ABC CANBERRA BREAKFAST WITH ADAM SHIRLEY
WEDNESDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2023
SUBJECTS: Workplace giving; Consultations on 2026 Census topics.
ADAM SHIRLEY (HOST): Do you give, I mean in a financial sense, to a given charity? I don’t know whether it’s Vinnies, whether it’s the Salvos, Red Cross, Hands Across Canberra, Thinking Locally, Communities At Work; there are so many different not-for-profits that need extra funds to support those who are in need. Well, a new workplace giving program is being started by Vinnies Canberra, it’s a monthly set up of donations that come straight out of your account. There are other Canberra workplace giving programs, I am sure, and I’d like to hear about one you might be involved with.
Well, someone who oversees giving and also the charity sector more broadly is Dr Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fenner and Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. Dr Leigh, thanks for your time today.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Pleasure, Adam. Always great to be with you.
SHIRLEY: How important are these workplace-giving programs in our cost-of-living/inflation–ridden times?
LEIGH: Well, there’s four million Australians who are at a workplace that has a workplace giving program but only about one in 20 Australians participate in workplace giving. Many of us have the opportunity but most of us choose not to take that up. The advantage of workplace giving is you don’t have to worry about receipts at the end of the tax year. The money just comes out automatically; you lock it in and it’s set-and-forget. So, you can give a small amount each month to Vinnies or to another great Canberra charity or a charity assisting overseas. I know many Canberrans are extraordinarily generous. We’re one of the most generous jurisdictions in Australia. What Vinnies is seeking to do is to partner with a range of Canberra businesses, the Southern Cross Club, Toyota, Cantile Recruitment, Wisdom Learning, in order to boost workplace giving. And that fits with the Australian Government’s goal of doubling philanthropy by 2030.
SHIRLEY: Is it a fact that we have to rely on private donors, the public, now, to give a lot of charities the bare necessities of what they need to do their work?
LEIGH: Well, organisations like Vinnies also receive grants from the Federal and ACT Government, but the donations that they receive allow them to do more work still. So, they’re talking about increasing the number of family violence counsellors, and doing more with their night patrols that many people would be familiar with. They’re just able to expand the network of generosity that they have around Canberra. What’s really inspiring to me, Adam, is that they’re kicking this off because they’ve seen the Federal Government set a goal of doubling philanthropy and they’re saying to themselves, “How can we be part of that?”
SHIRLEY: How will this particular program work? Is it a matter of St Vincent’s staff going into these workplaces to spruik the program and, hopefully, get them to sign up?
LEIGH: Yes, I think that will be a big part of it and, also, the employers reaching out to their staff and saying, “Hey, would you like to be part of workplace giving?”, pointing out to staff how straightforward workplace giving is, and how it’s a great way of channeling your generosity. We all know about the helper’s high, the idea that assisting others doesn’t just help them; it makes us feel good. When you’ve been generous to others you go to bed feeling a little bit more relaxed at the end of the day than one in which you’ve just been focused on yourself.
SHIRLEY: Will other charities in the Canberra region have this opportunity or be involved in this giving program?
LEIGH: Yeah, absolutely. Any charity can apply to engage in workplace giving. It is very much about charities partnering up with businesses. I think this is a great exemplar, but it’s certainly not the end of the story. What I want to see is more Canberrans giving more often. We’re a generous jurisdiction, but we can do even better for those most in need. I am keen to boost the idea of effective altruism, to be focusing on what works best, so we get a race to the top in philanthropy. It’s not just about the warm inner glow. It is about charities being able to show that evidence of effectiveness which really drives long‑term giving.
SHIRLEY: That effectiveness is what I was keen to ask about. Is there any data or evidence to show which method is better? For example,individual charities going into a workplace and spruiking their wares or them coming together as a body, and then sharing equally in the spoils of what can be gathered?
LEIGH: Now you’re getting to the hard questions, Adam. I always talk about evidence of what impact charities have on the ground, but there’s less about what channels are most effective to get people to give. That’s an area where I’m keen to see more evidence. But my guess is right now we just want all flowers to bloom. We want people encouraging giving in the workplace but also talking about it with their friends, reaching out directly, operating through organisations such as Hands Across Canberra, which do so much to keep our local clubs and community organisations sustainable.
SHIRLEY: Yeah, because I wondered depending on the knowledge of a certain charity, its brand and its marketing power, you could end up with an unintentional competitiveness between not‑for‑profits or charities?
LEIGH: There’s an ideal balance of collaboration and competition in this space. You want to see partnerships between organisations and increasingly I’m seeing large foundations opting to give more to consortiums of organisations than to individual organisations. But we also want new organisations to spring up and say “There’s a new way of helping out”.
You think of Orange Sky Laundry, started by a couple of young blokes in Queensland and people now see those orange vans driving through Canberra. It took a couple of crazy young blokes to say you can put washing machines in the back of a van and combine water and electricals in a safe way, but then also use that as a platform for conversations with people who are marginalised. Orange Sky is brilliant, but it only works thanks to people being willing to back a start-up with their donations.
SHIRLEY: Two minutes to nine, Adam Shirley with you on ABC Radio Canberra, as is Dr Andrew Leigh, who’s Assistant Minister for Charities, amongst his other portfolio responsibilities. He’s the Federal Member for Fenner. He’s also the Minister responsible for overseeing the process of the forthcoming 2026 Census. Consultation starts today for the Census and Dr Leigh, amongst other things, you’re looking for, well, suggestions on what questions might be a part of this. In our minute or so left, what is it you want the public to talk about?
LEIGH: The Census is a snapshot of the nation. It’s taken every five years. We’ve got to make sure that snapshot is asking the right questions. In the past we’ve discarded questions about whether your house has a toilet or an internet connection and we’ve added questions about whether people have served in the defence forces, and whether they have a long‑term health condition. We’re asking Canberrans and Australians more broadly to identify topics they want added or taken away from the Census. You just go to abs.gov.au and have your say to shape the 2026 Census.
SHIRLEY: Andrew, do you anticipate there will be a couple of tweaks or changes to questions as a result of this consultation phase?
LEIGH: I’d be very surprised if the 2026 Census looks exactly the same as the 2021 Census. The survey evolves at each iteration so it’s ensuring that it’s serving our community.
SHIRLEY: Dr Andrew Leigh, appreciate your time. Thank you for it on Breakfast today.
LEIGH: Thanks so much, Adam.