The Australian government should stop taxpayer funds being used to lobby government. This can be done by inserting a clause into all federal contracts between government agencies and state funded charities, non-government organizations (NGOs), and think tanks.
The clause would restrict the use of the government funding being provided by stating, “The following expenditure is excluded and is not eligible for the purposes of the grant: Payments that support any activity intended to influence Parliament, Government or Political Parties, or any payments attempting to influence the awarding of further grants in the future.”
A growing problem in the non-government sector and how to solve it
The non-government sector plays a vital role in Australian society by contributing to community, helping to solve societal problems, and promoting positive values. With six and a half million Australians engaging in voluntary work, Australia rightly values the transformational potential of the voluntary sector.
However, a new subset of non-government organizations has recently emerged. Funded by the government, these organizations continually lobby other government departments for changes in the law, or increased funding.
Federal spending is already out of control, and there is a growing discontent over the misuse of taxpayer funds. This proposal by the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance will help to combat these problems by ensuring that taxpayer funds are used to improve people’s lives and promote social causes, rather than to lobby government for increased funding or changes in the law.
Below are two key arguments for why a clause must be inserted into government contracts to limit how taxpayer funds can be used.
i. Taxpayer funds being used to promote ideological positions
NGOs that are primarily financed by taxpayer are colloquially known as ‘sock puppets’. This is a reference to the illusion of grassroots support that they create.
The funding of these organizations weakens the independence of the non-government sector by providing a disincentive for charities to vocalize dissenting views on government policy. But it also creates the greater problem if government funds being used to promote particular ideological causes.
Taxpayers expect that the funding provided to the non-government sector will be used to promote charitable purposes that further the greater good. They do not expect their taxes to be used to lobby for ideological causes, which they may disagree with.
Examples of government funds being used to promote ideological agendas are widespread. In academia ‘research grants’ often fund academic work that supports government policies. For example, at the height of Australia’s carbon tax debate, Stephen Lewandowsky received a share of grants worth a total of $1.7 million, for his research attempting to link climate skeptics to conspiracy theorists who deny the moon landing. The very existence of the Grattan Institute is also an example of government funding being used to advocate for a certain policy perspective, as it was created with $30 million in funding from the Brumby and Rudd governments.
This political campaigning and public policy advocacy should not be funded by the taxpayer. Government resources are limited and funding for the non-government sector should be restricted to traditional charity work that directly leads to the betterment of society. As such, taxpayer funded activism and the use of taxpayer funds for political campaigning should be banned.
This would not restrict the free speech of non-government organizations. Nor would it prevent them from promoting their ideas. It would simply stop taxpayer funds being to promote an ideological agenda. Organizations would still be free to use privately-raised funds however they wish, but taxpayer funding would be redirected to uses that directly improve peoples’ lives.
ii. Taxpayer funds being used to lobby government
These taxpayer funded NGOs regularly lobby government. This regularly leads to two different but equally absurd situations: The first is when a NGO uses their taxpayer funding to lobby the government for more taxpayer funding — this is wasteful, self-serving and insulting to taxpayers. The second situation is when a NGO uses taxpayer funds to lobby the government for increased regulations or other changes in the law — often resulting in government funding being used to lobby against the government. Examples of this behavior include taxpayer-funded ‘public health’ organizations lobbying for nanny state restrictions on alcohol.
This repetitive cycle needs to be addressed. Agencies receiving funds from the government should not be able to lobby the government in the political equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.
This can be done by inserting a clause into all government contracts where a grant or funding is awarded. Such a clause, like the one recommend at the start of this proposal, would prohibit NGOs from using taxpayer funds to lobby the government, fund political advertising campaigns, or engage in any other activities designed to influence the parliament, the government, or political parties.