Strengthening independent disability advocacy

Late last year, DANA lodged a submission on developing a Not-for-Profit Sector Development Blueprint to the Community Services Advisory Group and Blueprint Expert Reference Group, of which our very own CEO Jeff Smith is a member. The Federal Government has asked the group to develop a new set of guidelines, so not-for-profits and charities can build on the positive work they’re already doing.

We know this issue is important to our member organisations. Sources of funding in the advocacy sector are diverse and extend across several different areas – many organisations rely on government funding such as NDAP (the National Disability Advocacy Program), others are sustained through grants for specific programs and others may take in direct philanthropic funds.

A key part of the submission is re-emphasising the need for programs that charities administer to be developed with the people who receive the services. This could be achieved through another of our recommendations which asks for the establishment of a specific philanthropic foundation focused on disability, which would be led and controlled by people with disability. This is important to continue the move away from more outdated models of charity towards those based in human rights, empowerment and social justice. Embedding principles of co-design and grassroots-led initiatives are also key principles that need to be included in the blueprint.

We also highlighted that the systemic advocacy that is sometimes expected of organisations isn’t always possible when the vast majority of resources are wrapped up in direct individual advocacy (and the sector is already overstretched). We also discussed how data collection and performance measurement has to be improved and put into practice in close consultation with the sector, and not just yet another thing that has to be managed and integrated by the people on the ground.

To assist with this, we recommended that the government explore having the same rules between federal and state and territory level funding arrangements as well as specifically staffing organisations to work through and manage data collection. Where possible, governments should also seek to provide long-term grant agreements to help retain and develop staff. Facilitating the participation of smaller organisations is also a key point, particularly given the vital role they often have in rural and remote areas. (Refer to our Pre-Budget Submission)

We also stressed the significant impact and key role independent advocacy can have that may not be caught in current methods of measuring outcomes sometimes employed by funding bodies. As many organisations have experienced with reporting under NDAP programs, identifying outcomes in individual advocacy cases and in group and systemic advocacy efforts is a difficult area of research, and there is value in ensuring that people with disability have someone to turn to for support to resolve issues when they arise.

The Blueprint Expert Reference group will be reporting by May 2024 and we’re looking forward to what they recommend for strengthening the non-for-profit sector, and DANA will be sure to pass along any developments affecting disability advocacy organisations.