Thursday, March 21, 2013

Should corporate lobbyists and advocates lead NGOs who fight for social justice ?

The  appointment of  Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia  as Chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia is further evidence of the trend towards  the "corporate and business takeover" of the not- for- profit sector in Australia.

This "takeover" occurs in many ways and brings the not-for-profit sector closer to the value, agendas and practices of corporate Australia and the business sectors.

One of the many ways this occurs is through the "revolving door" of business and corporate leaders appointed to senior management positions and the Boards of not- for- profit agencies.

The intent of the "takeover" is to harness the not-for-profit and civil society sector (the non- market sectors) so it adopts and serves (and does not challenge) the interests, visions and hegemony of corporate Australia and business interests.

Jennifer Westacott may be eminently qualified and deeply concerned about the mental health of her fellow Australians.

But the Business Council of Australia, the organization she leads, is actively and forcefully pursuing agendas to slash public spending on social security and social spending and promote privatization of public services.

It is hard to see how the CEO of  the Business Council of Australia, a powerful business and corporate lobby group, who argues, advocates and lobbies for policies that are antithetical and hostile to the social justice agenda of the mental health sector could seriously advocate and fight for the interests of the people and stakeholders the Mental Health Council represents and acts on behalf of.

As CEO of the Business Council since 2011 Westacott has been an active player in advocating and lobbying to protect and advance the interests of corporate Australia. She is a forceful advocate for what she calls "unleashing the wealth creating parts of the economy"to allow them to pursue endless economic growth.  This requires that social policy become a fundamental plank of, and subservient to economic policy that is  pro-growth, in other words pro-corporate and pro business. 

In the BCA view of the world social policy and the needs of vulnerable and marginalized people are secondary to the interests of  unleashed and unrestrained corporations and business who they claim are the real drivers of economic growth and social prosperity. The BCA and Westacott view is that business and corporations are the ones that really create prosperity and wealth.

Westacott regularly argues the BCA line that it is only by unleashing economic and business growth that social prosperity and the vision of a good society can be achieved. Westacott argues that the Australian mindset and cultural values has to change to support this unleashing of the power of economic growth.

In 2011 Westacott gave the Sambell Oration for the Brotherhood of St Laurence where she laid out her views about social policy. While she was reflecting the views of the Business Council of Australia,  the speech shows how profoundly her world view and vision is shaped by corporate and business ideas that are antithetical and hostile to a not- for- profit sector committed to social justice.

In the Sambell Oration Westacott called for a new partnership between the NGO sector, Government and business and urged the sector to engage in difficult conversations. The real purpose of those conversations was primarily for the NGO sector to adopt and advocate pro- business and pro- corporate policies of the Business Council of Australia that she argued were necessary to ensure wealth creation and economic growth, and ultimately social prosperity.

Westacott called on the NGO sector to support a new social contract, part of which was built upon accepting the BCA  agenda of :
  • the need for eonomic growth to be unleashed
  • lower corporate and personal taxes
  • removal of any "regulation" that restricts profit making
  • more flexible labour market
  • reducing the size of Government and cutting Government spending
As Bernard Keane argued in Crikey Westacott's interventions in public policy have almost always driven by the self interest of the business community and corporate Australia.

The decades long neglect of the needs and well being of people with mental illness and their family members, carers and people affected has partly been the result of the dominance in public policy circles of the sort of "market fundamentalist" (neo-liberal) policy ideas that Jennifer Westacott and the Business Council of Australia advocate.

What on earth leads NGOs to think that corporate and business advocates and lobbyists who advocate for market fundamentalist policies are the best people to fight for and speak on behalf of some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Not- for- profits take on corporate heavyweights

Environmental not- for- profits in Australia are at the front line in campaigns and actions against corporate heavyweights.

As corporations increasingly use their financial and legal power to silence and challenge campaigning organizations, the risks to not-for- profits are significant.

Environmental organizations and campaigners are particularly vulnerable as they face off against corporate heavyweights who are well-resourced, well-connected and powerful.

The risks facing not-for-profits who take on corporate heavyweights was demonstrated in the recent case of the WWF and its legal stoush with mining magnate  Clive Palmer.

In a media release WWF claimed  that the Clive Palmer owned Yubala nickel refinery near Townsville Queensland was threatening to collapse, thereby releasing toxins into the environment. The WWF claimed that three ponds containing toxic industrial waste were at capacity and could collapse and create a major environmental disaster. 

Palmer sued the WWF and was successful in the court proceedings. The WWF  was forced to apologize to Clive Palmer and agreed to pay his legal costs over its claims..

Now Greenpace Australia is taking on another global corporate heavyweight Coca Cola and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Greenpeace Australia has launched a media campaign against  corporate heavyweight Coca Cola Amatil to pressure Federal and State Governments to implement a national containers scheme. 

Greenpeace's campaign comes in the wake of Coca Cola Amatil's victory in the Northern Terriry courts where the powerful and wealthy multinational corporation used its financial and legal power  to successfully dismantle the Northern Territory Government's recycling scheme 'cash for containers'. In January 2011 the Northern Territory Government introduced a deposit scheme to encourgage people to recycle bottles and cans. Coca Cola successfully challenged the scheme in court claiming it was an inefficient and expensive method of increasing recycling rates.

Greenpeace is running full-page ads in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Its campaign has been entirely funded by  individual donations. In just over two weeks, over 50,000 people have  signed up to the campaign calling on politicians to implement a national ‘Cash for Containers’ scheme. 

Greenpeace is targeting Coca Cola Amatil directly arguing that: 
"Coke is currently trashing a popular and proven 10 cent recycling refund scheme and is the main blocker standing in the way of a national scheme. ‘Cash for containers’ has run successfully for 30 years in South Australia, where recycling rates are almost double those across the rest of the country.

Coca Cola Amatil has for years sought to undermine this proven system, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on misleading advertising and reportedly threatening to campaign against MPs who support the policy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why the application of market models is misguided and dangerous?

Debra Allcock Tyler and Catherine Walker from the UK Based Directory of Social Change write here on why market based models and market based thinking is counter to the values and raison d'etre of the not for profit sector.

Allcock Tyler and Walker directly challenge the prevailing market based views that are dominant among influential policy makers and decision makers in areas of social policy and human and community services. They write does seem to be the prevailing view in government circles that charities are simply another source to supply the market. This view completely fails to recognise the fact that charitable endeavour is at its core about altruism. It is not a transactional activity, but a transformational one. And the work of charities is far more than simply the cause. The existence of charities acts as a ‘call to the heart’ of our citizens. Charitable endeavour calls forth in others the desire and willingness to serve others, our communities and our society. The current model of the market applied to our sector is not appropriate. Indeed, it assumes that the market model in and of itself has inherent attributes that work across sectors. There are some core myths about the market model:
(1) market models are the most effective way to deliver the work of charities;
(2) the beneficiary is the same as any consumer, with rational informed desires about where to seek help;
(3) those interacting with charities desire to do so on a transactional basis, for example, givers and volunteers will do so only if an end reward is on offer; and
(4) charities are inefficient and social investment is the way forward.
Allcock and Tyler go on to demolish these myths and argue that the application of market models to the not for profit sector is misguided  and dangerous. They conclude:
Charities are fundamentally an embodiment of the best part of human nature, the best evolutionary bit, the bit that makes us a social being with the common good at heart. Value comes in living a good life. Value is about selflessness not about a price tag imposed in an intrinsically greedy marketplace. This is not piety or sentimentality, nor is it about good and evil, but it is about what kind of charity sector is best for a good, big or better society.

Monday, March 4, 2013

In Queensland freedom of speech does not apply to some NGOs and civil society

Funny how Liberal National Governments vehemently defend the right to freedom of speech for racists, anti Islamists, climate change deniers and corporations, but not for civil society groups and NGO's who speak out on public policy issues.
Since its election the  Queensland Liberal-National Newman Government has sought to silence NGO's who wish to contribute to political debate. The Government has made it clear that NGOs must remain silent if they wish  to receive public funding. Grant contracts now include clauses preventing non-government organisations advocating for state and federal legislative change.
Stories about the attacks on the free speech rights of NGOs in Queensland are  here, here, here, here and here
This latest piece is from the todays Brisbane Times.

Springborg defends 'draconian' gag orders

Queensland's health minister has defended gag orders on not-for-profit groups that receive state funding and has told the federal government to butt out.

The federal government will introduce a new bill which would ban gag clauses from all commonwealth contracts with the not-for-profit sector.

It plans to write to state and territory leaders asking them to match the federal commitment.

Federal Finance Finance Minister Penny Wong has called the Newman government's gag orders "nothing short of draconian".

"First, the Newman government cuts funding to those without a voice and then silences those who speak on their behalf," she said.

But Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said not-for-profit groups should not be wasting their time and money on political advocacy.

He said the federal government should stop trying to interfere.

"We will decide how public money is spent in Queensland," he said on Monday.

"In Queensland we believe that if we give money in Queensland Health to an organisation, then that organisation should be doing what we fund them for.

"Not running around with political advocacy."


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Journalists, social policy and social justice

For 18 years Adele Horin was the Sydney Morning Herald's  social affairs correspondent where she wrote important and ground breaking articles about social policy issues and the development and implementation of social policy by Federal and State Governments.

Along with her former colleague at the Sydney Morning Herald Elisabeth Wynhausen (whose website is backstreetbondi),  Adele Horin was a journalist who reported on social policy issues from a strong social justice perspective.

She has a great ability to write about the myriad of ways that social policy decisions impact on the daily lives of ordinary people.

 In  her final article for the SMH For richer and poorer the battle goes on Horin writes:
Harsh and simplistic solutions to complex social problems are still trotted out by the rich and powerful whose encounters with the lives of the poor are usually non-existent.
It is the same story in the schools debate. Twenty-four years ago I wrote, ''If state schools are to avoid their fate as repositories of the poor, and thus electorally dispensable, the middle class must be wooed back.'' They weren't.
The Gonski report presents a compelling economic and social argument for equalising opportunities for children in public schools. No subject is more important than improving the life chances of poor children through the best education possible.
But the debate appears lost, as the Prime Minister, once dedicated to the cause, panders to a middle-class with kids in private schools who consider themselves hard-up. She promises to give extra funds she doesn't have to wealthy schools while the Opposition Leader claims rich schools are the true victims of funding injustice. Plus c¸a change.
Mandatory detention of refugees began in 1992 under then prime minister Paul Keating. A lot of us overlooked the development in far-away Port Hedland at the time. All these years later, harsh treatment of refugees of a kind we know is bound to cause mental illness and suicides remains our only response, and the ''regional solution'' is no close
Adele Horin now works as a freelance journalist and reports on the interface between aged care policy and the experiences of Australians getting older. Her articles are published at her website Adele Horin: Coming of Age and in online publications such as the Global Mail.

Her latest article  The New  Nasty Sibling Rivalry looks at the ways families are responding to the demands of caring for ageing parents and the consequences of Federal Government policies hat often require the sale of the family home to pay for the costs of care for ageing parents.