The Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) last week tabled its report on ‘Supporting Democracy in our region’, which was based on 58 submissions from a wide range of stakeholders, including media organisations, academics, professional bodies and advocacy groups.
ACFID made submissions to the inquiry: two senior ACFID personnel made an in-person representation in March this year, following a written submission in December 2022.
ACFID welcomes the report and all of its recommendations. In particular, ACFID’s suggestions are reflected in Recommendations 7 and 8, which call on the Australian Government to establish a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Hub in DFAT, and to channel aid funding (Official Development Assistance, or ODA) through civil society organisations, including NGOs operating on the ground.
ACFID stands by its call for Government to commit to the Grand Bargain, which calls for at least 25 percent of ODA to be funded towards or through civil society.
“With only half of the population in the Indo-Pacific living in a democracy, and the rise in authoritarianism, populism and disinformation driving threats to civic space, it has never been more important for the Australian Government to recognise that supporting CSOs in our region can help reverse existing trends of illiberalism and backsliding democratic norms,” said ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell.
“This report and its recommendations are a good start,” he said.
ACFID also welcomes the Committee’s recommendations that call on the government to invest in strengthening country partnerships with the Australian Electoral Commission, and to provide a media support program. The sector also appreciates recommendations to build on climate adaptation measures and efforts to support gender equality across the Indo-Pacific.
“Countries throughout the Pacific have been calling for Australia to increase its investment in climate action, and this report reaffirms the advocacy of the region,” said Mr Purcell.
ACFID supports the Committee’s statement that “boosting funding for Australian CSOs in the region is important in order for these sustainable partnerships to be effective and to thrive.”
“Funding for civil society organisations to deliver on the report’s recommendations is absolutely essential,” said Mr Purcell.
Civil society organisations are vital for democracy to flourish
Civil society groups include any non-government group or organisation aimed at promoting the voices of citizens. These can be neighborhood organisations, farming collectives, faith-based groups, labor unions, co-operatives, environmental groups, activists, community foundations and academia.
They are important in ensuring that citizens have access to power, and have a say in how a state functions, therefore being crucial to upholding and promoting human rights and democratic participation.
ACFID is an ardent supporter of civil society in the region, and believes these groups are foundational to democracy. We are pleased that the JSCFDT inquiry recognises the essential role they play in strengthening democratic processes, while also articulating their “ability to respond rapidly to issues that may arise”.
Without funding that is commensurate with the challenges facing Australia’s region, the Civil Society Partnerships Fund and the Government’s broader resourcing of CSOs across the development program risks becoming ineffective in achieving a safe, prosperous and equal region for all at a time of unprecedented challenges.
“The report shows that the Government is attuned to the need to support civil society in the region,” said Jessica Mackenzie, ACFID’s Chief of Policy and Advocacy.
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