Agreeing to Disagree: Maintaining dissent in the NGO sector

Gemma Edgar, The Australia Institute; August 2008.

The Rudd government is currently floating the idea of a National Compact to strengthen its relationship with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as part of its social inclusion agenda for Australia. Gemma Edgar of the Australia Institute provides a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of such a Compact, with a particular focus on implications for advocacy NGOs. On the plus side, a Compact would aim for a better partnership between government and NGOs by setting standards for funding, policy consultation, and transparency.

On the downside, Edgar points to the inherent risks of a process which may attempt to homogenize the sector and may merely result in a vague, unaccountable agreement.

Compact negotiations are particularly precarious for NGOs that need to defend their independence from government, such as certain advocacy groups. Moreover, there are costs of time and expense required to negotiate a Compact.

If a text is agreed, it carries no formal enforcement mechanism and imposes no obligations on future ruling parties. Additional time and expense would be required to educate and promote the Compact within the sector as well as with government agencies to ensure it is properly utilised.

On balance, Edgar concludes that a Compact is not worth the effort required. Instead, she argues NGOs may have better returns on their time by galvanising public support for their work and the social sector generally.

For the complete article see: www.tai.org.au/file.php?file=DP100.pdf
For the Australian federal government website on the National Compact see: www.socialinclusion.gov.au/A_National_Compact.htm

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