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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

We Need a Courageous Voice

Thursday, 19th September 2013

In Karen’s Blog this week Karen calls on the Not for Profit sector to maintain its courageous voice as the new Government settles in.

Australians have voted for a change of Government and we are seeing a consolidation of all things ‘community sector/social economy’ melded into one super Portfolio under Kevin Andrews.

Broadly speaking, he now has, as his responsibility, a workforce of more than one million people.

It appears that there is no more ministerial responsibility given to the nuanced issues embedded in the sector. There are no more ministers in charge of homelessness or social inclusion; no more Office of Not for Profit Sector and the list goes on. Whilst I too disagree with bloated bureaucracy –  this sector is experiencing huge and exciting and important change that needs regulatory reform, resourcing, innovation and focus, and to see the melding of all of it into one portfolio is worrying.

Like few other sectors in Australia, a myriad of small and large civil society organisations have most of their funding coming from Government. And that makes public opposition to Government ideas tricky. We’ve already seen a conga line of pragmatists congratulating the Coalition which is totally understandable if you want to guarantee your ongoing resourcing.

The question is will the new Government be listening to the experience and suggestions made by the sector?

By way of example, a significant 1500 people from the sector voiced their overwhelming support for the charity regulator, the ACNC, prior to the election.

The Pre- Election sector survey conducted by Pro Bono Australia, Community Council for Australia, ACOSS, Philanthropy Australia and other sector organisations, gave a strong evidence-base to the sector’s support for the ACNC  – a position which was contrary to Coalition policy.

So will the Government listen to what the sector wishes for itself and what it believes will most effectively support its work?  We will have to wait and see how it listens, and the process for doing that –  remembering that under the Howard Government, Not for Profit organisations were threatened with losing their Deductible Gift Recipient status if they advocated on behalf of the people they represented.

Just very recently – even just over the past couple of years – civil society has been fuelled, largely via new technology, to develop new and effective ways to advocate and resource itself. The number of organisations enabling this has grown enormously eg GetUp, Our Say, change.org, kickstarter, Pozible. We are developing new funding mechanisms through social finance vehicles and philanthropy. And there is much new thinking around corporate philosophies that enable mission-based businesses.

It is vital that we in the sector support the membership bodies that represent civil society’s interests by becoming members – active members – so the voice from the sector to Government is united and loud.

Standing as an independent media organisation Pro Bono Australia undertakes to write the good, the bad and the ugly. What we won’t allow is that the sector has no voice on issues that matter and need to be voiced publicly and courageously.

We will have one million people use our site this year and 30,000 subscribers every week receive our News Services thrice weekly. Even just two years ago we would not have been in a position to collate and voice the issues of the sector as we did with the 2013 Pre-Election Survey where 90% of responses came via you, our readers.

Our news team is inundated with news from the sector on a daily basis. We revel in reporting on the work being done and progress being made – and hope that in this significant change to the governance of our country that that we can continue to represent your voice and your views. And we will need your help.

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Karen Mahlab AM
Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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