The very best moments in life are usually moments of togetherness. Whether it’s celebrating a milestone, building a new creation, or winning a grand final, human achievement is usually a joint effort. Humans are a social species, and our community binds us together.
Yet over the past generation, Australia’s social fabric has frayed. We have become less likely to attend religious services, less likely to play team sports, less likely to join a union, and less likely to join community groups. The average Australian has half as many friends as in the 1980s, and knows half as many neighbours.
Added to this was the former federal government’s nine-year war on charities. Attacks on advocacy, systemic underfunding, and the undermining of the charities commission prompted three open letters from the sector to successive Liberal prime ministers, all with the same message: stop the attacks.
Since taking office last May, Labor has ended the war on charities, and worked to collaborate with the sector. As Assistant Minister for Charities, I have held forums in every state and territory capital (and online) to hear the needs of the sector. A mark of the renewal came earlier this year, when the body formerly known as “Hands Off Our Charities” announced that it was changing its name to the “Stronger Charities Alliance”.
Working with philanthropic groups, Labor has tasked the Productivity Commission with conducting a once-in-a-generation review of charitable giving, and we are working with the Community Sector Advisory Group to produce a blueprint that will draw together insights on building community. States and territories have now agreed on principles that will shape their harmonised charitable fundraising laws, and we expect that they will enact these in legislation in the coming months.
In the 2023 budget, we have announced new measures to build a stronger community. A major new initiative will bring together government support with philanthropic funding in disadvantaged communities to break entrenched cycles of disadvantage. This builds on successful grassroots initiatives that have reduced First Nations stillbirths in Logan, boosted school completion rates in Burnie, cut summer crime rates in Bourke and created a new aged care and early childhood centre in Mildura.
Another opportunity for collaboration comes through our new evaluation unit, to be created in Treasury with the aim of better measuring what works. While the primary goal of the unit will be to improve government policies, we’re excited by the chance of working with charities and non-profits to build a better feedback loop.
The Australian Government’s goals – to double philanthropy by 2030, strengthen community, and encourage greater impact – are ambitious. But we’re not aiming to build the civic sector so government can do less. Instead, we recognise that government and the community sector will need to work together to tackle shared challenges. That’s why this budget includes funding for a 15% pay rise for aged care workers, to boost JobSeeker, and to raise eligibility for the parenting payment (single) to when the youngest child turns 14. Our government’s energy bill relief plan targets the most disadvantaged, and aims to help the most vulnerable without putting pressure on inflation.
Because in the end, Australians are at our best when we work together.
Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Charities, and author (with Nick Terrell) of Reconnected: A Community Builder’s Handbook.
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