.
Smith said it is important to understand that “doing charitable work is not easy”.
“How can we make sure we are supporting charities, whether large ones or small ones. as best we can? Because a lot has happened in a short period of time. Many charities have been innovative. Many, many charities have absolutely kept their head above water. But let’s use this opportunity to sort of [go in with] eyes wide open, ears wide open to hear about the sorts of ideas that they might have that help them continue to do the great work that they’re doing,” he said.
The members of the Parliamentary Friends of the Charitable, Not-for-Profit and Philanthropic Community are:
Senator Dean Smith
Senator Catryna Bilyk
Louise Miller-Frost MP
Luke Gosling OAM, MP
Hon. Dr Andrew Leigh MP
Graham Perrett MP
Daniel Mulino MP
Angie Bell MP
Kate Chaney MP
Senator Dorinda Cox
Steve Georganas MP
Dr Helen Haines MP
Hon. Nola Marino MP
Hon. Melissa Price MP
Hon. Stuart Robert MP
Allegra Spender MP
Anne Stanley MP
Bert van Manen MP
Dr Anne Webster MP