News & Current Affairs
18 July 2014
Conspiracy of silence
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
If you think that Scott Morrison is justified in keeping “on-water” operations secret for safety and security reasons, perhaps you can explain to me why this secrecy extends to onshore activities like detention camps and gagging people who work with asylum seekers. Perhaps you can explain why the carers of the two boys, recently disappeared by Immigration officials, are too scared to speak out for fear of losing their job which is to make a home for these kids.
There is a concerted campaign going on to remove accountability, avoid questioning, and silence dissent and it is not just in the area of border protection. Advocacy groups for anyone other than industry are being systematically dismantled.
If you visit the government Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website you will be greeted by the following message:
“Thank you for visiting the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website.
On 18 September 2013 the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, was sworn in by the Governor-General. On this day, the Governor General signed the Administrative Arrangements Order and the Social Inclusion Unit and the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector was disbanded.
The Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, will have responsibility for the community sector, volunteering and philanthropy. The Minister for Human Services, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, will have responsibility for service delivery policy.”
We might have got a clue when Abbott announced his Cabinet. No Youth Ministry, No Early Childhood Ministry, No Science Ministry, No Climate Change Ministry, No Disability Ministry, No Aged Care Ministry, No Workplace Relations Ministry, No Multiculturalism Ministry, BUT there’s a Minister for ANZAC Day!
Another red flag was raised when the community sector was not represented on the Commission of Audit and it has not been invited to make a submission to the McClure Welfare Review being conducted by former Mission Australia chief executive Patrick McClure.
“As far as we know no one was invited to make a submission. The review has no terms of reference, has held no public meetings and has issued no interim discussion paper. We have had discussions behind closed doors but there’s been nothing in the open,”
Ms Goldie, head of ACOSS, said.
And if any further proof was needed, there was the inexplicable decision to sack Graeme Innes, Disability Commissioner, and replace him with an IPA sock puppet.
Two weeks after the budget, Mr Morrison withdrew funding for the Refugee Council of Australia, which had been allocated in the budget papers, saying he and the government did not believe that “taxpayer funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group”.
Government funding for a wide range of community organisations including ACOSS expires on December 31 after a budget decision to extend it for only six months while new long-term arrangements are developed.
The organisations have been told their grants might be put out to tender.
A vital component of Non Government Organisations (NGOs), as the name suggests, is that they remain independent of the government. Such independence is needed in order to effectively advocate for the marginalised, the environment and for those who can’t speak up for themselves. But because of a heavy reliance on government funding, and increasing use of gag clauses, NGOs are at risk of losing their vital independence.
Governments, at both the state and federal level, are increasingly contracting out services to independent providers, which is typically seen as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, more NGOs and community groups are providing services on behalf of government, in essence becoming contractors for government programs. As Browen Dalton noted recently in The Conversation, “Australia has a higher proportion of human services provided by [not for profits] than almost any other country, with the sector turning over $100 billion a year.”
However, this outsourcing means that NGOs are more reliant on government funding. And increasingly, government funding has come with heavy restrictions that threaten to jeopardise the indispensable independence of Australia’s NGOs.
The community sector plays a vital part in a democratic political system. These organisations are pivotal in shaping public advocacy and in representing those who fall through the cracks. They ensure that every person is considered in the democratic process. They also fill in the gaps where government services and programs fail. Community groups provide much needed services in homelessness support, education, refugee resettlement, disability care, arts, and many other community programs.
In a 1991 report, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs stated:
“An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents.”
The nature of government funding is a threat to this independence. As funding for some of the most vital services comes from government rather than through the public, it is the government decides which services are more important and inevitably controls the direction and delivery of such services. This model undermines the independence of NGOs, and ignores the expertise of those working on the ground to decide where services and funds need to be allocated.
Last year, the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, stated that “to benefit civil society as a whole, the Government has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, with repeal legislation to be introduced into Parliament next year”. He introduced a late amendment to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 to delay the introduction of the Charities Act2013 from 1 January 2014 to September 2014. This was referred to a Senate Committee.
In February, the Centre for Independent Studies advised the Federal Government to act on its pre-election promise to abolish the ACNC it “is not achieving its main objectives, which were to improve public trust in the not-for-profit sector, reduce red tape, and police fraud and wrongdoing”. The vast majority of the sector disagrees.
In June we read that...
The Senate Committee report into the abolition of the charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), has failed to break the deadlock between the Government and other parties, and if the majority report is implemented it would be retrograde step for public trust and confidence in sector, the ACNC Advisory Board Chairman Robert Fitzgerald has warned.
Fitzgerald said despite 80 per cent of submissions received by the Senate Committee supporting the retention of the ACNC, the majority senate report recommended the ACNC Act be repealed.
“This recommendation was saying the Australian community had no right to information about a sector that receives substantial tax concessions and benefits every year. The charity and Not for Profit sector is one of Australia’s fastest growing and important sectors. It has taken 17 years, at least six inquiries, 2000 submissions and volumes of evidence to get an effective national regulatory model. And now the effect of the majority opinion is would be to undermine basic transparency, the tackling of duplicative reporting and proven and effective regulation.
By moving to abolish the ACNC, the Government is going against the tide: England and Wales has had an independent charity regulator for more than 160 years; Scotland and Singapore established regulators and a public charity register following charity scandals; New Zealand has had a charity regulator since 2005. In the last 12 months Ireland, Jamaica and now Jersey have moved to establish independent charity regulatory bodies and public registers. Hong Kong has also recommended establishing a public charity register.
Since the ACNC’s inception, three separate surveys have each found an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with respondents supporting the ACNC.
In a relative short period of time, the ACNC has created Australia’s first free, publicly available national charity register, provided sound education and advice services to support charities in their governance, and implemented the Charity Portal and Charity Passport, which is critical to reducing duplicative reporting across government.
It is now a matter for the Parliament to determine if it wishes to have an efficient and effective regulator, or return to a regulatory regime that will ultimately increase compliance burdens on the sector and fail to deliver transparency to the Australian public.”
Since the 2013 election
- Social Inclusion Board
- National Housing Supply Council
- Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness
- National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing
- National Children and Family Roundtable
- Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing
- Immigration Health Advisory Group
- Refugee Council of Australia
- Australian Youth Affairs Council
- Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia
- National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
- National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
- Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council
- Australian Treasury Advisory Council
- Not for Profit Advisory Group to the ATO
- Innovation and Technology Working Group
- Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership
- Indigenous Advisory Council
- Aged Care Sector Committee
Note: Two groups who argued vehemently for the abolition of a watchdog were the Catholic Church through Cardinal Pell’s office and the IPA. The ATO will now be asked to take over the duties of watchdog even though they will be shedding about 900 staff over the next six months.
Happy days for tax cheats.