Is ALP policy just decoration?

Posted on 15 Aug 2023

By David Crosbie

Promise deliver

While the federal government is well disposed toward the charity and NFP sector, it’s time to start delivering on promises made before the last election, writes Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) are spending three days this week working on their national policy.

From a charities and not-for-profit perspective, the general direction of the policies and the priorities outlined seem quite positive for building a more inclusive and engaged Australia.

The key headings in the draft policy are framed around ideas most charities and NFPs would support:

Chapter 1 – An economy that works for everyone - outlines the economic vision for the ALP. It emphasises the importance of creating an economy that works for everyone and ensures no one is left behind. 

Chapter 2 – Opening the doors of opportunity - emphasises the importance of all Australians having equal opportunities in workplaces and education. 

Chapter 3 – Protecting Australia’s Climate, Environment and energy security - emphasises the importance of implementing climate change and energy policies that are aligned with the Paris Agreement. It also highlights the need for a robust national environmental protection framework that both conserves and restores the natural Australian environment. 

Chapter 4 – A strong and healthy Australia - re-affirms the ALP’s commitment to a robust and universal health system. 

Chapter 5 - Bringing people together – is about human rights, multiculturism, Voice and other actions to promote inclusion.

Chapter 6 – Strengthening Australian democracy - highlights the importance of safeguarding and enhancing Australia’s democratic foundations. 

Chapter 7 – Australia’s place in a changing world - covers various aspects of foreign policy, national security, international cooperation, and humanitarian efforts.

David Crosbie
Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie says it's time for the ALP government in Canberra to start delivering on what they promised the sector before the election.

In all these areas, charities and NFPs play a critical role, even if they are not mentioned.

The sub-points under these headings mention community needs – but mainly in relation to infrastructure investment being informed by local priorities.

Community programs are also mentioned, but mostly in relation to youth empowerment through community engagement.

The ALP have already adopted what is effectively a ten-point plan for the charities and NFP sector in the national policy platform they took to the last election. What they haven’t done is implement it.

No-one wants to be critical of a relatively new government and a genuinely committed and knowledgeable Assistant Minister, and we can say that most of what is now occurring within government represents a vast improvement on our previous anti-government leadership.

We should also acknowledge however, that the actions of the current government to date clearly demonstrate that charity and NFP reform is not a priority issue.

"A strong and effective charities and NFP sector is fundamental to the economic and social wellbeing of Australia."

Here are the ten areas the ALP have already endorsed as national policy. From a charity and NFP perspective, these are ten areas we can judge government performance against:

  1. establishment of an expert body to ensure the views of civil society are reflected in policy reform and initiatives to strengthen and build nourishing communities.
  2. review the Recommendations of the 2010 Productivity Commission Report on the Not-for-Profit Sector.
  3. development of a national working with vulnerable people (WWVP) registration to ensure consistency and traceability across jurisdictions and to improve the safety of vulnerable people.
  4. work across jurisdictions to create a modern and standardised national fundraising framework, reducing red tape and improving charities' access to donors and philanthropists.
  5. review and reform the funding models for contracted services to support longer-term planning and better service provision.
  6. recognise that non-profit organisations are always better positioned than for-profit corporations to provide community services. In the procurement of community services, Labor will remove the practice of competing on labour costs by ensuring tenders and grant programs are sufficient and appropriately funded to provide for adequate and safe staffing levels, and fair and reasonable wages and conditions.
  7. recognise that community led organisations have been an essential part of delivering services and building community capacity. Labor will prioritise funding for specialist services, including specialist services delivered by women, LGBTIQ, First Nations, disability and CALD groups.
  8. ensure not-for-profits are free to advocate on behalf of their cause without fear of being deregistered as a charity and that advocacy itself is protected as a government funded activity of community organisations.
  9. acknowledge and support the significance of volunteer recruitment and management in Australia, particularly in responding to natural disasters and COVID-19 and ensure that frontline volunteers are given suitable access to workplace safety needs, such as covid-19 vaccinations and protective equipment.
  10. support the not-for-profit sector in bridging the technological divide, so that more organisations, regardless of size or location, can access the digital economy and the productivity gains that technology can deliver.

With the possible exception of the increase in funding and support for a national volunteering strategy (9), and the partial implementation of fundraising reform (4), there has been little real movement on any of these policies.

Parliament House Canberra

There is no expert body advising government on policy reform (1), no review of the 2010 Productivity Commission Report recommendations (2), our progress on cross jurisdictional collaboration to cut red tape is glacial at best (3 and 4), no evidence of any change in government approach to contracting to take into account the clear research on ‘paying what it takes’ or providing enough time within contracts to establish services and achieve contracted outcomes (5 and 6).

As more and more State governments seek to stamp out any protest actions that might inconvenience people, the whole idea of ‘advocacy itself being protected’ (8) is now questionable.

In critical areas like cybersecurity (10) it feels as though the sector is going backwards while huge amounts of government money are being invested through tax concessions and other incentives to assist business in managing what is now a serious global risk.

There is no Cybersecurity support program for charities who often hold even more sensitive data on individuals and families than business or governments.

If I could give just one message to the ALP Conference in Brisbane this week, it would be it is time to start delivering on what you promised us before the election.

A strong and effective charities and NFP sector is fundamental to the economic and social wellbeing of Australia.

Having a government that embraces values that are shared with so many charities and NFPs has been welcomed across our sector. But ignoring our needs and delaying reform is undermining the good will of many charities and NFPs.

Regardless of how much we might all agree with the lovely sets of words, and the repeated expressions of support, without action these words are mostly decorative.

And that is not good government policy.

More information

Labor Fringe 2023 event

David Crosbie has been CEO of the Community Council for Australia for the past decade and has spent more than a quarter of a century leading significant not-for-profit organisations, including the Mental Health Council of Australia, the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and Odyssey House Victoria.

He has served on numerous national advisory groups and boards including the first advisory board for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Ccommission, the Not-for Profit Sector Reform Council, and the National Compact Expert Advisory Group, which he chaired.

His diverse career outside the sector includes stints as a teacher in prison, a probation officer, a university lecturer, a farm hand, a truck driver, a bank teller, a public servant, and a musician in a successful rock band.

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