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Greens Senator Siewert, ALP Shadow Minister for Charities Dr Andrew Leigh MP and an empty chair

The Community Council of Australia (CCA) has previously held a pre-election forum with representatives from the major parties outlining their policies in relation to the charity and not for profit sector at the National Press Club.

This year, the pre-election forum was held at the Connecting Up Transform Conference in Melbourne last week, bringing this important process directly to the not for profit and charity sector. Shadow charities and not-for-profits minister Dr. Andrew Leigh MP and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert represented the Australian Labor Party and the Greens respectively.

CCA CEO David Crosbie also invited Assistant Minister Zed Seselja, Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher and Liberal MP Kevin Andrews to participate, however, was unable to secure a representative from the Coalition to attend.

Crosbie said he was “incredibly disappointed” that the Coalition did not send a representative, and an empty chair was placed on stage alongside the chairs provided for the ALP and Greens representatives to emphasise this absence. Both Senator Siewert and Dr. Andrew Leigh MP both asserted that the Greens and ALP respectively were both committed to working with the Not for Profit and Charity sector broadly and commended the efforts of the people who staff these organisations.

In relation to the ACNC, Senator Siewert said that the Greens “will work with [Government] in both the House and the Senate to make sure that we have a fit for purpose new regime that meets the needs of the sector but also community.”

She went on to say that “We’ve witnessed the Coalition repeatedly slack funding from the community sector over the past six years... [The Greens] understand what charities are going through and that it’s very tough at the moment. [NFPs] rely heavily on government grants and variable donations.”

“These short funding cycles have got to change. It is absolutely atrocious that some organisations are down to yearly funding. We are very aware you can’t operate a good service that way, you can’t keep your staff... It is an untenable situation and we will always fight for further Government support for the community sector and we are deeply concerned about the current competitive approach to tendering, it eliminates collaboration.”

Dr. Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Minister for Charities and Not for Profits, said that it was “no exaggeration to say that the sector had been facing a war on charities. Under the Abbott Turnbull Morrison Government, we’ve seen two successive open letters from the sector to successive Liberal Prime Ministers calling on the Government of the day to back off on its attacks on charities.”

"As Shadow Minister for the sector, I have been at the forefront working with the sector on behalf of Labor, on pushing back against these attacks on the sector. But we’ve also been crafting a positive agenda… running a series of Reconnected forums, held seventeen of them now… talking with local charities and not for profits, more than 1500 sector leaders, about what organisations can learn from one another about how to solve the disconnected problem.”

Dr. Leigh MP further committed to working with the charity and not for profit sector, outlining Labor’s Charity Policy, which promises to build a stronger and more productive not for profit sector via consultation with the sector. Labor intends to “end the war on charities and seek to build a positive partnership with the sector”.

If elected, the Australian Labor Party has committed to forming a Government that would have the first Charities Minister in Australian history, allowing the NFP and charity sector to engage with Government in an unprecedented and direct manner.