Civil society groups welcome Labor’s plans to boost community voices in public debate

8 May 2019

The Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Human Rights Law Centre today welcomed Labor’s election commitments that would protect and encourage public advocacy in the community and charity sectors.

The shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits, Andrew Leigh, announced a raft of measures designed to strengthen and encourage charities’ participation in public debate and policy making, as well as reforms to fundraising and charities regulation.

Dr. Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS said:

“Public debate in Australia is heavily influenced by well-resourced interests. These powerful voices often dominate, and communities and groups affected by poverty, disadvantage and marginalisation often struggle to be heard, have few resources, and can be subjected to intimidation. This announcement ensures that advocacy by community organisations is recognised and better protected, and we wholeheartedly welcome it.”

Emily Howie, Legal Director, Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“A thriving democracy needs an informed public debate with a range of voices. Community organisations have enormous expertise to contribute, drawn from the work they do, whether it’s running a homeless shelter or protecting the environment. Today’s announcement is a welcome step towards recognition and legal protection of that contribution.”

Kelly O’Shanassy, Executive Director, ACF, said:

“Some of Australia’s most precious environmental jewels – places like Kakadu, the Kimberley and the Barrier Reef – have been protected because charities have advocated for their preservation. Civil society’s right to advocate for important issues is critical to maintaining a healthy democracy where all voices can be heard, not just those backed by powerful vested interests.”

Labor pledged to make amendments to laws to fully recognize and protect the contribution that charities make through advocacy. Labor will also insert terms into funding agreements to support and protect advocacy.

Dr. Cassandra Goldie:

“Ensuring that grant agreements and contracts have terms protecting advocacy is critical. Currently, the Federal Government prevents some organisations from using Commonwealth funds for advocacy. Ensuring that all contracts and grant agreements have terms confirming that advocacy is permitted is a critical measure to protect advocacy and remove any uncertainty.”

Emily Howie:

“All governments find criticism inconvenient or uncomfortable, but that’s part and parcel of a good democracy. Governments should be enabling healthy, robust public discussion, not silencing it. The policies announced today would provide welcome clarity and confidence that charities need to speak out on the matters they are expert on and for the communities with whom they are deeply connected.”

Kelly O’Shanassy:

“It is no exaggeration to say that without environmental advocacy there would be oil rigs on the Great Barrier Reef, a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory and a dam on Tasmania’s Franklin River. We welcome this announcement by Andrew Leigh because it is a step towards making sure charities can continue to play this vital role in Australia’s democracy and the protection of the environment.”

Media contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519