Non-Profit Bodies (Freedom to Advocate) Bill 2015

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT (Prospect) [10.36 a.m.]: I support the Non-profit Bodies (Freedom to Advocate) Bill 2015. The object of this bill is to prohibit State agreements from restricting or preventing non-profit bodies from commenting on, advocating support for or proposing changes to State laws, policy or practice. The origins of the bill lie in the democratic principle and in the principles of good governance in this State and nationally. No-one would question that non-profit organisations are fundamental to our democratic society; they have been for hundreds of years. In this country and internationally non-profit organisations are relied on to look after the interests of those in need. Time and again, non-profit organisations bring issues that need to be acted upon to the attention of our State and Federal governments. The freedom in which we believe as Australian citizens will be undermined if the advocacy of these organisations is impacted upon or stopped. In fact, the freedom to advocate is part of the package of what it means to live in a democratic society.

Non-government organisations will often have detailed, on-the-ground knowledge of problems and social issues that State governments chose to ignore or simply do not know about. Their knowledge often will be different from and superior to the official knowledge that government may have. Frankly, often they know more about issues than most government officials—bureaucrats or politicians. They are frequently best placed to know how to improve things and deal with the problems faced by different community groups and individuals. They are exposed to large clientele, which gives them an opportunity to recognise systemic patterns that need to be addressed. If government wants the best possible policy, especially in New South Wales, the best possible programs and the best possible governance outcomes the advice, opinions and lobbying of the non-government sector are essential.

I turn now to a brief historical example, but it is also very relevant today. In Australia we are still dealing with the abuse of children in institutional care—whether by governments, churches or other charitable organisations. If it were not for non-for-profit organisations such as Care Leavers Australia Network, Bravehearts, et cetera, public awareness of the abuse of children in institutional care would not have come to government attention and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse would not have been established. The reality is that for decades these children, who have since become adults, were treated like second-class citizens. They were basically forgotten, which is why they are called the forgotten Australians. When we look at the Indigenous population and at the stolen generation we see a similar story. If the advocacy groups that were dealing with these issues did not constantly fight on their behalf and make the State governments, the media and others aware of the institutional abuse, we would not be dealing with these problems now.

These types of problems did not just happen in Australia; they happened throughout the world. If it were not for the advocacy groups we would not be addressing this problem. These groups should have a say when the Government gets it so badly wrong. The forgotten Australians and the stolen generation are prime examples of that. My biggest concern is that the Government is opposing this bill. What has the Government got to hide? Why would the Government oppose such a bill, which basically gives advocacy groups the right in our democracy to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable people? Why would such gag laws be necessary for groups that should have the right to participate in our democracy and help governments to govern better? This bill is so straightforward that the Government should be supporting not opposing it. I commend the bill to the House.

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