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New Beginnings

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After resigning as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Martin says she was offered some jobs in the private sector, but with a desire to make a social difference, she was drawn to the not-for-profit sector.

“I was looking for something that built on the skills that I had,” she says. “When I saw the advertisement I thought ‘yes, that’s something I could do’.”

Though she concedes there are many differences between her previous position as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and heading ACOSS, she also notes certain fundamental similarities.

“Running a government has a lot of complexities that are very different from being the CEO of an organisation like ACOSS, which does policy and advocacy. So we’ve got a very specific focus, whereas that of government is broad and unpredictable.”

One essential similarity, she says is “the importance of making sure you’ve got good solid policy that you base decisions on; that is equal wherever you work, whether you’re working in government or in a not-for-profit area. And that you are a confident advocate for that policy or for the issues you’d like to see changed or adopted.”

Working with an advocacy and policy-driven organisation like ACOSS presented a unique opportunity to Martin, and one for which her political background has provided a valuable knowledge base.

“Having run an equivalent state government, you understand the process of government; you understand the constrictions on governments. And I think what I do have is an ability to put arguments to government in a way that will hopefully be welcome.”

The year ahead
“A number of the issues ACOSS is going to be particularly involved in this year are issues that come from Federal initiatives, because they’re very solid, sensible and the kind of issues that need to be addressed for low-income Australians,” Martin says.

Last year, as a result of strong efforts and campaigning by interest groups including ACOSS, the Federal government committed to significant additional funds to address the issue of homelessness.

“That’s where a lot of our effort will go this year, into making sure that the $800 million of funds that have been allocated for tackling homelessness actually get to where they’re supposed to go.”

Given the global financial crisis, Martin expects unemployment to be another major issue this year. She says ACOSS will be seeking to increase payments, which at $225 are currently the lowest of any income support area, and bolster the training programs that help people find and access job opportunities.

Tax reform has also emerged as a prominent issue for the year. In May last year, the Federal Government launched a major review of the tax system, with the review panel expected to report back at the end of this year.

Martin describes the review as “an opportunity to look at our tax system; look at whether it’s equitable, whether it’s fair. How do you rebalance it to make sure that taxes are being applied fairly?

“ACOSS’ point of view is that you need to raise taxes, otherwise you can’t afford services. So, it’s really important, it’s not all about minimising taxes all the time,” she explains.

“It’s about creating a fair tax system where we all contribute to the educational, the health, the defence services we need in the future.

“So, not everyone who goes to the forum is going to agree on the way forward, but at least we’ll get some information out and we’ll have some discussions.”

With $6.4 billion in public housing funding recently announced as part of the Federal Government’s second economic stimulus package, Martin says that ACOSS will be monitoring the delivery of the largest amount of money ever spent on public housing very closely.

“We’ll be looking at how that money is spent, how effectively it’s spent. The Federal Government wants to build 20,000 new dwellings in the next two years.”

Martin says that these dwellings can’t continue “being built at the edge of cities; that just creates problems. So, there’s a lot of work that we have to get involved into make sure that they’ll be built in sensible places.” She says this means housing in locations that are well-integrated and accessible to services.

Shaping the third sector
“The big challenge, and it’s one ACOSS is involved with this year, is how the NFP sector shapes itself,” says Martin.

While welcoming the Federal Government’s commitment to a compact with the sector, she says that one of the issues that has arisen, and that organisations are uncertain about, is who exactly the government will be making the compact with.

The broad NFP sector covers numerous areas, many of which lack peak body representation. “What the NFP sector has been looking at is how we can do something that will give very strong identity on issues that are important across the sector, like for example, tax reform.”

She says that within the diverse sector there needs to be stronger connections, communication and representation because while not everyone is going to have the same issues, there will be some in common.

The Not-For-Profit Round Table could be the organisation that pulls the sector together. Established four years ago and chaired by David Thompson from Jobs Australia, Martin says the body will be looking at appropriate sector representation on their board and at their meetings.

“We are determined to work on it,” she says. “It’s not an easy task, but worth doing.

“There’s something like 700,000 organisations within the sector. Some of them are very small; some of them are only run by volunteers, but they’re all in the sector.”

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