Review of Government's 1st Birthday Party: A choir of dissent - 8 September 2014

As the Abbott Government turned one, Community Council for Australia (CCA) threw its birthday party, providing a charitable view of the Government’s first year in office.

CCA Chair, Rev Tim Costello and sector leaders Jan Owen CEO of Foundation for Young Australians and Toby Hall CEO St Vincent’s Health Australia put the not for profit sector’s outlook and the issues firmly back on the national agenda with national media coverage and political commentary flowing from the day.

Discussion was underpinned by the latest national major survey on the NFP sector conducted by ProBono, NetBalance and CCA.

Rev Costello emphasized that the 34pt decline in sector confidence in just one year was ‘a warning shot’ the Abbott Government needs to heed.  ‘Charities need to be listened to’.  

Federal Government funding (65%), along with its policy and regulation (60%) were key concerns for survey respondents.

More than regulation uncertainty, this referred directly back to the Government’s dismissal of the sector’s request to keep the ACNC, which again received support from over 80 percent of survey respondents. 

Toby Hall also identified that, ‘small funding changes at the Federal level have huge impact on the frontline – especially small organisations - and it’s the small organisations that hold communities together.’

‘Partnership is needed – and it’s hard to do.  We need to get over our egos and remember that it is not about us, but about the people we serve.’

Jan Owen said that sustainability and efficiency was a conversation the sector needed to have. ‘With over 600,000 organisations, is it efficient?  How much can the sector bear in finding funds with so many organisations?  How can we do things smarter, quicker?  Can backbone organisations realise efficiencies and support smaller organisations?’ 

Meanwhile we have a Government that espouses ‘small government’ which raises a question about where to draw the line between what is the work of charities and where business can take the lead.

This was one reason why the ACNC was welcomed by the sector said Rev Costello. “We need the ACNC. We have a blurring between business and the sector… a blurring of motivations and marketisation. We need a place for transparency and to discuss what we are.’

‘Civil society is “for purpose” – the glue that holds our communities together and transparency is the foundation for trust.’

Mr Hall agreed, asking ‘Where else do you see a sector asking for regulation?  The ACNC builds trust and has made a good start.’ 

Mr Hall also pointed to billions that could be saved in the health sector alone if Government, not-for-profits, industry and stakeholders sat down to work together. This is about investing in what works. ‘We need an evidence base, and we need to spend the money where it works.’

CCA will continue to take the issues to Government as an independent and voice. We will also provide a place where the sector can talk and work together to address issues such as access to capital, collaboration and mergers, performance and measurement.

We hope all governments will consider and act on these survey findings and these reflections from today’s important discussion.

Media coverage from the day 'scooped' here.