Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been called on to pledge not to strip funding from community groups if they express views critical of the Coalition.
The advocacy role of civil society is being threatened under the Abbott government, the head of the Australian Council of Social Service Cassandra Goldie has warned, urging her colleagues in the community sector to speak out without fear in a speech at a conference in Canberra on Thursday.
Dr Goldie told Fairfax Media that there had been a “number of disturbing examples of where the government has pulled out of its support for very important civil society organisations”.
This includes the Refugee Council, which lost more than half a million dollars in May, after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison intervened to cut its funding.
At the time, Mr Morrison said it was not his view or the government’s view that taxpayer funding should be used for advocacy.
“There is freedom of speech but the taxpayer shouldn’t have to fund the microphone.”
Dr Goldie is also concerned by a recent government clampdown on community legal centres, preventing them from spending Commonwealth funds on advocacy or law reform work.
“This is sending a message that if you speak up, if you have a voice on the issues of the day then you have a risk of having your funding cut,” she said.
The ACOSS head said she was encouraged by a pledge from Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews in June that the government would not impose gag clauses on welfare groups in receipt of government funds.
Despite this pledge, Dr Goldie said greater reassurances were required in light of Mr Morrison’s comments and the changes around community legal centres, which come under Attorney-General George Brandis’ portfolio.
“We are inviting the Prime Minister to confirm that the view expressed by Minister Andrews is the view of the government as a whole,” Dr Goldie said.
She added that community groups needed to recognise their “role and responsibility” to be “ethical voices from the community” and to not only be critical of government policy but to also provide alternatives.
“I think it’s very important that we continue to claim the expertise that we clearly have and to not allow a climate of uncertainty to rattle the cage,” she said.
Labor spokeswoman for communities, Claire Moore said that she was hearing organisations were “already too scared to speak out on behalf of their clients and angry that their advocacy is being dismissed”.
“The Coalition’s rhetoric is all about the need to strengthen civil society and yet the Abbott government wants to shut it up,” Senator Moore said. “All governments may not like criticism but there seems to be a vindictiveness from this government, which misunderstands the nature of advocacy.”
Fairfax Media has asked Mr Abbott’s office for comment.
Dr Goldie’s comments come as the government’s review into the welfare system prepares to receive public submissions on its draft report on Friday. Among other controversial interim recommendations, the report suggested that only those with a permanent impairment and no capacity to work should receive the disability support pension.
Follow us on Twitter
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲美睫培训学校.