Many charities and not-for-profit representatives gathered today to hear the Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews, present the Coalition’s approach to the charitable sector of Australian society. It was a refreshing address about a philosophical shift to reverse the nanny state and restore a culture of personal responsibility. It was all about ‘empowering civil society’ and becoming better people.

How many really know what a charitable nation we are? Of course there may be plenty to be sorry about, but there’s also a lot to be proud of and where does anyone hear it? How many know there are 660,000 voluntary and charitable organizations representing a diversity of interests, groups and services? That’s a lot of people who care about Australia and are willing to selflessly invest in it. Mr Andrews highlighted that less than one tenth are deemed economically significant by ABS, that is, employ paid staff and /or have an active tax base. The vast majority are small unincorporated entities. That’s a lot of goodwill or social capital being invested in Australia’s future.

Although most organizations exist without government funding, since the 1970’s there has been an expansion of the welfare state and a significant increase in government funding.  Mr Andrews said the danger of unnecessary state control of the civil sector is of course that it may become another arm of government denying people the chance to achieve something for themselves.

An engaged and responsible civil society with a Coalition commitment to kick start a philanthropic Australia was then contrasted with the Gillard government’s proposal to establish a new Charities Commission with sweeping powers. Mr Andrews said it was envisaged to ultimately become a separate regulatory agency. The philosophical framework in which this was presented reinforced the sentiments of many; oh no, more regulation.

Mr Andrews laid out plainly two contrasting philosophical approaches; a government reaching into and administering power over civil society or a government enabling and empowering civil society. One was intent on regulation and another on deregulation. His concluding remarks were ‘The political community should be of service to civil society’. I couldn’t agree more. The difference between controlling and serving go to the very heart of whether we foster totalitarianism or democracy. As one attendee commented to me, ‘philanthropy is at the heart of democracy’. I suspect many reading this page know where that desire to give selflessly comes from.

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