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‘No time for anything but the highest impact work’: a new alliance campaign to strengthen democracy

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 30/3/2021

A new alliance campaign involving over 30 nonprofits, including five Impact Fund partners, is being established to facilitate collective action for a stronger democracy.

In March 2020, as Australia grappled with its first Covid outbreak and the underlying inequalities it brought to the fore, a new project working for a fairer democracy was born: the Australian Democracy Network (ADN).

A joint project established by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Australian Council of Social Service, ADN’s mission is to bring together civil society organisations and enhance communication and connectedness across the social change sector for a thriving democracy. 

“There’s huge potential in this moment to do things differently: build a carbon-free economy … rethink how we live… yet there is a huge risk that our government won’t do that, because our democracy currently fails to put people and planet first,” ADN Director, Saffron Zomer, said in August 2020.

“[But] I think there is immense potential in strategising together… We need to draw on each other’s expertise.”

ADN and its partners have since been hard at work in pursuit of unlocking this potential.

Making democracy work better

When the Australian Communities Foundation giving community came together in March 2021 for the Strengthening Democracy Learning Circle to discuss the core issues of political integrity and undue influence, Zomer presented a way forward: four interconnected campaigns involving nonprofits across the spectrum of issues to make democracy work better for everyone.

“Australians are increasingly viewing corruption as a ‘very big’ or ‘quite big’ problem”

“What our research shows is that Australians are increasingly viewing corruption as a ‘very big’ or ‘quite big’ problem,” Lillywhite explained.

“There’s growing concern around people in government using their positions to directly benefit themselves or families. And at the core of this is the issue of undue influence – cosy relationships and a culture of mateship too often established between special interest groups and powerful individuals.

“What the Blueprint highlights is the need and value of working collectively to tackle this issue.”

Zomer echoed these insights, adding that the channels through which such influence is exerted are “numerous, out-of-sight, and complicated, amounting to a problem where the solutions are not obvious.”

Leveraging the contributions of many

After a year of working with and facilitating connections between organisations across the sector, ADN is now seeking funding to hire a Campaigns Director to lead four campaigns, each of which will leverage the contributions of many organisations.

The lead campaign, #OurDemocracy, will see 30+ nonprofits work together to advocate for stronger laws that regulate political donations and lobbying to reduce the impact of corporate capture.

ADN is also coordinating the existing Hands Off Our Charities Alliance (HOOC), as well as an emerging Protest Rights Working Group and a new campaign to promote civil society voices in policy decision-making.

HOOC continues to fight against ongoing threats to the charity sector’s ability to advocate with and for communities. So far this year, HOOC has already been faced with two government proposals that would curtail the sector’s participation in election debates and give the Charities Commissioner sweeping new powers. HOOC is now working to coordinate a collective response to these threats.

Meanwhile, the Protest Rights Working Group is planning its first event with First Nations speakers to be held during Law Week 2021 (17 – 23 May). 

ADN continues to scope for the final campaign on promoting civil society voices with a view to launching in 2022.

Building a circuit breaker

“When the solutions aren’t obvious, you need to go slow to be able to go fast. You need to scope properly and build a credible plan,” Zomer explains.

“There’s no time for anything but the highest impact work.”

Margaret Quixley, Campaigns Director at the Alliance for Gambling Reform – one of over 30 organisations in the #OurDemocracy campaign – sees this work as the “circuit breaker we need to make real progress on all the issues Australians value and care about.”

“a powerful group of allies, working in different areas but with a shared vision of tipping the scales back in favour of people and planet”

“The undue influence of corporate interests over the political and policy-making process is the single greatest obstacle we face in the effort to prevent and reduce gambling harm,” says Quixley.

“This new alliance brings together a powerful group of allies, working in different areas but with a shared vision of tipping the scales back in favour of people and planet.”

The Alliance for Gambling Reform is one of five organisations involved in the #OurDemocracy campaign that has received support through the Australian Communities Foundation Impact Fund, alongside the Human Rights Law Centre, Shark Island Institute (for the Democracy for Sale documentary), 350.org and the Australian Gun Safety Alliance (AGSA).

“We are very eager to participate,” says Stephen Bendle, Advocacy and Campaigns Advisor at AGSA.

“The gun lobby in Australia is sadly just one example of how corporate interests influence government policy, so we’re excited to come together with others working against undue influence.”

Learn more and support the campaign

View ADN’s funding proposal and support the project on the Australian Communities Foundation Granting Opportunities platform here.

Image: Members of the Hands Off Our Charities alliance meet at Parliament House.