Denise Roche

Stifling democracy in the community and voluntary sector

by Denise Roche

Earlier this week the Justice and Electoral select committee heard submissions on the Human Rights Amendment bill and learned from the  Auckland Domestic Violence and Disability Working Group  that its member not-for-profit  groups did not feel they could submit on the bill for fear that it would jeopardise their funding contracts if they were to publicly oppose the government’s wishes.

This is not a new thing.  In research published last year Dr Sandra Grey and Dr Charles Sedgwick outlined the responses they had received from not-for-profit organisations when they asked them if democracy, as measured by the ability of civil society organisations to have a voice in political debate, is flourishing or languishing in New Zealand.

Over half of the NGOs surveyed said that organisations which take a different view to the government line are likely to lose their government funding

The response indicates that democracy is being ‘strangled.’ The respondents also said that they felt the same way under a previous Labour-led government as well.

It’s not just fear of losing government funding that can stifle democracy.

Last year we saw hundreds of examples where good non-profit organisations who receive funding through pokie trusts were ‘encouraged’ to submit against Te Ururoa Flavel’s Gambling Harm Reduction bill.

Dissent from NGOs is also shut down by the risk of losing their charitable status if they advocate for their clients – despite the fact that the definition of ‘charitable purpose’ in the Charities Act is based on law from Britain in the 1600’s. My Charities as Advocates bill would fix this issue.

We also need to be looking at how to protect the role of not-for-profit and community organisations to challenge the status quo.  This is how communities ensure we have innovative and creative solutions.

We could always follow the example of other countries including Canada, Australia and the UK where there are regulations in place that ensure there is regular checking to ensure that the democratic processes are functioning well – including the role of the community and voluntary sector.

Published in Justice & Democracy by Denise Roche on Wed, February 26th, 2014   

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