Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Launch of an Australian National Council on Drugs report

Joint Speech with:

  • Australian National Council on Drugs, Brisbane



The Jagera and Turrbal people – traditional owners of the land on which we meet.

Thank you Margaret for your kind introduction and your insights into the challenging environment which many of the organisations represented here today are working within.

I’m delighted to be here this morning for the launch of the ANCD’s report Non government organisations in the alcohol and other drugs sector – representing my colleague Health Minister Nicola Roxon.

The issues raised in this report: the need for better regulation which is less burdensome on organisations, workforce capacity in the sector, the role of advocacy and innovation, governance, and the importance of sustainable small and medium sized organisations and building a respectful relationship between sectors – are front and centre in the agenda I am driving across the Commonwealth government.

It is essential for us all – government and sector, but most importantly for our community – that we build capability and enable third sector organisations to be sustainable, innovative and capable.

It is central to social inclusion – meeting the needs of our most vulnerable people, but also building engaged communities, active citizenry and the kind of rich civil society we all want to share in and which builds opportunity for participation by all Australians.

I would like to share with you some of the work we are doing as a government to build capability and innovation in our third sector.

We recognise the legacy of market driven approaches to contracting government services on some sector organisations – it has caused mission drift and dependency on government funding and regulation which does not always focus on achieving the best outcome for the citizens we work with.

So, we must recognise the importance of language. It can no longer be about what we do ‘to’ a particular group within our community or delivering services to customers. Social inclusion requires a significant shift in our thinking and language to focus on outcomes for people which are sustainable and may require very new ways of service delivery.

This report makes an important contribution to this agenda. It highlights the issues specific to organisations working in alcohol and other drug services, but it provides a microcosm of the issues facing the non-profit sector as a whole.

As the report notes, some 700,000 third sector organisations deliver more than half of Australia’s social services and employ around 900,000 people – this is one and half times the size of the nation’s health workforce. It’s also a rising number, as employment across the sector has grown by 52% since the mid 1990s.

The organisations across the sector earn 40% of their revenue from sales of goods and services, 10% from donations and fund raising, and 35% from government. And there’s been a 136% increase in government revenue since the mid 1990s.

The report notes that this revenue has come at a price – particularly in red tape in dealing with many levels of government and with concerns in your sector about constraints on your independence and advocacy role.

The government recognises that this stifles policy innovation and weakens civil society. One of the very first acts of this government when coming to office was to instruct departments to remove the anti-advocacy clauses from all their contracts with third sector organisations.

But there is further to go to build a stronger relationship between government and sector. This is why we are investing in transforming this relationship to one which is based on partnership and respect through a mechanism such as a compact.

Initial consultations on a compact held late last year in partnership with ACOSS showed strong support within the sector for a compact that would achieve a tangible change in the way the sector and the government work together.

I was fortunate to benefit from the expertise of one of your Board Members, Mr David Crosbie who co-chaired an Expert Panel on the focus and possibilities for a compact to drive real change in the relationship across government.

So to progress the next stage of the compact, I have established a National Compact Joint Taskforce, with members from the sector, local and 8 federal government agencies, including the Australian Public Service Commission and the ACTU to negotiate the wording and structure of a draft compact. The Taskforce met for the first time earlier this month.

I agree wholeheartedly with the notion put forward in this report’s foreword, provided by Professor Mark Lyons, that a compact must have as its starting premise mutual transformation and renewal. We must recognise the process will take time and effort on both sides, that there are significant challenges in driving change but also there are enormous opportunities to build a framework that drives respect and recognition for the sector by governments and the community.

Once the taskforce completes the draft compact framework, we will take it out for broad consultation across the sector to ensure that all those interested have an opportunity to contribute to the shape of the compact.

Both our sectors will require champions to demonstrate leadership, encourage participation and challenge behaviours and practices as we develop and then implement the compact.

Just as we in government are trying to work in a more coordinated way, it is also important that the non profit sector is able to present a unified voice on high-level priorities, issues and expectations.

We need a strong and innovative sector leadership with which to partner on our wide ranging reform agenda – from industrial relations and third sector regulatory reform, to the broad-reaching carbon pollution reduction scheme that will leave no sector untouched.

I know that this is something that the report also discusses and I would like to thank the report’s authors for advocating the need for collective action amongst sector groups, as well as providing specific advice for alcohol and other drugs organisations on how to more effectively coordinate their advocacy activities.

The report also points out, the future viability of organisations in the Alcohol and Other Drugs sector is predicated on sound management and retaining experienced and qualified staff.

I know from my conversations with managers of sector organisations that staff retention in the caring services is a real issue – a point that is demonstrated clearly in the report, and one that governments have been working to address together in a coordinated way.

Disability Ministers from the states, territories and the commonwealth have been progressing the development of a national disability workforce strategy. The strategy will cover qualifications, training and aims to establish the disability sector as an “industry of choice” by the end of 2010.

To assist in this work, governments are compiling a profile of the community services workforce across Australia that will give us all a better picture of the national community sector workforce.

We have also developed a clearing house of information about community workforce issues (www.communityworkforcevillage.org.au), which facilitates networking and information sharing about the challenges impacting on the attraction and retention of the community services workforce.

I would also like to touch briefly on the issue of regulation and the need to get the balance right between accountability, transparency and outcomes for our citizens.

The sector is subject to 178 state and federal statutes and reports to 19 government entities and 74 other agencies.

I know that several of the organisations here today operate across all states and territories. They need to perform a complex juggling act to meet the requirements of multiple fundraising laws, apply for a number of funding streams and comply with their reporting arrangements, all of which require different reporting formats.

It is not surprising that this puts third sector organisations under a lot of strain – a point that is eloquently made in the survey of 71 organisations that accompanies this report – and we have already begun work to harmonise some of the more glaring inconsistencies.

The Business and Competition Regulation Working Group of COAG has agreed to begin work immediately on how to implement a standard Chart of Accounts and a nationally-consistent approach to fundraising.

These measures will significantly reduce compliance burdens in third sector organisations, releasing additional funding and other resources that can be used on fulfilling their missions rather than on meeting excessive administrative requirements.

We have also commissioned the Productivity Commission to undertake a broad ranging study into the third sector that will identify impediments to the efficient and effective operation of the sector, including regulatory issues. The study will also determine how best to measure the sector’s contribution to the Australian economy and society more broadly.

I would also like to thank the ANCD for commissioning this valuable report and recognise the leadership and significant efforts of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales which continues to produce valuable, insightful research. I also recognise the research consortium behind the project that included the Ted Noffs Foundation, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and Griffith University’s Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance.

The report is very timely and provides further persuasive evidence for the need to continue our joint efforts on improving the environment in which we both work, and on improving the way we work together within that environment. It highlights the opportunities and mechanisms that will enable change in the way we work to build social inclusion.

I will ensure the report is considered in the thinking around the compact as it puts forward some key ideas and principles.

I also urge you to engage in the next stage of the development of the national compact. It will be important to get the principles and framework right to build a culture of change in both government and sector which reflect genuine respect.

I look forward to further engagement with your sector as we continue to develop the social inclusion agenda together – and explore the opportunities for enabling capability, innovation and the exchange of ideas needed to meet some our most difficult challenges.

I officially launch this important report.

Thank you.