Community building was the focus of a ‘Charity Sector Town Hall Meeting’ attended by Catholic Social Services Victoria on Tuesday 13 December. This was one of three online forums hosted by the Hon Dr Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury following similar forums held in-person in each of the capital cities around Australia.
The Assistant Minister provided an overview of Australian community connectedness over time. The data he presented showed a significant decline in community participation over a number of measures, particularly since the 1980s. Significant declines included association membership rates, numbers of volunteers, the number of those attending religious services, union membership and the number of those making charitable donations.
Dr Leigh spoke of the Federal Government’s target of doubling philanthropy by 2040, a commitment to ‘building the productivity of the charity sector’ and civil society, welcoming the voices of charities including removing gag clauses in contracts, inviting charities to be strongly represented in public debate and the announcement of a Productivity Commission review into boosting philanthropy.
The very broad discussion by attendees included a number of thoughts on solutions to this steady decline across these measurements of participation and connection.
- Challenges and opportunities through COVID affected years
- The potential role of schools as community building centres
- Lack of opportunity for democratic participation in local organisations
- The problematic nature of the commercialisation of the charity sector
- The way that adversity (such as recent floods) galvanises community participation and demonstrates a willingness to assist, however people may not know how or where to offer their service in
It is encouraging to see attention given at this level to the importance of community participation and need to allow charities to speak frankly and fully of their experiences in the public square. However, it is important that any conversation about a further building of ‘productivity’ within the charity sector recognises a nuanced definition of what ‘productivity’ is in the fullness of social, material and spiritual factors. We hope for more attention on supporting, streamlining and sensible regulatory oversight for the charity sector; and indexed long term funding for services, so ‘productivity’ of the sector can be increased.
We look forward to ongoing connection and input, which the Assistant Minister invited, as we work together to build a just and compassionate society, which allows social services and charities the ability to treat their staff, and all they serve, with respect for their human dignity in the fullness of who they are as people, while simultaneously being productive and effective agents of systemic change.
CSSV 2022 Victorian Election Statement – CSSV calls on all members of the newly elected Victorian parliament, leaders within the public service and people of good will to commit to: deep thinking and listening; cooperatively resourcing projects and programs that enhance community strengths; and to addressing the drivers of inequality in order to create opportunities for thriving communities.