Monday, August 04, 2003

Don’t just muzzle charities – put ‘em down

Is last week’s proposal to muzzle charities and church “groups” (but not churches per se) from engaging in political debate a craven piece of looking-down-the-barrel-of-the gun style politicking?

Yes, of course. But do I care? Nup.

This isn’t because I don’t believe that Treasurer Costello’s moves don’t set a dangerous – and new – precedent. Rather, my last year of (many-on-one) personal experiences with the “not for profit” sector has convinced me that most of them operate in shocking accountability vacuums. In such a sense, Costello’s proposals don’t go far enough – but naturally enough, there is no hint of a threat coming from Costello, towards the various degradations upon humanity coldly practised by charities and church groups in active complicity with government policies.

I wasn’t going to blog on this topic until a few developments on the weekend: this dole survival story; a job ad to fill a senior Salvation Army Employment Plus position, and reading this blog posting (link via Ken Parish). And of these three triggers, I must admit that it was really the Slavos (sorry, Salvos) job ad that got me firing).

Unfortunately, the ad, for "State Marketing Co-ordinator" (The Age 2 August 2003) doesn’t seem to be online, so I can only reproduce here my (subjective) view of its highlights. These are (and remember that Salvation Army Employment Plus presumably regards itself as well within the not for profit sector (not that the ad mentions this)):

“[We are] committed to building a challenging & rewarding work environment and a competitive salary package will be offered”


“You will need . . . demonstrated ability to produce effective, creative brand and retail work on tight budgets”

How charming. If you’re interested in the job, incidentally, you’ll need to go through this agency, which – funnily enough – seems to mainly specialise in executive “outplacement”.

A topic which neatly segues into the dole survival story I mentioned above. You can read it for yourself, but if you’re only interested in the money shot, here it is: the pseudonymous diarist – a 54 y.o. PhD and ex-academic/business executive – when trying to get volunteer “work”* gets told this, and by Which Charity themselves:

She said the Salvos would give me 32 hours of volunteer work a fortnight [but only] if I wanted to work in a sheltered workshop sorting clothes or in a call centre asking for donations.

Again, how utterly charming – and reason enough, I would suggest, for anyone to NEVER give the Salvation Army a cent when they next come asking.

Finally, the blog I mentioned above goes into the legal nitty-gritty of what Costello is really up to. The only aspect that this blogger overlooks is that, as I alluded to at the start, nothing that Costello is planning will affect the “advancement of religion” leg of what constitutes a charity (one of four such legs, the other three being for the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, or for other public benefit purposes). As the 1983 High Court case recognising Scientology as a bona fide religion, and therefore a charity, found (or established?), as long as you're advancing something, the particular brand of religion being promulgated in a tax-free way can be as cynical and twisted as you like - as cunning and ruthless as Costello, and the Slavos.

* For over-50’s unemployed, such unpaid “work” can satisfy the activity test, in lieu of actually looking for paid work.

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