Speech by Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Opening address to the Anglicare Australia CEO Forum

Location: Parliament House, Canberra


Ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to be here this morning and can I begin by thanking you – the leaders of front-line service delivery for the work you do in helping the community.

There are more than 600,000 not-for-profit organisations in Australia.

These are large and small organisations, of diverse types and purpose, from welfare agencies and parishes to local sporting clubs and neighbourhood organisations.

These bodies form the centre of voluntary engagement and cooperation between individuals and groups for the betterment of communities. They comprise our civil society.

I’ve served in various capacities with several civil society organisations, on hospital boards and with social service agencies.

It’s this personal experience that has both formed and informed my views about the indispensible role of organisations that develop, not from Government instruction, but from the direct and unique knowledge of local communities and the human need that exists within them.

As a Parliamentarian and Minster my views about the importance of civil society have been strengthened as I have continued to learn about the crucial role that the sector plays in achieving positive outcomes for individuals and families.

I have seen communities where personal responsibility and family wellbeing has disintegrated. Where, in not being given the necessary support to develop autonomy, not being given the recognition of expertise, the basic structures through which civil society develops have eroded leaving communities mired in poverty, dependency and despair.

These are communities where need is the norm and the belief that change is possible no longer exists.

Experience has taught me that when the Government loses focus of its proper limitations and convinced that its answers are better than the answers of those with experience and skill on the ground, those that occupy the communities that experience the greatest need that a great disservice is done to civil society.

Whilst certain core functions of Government remain vital to supporting those who cannot support themselves, it is also important that we ensure that Government does not act in a manner that deprives individuals and communities of the capacity to support themselves and each other.

Civil Society

Civil society derives its vigour and strength from the experience and expertise of the organisations that compose it. The needs of one community are never the same as those of another and are seldom the same from one year to the next. This experience can thus not be replicated from the halls of Government.

It is the recognition of this vitality and strength and its capacity to be further enhanced through a collective voice that was an important factor in the establishment of Anglicare Australia.
Civil society has a strong history of developing from and addressing community need. Nowhere is this better exemplified than by the proud tradition of Anglican caring work.

As you well know, in my home state of Victoria, Anglican child and family welfare services have a long and proud tradition of meeting the needs of vulnerable children, families and communities. The three agencies, Mission to the Streets and Lanes of Melbourne, Mission of St James and St John and St John’s Home for Boys and Girls, amalgamated in 1997 to form Anglicare Victoria, had, prior to this time, provided more than 260 years of care for vulnerable children and families.

This rich and longstanding heritage of supporting those in need is mirrored in services operating under the Anglican banner across Australia.

Anglicare Victoria refers to its story as ‘a story of change and continuity. Indeed this adaptability to change, constant in the life of communities and endemic to human need itself, is what gives civil society its strength.

The Government wants to ensure that the civil sector is empowered to continue this important work and to respond to community need as it arises and changes.

We believe that no-one knows local communities better than the local community itself.

They have the best grasp on the problems that occur in front of them and how to address them.

The Government seeks to ensure that civil society is best placed to respond to, and address, issues of concern to communities whether these be local, regional or national.

By allowing organisations to focus on their core business of improving outcomes for individuals and families, free of excessive interference, stronger communities will be built.

When government oversight in the form of regulation becomes too onerous it can impede action and stifle initiative. This risks losing expertise unique to grassroots experience.

Reducing red tape

Civil society has a long history of responsible governance and engagement with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged; the Government should and will respect this.
Supporting the sector to self-manage allows organisations to focus more on their work in the community.

This is why the government is serious about reducing red tape.

To this end, the Government is implementing a broad deregulation agenda to boost productivity by removing any excessive, unnecessary and overly complex red and green tape imposed on business, community organisations and individuals.

Our aim is to reduce the cost of regulation on organisation and individuals by at least $1 billion a year.

The importance of the work that is done by civil society organisations such as yours cannot continue to be hampered by onerous regulatory requirements. This is a waste of public money and a waste of your resources and expertise.

The government and Anglicare have forged a strong working relationship. We look forward to continuing to work together in the service of others.

Thank you.