Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Economic Audit Commitee Report and the WA NGO sector

The Barnett Government has just released the final report of its Economic Audit Committee which was established soon after the Liberal National Government came to power. The Report "Putting the Public First: Partnering with the Community and Business to Deliver Outcomes" is available here and a summary here.

This will be a significant document for the not for profit, non-government sector in Western Australia and it will be interesting to see the sector's response over coming months. The Report proposes a radical process of privatization and outsourcing of public services to the private and not for profit sector, and the introduction of market and business practices to the delivery of public and human services. The Report has a vision to make NGO's more business like and run as social enterprises.

On the surface this will be attractive to many NGO's, particularly the larger corporate NGO's, who have long argued that they should provide more services on behalf of government, and see plenty of opportunities in the new landscape.

But there is much to be concerned about in this Report and it should be a cause for great concern, particularly among the medium sized and smaller community based NGO's who make up the bulk of human service providers in WA. A longer analysis of the Report will appear on this blog in 2010.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Civil society rising up at Copenhagen

(photos of hundreds of detained protesters in Copenhagen
- a link to some fantastic photos can be found at the end of this piece)

There are moments in the history of great social movements that prove pivotal, when the momentum for change seems unable to be constrained. Let us hope that the citizen inspired climate justice movement that is rising in Copenhagen and around the world, represents such a moment

Over the weekend 100,000 people marched through the streets of Copenhagen to demand a fair, ambitious and binding deal to reduce emissions to address the climate change crises that confronts the world. It was the largest demonstration for climate justice in history. Similar demonstrations took place around the world.

But judging by the actions of the Danish police there will be a backlash against citizens who demand action on climate change. The Danish police have shown little respect for the right of people to protest. Thousands of police blocked off streets, surrounded protesters and arrested over 1000 peaceful protesters.

Photos from protests outside the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit can be viewed at Photo Viewer -

Saturday, December 12, 2009

John Falzon and radical social justice agendas

"The history of social justice and social change has been written by social movements. Change does not come from above"

John Falzon
Among the large non-government organizations in this country that claim to work for social justice, there is little enthusiasm for radical social justice agendas. It is rare to hear any of them talk about the need to address the structural causes of poverty and social and economic injustice, to criticize the actions of corporate Australia, or to support radical solutions, such as massive redistribution of wealth.

One exception is the National Council of St Vincent De Paul Society. John Falzon, the CEO of the National Council of the St Vincent De Paul, continues to be an outspoken critic of contemporary social and economic policy in this country, and is often a lone voice for radical social justice agendas. Recently, Falzon has railed against the Rudd Government's policy of extending compulsory income management as a cynical effort to get around the Racial Discrimination Act and increase the "supervision" of people doing it tough. Falzon has also been highly critical of plans to embed private health insurance as a private tier for the wealthy, thereby undermining any sense of solidarity and equity in public provision of health care.

Falzon has also been one of the few NGO leaders willing to speak out on the increasing concentration of wealth among the rich and already wealthy and affluent, and has consistently called for policies of wealth re-distribution in Australia. Falzon also writes and speaks of the direct connection between social policy issues in this country and the great social and political movements for change.

As well as arguing that the NGO community services sector needs to reclaim social justice campaigning and advocacy as a legitimate strategy, Falzon has also publicly cautioned mainstream NGO's about their willingness to be "co-opted" by government and the corporate sector to work to preserve an unjust social and economic order.

Falzon and his agency suffered for their social and political advocacy during the Howard years. Three years ago he and his organization were labeled as Marxist and Communist by right wing think tanks and commentators unhappy with Falzon's stance and advocacy on poverty issues.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Civil society rising up and taking direct action at Copenhagen

As the Copenhagen Summit gets underway it is interesting to see the rising tide of climate justice activism emerging out of civil society. Much of this civil society activity is on display outside the Summit, having been excluded from participating directly in the Summit.

Public protests are expected to start later this week in Copenhagen, however in the lead up to Copenhagen tens of thousands of people marched throughout Europe calling on world leaders to reach an agreement to reduce emissions in Copenhagen. Protesters took to the streets in Belfast, Glasgow, Paris, Brussels, Berlin and London. The largest protest was in London, where organizers of the Stop Climate Chaos protest put the crowd total at 50,000.

A major focus of civil society activity is to give voice to people from countries most directly affected by climate change in Africa, Asia, The Pacific and the Middle East. The Global Justice Ecology Project has a blog from Copenhagen here where you can keep up to date and the excellent USA alternative media outlet Democracy Now is broadcasting live from Copenhagen.

There is an excellent couple of pieces from Yes Magazine here. The first is about the growing power of the climate justice movement. Mark Engler, who has written before about the need for civil disobedience on climate change, writes that:
Climate-change activism has been taking place in some form for decades, but in recent years the ripples created by events like the Selby camp have been swelling into something larger—something that is attracting ever-greater numbers of mainstream environmentalists, gathering support from top climate scientists and prominent public figures, and starting to look a lot like a mass movement.
The second piece provides a climate action resource guide.

Leading Climate change scientist James Hansen, recently interviewed on the ABC's Lateline program and in the Guardian, provides important leadership and inspiration for climate justice activism. Hansen has been active in climate change protests in the USA and has recently said in the Guardian that it would be better for the planet for the Summit to fail, as any agreement that comes out of Copenhagen will be deeply flawed.

A group of freelance journalists-the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists- have contributed to the climate justice movement with their eight- country investigative report (including Australia) documenting global efforts by the fossil fuel industry and carbon emitters to stymie any new climate treaty in Copenhagen. The group is reporting from Copenhagen on the power of corporate and business lobbying efforts in Copenhagen and their reports from the Summit on corporate lobbying can be found here.