June 21, 2016


The best kind of care for our community comes from within our community. The best-placed organisations to identify and respond to social and community issues are those organisations that base their strength, energy and grit on the people who are that community.

Labor understands this principle. Labor supports and protects this principle.

The Liberals don’t. The Liberals won’t.

Labor understands the critical role played by Australia’s not-for-profit sector in building the capacity of individuals and communities, strengthening cohesion, addressing inequality and harnessing opportunity.

We know that government alone cannot solve all our social problems. Only by working in partnership with community organisations – and communities themselves – can we bring about lasting change. Labor views the efforts of this sector with pride and gratitude.

The Liberals view the not-for-profit sector with little more than contempt.

There’s proof:

  • In only three years, the Liberals have ripped more than $270 million worth of funding from frontline services.
  • They gutted peak advocacy organisations of their funding and slashed money from community legal centres and family violence services.
  • Then they completely botched their community grants process – pitting community organisations against one another and leaving many frontline services without funding certainty. As a result, some frontline services have had to cut staff or reduce their services. Some have been forced to close entirely.
  • The Liberals also tried to scrap the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission (ACNC) – only to be fought off by a relentless campaign by Labor and the community sector.

The only community spirit the Liberals have created is one of mutual comradery as community organisations gathered together in opposition to the Abbott-Turnbull Government's cuts.

We need Australian charities to help tackle two big challenges in Australia. Inequality has risen sharply, with the gap between battlers and billionaires now at a 75-year high. And community life has become more disconnected, with rates of joining, volunteering and giving, all slumping in recent years. Only a strong charitable and philanthropic sector will help turn these trends around, and create a more egalitarian and engaged Australia.

A Shorten Labor Government will embark on a new agenda of partnership with community and non-for-profit organisations.

Unlike the Liberals, Labor believes that Government and the community sector should work together to develop quality policy and ensure it delivers real outcomes for vulnerable Australians.

Labor has already established a Federal Labor Community Sector Partnership – a regular forum for debating policy ideas and direction. If elected, Labor will make the Community Sector Partnership a permanent interface between Government and the community sector.

Labor will also:

  • Reinvigorate the National Compact with the Third Sector – to outline the terms of engagement and agree a joint agenda for working together.
  • Scrap the Liberals' shambolic community grants program. This has been a disaster for community organisations and should not be allowed to continue.  Whilst Labor will honour all existing contracts, over time we will move towards a fairer approach to funding community organisations, including longer term contracts.
  • Continue to work through the ACNC to streamline reporting mechanisms and cut red tape for community and not-for-profit organisations.

In addition, Labor will work with community and not-for-profit organisations in the development of Labor’s national information policy, to ensure that the power of data is available to assist the sector to do its job more effectively. 

We will continue to support community organisations through the Volunteer Grants program. We know that organisations often rely on these small grants to assist them to attract and keep volunteers. Labor will provide a further $10 million toward this important program.

This is Labor’s plan for a strong, vibrant and sustainable community sector. Ours is the only major party committed to resetting the Federal Government's relationship with the not-for-profit sector, and working together to forge a more equal and connected Australia.

This Opinion Piece was first published in Pro Bono Australia on Tuesday, 21 June 2016