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It is a great honour to serve the people of Queensland as one of our state's 12 Senators in the Australian Senate, and the people of Australia as the Shadow Minister for Women, Carers, and Communities.

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Spotlight on Current Events

Opinion Piece - 11 November 2014




The not-for-profit sector is made up of some 600,000 organisations and is at the heart of our communities, seeking to make them more connected and less disadvantaged.

The latest ABS data shows there are almost 60,000 economically active not-for-profit organisations. Together they employ more than a million people, contribute more than $54 billion to the national accounts and involve almost 5 million volunteers, contributing $15 billion in unpaid work.

Any similar economically-significant sector making a similar economic and social contribution would expect a fair and open relationship with government based on mutual respect and trust.

But heading into the busy festive season, charities are fatigued by perpetual uncertainty under the Federal Government.

"We've got volunteer and paid staff that we're losing. We're not able to recruit, we're not able to train, implement programs or honour contracts with suppliers." That's the voice of a CEO of a major not -for-profit, typical of the kind of anxious feedback my office has been getting for months.

A significant number of not-for-profit organisations providing key services including emergency financial and food relief, early intervention for children at risk, social cohesion and volunteer programs have been faced with a $240 million budget cut and uncertainty as it still unclear where those cuts will fall on services.

Under the tricky cover of 'streamlining', 18 programs have been shrunk to 7 and many existing services simply did not know if they were eligible to apply under the new arrangements at all.

It was recently revealed at Senate Estimates this has been followed by a shambolic grants process being administered by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews which gave organisation just six weeks to submit applications to secure ongoing contracts.

Small and specialist services providing specific services to some of the most vulnerable groups are understandably concerned that they will secure funding at all in the new regime.

The grants process has been such a failure the department now hastily has given a two month extension to the end of the year as it has been unable to define its priorities, finalise its contract process and give the sector the certainty it deserves.

No grants system is perfect but the changes Minister Andrews has made are without logic. Without a vision of the outcomes he expects from 'civil society', the new grant making process has been cast out with no consultation with the sector who are best placed to determine what will work best in the community. There's no explanation of what worked well before, what gaps are being addressed and what gaps are dismissed.

This does not bode well for genuine, long term partnership with this most important sector. Let's not forget this is against the backdrop of Minister Andrews' ideological crusade to dismantle the Australian Charities and not-for-profits Commission, which four out of five organisations have said they want to retain in a recent survey because it is cutting their red tape and building sector capacity. The Abbott Government has disbanded the Office of the Not-for-profit sector and ripped up the National Compact signed by hundreds of organisations and Labor in office to build the foundation for a genuine partnership with Canberra based on mutual respect and trust.

Every sector needs certainty for future planning, budgeting, workforce management, recruitment and retention. It's a no brainer. But the community sector has been left dangling, on the brink. At the very least it should be granted decent transitional arrangements to manage vital services or prevent organisations falling off a cliff. Many jobs are at stake with some staff already looking to leave. Productivity and morale are suffering.

By any measure this is a botched grant program and the Minister who has had over a year to plan and execute this process must take responsibility.

The Christmas spirit generated by a sector usually ready to do more than its fair share of giving is being needlessly tested.

Published in Pro Bono Australia , Tuesday 11 November 2014


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Condolence Speech: Remembering And Honouring Gough Whitlam, A True Gentleman

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