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Legislation will ban non-profit gag clauses from Commonwealth contracts

Senator Penny Wong, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister for Finance and Deregulation, has released details of new legislation aimed at safeguarding the right of the not-for-profit sector to advocate in the interests of the community.

Senator Wong addressed representatives from Queensland non-profit community service providers at a forum on 4 March hosted by UnitingCare Queensland.

In addition to UnitingCare Queensland service groups Blue Care and UnitingCare Community, these included Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul, Churches of Christ Care, QCOSS, Queensland Shelter and other leading community organisations based in Queensland.

The Not-for-Profit Sector Freedom to Advocate Bill will be introduced during the next sitting of Federal Parliament.

Senator Wong told the forum "… we are safeguarding the right of the not-for-profit sector to advocate in the interests of the community … It will protect the voice of your sector, banning gag clauses from all Commonwealth contracts.

"We recognise the not-for-profit sector as partners, and in doing so we recognise your right to have your own voice … a strong voice to advocate in the best interests of those who you represent."

The minister advised that she was writing to all States and Territories calling on premiers to match the federal initiative.

The Queensland Government has inserted gag clauses into Queensland Health service agreements.

Senator Wong also introduced the new Commonwealth Grant Guidelines which establish requirements and key principles that will apply to all Commonwealth grants.

The guidelines are aimed at improving government interaction with the not-for-profit sector and reducing red tape.

Also speaking at the forum was Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia, who spoke about insights and lessons for Australian social and economic policy gained during her recent United Kingdom study tour.

In outlining the key similarities between the Australia and the UK, Ms Hatfield Dodds said that both countries share an aversion to public debt and deficit spending.

"This makes sense in the UK where the Eurozone crisis and their own structural deficit have combined to result in genuine fiscal crisis.

"However, in Australia our public debt position — the ratio of public debt to GDP — is strong.

"Australia is one of only five countries worldwide with a triple A rating and positive outlooks with all four major international credit rating agencies," she said.

She said that a key insight from Europe was that economies are stabilised in the bad times not by cutting "soft" social programs, but by staying committed to a strong, stabilising core of such programs.

"Social cohesion requires long term investment in people and communities; investment of the right intensity and duration to be transformative," she said.

For more information see Wong speech and Hatfield Dodds speech