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Federal budget reaction: it's time for not-for-profits to speak with one voice

Every budget hopes to balance its positive message of "Don't worry, be happy, we're spending money on things you care about" with its negative message about the money the government is taking away from people they hope you don't like.

The targets this time round are foreigners (foreign aid to be cut), uni students (fees to rise), banks (a new tax) and people on the dole (new hoops to jump through).

Against this, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski needs-based school provision - two of the foundation pillars of a good society - appear to have finally gained bipartisan acceptance, at least in principle.

Just to remind you of how long progress can take, a disability insurance scheme was first floated during the prime ministership of Gough Whitlam, back in 1975. It's been a long, hard slog since then, with many people flagging or retiring or dying before the goal was reached; but if enough people bash their head against a wall for long enough, the wall will fall down.

These changes in education and disability funding mean, among other things, that the size of the not-for-profit sector will increase, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the economy. Education and disability care are both areas with a high proportion of not-for-profit enterprises (as compared to, say, mining - very few community groups there). They face immense challenges to meet the demands that are going to be placed on them, and they'll be hiring.

It'd be nice to think that those sectors would put some tiny fraction of their resources into organising to act together, to represent the interests of their clients every time the cake is being cut, and to speak with one voice in the corridors of power. Till now, not-for-profits have tended to think that the good they did was so obvious that people should just give them the money without their having to ask. "We'll pay money to rattle tins, but not to shake up ministers." It's surprising how well that doesn't work. It has to change.

The rest of the not-for-profits will be as ever trying desperately to keep up with the pressure of more work and higher wages. They'll be, as always, praying that the Treasury's sunny forecasts of rising wages and a buoyant economy come true and feed into a rising public willingness to donate some fraction of the greater prosperity to good causes.

And that generosity is going to have to include the environment, too, because if you want to save the reef or the potoroo or the Antarctic ice sheet you'll have to chase up one of the NFPs whose mission that is. Because we have heard no word on either side of politics - and nothing whatsoever in the budget - about climate change. The greatest moral issue of our generation will have to wait another year.

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