Page 2131 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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(2) condemns the Federal Government for its recent decision to end funding of the policy advocacy and policy work of peak environment groups around Australia, including the Conservation Council of the South East Region and Canberra; and

(3) affirms its support for the public funding of peak non-government advocacy and policy organisations.

In 1998 the federal government defunded the Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition, known as AYPAC. It was judged to be too provocative and argumentative, speaking too strongly from the perspective of its constituent groups and not reflecting more broadly the perceived interests of young people. It was replaced by an advisory council of young people selected by the government, who have done their best to take it up to the federal government nonetheless. However, those annoying voices of young people with different ideas were silenced. The point here is that the loss of AYPAC significantly disabled the youth sector’s capacity to raise issues facing young people, particularly marginalised young people, and the community organisations that work with them.

While public policy is, in the end, controlled by government—and by some governments more tightly than others—it is through direct advocacy and negotiation on the one hand and through public debate and discussion on the other that people affected by policy can seek to influence it. In that process they raise awareness of important issues and contest popular presumptions that are unfounded or unhelpful. Indeed, they engage in public formulation and negotiation of values and priorities. This maelstrom of ideas is our civil society.

That same process, if perhaps a little less obviously, is now being extended to the broad environment movement. Conservation councils across Australia are the peak policy, advocacy and communication bodies for the myriad of environment and nature conservation groups that have sprung up out of people’s care for and involvement in the environment they live in, ranging from friends of grasslands and ornithologists to national parks associations, catchment groups, conservation foundations and solar energy societies. Many government departments benefit from their expertise and their links with grassroots voters.

I went to the Institute of Public Affairs website and downloaded the report to the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership that was prepared last year by Gary Johns and John Roskam, whose writings I have been following with interest for three or four years as they have struggled with what they call the governance of NGOs. I believe that this protocol has had a great deal of influence on government policy. It is interesting that this influence is being wielded by another NGO, but of course one that is funded with money from business rather than perhaps the government, although no doubt it was paid by the government to do this consultancy.

The report indicates that, from its analysis of government departments, it was able to ascertain five reasons why departments have relationships with NGOs. These are: to provide policy expertise, to deliver programs, to provide practical expertise, to allow for information dissemination, and to allow for transparency. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry went into some detail about the usefulness of consultation with its stakeholders and associated NGOs. Their report reads:

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