Updated: Jul 20, 2022
In June of 2022 Labor's Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Andrew Leigh, announced a pledge to remove gag clauses which had restricted charities and other not-for-profit organisations from publicly commenting on government policy.
For at least the past 5 years, the charities sector had called for changes regarding the clauses which had resulted in many organisations avoiding any negative commentary regarding government policy. The potential consequences for such organisations who engaged in such criticism included loss of funding agreements or further action by the government's charity regulator, Gary Johns.
Mr. Leigh noted that the current federal government was now looking to "encourage social, legal, and environmental charities to give feedback on policies." Mr. Leigh also described the previous Coalition government's stance on charity political advocacy as an "attack on democracy."
Representatives from the Community Council of Australia (CCA) praised the announcement with David Crosbie, CEO of the CCA, stating:
“In recent years, criticising the federal government or calling for changes to government policies was seen as risky, mainly because the government had repeatedly shown that it would preference the organisations it saw as supportive. The new assistant minister is clearly signalling to charities that the Albanese government wants to adopt a different approach. Already the assistant minister has said he is keen to positively engage with charities, to listen to the public voices of charities even if they are critical, and to base funding decisions on evidence rather than politics. The whole charities sector will breathe a sigh of relief if this proves to be the case."
Reverend Tim Costello, chair of the CCA, also praised the upcoming changes:
“The new rhetoric about not silencing the voices of charities is welcome, but the actions of ministers and their officials is even more important. Already we have seen a much higher level of direct engagement between charities and the Albanese government. Wherever I look I see discussion and dialogue between community groups and government, often for the first time in years. It is this engagement that gives us all hope that charities will not just be allowed to have a voice, but that our views will be listened to and considered.”
A similar process, wherein a Labor government looked to remove gag clauses on not-for-profits introduced by a Coalition government, took place in 2012.