ACOSS calls on government to work with – not against – Australia’s civil society

What: ACOSS National Conference (program)
When: 11th and 12th June, 2014
Where: Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Federal Government to embrace the capacity that civil society brings to public policy debate.

In the aftermath of a divisive federal budget, ACOSS is bringing together civil society groups to discuss the importance of community advocacy in setting future policy directions at its annual conference in Brisbane.

“ACOSS has long argued that the quality of our democracy requires governments to engage in meaningful dialogue with all key stakeholders, including civil society organisations and the broader Australian Public. However, this is largely absent in the current approach.

“It is disappointing that the voices, experiences and ideas of the community are going unheard, leading to an erosion in confidence in public institutions and our democratic systems.

“Since its election, and particularly through its first Budget, the government appears to have taken the view that supporting the legitimate advocacy activities of civil society is not an appropriate role or responsibility of government.

“At the same time as it delivered a budget that will severely hurt the people who are the most vulnerable in our community, the government has de-funded a number of organisations representing politically marginalised groups: young people, refugees and asylum seekers, people affected by drug and alcohol addiction and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“We were deeply disturbed with the recent comments made by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, a Senior Cabinet Minister, that “It’s not the government’s view that taxpayers’ funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group”.

“ACOSS strongly rejects this view. Good public policy relies on the informed and meaningful engagement and input from affected stakeholders and the broader community. However this is not happening.

  • At least nine community advisory or engagement mechanisms have been dismantled and five peak or advocacy bodies gone;
  • There are a limited number of new advisory, review or engagement structures, but with limited scope and membership;
  • No new advisory mechanisms have to date been announced on key policy issues, including housing and homelessness, child and family policy, income support, employment and others
  • There is no prime ministerial, or ministerial, community sector advisory body like the Prime Minister’s advisory council on business.

“We call on the federal government to confirm its responsibility to support civil society advocacy to enable robust, open, informed and balanced public policy debate and better policy outcomes.

“Australia’s civil society organisations are already working in close partnerships with business groups and others on the best policy solutions for our nation. It’s time the government worked with us and not against us.

“A good starting point would be for the government to urgently establish an open and transparent community advisory council to the Prime Minister to provide high level expert advice on the national challenges we face – particularly focusing on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, providing an adequate safety net and creating job opportunities, including for our younger generations.

The Government must also:

  • Reaffirm it’s pre-election promise not to reintroduce gag clauses to stifle civil society voices;
  • Reject any suggestion that advocacy and policy work is not a legitimate role for civil society, locally, regionally and at national level. Policy and advocacy by civil society organisations is a vital role that clearly needs government funding and support;
  • Reverse funding cuts or bans that have already abolished or reduced the ability for civil society organisations to advocate on behalf of their constituents.

‘Everyone loses when our voices and solutions are lost from the debates we need to have,” Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas – 0419 626 155

ACOSS National Conference:

Global problems, local solutions: Tackling inequality in Australia and beyond – June 11-12 at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre.

TWITTER hashtag: #ACOSSConf2014

The annual ACOSS National Conference is the premier community sector event, providing an important platform for community voices to be heard.