Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Address to final meeting of the Joint Compact Taskforce – Parliament House, Canberra

Location: Parliament House, Canberra


Good morning and thank you for once again braving the Canberra winter to be here for this final meeting of the taskforce.

I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people on whose land we meet. I pay my respects to their wisdom, traditions and culture.

We have some very important tasks before us today so I will keep these opening words to a minimum to allow us to get down to work and have some concrete results to report to Minister Macklin when she joins us later today.

Firstly, I’d like to thank you all for your frank and lively discussions and for the thoughtful contributions that each of you have made to helping us craft the next step of the compact development progress.

As I said at the first meeting of the group, each of you was chosen for the very unique perspective that you bring to this work. And from the conversations that I’ve been able to be a part of, and from the work that has resulted from your conversations, it’s been satisfying to see how your diversity of backgrounds and views has enriched the draft that is now emerging.

My enthusiasm for a national compact has always been founded in the possibility that a compact holds out to us for moving to a new way of working together – a way that will enable the sector and government to more effectively build stronger communities.

Because creating inclusive and resilient Australian communities really is the ultimate objective of the compact. At the risk of stating the obvious, the point I’d like to highlight is that moving to a more respectful relationship between government and the sector is not just about creating a strong, vibrant, independent and innovative third sector. This is, of course, an important objective but it’s not the definitive one.

Ultimately, it’s about recognising that the raison d’ĂȘtre of both the sector and government is ensuring the well-being of all Australians, and that when we work in partnership we are more likely to achieve this.

So from the outset, I have seen the compact as an important part of our social inclusion agenda.

Both the sector and government share the aspiration for an Australia rich in diversity and culture, and where all Australians have the capacity and opportunity to learn, work, engage and have a voice. We move in the same space.

The objective of the compact is for us to dance in partnership, not step on each other toes, as we work to enrich the lived Australian experience.

Work of the Taskforce

So it’s been incredibly exciting to see the compact finally beginning to take shape.

It’s been quite some journey from when we started discussing the possibility of a compact with Jill and Evan from FaHCSIA and engaged ACOSS to run consultations to test the waters of the sector’s interest in a compact.

Louise and I travelled to almost every consultation in town halls and meeting rooms across Australia. And one of the comments we most commonly heard was that the theoretical concept of a compact was difficult to relate to. That’s why the baton of compact development was passed to you.

I now feel that we are almost at the mid-point of the compact development journey. Our work today is about getting us to that mid-point – finishing off our work on the draft compact by coming to agreement on its final shape and form.

I would like to thank John Atkin for the skilful chairing that has kept the group – more or less – on the straight and narrow. Not an easy task given the diversity in the room! This, along with Judith’s scribing work, has been an important contributor to our success so far.

Judith has done some remarkable work in reflecting the broad ranging conversations of the group in a coherent and comprehensive way. I know that Judith spent a great deal of time outside of the meetings researching and reworking the material. I’d like to thank you Judith for your generosity with your time and talent that’s enabled us to have such an impressive penultimate draft to work with today.

The other important task that we need to complete today to get us to that mid-point, is to decide on the best approach to consulting with the sector on the draft that we finalise today. As pointed out in the consultation strategy discussion paper, it’s important that we find a balance between being sensitive to organisations suffering “consultation fatigue” and making sure that those who are less familiar with the compact understand what it is about and how to provide feedback.

There is also the challenge of finding ways to communicate different parts of the compact to the relevant sub-groups of the sector. The compact seeks to address multiple agendas for a wide range of stakeholders so we need to come up with methods to help these sub-groups discover the relevancy of the compact for their members and agendas.

Taskforce Members Future Role

The next important role for you will be at the workshop on 20 July. I would also like to think that you would be willing to take on the informal role of “compact champions” as we enter into the second stage consultations.

In forming this group, I had hoped that the process of crafting the draft compact together would generate a degree of joint ownership and commitment to the compact. As I’ve been an advocate of the compact amongst my parliamentary colleagues, I would like to think that you’ll take on the task of championing the compact in your part of the sector or government.

In this vein, I’d very much value your participation at the 20 July workshop if you are able to make it to Canberra on that day.

While the format of the day is still being finalised with our facilitators, we may seek your support in assisting to bring together the key outcomes on the day.

Given the important role you have played in the compact’s development and the corporate knowledge you now have about the process, I hope that you’ll be able to be involved in the workshop and pass the baton on again to those who will guide the next stage of the compact development process. I’ve found these conversations extremely useful. So I’d like to keep them going and will be looking at ways to get back together, perhaps with others such as those who assisted us in the initial stages of compact development, for further conversation after the public consultations.

I would also like to invite you to nominate if you would like to be part of a small committee to work with me on formatting and progressing the next stage of consultation. It would be helpful to have your insights on how the strategy is going as compact stakeholders. This commitment would require us to talk ‘online’ and through teleconference over the course of the consultation.

Compact Next Steps

This next stage will see us roll out the consultation process that we agree upon today and incorporate the feedback that this consultation generates.

In December this year I’m due to take a report on the compact to Cabinet. So we’ll be working briskly to this tight timeline to ensure we have a more finalised draft. We’re also considering a framework for a five to ten year work plan aimed at ensuring the compact meets the needs of both government and the sector, and serves the people who turn to sector organisations for support, enrichment or to have a voice.

So there is still quite a lot of road to travel before we arrive at a final compact. And even then, in my view, we should never reach the end of the road. I envisage the compact as a living document, not one that is concrete and unyielding on completion. It will need to be applied, challenged and perhaps even changed over time in response to new circumstances and ways of working.

That’s why your role as champions will be so important. A living document needs living breathing people who can give life to its principles, responsibilities and aspirations.

So with these thoughts in mind, let’s get down to our final two tasks today – finalising the compact principles and action areas, and the consultation strategy.