Friday, August 28, 2015

Ignored NFP bill deserves our attention

Despite its sexy ‘bear pit’ moniker, few would argue that much of what happens in NSW Parliament is decidedly unfashionable, and ignored by the majority. Didn’t catch debate on the Impounding Amendment (Unattended Boat Trailers) Bill 2015 earlier this week? Thought not.

The legislature’s private members bills, we suggest, exist squarely within this vacuum. But one that made its way into Hansard in recent weeks has certainly piqued our attention.

Tales from The Lost World of private members bills…

On June 26 2015, Shadow Attorney-General Paul Lynch introduced the Non-Profit Bodies (Freedom to Advocate) Bill. As its straight shooting title suggests, the bill would ensure state funding agreements with not for profit bodies cannot include clauses restricting the recipient from advocating on law and policy issues. It bears a very strong resemblance to a Federal Government Act from 2013, covering Commonwealth-Not For Profit funding agreements. We endorsed that measure as “very good for the quality of our democracy”, for reasons also captured in Lynch’s second reading speech on the NSW Bill:
“A strong, innovative, independent not-for-profit sector is essential to getting government policy right and building a fairer community.”
More particularly, as the resourcing body for Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Services in New South Wales, the Tenants’ Union exists in symbiosis with those front line organisations. Those are very much the kind of services whose work the bill intends to protect. And their capacity to engage in systemic advocacy can undoubtedly complement and enhance our own. Indeed, many TAAS services have played an active role in the discourse surrounding the Residential Tenancies and Housing Legislation Amendment(Public Housing - Antisocial Behaviour) Bill 2015 - providing submissions, explaining the impact of the proposed reform to Members of Parliament, and liaising with colleagues elsewhere in the community sector. The ongoing More Bang for Your Bond campaign – a joint initiative of the TU and tenants’ services – is another fine example of the work we do together.

Regrettably, the Bill met an untimely fate in the Legislative Assembly. In outlining the Government’s opposition to the Bill, Attorney General Gabrielle Upton described it as predicated on a “false and misleading” premise. The Attorney General further opined:
“We are notional trustees for [funding] dollars, and that responsibility means that they must go to the areas of greatest need where they can make the greatest difference to the lives of the people in our community…Those principles specifically seek to ensure limited funds for public legal assistance are directed towards legal representation, casework, and advice for disadvantaged and vulnerable people.” 
But this is, in our network’s experience, a false dichotomy. Our systemic advocacy work is always informed by the experiences of renters as revealed through advice, casework, and representation. Moreover, we see campaigning for improved laws and policies affecting renters, and engaging in client work to ensure best outcomes under the current regime, as pursuits of the same end – in the Attorney General’s words, ‘making the greatest difference to the lives of the people in our community.’ This is only possible through both systemic and client advocacy. Not to mention the quality of the investment. As the ALP’s Jo Haylen noted in the same debate, not-for-profits 

provide critical services to our most vulnerable across every sector in the community…According to the Australian Bureau of statistics they contribute $43 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product and engage more than 4.6 million volunteers each year.”

Nonetheless, it follows that a legislated freedom to advocate is likely not to come to be for our sector in this 56th Parliament - the Bill banished to footnote status in its history.

But we continue to support its content as vital to ensuring maximum effectiveness for the tenancy network, and indeed the state's non-profit sector as a whole. 

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