By Wendy Scaife.

In Australia, the relationship between government and the nonprofit sector remains patchy and one-sided in my opinion. I see this umbrella situation as being as much a policy or regulatory issue as something more concrete, like harmonising fundraising regulation or clarifying the right of nonprofits to advocate. Various initiatives at the state and federal level to frame a compact with the sector have ultimately, become politicised or unresourced and withered. Ultimately, while great in intent, they have not moved beyond talkfests and brave statements, despite engagement efforts and dollars spent to inform a changed power differential between government and the sector.

A better and more productive relationship between government and the sector that lasts beyond a political cycle may only come from some innovation and vision by the bureaucratic arm of government and from strong peak bodies in the sector – the Community Council for Australia being one example. Roundtables have come and gone, but they have not been representative of both the government and nonprofit sides. I believe a blueprint with a key topic or milestone achieved for each of the next five years may be one strategy, provided the government of the day cares enough to dedicate sufficient funding and secures bi-party support for a 10-year strategic conversation and action plan. Some of this may evolve from the existing work being led by the Community Council of Australia or from the pioneering collective thinking by the Charities Crisis Cabinet set up to think and act more together in response to COVID-19. But this initiative may not be able to focus on the single issue of establishing a new and enduring form of government-nonprofit ethos. And focus is needed.

Research and engagement will be essential planks, especially to explore different cultures and approaches internationally and to envision and test different strategies. This process will require thought leadership and authentic commitment. I believe it to be of such importance that it should be led or informed by former prime ministers and involve leading business, policy and nonprofit minds internationally. As an experiment, framing a two- or three-country benchmark might raise interest and commitment.

Wendy Scaife is an Associate Professor and the Director of The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, QUT Business School, Queensland University of Technology. Scaife is on LinkedIn and Twitter. (Photo of Sydney, Australia, is courtesy of Photoholgic and Unsplash.)

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Monday, May 17, 2021 in
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