An interview with Tony Stuart

Priorities for the post-pandemic future

Last month, the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission’s Not-for-Profit Advisory Group handed over its final report on how to minimise the social and economic impacts of the pandemic on the nation’s vulnerable groups.

Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia and Chair of the ACNC Advisory Board

That report went to the overarching national COVID-19 commission and will become advice to the Federal government. In the meantime, the chair of the Not-for-Profit Advisory Group, Tony Stuart, spoke to Philanthropy Weekly about what the road ahead looks like for the nation’s Not For Profit sector. These are his views and reflect the importance he places on the NFP sector in helping to create the social fabric of the nation.

‘’I would argue that the private sector has a pivotal role in the economy of Australia and the economy is the engine room of Australia but the chassis of Australia is its social fabric: it defines who we are, what our values are, what is our identity…’’ Tony says.

Tony, who is CEO of UNICEF Australia and chair of the ACNC Advisory Board, has held various senior executive roles - CEO of Sydney Airport, and then Group CEO of NRMA before landing at UNICEF.

Tony said the NFP Advisory Group realized that the pandemic’s deep impact meant that “… we were not just looking at where the sector was needing support but where vulnerable Australians needed support.’’ The group widened it brief to ensure it became a channel to the government on issues relating to vulnerable Australians and where NFPs had a role to play.

“And certainly we’re a great believer that the NFP sector, along with the public service both play pivotal roles in supporting vulnerable Australians and if the government could help remove some of our roadblocks and speed bumps, we could augment the work the government is doing with vulnerable Australians,’’ Tony says.

Tony identified several priorities for the NFP sector in the next few years, trying to navigate and mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. First on his list is finding ways to encourage and stimulate more giving.

“[T]he key ingredients for the sector to survive are the resources and the first resource, we’ll start at the lowest, is donations,’’ Tony says. “Anything that streamlines the ability to raise money and simplifies and enhances the ability to raise money…[to] find ways to streamline fundraising online, finding ways we can encourage Australians to think outside their family circumstance to find ways to support others doing it a bit tougher.’’

“So I would encourage that no matter how tough we’re doing it, if we can stop a couple of coffees out and give $10 a month to someone and find a way to support a local community event. I would also like to think that it’s not beyond us to find a way that we can encourage the high net worth foundations and families who have done so well economically out of our country, probably because of who we are and what we are, to find a way that [they] can contribute back….’’.

His second priority is the government’s continued support for the NFP sector. “[That’s] the government being prepared to roll over contracts, to recognise the NFP sector provides an invaluable service and therefore the government’s continued support of our sector is critical to our sustainability,’’ Tony says.

He would also like to see “…new ways of providing fees and services in our sector and for us to look at ways around that.’’ Part of these changes, Tony argues, would be for government to elevate the assistant treasurer’s role that is formally known as Assistant Treasurer for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters.” I would love to see our sector recognized with an assistant minister for all NFPs, [who] looked not so much at the regulation of charities but looked at how charities and NFPs, what policy initiatives, what better government policy could help make that sector more vibrant,’’ he says.

“I honestly feel that it’s no different to trade and industry. I would love to see even enhanced resources given to that assistant ministerial role because it’s not just about compliance and regulation – which is important – but it’s also about how that sector could contribute more. If you’re in energy and environment, you’re looking at how that sector can have stronger policies and I think that would certainly help our sector,’’ Tony says.

His final and perhaps most important priority is that government adopts a bipartisan approach to budget and policies that value the public, private and NFP sectors’ national contributions for “…all of us to come through this.’’

“I have a saying which [is] I don’t believe the Australian public will judge this government on how well the economy did coming through COVID. I think they will judge this government on how well Australia did.’’

Read more about the future of Australia’s charitable sector in this blog by Philanthropy Australia's Policy and Research Director, Sarah Wickham.

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