OPENING REMARKS TO CHARITY ROUNDTABLE
WEDNESDAY, 16 MARCH 2022
Thank you for joining us. It’s a pleasure to be here with my talented colleague Patrick Gorman, and Labor’s candidate for Canning Amanda Hunt, who will be well known to you from her time heading Uniting WA.
Over recent decades, Australia’s social capital has dropped dramatically. Compared with the 1980s, Australians now have half as many close friends, and know half as many of our neighbours. Church attendance and union membership have declined. Membership of large organisations has fallen sharply. And in fact, the number of organisations in Australia hasn't kept pace with population - there's fewer organisations per person than in the past. We've seen a steady decline in volunteering, a drop which has accelerated through the pandemic. And there has been a decline in the share of Australians who are actively engaged in team sports and community sporting activities.
All this has happened at a time when the gap between rich and poor in Australia has risen as well. And those two trends, I don't think, are unrelated to one another. Australia has become less a country of ‘we’ and more a country of ‘me’. Less of a communitarian civic ethos, more of an individualistic approach to life.
Nick Terrell and I laid out some of these dispiriting statistics in a book called ‘Reconnected’ we wrote in 2020, talking about the problems as we saw them and how they are quite similar to the trends that Robert Putnam identified in ‘Bowling Alone’ in 2000, and has subsequently documented in his 2019 book ‘The Upswing’.
But it's not just about documenting what's going on - it's also about coming up with solutions to tackle it. I think there is a great opportunity for a federal government that partners with the charitable sector to help bring about a civic renaissance, which works with the charities commission to reduce the reporting burden on charities, finally fixes the outdated fundraising laws that require anyone fundraising online to register in seven different jurisdictions or risk breaking the law. There are opportunities to turn the ACNC into the equivalent of ASIC for charities - a true one stop shop.
But more than that, to see genuine partnerships with the charitable not for profit sector, through longer funding agreements and a recognition of the valuable role of advocacy from charities. As Jenny McAllister, Susan Templeman and I announced yesterday in the Blue Mountains, Labor would not enforce gag clauses where they exist in agreements and we’d seek to remove them where possible.
We would also seek to raise the status of charitable advocacy. Australia has seen really troubling attacks on charities from the Liberals over their eight and a half years in office. The decision by Tony Abbott to put gag clauses into community legal centre agreements, the withdrawal of funding by Scott Morrison when he was Immigration Minister for the Refugee Council of Australia because he saw them as being engaged in advocacy. Attacks on environmental charities that have had the temerity to talk about issues such as climate change and deforestation and the loss of habitat. A steady sense among many charities that they're on the receiving end of a war on charities.
The Liberals first tried to get rid of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission when they got in. If it wasn't for the opposition of the crossbench in the Senate then the ACNC would be gone. And after they couldn't get rid of the charities commission, they then put in charge of it Gary Johns, a man who made his reputation as a critic of charities - not a supporter of them. A man who took a very different approach than his respected predecessor Susan Pascoe had taken to charities. Gary Jones has centralised power within the charities commission, I think, to the to the detriment of the constructive working relationship that existed there beforehand.
There's a big agenda of things to do. We don't just want to stop the war on charities - we know there's great opportunities for a better federal government to work with charities to build a reconnected Australia.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.