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Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Government and private philanthropy: an update on cooperation

Location: Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni, Sydney

Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people, and pay my respects to their ancestors, past and present.

Introduction

Thank you Leslie for that warm welcome.

It’s a great pleasure to be with you tonight and I thank you for the opportunity.

This is the second time that I’ve had this opportunity to speak with the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni. A few months ago, I met with your sister group in Melbourne at a similar gathering in the Melbourne Town Hall.

Since that time, a great deal has happened in the third sector and so I’m grateful for the opportunity to update you on the work that has been going on.

But before I do that, I would like to thank Kristi Mansfield of the Greenstone Group for helping to organise this event, and the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni for supporting it.

As I experienced at the Melbourne event, the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni provides a wonderful forum for networking, continued learning and for the creation and exploration of new connections and ideas.

The place of philanthropy in Australian society

Your group is part of Australia’s long tradition of philanthropy—from the pioneering activities of people like Caroline Chisholm during the difficult years of settlement, to the present-day work of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Frank Lowy, the Smorgons, to mention just a few.

People who have a strong commitment to human wellbeing.

People who generously dedicate their time, money, creativity and efforts to improving the quality of life for others.

And people who are passionate about making the world a better place through protection of our environment, preservation of our history and heritage, and support for research and the arts.

Philanthropy channels the creativity and innovation of the business sector into projects that strengthen communities and build a rich civic culture.

On the world stage in recent years, a handful of high-profile names, notably Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, have become almost synonymous with philanthropy.

There is no doubt that these people have made an enormous contribution to improving the wellbeing of people around the world.

However, as you would all know here today, most philanthropic effort plays out in a quieter way; managing philanthropic trusts, providing guidance to those who wish to give and encouraging generosity from corporate sponsors, individuals and families.

Examples of some of these quiet achievers are in this room this evening.

Organisations like the Greenstone Group and the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni demonstrate the importance of making connections and sharing information in the pursuit of encouraging philanthropy.

The Social Investment Guide that Greenstone Group published in 2008 is an example of how sharing information facilitates giving by enabling interested philanthropists to overcome the knowledge gap between their desire to help a worthy cause and their limited knowledge of the wide array of fundable projects.

Philanthropy has clearly made an important contribution to our society, complementing government and community organisation activity, and filling in the gaps where other forms of funding are unavailable.

Philanthropy has the capacity to make the impossible achievable.

As the Bangladeshi philanthropist and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yusuf has beautifully explained:

  • Each of us has much more hidden inside us than we have had a chance to explore. Unless we create an environment that enables us to discover the limits of our potential, we will never know what we have inside of us.

This is compelling reason for ensuring all people have the opportunity and support to explore their potential and grow their abilities.

And this is also the ethos that lies at the very heart of the government’s social inclusion agenda.

The Australian Social Inclusion Agenda

Social inclusion is about meeting the needs of our most vulnerable people, building engaged communities and nurturing a rich civic culture.

It is both a vision and a way of working.

Our vision is of an Australia where every one has the opportunity and capability to learn, work, engage and have a voice.

Practically speaking, this vision is about ensuring everyone is:

  • able to participate in education and training
  • take part in paid or voluntary employment
  • able to connect with people, use local services and participate in local cultural, civic and recreational activities, and
  • able to influence decisions that affect them.

It’s been a year now since we established the Australian Social Inclusion Board to provide advice to the government on creating an inclusive Australia.

In that time, we’ve identified several priorities for our Social Inclusion Agenda:

  • We’ve committed to addressing the incidence of homelessness.
  • We’ve made it our goal to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
  • We are working to increase the employment of people with disability or mental illness.
  • We are addressing the incidence and needs of jobless families with children by ensuring programs and services get to the locations, neighbourhoods and communities most in need.

And we are delivering effective support to children at greatest risk of long term disadvantage.

All these are important but ambitious goals we’ve set for ourselves.

And we know we can’t achieve them alone.

I previously said that social inclusion is both an objective and a way of working. The social inclusion approach is about recognising that the old ways have not worked. Severe disadvantaged remained in our communities before the economic crisis reached our shores and despite the previous ten years of prosperity.

So we need new ways of working that are collaborative and innovative, that ‘wrap’ services around individuals and communities to really make a difference in the lives of people living on the margins.

We have been working to coordinate our policies and actions across national, state and local governments, and with the community sector. This means working together with a unity of purpose through established mechanisms such as the Council of Australian Governments, and creating new partnerships to ensure ‘joined up’ efforts and broad ranging expertise. 

You may have read a story recently in the West Australian about mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest.

The article quoted Mr Forrest saying to trainees at a West Australian college that he would boost his company’s Indigenous workforce from 130 to 300.

This is just one simple example of the social inclusion approach in practice – creating opportunities for economic participation for people who may not otherwise have a pathway into paid employment.

The Australian Government is working with mining companies like that of Andrew Forrest, to give people in remote Indigenous communities the training and skills they need to get employment.

It is part of the Australian Employment Covenant, a private sector initiative that aims to provide 50 000 guaranteed jobs for Indigenous Australians, and which the Government is actively supporting.

This is a good example of how the government and philanthropists can work together to address disadvantage and create opportunities, and it is an example of the type of new partnerships that the social inclusion approach advocates.

In these difficult economic times, our social inclusion agenda is only going to gain momentum.

We know that increasing numbers of Australians are going to need assistance from both the government and community sectors and we are also starting to look at ways that the corporate sector can help too.

Many of you would be aware of the Jobs Fund – a component of the economic stimulus package that provides funding to non profit organisations to support local jobs and build resilience in communities vulnerable to hardship.

Although applications closed for the first round last month, a second round will open later this year for applications under the Local Jobs and Get Communities Working components of the fund.

Linked to the Jobs Fund are Local Employment Coordinators, who will work in regions most affected by job losses to coordinate the effort to develop up projects under the Fund and support jobs and training.

And we also have philanthropist and trucking magnate Lindsay Fox on board to lend us his support.

Partnerships with the corporate sector will be an important part of our work to minimise hardship by building the capacity of non profit organisations to help those in need.

The Prime Minister has been very keen to find ways to transfer the skills of corporate sector employees to build the capacity of third sector organisations. And we are currently working with both sectors to develop mechanisms for third sector organisations to benefit from corporate expertise.

We are also taking much needed action to reduce the regulatory burden faced by the third sector.

Whilst the outcomes of the Productivity Commission study into the non profit sector will be central to guiding our third sector reform agenda, we are already taking action to minimise the worst of the regulatory inconsistencies.

The Council of Australian Government’s Business Regulation and Competition Working Group announced in March that it would focus its work this year on red tape reduction across the third sector.

The working group agreed to start work immediately to investigate how to implement a standard Chart of Accounts and a nationally consistent approach to fundraising.

I know that for many of you working in the philanthropic sector, the inconsistencies of fundraising legislation across the country has been a particular frustration. And a nationally consistent approach will be a welcome development enabling you to direct less effort into meeting regulation requirements and more into the actual purpose of the fundraising campaign.

We in government are determined to create an environment that enables third sector organisations to function more effectively, and an important part of this is creating a stronger partnership between government and the third sector.

This is what out national compact with the third sector is all about.

Last year we undertook initial consultations to determine whether the sector saw value in developing a compact-like partnership agreement.

Given the overwhelmingly positive response, we have begun the second stage of compact development. I have established the National Compact Joint Taskforce to develop a draft compact framework that will be taken out for broader consultation in the second half of the year.

The taskforce has already hit the ground running, with their first meeting taking place last month and the second to be held next week.

We look forward to hearing from you and others in the philanthropic community during our consultations on the compact later this year.

Update on Prescribed Private Funds

Before I conclude, I’d like to update you on where the Government is up to on changes to PPFs—or Prescribed Private Funds. I know this is a subject that many of you have been concerned about and quite a few people raised it with me at the Melbourne meeting of your society.

In mid-may, the Assistant Treasurer released an exposure draft of the legislation that proposes to enable the Treasurer to make legally enforceable guidelines for PPFs, increase the Tax Office’s regulatory power over them, and give the Taxation Commissioner full power over their administration.

These changes are expected to take effect from 1 October 2009.

As PPFs will no longer be prescribed in the relevant legal sense, they will be called Private Ancillary Funds or PAFs rather than Prescribed Private Funds.

The Assistant Treasurer will also be releasing the exposure draft of the PAF guidelines shortly and you will have an opportunity to comment on the content of these as well.

The purpose of these reforms is to secure the integrity of these funds and provide fund trustees with greater certainty about their philanthropic obligations.

Conclusion

Philanthropy continues to play a vital role in Australian society. Spanning the bridge between the community and business sectors, philanthropy gives life to creative ideas, channels support to the most vulnerable and provides a way for individuals and businesses to connect with others in the community with whom they might otherwise not engage. So I would like to conclude by recognising the important role the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni plays in furthering the philanthropic proficiency and professionalism of its members. And I would also like to congratulate each of you here tonight for your own contributions of time, talent and money to the philanthropic endeavour.