Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Address to Compact Stakeholder Workshop

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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Good morning and thank you for joining us today in Parliament House for this important next step in the development of the compact.

I thank those of you who have travelled to be here and brave the Canberra winter. I recognise you all have very busy ‘day jobs’ and greatly appreciate your efforts to make a contribution today.

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

I am delighted to welcome such a broad cross section of organisations to today’s forum. It is very important to seek a wide range of views as I recognise the many interests and opportunities for the different parts of the third sector.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank Frances Maguire, Tom Bowden and Adam Jacobs from PricewaterhouseCoopers who are your facilitators for the day. They have been working with us over the past weeks on developing the shape of today’s workshop and the online survey to canvas your initial views on compact principles and priorities. I think you will find you are in for an interesting day!

I’d also like to acknowledge Evan Lewis, Jill Farrelly and their team from FaHCSIA who have been supporting the work of the compact in government, including working across government agencies through the consultative forum, to drive commitment to the compact across departments.

We have some very important tasks before us today, so I will keep these opening words to a minimum.

Many of you have already been engaged in the compact journey, which started for Federal Labor some time ago with our 2006 commitment to fostering strong relationships with the non-profit sector and our 2007 election commitment to explore the merits of a compact as an important part of the social inclusion platform.

This journey has been greatly enriched by the lively and considered participation of so many stakeholders, both by the sector and government, and it is essential we continue to engage, include and work together in developing the next steps. It’s important too to reflect on where we have come to in our dialogue and relationship.

You may have been involved in the consultations held all over the country in July to October last year, which ACOSS was commissioned to carry out. You may have also made a submission during this time.

We’re also joined today by many members of the Compact Expert Panel which provided me with invaluable advice last year on the consultation strategy for developing a compact. They reiterated the need to engage communities through the third sector for the compact to be a success.

Last year’s consultations demonstrated support across the sector for a compact, and interest in working to improve the way we work together.

The benefits identified included improved policy making, increasing awareness of the role of the sector in building Australian communities and providing services. Sector participants also envisaged a compact providing a framework for growth and evolution in the sector including regulatory and legislative reform and initiatives to enhance the financial security and viability of the sector.

I travelled to almost every consultation in across Australia. 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 the compact taskforce – for a group of sector and government representatives to focus on what practical difference the compact could make for our communities.

So, I also welcome and acknowledge the contribution of the joint sector-government compact taskforce, which has been working very consistently over the last 3 months to draft a compact framework, including principles and priority areas for broader consultation.

The taskforce comprised 18 members of non-profit organisations, government agencies, local government and the ACTU and was chaired independently by Mr John Atkin, CEO and Managing Director of Trust company, who I welcome here today.

The Taskforce was appointed for their very unique perspective and individual expertise, coming from a diversity of backgrounds from government, sector and union movement. This diversity of backgrounds and views has truly enriched the draft that has emerged, and the group has worked collaboratively together to produce some excellent and thoughtful work.

I have gained much from listening to the taskforce’s conversations and particularly hearing how the compact can make a real difference in local communities.

Today’s workshop outcomes

Today’s workshop is about building on all of the work to date, to canvas a wider range of views on some key focus areas. After this, we will launch into a wider consultation with the broader third sector. You will have already been provided with the draft compact framework which the Taskforce developed, and many of you may have participated in the pre-workshop online survey, which we will hear more about shortly.

It will be important today to prioritise and focus our attention on:

  • the draft compact principles – are these realistic and will they be helpful?;
  • priority areas for action for both government and the sector – where can we best target action through this process that will make the most difference for organisations on the ground, meet policy outcomes, what can the sector commit to in this agenda and
  • how we can most effectively engage and consult with the diverse third sector on this framework?

As Chair of the Taskforce, John Atkin recently asked the group to consider how we’ll be able to measure in 5 years time what impact the compact has had in our community. This is a helpful starting point in considering both principles and priority actions.

Many of you may have already heard me speak of my enthusiasm to see the compact come to fruition. I know my enthusiasm is shared by the PM and senior Ministers including the DPM & the Minister for Families, Communities, Housing & Indigenous Affairs who has been very engaged in the compact journey to date. But other Ministers are also keen to see the compact delivered from a diverse range of portfolios including environment, local government, international development, health, and to see a commitment to its development entrenched across government agencies.

I believe the compact holds for us the opportunity to move 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, 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.

Compact Next Steps

This next stage will see us roll out the consultation process 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 both here today and as champions in the future will be so important. A living document needs people who can give life to its principles, responsibilities and aspirations.

It is also helpful to consider the wider third sector development agenda which is underway across government and includes significant commitments including the Productivity Commission’s review of the social and economic contribution of the non-profit sector in Australia which will report in December, the Henry Review of Taxation, as well as the ongoing work to harmonise regulations and reduce red tape for the sector through the COAG Business Competition and Regulation Working Group.

There is information in your packs about the different parts of this agenda.

The role of the compact to enable effective dialogue and sector leadership are only going to become more important as the agenda continues to develop and be implemented.

So with these thoughts in mind, let’s get down to today’s program, I look forward to hearing from you today.