HOW AUSTRALIA CAN DOUBLE PHILANTHROPIC GIVING BY 2030
MELBOURNE, THURSDAY, 7 APRIL 2022
I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and pay my respects to elders past and present. My thanks to our hosts, and the many friends and social entrepreneurs in the room. Special thanks to my parliamentary colleagues - Mark Dreyfus, Bill Shorten, Kate Thwaites, Josh Burns, and Ged Kearney. And Linda White, who will shortly be joining us in the Senate. It is a real treat to have you all here – parliamentarians who are just as passionate about the community sector success as I am.
In the late 19th century, Alfred Nobel got to read his own obituary. His brother Ludvig had died, and a European newspaper mistakenly published an obituary that had prepared for Alfred. Nobel might have hoped that it would talk about his inventing dynamite, but instead it read ‘the merchant of death is dead’. Nobel, who didn't have a wife or children, suddenly had a foresight as to how history was going to remember him. But he had time to change that. And over the course of the next decade, he set up the Nobel Prizes, giving nine tenths of his wealth to establish what are now the most prestigious prizes in the sciences.
Giving is a great legacy to provide to others, and giving during our lifetimes is also a great source of pleasure. A cross-national survey found that people who give charitable donations tend to be happier. Experiments have borne that out. A lovely little randomised trial takes two groups of people and it gives them about thirty dollars to spend during the day. Half are randomly assigned to spend it on themselves, half randomly asked to give it to others. At the end of the day, the two groups are assessed to see how happy they are with their lives, and the donors are significantly happier than those who spent the money on themselves. Another study takes the same approach, but instead of looking at happiness, it goes back three weeks later and looks at the blood pressure of the two groups. It finds that charitable donors had significantly better blood pressure readings. Indeed, the improvement was as great as taking hypertension medicine or doing regular exercise.
Yet in Australia we've seen a significant drop in the share of Australians giving to charity. Whether you look at tax statistics on charitable deductions or the Roy Morgan survey showing that from 2011 to 2018 the share of Australians giving to charity dropped from 70 per cent to 61 per cent, it's clear we've got a problem. Blood donations are also down. It's part of a general trend in Australians becoming more disconnected.
I've had the pleasure since 2013 of having the charities portfolio on behalf of Labor. It's meant that I've had the opportunity to engage deeply with the charitable sector and with Philanthropy Australia. It's given me insights into philanthropy and into what philanthropy can achieve, and I share Philanthropy Australia's view that we can do better.
That's why today Labor is announcing that if we're elected, an Albanese Labor Government will work with the philanthropic sector to double charitable giving by 2030. It's a big task, but we believe as you do that it's an achievable one. If we get there, this will transform Australia's culture of giving. It will mean that Australia is a much more connected nation, and if we believe the research, will be a happier and healthier nation too.
There's a range of different ways in which we’d look to do that. A Labor government would finally fix fundraising. We would fix the hodgepodge of fundraising laws that see the typical charity spending a week of staff time to comply with seven different sets of rules for states and territories if they want to raise money online.
We like the idea of putting in place a national giving campaign. Australia's skin cancer awareness was improved by the Slip Slop Slap campaign. Our understanding of AIDS is improved by the Grim Reaper campaign. In Canada, the My Giving Moment campaign has helped to change the culture of philanthropy in that country. We believe that there's great potential for strong national focus on changing Australia's culture of giving.
We also need to make sure we get the tax deductible rules right. I'm pleased to announce today that if Labor is elected, we’ll support the announcement in the budget to provide tax deductibility to Australian community foundations. We've worked closely with the community foundation sector. I understand your value to the community, and today's announcement gives you certainty.
An Albanese Labor Government would end the war on charities, which has seen so many charities spend so much energy fighting against attacks on what they do. Mark Dreyfus has worked with the legal aid charities in order to ensure that their voices are heard on issues of law reform. Labor has worked to ensure the environmental charities are heard on issues around climate change and environmental justice. We've worked to ensure that social justice charities aren't just seen as providing services, but also are valued voices in the public debate. Australia's democratic conversation is stronger when it's joined by the voices of charities, and when donors see that, they're more likely to give more.
Today's announcement is not about government doing less. It's about all of us doing more to tackle the big challenges that we need to focus on in Australia. Whether that be challenges of inequality or poverty or social disconnection. One of the silver linings of almost nine years in opposition is when you've got one portfolio you get a lot of time to really engage really well with the sector. We held a series of ‘Reconnected’ forums, almost 20 of them right across the country - everywhere from Hobart to Darwin, from Perth to Newcastle - and we drew the insights of charity leaders of those forums together into a book which Nick Terrell and I published in 2020 titled Reconnected: A Community Builder’s Handbook. Our chapter there on philanthropy talks about the importance of enthusiasm, ease and evidence in boosting charitable donations. We think there's a lot that the Australian community sector can do, working together with government, to make donation even more attractive.
Finally, I want to say it's pretty special for me to be making this announcement here in Melbourne. My father's father was a Methodist minister, who was a very keen marathon runner. He ran 50 miles on his 50th birthday. I turn 50 this year and might even give that a shot myself. In 1970, Keith decided that he would raise money for a charity called the Methodist Million, and when the Methodist church synod was meeting in Hobart, he did a fundraising run up Mount Wellington. Sadly, the weather turned bad and Keith died on that run in 1970. I never got to meet him. There's a small and a big lesson out of that. The small lesson is if you're running up Mount Wellington, turn back if it snows. The big lesson is that in a cosmic sense, we’re only here for the blink of an eye. Each of us want to imagine that our time on earth amounts to more than consuming a lot of stuff and producing a lot of garbage. We want to leave the place a bit better than we found it. In that, my grandfather Keith Leigh succeeded in making a difference.
It is with that spirit I want to thank you for what you do to encourage philanthropy and hope that if we're elected next month, we're able to work with you to double philanthropy in Australia.
Thanks very much.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra