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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2767

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (13:34): I am pleased to support the Not-for-profit Sector Freedom to Advocate Bill so that we do not see history repeating itself, and I am pleased that the bill will go through with united support from across the chamber. This is a critical piece of legislation. It responds to a recommendation that the Greens made during the debate on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission late last year, and I am glad that we are able to debate it now and that it is being adopted as non-controversial legislation.

We are strongly supportive of the not-for-profit and charity sector in Australia. I have articulated that support in this place on many occasions. We believe that the sector plays an absolutely essential role in delivering critical services, advocacy and support for communities, but most importantly it plays a critical role in our civil society and democracy. These organisations play a leading role in the development of policy and are fierce advocates for many in our community, particularly the most marginalised and vulnerable groups. They provide enduring advocacy for the disability sector—advocates, service providers, people with disability—and they themselves have been lobbying and campaigning to raise awareness of the need for better services and more funding for disability services. I would go so far as to say that if it were not for those people and their advocacy, we would not have an NDIS today. The legislation we passed today is a result of that advocacy work.

Independence is critical to securing a robust and sustainable sector, and no government that truly wants to make this country a better place should expect not-for-profit organisations to basically sit there, shut up and quietly provide services without advocating for their clients or calling for systemic change. Unfortunately, sometimes government has a virtual monopoly over funding arrangements. It is often the sole contractor or the sole funder for important social environment programs, which leads to an imbalance in power in contract negotiations between governments and service providers and the not-for-profit sector.

In the past we have seen attempts to use those contracting arrangements to stop organisations carrying out advocacy. That is why the Greens believe it is so important that this legislation goes through and that it will protect the independence of the not-for-profit sector and ensure that governments do not use their position to stop not-for-profit advocacy. This was discussed during the ACNC Bill debate. I am really pleased that the government has brought this on and that it also moved at that time to make sure that the government standards did not impinge on the independence and advocacy role of the not-for-profit organisations. We will, of course, be supporting this legislation. We congratulate the government for bringing it on. The Greens will ensure that we hold all to this piece of legislation and ensure that the sentiments expressed in this chamber today are upheld in the future.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.