THURSDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2017
In 2010, a High Court case determined that the advocacy work done by Australian charities is essential to our system of representative democracy.
A sector-wide survey by Pro Bono Australia in 2015 found that nine out of 10 Australians considered recognition of this aspect of charity work to be an important factor in developing the sector.
Australians want their charities to convey their views and ideals. Work done by the Community Council for Australia revealed that, in communities where suicide and incarceration were a major issue, those issues were effectively tackled through public awareness by charities. Work of charities such as beyondblue has contributed significantly to Australian public policy development.
As David Crosbie of the Community Council for Australia puts it, "Communities want their charities to be advocates, to raise their voices, to represent those who do not have the capacity to influence policies".
Yet we have, in the Turnbull government, attempts to water down the ability of charities to advocate for better policies and attempts to limit the ability of charities to carry out research. This has been criticised by the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Philanthropy Australia, the Community Council of Australia and the Fundraising Institute of Australia.
The proposal to create new reporting requirements for advocacy activities—in other words, more red tape for charities—and the proposal to limit the level of advocacy undertaken by environmental organisations, by requiring them to allocate 25 to 50 per cent of donation revenue to environmental remediation, limit the ability of charities to advocate for better policies in Australia.
What would you expect from a government which has attempted to shut down the advocacy work that's being done by our aid organisations and by our legal centres?
It must be possible for Australian charities not just to help individuals but also to help create better policies. When we have our charities engaged in the public policy process, we end up with better policies. They are at the coalface. They are seeing the work that needs to be done to build a stronger community, a more just community and a more environmentally sustainable community.
Yet the Turnbull government wants to shut our charities out of the advocacy space, to prevent them from having a voice in building a better Australia and to prevent their research activities.
Labor will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with charities - as we have done in fighting for keeping the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission - on this vital issue of advocacy.