THE CASE TO DOUBLE PHILANTHROPIC GIVING
Philanthropy Australia: Philanthropy Meets Parliament
Parliament House, Canberra
Tuesday, 24 October 2023
I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people the Traditional Custodians of the land we are meeting on, and pay my respects to all First Nations people present.
As a Canberra, I'd like to welcome you here to the nation's capital, to the bush capital and to the social capital of Australia. Canberra does strikingly well on a range of social capital metrics. And I hope while you're in town, you'll have a chance to get out and about and enjoy some of that Canberra community spirit.
I’ve been asked today to talk about the case for double giving. One way to start is to think about what Australia would look like without charities and not-for-profits.
What if there were no charities or not-for-profits in Australia? Immediately many people who are disadvantaged, who are homeless or struggling with family violence would have nowhere to turn to. Aged care centres and childcare centres would close down. We'd see an immediate collapse of the arts: music, dance and theatre.
Suddenly, on a Saturday morning, a whole lot of parents would be wondering what to do with their kids, because there wouldn't be those sporting activities that are being run by Australia's charities. Our local environment would be worse off without the community groups that support local bush regeneration projects. Medical research would be slowed. In the case that disaster struck, Australia would be less resilient without charities and not-for-profits.
That thought experiment helps to remind us of the critical role that charities and not-for-profits play. Yours is a sector that constitutes more than a tenth of employment, almost a tenth of GDP and which accounts for millions of volunteers. Last year, as an opposition, we decided that it wasn't just good enough to say that we would regulate charities more effectively, we set a target to double philanthropy, inspired by the work that Philanthropy Australia had done.
We did this in the face of three significant challenges that Australia faced.
First, the disconnection crisis, which over the course of the last generation has seen a decline in the share of Australians who participate in organised sport, who volunteer in their community, who give money to charity, and who have enough close friends and know their neighbours.
The second big challenge was caused by COVID. The pandemic broke social ties, causing challenges for in person religious services, diminishing the pool of available volunteers, particularly among organisations that relied on older volunteers. Much of what we do in the community is out of habit, and for many Australians COVID broke the habit of being involved in the community, and we're only just starting to recover.
The third challenge is that which was imposed on the charity sector by the former government. I don't think there's any point sugar-coating this. It is important to be honest about the fact that under the former government, there were three open letters from the charity sector, calling on successive Liberal Prime Ministers to back off from attacks on charitable advocacy. There was an attitude that charities should be seen but not heard, that they didn't have a rightful place in the community sector. During the referendum debate, we saw people on all sides of politics, calling out the former head of the charities commission for his comments about First Nations Australians. This illustrates to many Australians that this was not somebody who was an appropriate appointee to be running the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
Since coming to office, the Albanese Government has sought to reset the relationship and rebuild what we do with the sector. In Sue Woodward, we have a head of the charities commission who has spent her life working constructively with charities and aims to work to build community in Australia. We have an advisory board for the charities commission now, which looks like the sector. It is majority female, headed by Sarah Davies, and includes First Nations and CALD representatives.
Alongside this, we have engaged in the largest consultation with Australia’s charities in the nation’s history. Last year, I held in-person forums in every state and territory capital and online. This year I’ve held additional forums in Perth, Brisbane, Launceston and Adelaide, with upcoming forums in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. We’re working with states and territories to fix the nation’s outdated fundraising laws, and shaping up a charity sector blueprint that will cover issues from impact investing to information technology.
We’ve got the Productivity Commission engaged on a once-in-a-generation review of philanthropy, looking not just at the tax settings, but also at the social norms. About how we can build a culture of giving back everywhere from Kids in Philanthropy to workplace giving through to getting more high net worth individuals to follow the path that some of the great philanthropists have followed. I would urge you to read Philanthropy Australia’s Stories of Philanthropy book to be truly inspired.
As a government's we've sought to partner with philanthropy. The best example of this is the Investment Dialogue for Australia's Children announced as part of this year's Budget. It is a multimillion dollar investment, which will see targeted interventions in communities such as Bourke, Burnie and Logan. In these communities, we're looking at scaling up place-based interventions that have been developed by locals. We're aiming not to do it just as government, nor to have it happen just as a community sector initiative -- but to see the two sectors partnering together.
This is a unique opportunity to get the very best from both sides, to share the data, to see what's working, to improve the quality of evaluation, including through the new Australian Centre for Evaluation, which will conduct more rigorous evaluations, including randomised trials.
This partnership approach is one that I'd like to see in other areas of government too. There's countries and states around the world that have set up offices, which are designed to be a first port of call for philanthropists wishing to engage with government.
Now we're a lean and efficient government. So rather than setting up that office, my offer to you today is to use mine. To treat my role as the Assistant Minister for charities as your concierge service to the Australian Government. If you'd like to partner with us in what you're doing, we're all ears. Whether that's in the emergency management space, the art space, the sport space, or the health space.
We're keen to work with philanthropists, not because we want an excuse to step back. But because we know these challenges are massive. We want the opportunity to engage and to find ways just as you saw in that example in the video earlier about Ian Frazer’s development of the HPV vaccine, in which philanthropy can serve as a venture capital arm of government. That means philanthropy taking risks that government perhaps couldn't, working in sectors that are more challenging, trialling programs and building the evidence base.
This is why we'd like to work with you. This is why we’ve set an ambition to double philanthropy by 2030. Thank you again for your generosity for making this one of the most generous rooms in Australia right now. Thank you for being here in the nation's capital and for sharing your ideas, your wisdom, and yes, your dollars with Australia.