Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Charity is no substitute for justice

  • 22 March 2019


One of the stranger reactions to franking credit reform was Prime Minister Morrison's claim it 'undermines the incredible work done by charities across Australia, including the fight against cancer', backing up Cancer Council Queensland's assertion that 'Two of our major donors ... have advised CCQ that they are unlikely to be in a position to donate if this policy is introduced.' CCQ has since withdrawn its submission on this issue but the government continues to correlate franking credit reform with the erosion of philanthropy.

For the record I support the proposed reform of franking credits. It is not, as some mischievously claim, a tax. It is the removal of a tax rebate that is currently provided to some wealthy retirees even though they are not actually paying the tax they are getting the rebate on! It's already confusing but it doesn't help when the waters are muddied with outright falsehoods. This is well explained by my Per Capita colleagues Emma Dawson and Tim Lyons in a recent opinion piece.

What I want to reflect on here though is the reasonable question as to whether the purported impact on philanthropy cited above should, in general terms, be a consideration when weighing up public policy.

'Philanthropy', muses advertising agency owner Bert Cooper in one of the early episodes of Mad Men, 'is the gateway to power.' This is a rather cynical view of the act of giving but it is not without some truth in some cases, namely when the already powerful use discretionary funds to promote their own interests instead of the public interest. Philanthropy is considered primarily as a gateway to doing good in Australia. The work of charities and not-for-profits is highly respected and valued.

I say this as someone who has worked in the community sector for most of my adult life, including 17 years with Vinnies, 12 of which I served as the national council CEO. What I learned was that philanthropy is carried out not only by wealthy individuals but by people who are seriously struggling to make ends meet; people who, having gone through hard times, decide to give what is in effect a massive chunk of their meagre incomes, not as a paternalistic act of charity, but as a powerful act of human solidarity. What it made me ask though was how we arrived at a situation where charities have become the default mode of delivering essential social