Gag clauses to be banned

The federal government plans to introduce legislation to ban gag clauses in contracts entered into with the NFP sector, it was announced today.

By Yasmin Noone

Legislation will be introduced to ban gag clauses in Commonwealth contracts with the Not-For-Profit (NFP) sector in a bid to ensure a greater degree of openess about goings on between the federal government and Australian mission-based organisations.

The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said the introduction of such legislation would specifically ensure that Campbell Newman’s Queensland Coalition government would not reintroduce NFP/Commonwealth contract gag clauses in contracts.

Making the announcement by press release, Minister Butler also referred to the ‘bad old days’ under the Howard government where the advocacy rights of NFP organisations were eroded because of the gag.

“The NFP sector is a key partner in developing and delivering major policy reform and creating opportunities for all Australians,” Mr Butler said.

“The past few weeks in Queensland have reminded us of the dark days of the last Coalition government, when John Howard attacked the rights and legitimate role of the NFP sector and diminished its capacity to represent and advocate for its members.”

In 2008, the Labor Government removed the gag clauses imposed by the former Coalition Government that, according to the minister, restricted the sector from engaging in policy and political debate.

“Now we’re seeing Campbell Newman try to do the same in Queensland,” Mr Butler said.

Minister for Community Services, Indigenous Employment and Economic Development and Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, also weighed into the discussion saying that gag clauses censor public debate.

Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, added that the legislation would build on the government’s NFP reforms – including the new charities commission – by ensuring gag clauses are not used in any Commonwealth funding agreements.

“Our reforms recognise and embrace the critical role the sector has in advising and developing public policy and in advocating on behalf of members and constituents,” said Mr Bradbury.

The NFP sector is made up of around 600,000 organisations and accounts for approximately eight per cent of employment nationally.

NFP organisation, UnitingCare Australia, has supported the government’s move as it believes gag clause banning legislation will boost NFP independence.

National director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said the current arrangements shackle the sector’s capacity to speak out on issues that affect some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

“People working at the coalface in the community sector are best placed to provide advice on what works in local communities,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

“As governments rightly contribute to the funding of these services, the community sector must be free to contribute to policy development and advocacy without fear of losing that funding.

“We’ve been calling for the independence of the sector to be enshrined in legislation since the inception of the work on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission.

“The community sector and church organisations in particular, have led the way in Australia providing essential services including welfare, health and education.

“They responded with compassion 150 years ago and continue to indentify and respond to needs in local communities, right around the country.

“We are not government and we are not the business sector. The NFP sector is made up of independent organisations and our autonomy must be respected as we continue to work, often in partnership with government, to meet the needs of vulnerable Australians and local communities.

“Today’s decision goes some way to re-establishing the balance that signifies a maturing of the relationship between the government and the community sector.

“We look forward to working with the government on reducing the crippling compliance measures still in place that demand so much of our time and other scarce resources.”

Tags: campbell-newman, david-bradbury, gag, julie-collins, lnp, minister-butler, nfp, unitingcare,

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