Social Enterprise Round Table
Parliament House, Canberra
Monday, 27 March 2023
Thanks Jess [Moore] and Tara [Anderson] for the introduction. It’s delightful to have so many generous altruists here in Parliament today. I acknowledge that we're meeting on the lands of the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge parliamentary colleagues Daniel Mulino, Andrew Giles and Helen Haines.
What you do has support from across the parliament. For those on the business side, you're celebrating businesses. And for those who got into politics to help the most disadvantaged, you're doing just that. The work of social enterprises spans the Australian economy, I only need to walk a few steps from my electorate office in Gungahlin to see Krofne Donuts, which was set up to provide employment for people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities .
Here in Canberra, Alicia Payne, David Smith and I recently visited mattress recycler Soft Landing with Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, learning about the environmental work they do, but also about the work that they provide for people who are formerly jobless. You’ll hear from the extraordinary Bec Scott shortly, somebody who Nick Terrell and I wrote about in Reconnected because we were inspired not just about what she does at Streat, but how she looks to seed new social enterprises, right across the community.
So much of what you do fits into what we're aiming to do within government. We're passionate about building the role of charities and not-for-profits in our community, not because we want government to do less, but because we believe that the challenges we face are so significant that they require community and government to step up together.
One of those is full employment. We had the Jobs and Skills Summit here in Parliament just recently. One of the goals of that was to ensure that we lock in full employment. Locking in full employment ensures that we spread the benefits of work to people who might not have the standard cookie cutter skills, they might be neurodiverse, people with a disability, people from a marginalized group, people in a part of Australia that hasn't got as many jobs. Jobs are more than a paycheque, they’re about dignity. Social enterprises can help. Social enterprises ensure that dignity gets spread to all corners of Australia.
Since the Albanese Government came to office, I've been fortunate to have the opportunity of serving as the Assistant Minister for Charities. I don't think anyone else has ever wanted the portfolio as much as me. I held the portfolio throughout our nine years in opposition, which gave me a great chance to work with the sector, pushing back against some of those attacks on charitable advocacy, the attacks on charities and their role in our community.
But I don't just want to stop the war on charities. We're passionate now about working with the charity and not-for-profit sector to turn around some of the big tectonic trends that we've seen in Australian society. Over recent decades, we've seen a drop in the share of Australians joining community groups, a decline in the share of people playing team sports. We've seen a fall-off in the volunteering rate and a drop in the share of Australians who give money to charity. You go back to surveys in the mid-1980s that asked people how many close friends they had. The typical Australian then said they had about nine close friends. Now that's down to five. In the mid-1980s the typical Australian said they had ten neighbours they could drop in on uninvited. Now people say it’s about four.
We've seen a rise in loneliness and social isolation. Government can't turn that around by ourselves. We need to partner with Australia's great charity and not-for-profit sector. To do that, we've set a target to double philanthropy by 2030. We've just kicked off the Productivity Commission review into giving, which at the end of last week, opened its call for submissions. We've got a blueprint process to work with the sector to tackle some of the challenges like IT capacity and building the opportunity for charitable advocacy.
We've now got the well-respected Sue Woodward heading the Charities Commission, somebody whose work in Justice Connect reflects her passion for working collaboratively with the charity and not-for-profit sectors, and the importance of those sectors for our society and our economy.
We know that right across government, we need to do more to engage with charities, and not-for-profits. We welcome the role charities and not-for-profits play in advocacy. We recognize that Australia's public democracy is strengthened when we have the voices of charities speaking out. In the area of social enterprises, we understand that a diverse range of businesses are fundamental to a good society.
I do love that one of the examples you talked about was from the community acquisition of a local petrol station in Yackandandah. In the early 1970s, my parents and two of their sets of friends set up a company in Yackandandah, that would own a farm they just bought. They were 1970s idealists, and they wanted the name of the company to reflect agriculture, and industry, and renewable energy all at the same time. So they founded a company called the Wind Driven Bull and Welded Pea Company.
In some sense, each of your social enterprises is a bit of a Wind Driven Bull and Welded Pea Company, because it's bringing together a range of purposes. You make profits to reinvest in the business. You employ people who would otherwise be without work. You've do that working on a shoestring, with a management team who surely could earn more if they went out and sought the highest paying job in the private sector. But you do it for love, for the community, for giving back. And for the knowledge that at the end of the day, when we shuffle off this mortal coil, the things that people will remember us for is not how much we earned and what awards we got, but how we treated others and what we gave back to the community.
In that spirit, all of you can be enormously proud for what you're doing to build a stronger Australia and a fairer society. It is a pleasure and privilege to be with you this morning. Thanks very much.