Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) [10.51 a.m.]: I speak in debate on the Non-profit Bodies (Freedom to Advocate) Bill 2015. I thank the shadow Attorney General for bringing this important bill to the attention of the House. Not-for-profit organisations do an amazing job. I have been fortunate to see their work as a journalist, as a member of Parliament, as a Minister and as an executive and non-executive director of a not-for-profit organisation. I have worked or volunteered for a number of not-for-profit organisations. I have seen the absolute commitment of staff and volunteers, who do their job certainly not for the pay and conditions but from a desire to make a difference for their communities.
Not-for-profit organisations exist to help those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable and who face challenges that have an impact on their day-to-day existence. Organisations can often provide services to marginalised communities in a more cost-effective and efficient manner than large government agencies. Importantly, they operate at the coalface. They provide an insight into the policy challenges that face our communities. It is therefore critical that not-for-profit organisations be allowed to speak openly, without fear of repercussions, about policy and service delivery in New South Wales. That is the object of the bill. As the shadow Attorney General outlined in his second reading speech:
The object of the bill is to prohibit State agreements from restricting or preventing non-profit bodies from commenting on, advocating support for or proposing changes to State law, policy and practice.
It is clear, as a number of speakers have highlighted, that this Government is moving to outsource many of its functions. We have already seen that happening in disability services, homelessness services, women's refuges and health service delivery. Not-for-profit organisations are well placed to take on the provision of these services. However, they must be allowed to do so knowing that they can talk directly to government about better ways of doing things. Talking directly to government includes speaking candidly to the media and the community about existing and developing issues of policy and service delivery.
I remember a time when large not-for-profit organisations were willing to weigh in on areas of policy that were not being addressed by government. That is all too rare these days. There was a time when large not-for-profit organisations conducted research and highlighted to government where it was failing. It has been a long time since I have seen not-for-profit organisations doing that. I believe that this bill goes some way towards ensuring that not-for-profit organisations, both big and small, operate in an environment that allows them the freedom to stand up for their constituencies. As we know, those constituencies often cannot stand up for themselves. There is an ongoing need to support the vulnerable, disadvantaged, marginalised and socially isolated.
Not-for-profit organisations often operate at the whim of government policy and funding. They are required to be nimble and adaptable and operate with minimal funding. Their funding is increasingly allocated as grants or three-year contracts, which inhibits innovation in organisations. When lessons on policy development and implementation are gleaned, there is little opportunity to have a conversation with the community on what works and what does not. That conversation is important. We in this Parliament must be able to take the people whom we represent with us. We must acknowledge that there are issues of need. We must be able to bring those issues to this House and speak openly. Government members say that it is the role of members of Parliament to do that. That is true. But it is also the role of not-for-profit organisations, who may not be elected but who also represent their constituencies.
Transparency is at the heart of this bill. That was brought to the attention of the House very well by the member for Summer Hill. The secrecy surrounding many funding agreements and contracts between not-for-profit organisations and the Government is on a scale not previously seen. There is a lack of transparency in some of the larger infrastructure projects that the Government is undertaking, but it is not limited to them. When government tries to restrict not-for-profit organisations from speaking openly we are less able to deal with issues that arise.
That only one speaker from the Government has addressed the House on this bill is disappointing. It verges on being offensive. Other members of the Government could have explained to not-for-profit organisations why the Government will not support this bill. The Attorney General indicated that the Government was listening to not-for-profit organisations. Having roundtable discussions is one way of listening, but it is important that not-for-profit organisations feel comfortable about raising issues not only behind closed doors, with the Minister or agencies, but openly, with the community and the media. That is where they feel terribly constrained.
The Opposition has not brought this bill to the House without reason. Not-for-profit organisations, including those in my electorate and those I have had experience with, are crying out for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a democratic right. Not-for-profit organisations feel that their voice is being curtailed and that their right to address many of the issues they come across is being hampered by the way the Government is operating.
The Opposition's primary concern is the agreements between not-for-profit organisations and government. The Attorney General ignored that issue in her speech to this House. While not-for-profit organisations participate in roundtable discussions, those discussions are hampered. Roundtable discussions are not the point of this bill. The point of this bill is to look at the agreements between not-for-profit organisations and government. The bill seeks to support not-for-profit organisations to speak openly as commentators and to critically analyse government policy. Anyone who has studied policy development and implementation understands the importance of consultation, seeking views and critically analysing parts of the policy that may not have worked.
I commend this bill to the House. It is a good bill. It is a shame that the Government cannot support this important bill. I congratulate the shadow Attorney General. He has championed the rights of not-for-profit organisations. He has seen a need and has brought that to the attention of the House.
As I said, it is disappointing that only one Government member has spoken on this bill, particularly given that there are several Government members in the Chamber.
I thank the not-for-profit organisations in my community that do such an extraordinary job. I have had cause to contact many of them in the past few weeks around housing, women's issues, domestic violence and disability. I see day to day their extraordinary efforts to make a difference to my community and I thank them for that. I thank also the staff and the volunteers. I want them to know that as their local member for Strathfield I am their advocate. They may not feel that they can speak openly to media and in the community because of the restraints imposed by the Government, but I can be their voice. Unfortunately, they feel that way. I encourage them to come and talk to me about the lessons they have before them which the Government needs to heed.
As I said, I commend the bill to the House. Labor members always side with not-for-profit organisations, which understand the commitment of a civil society to making a stronger and better New South Wales. These critical issues must be addressed, and this bill goes some way to understanding how we can improve policy development and implementation in this State. Again, I thank the not-for-profit organisations in my community. I thank members on my side who have spoken in support of the bill, understanding that this issue needs to be addressed. In particular, I again thank the shadow Attorney General who has been proactive in understanding the challenges faced by this sector and, indeed, has felt strongly enough to bring this important bill to the House.