Social Wage to Social Enterprise
to Mission Australia
you very much for the invitation to be here today.
For me it is the middle of a much needed break between jobs,
between leaving the Brisbane Institute and starting at the Whitlam
Institute, but March 2001 is also a strategic point in a historical
transition towards a new kind of state and a new process of
there are two reasons for being here at this precious personal time.
First, I have the greatest respect for Patrick and
is also I suspect a paradoxical time.
It is a time when great institutions are going to have to change on
the social side to adapt to the national and global changes that have
occurred in the economics of enterprise, work and commerce. In my last
remarks to the Brisbane Institute, a little more than two weeks ago, I
said that at the moment, having an idea in politics, was a bit like having
a dead fish in your pocket. People either smelled the fish and looked at
you peculiarly, or ignored you and looked the other way.
number of people here will remember my very gentle and friendly speech to
the ACOSS Congress last year in which I encouraged ACOSS to do two things.
I asked ACOSS to form committees of their executive to study a) the
enabling state: that is how our first massive level of social funding as a
percentage of total government spending could be invested into more
constructive, community capacity building activities; and b) social
entrepreneurship: that is the way in which small organisations and
community activists ‘can make a difference' by drawing on private
investment or by re-energising passive or stultifying government
I was gentle, I think. Noel
Pearson has been more brutally honest, because his community is at the
very pointy end of what is, in effect, a complacency about new ideas and
new ways of investing in, and supporting people and communities.
But the point is this, the current complacency about ideas does not
come from our 24-hour media culture, it comes from a fear of the changes
that must inevitably come to our social institutions, peak bodies, welfare
organisations and forms of government just as radically as they have come
to economic institutions over the last two decades.
the centre of gravity shifts, when the whole premise of Australia's
welfare state changes, that is, when the post-war certainty of a secure,
fairly paid, 40 hour a week, 45 year-long job becomes open to a narrowing
class in our society, then the walls come tumbling down. Isn't that what
we are living through? I can understand people grumbling, being afraid and
being suspicious. But I can't
agree with those, who knowing all that has happened, having commissioned
survey after survey of what has happened, are complacent about new ideas,
and about reinvesting social funding into new activities and ways of doing
things that might make a difference. When that happens, when that
complacency occurs, I think we know what's going on. People are defending
their own jobs, their own comfort zones, their own areas of expertise,
ahead of helping others. There is a sense of collusion between an
old-style politician, an old-style bureaucrat and an old-style welfare
advocate or unionist, each of them protecting their own interests.
were a couple of comments published in last Saturday's Courier Mail about
the Brisbane Institute's future direction by Cath Rafferty, director of
the Queensland Working Womens' Centre; Shirley Watters, director of QCOSS,
and Bernice Smith, director of the Youth Affairs Network Queensland.
Rafferty was quoted as saying, the Institute was "possibly
patriarchal", overly focused on new ideas and not enough focused on
"those that society has left behind".
She went on to say "they may well say that’s what Mark
Latham or Noel Pearson were all about … but there are structural issues
which had to be recognised and really thought through, not just with one
bright idea". Shirley
Watters,in beautiful COSS style, followed on by saying "by focusing
too much on the new there is a danger of throwing the baby out the
bathwater and not re-examining what has happened in the past, which should
show a maturity of debate". Watters
wants the past andthe future to be aired in debates at the Brisbane
Institute in the future.
came Bernice Smith, who argued that if the Brisbane Institute were to go
beyond its role as a discussion and information group to a "a
practical stage", then of course she tells us, "they would need
to start talking with peak bodies".
Well I guess my first reaction to Bernice is: Why?
What is so disappointing about these comments is that they are so
lazy and complacent about their own positions and practices.
There is simply no recognition that "structural issues"
always send us back to the same old starting point, cliches and
conclusions. I have spent most of my career thinking about
"structural issues" and I realised after working in so-called
"practical" areas that it was leading me to a dead end.
I started to realise that many of our peak councils have created a
fortress around their thinking in the inner-city of most of our capital
cities. There is a kind of circuit between the welfare bureaucracy and the
welfare governmental bodies that is downright collusive.
of the reason why politicians are in the dark is because these
paternalistic peak bodies bottle up year after year to simply state how
bad things are and then, ask for more money.
Not only does this create a bad political culture, the tragedy, in
a state like Queensland, after a period of majority labour government rule
over the last 15 years, and the prospect of 10 more, is that both sides
know social spending will never, in our lifetimes, create a solution nor,
even if you believed it will, is there the political resolve to lift per
capita social spending up to that of New South Wales or Victoria. It's a
perverse game that is played. Yet we want to re-hearse these tired old
arguments, and not only that, have a go at those who have a few new ideas
about what should be done.
strategic question for
I didn't mean to get so distracted from the main game.
The fact is that of course there's nothing more practical than a
good idea. The idea that I
think Patrick Mc Lure, Noel Pearson, Mark Latham, Andrew Mawson and others
have developed, is that we must start to reinvest a large percentage of
the traditional social wage into social enterprises that are controlled by
communities through new forms of democracy.
I think we're moving away from the paternalistic, bureaucratic, the
welfare state to the active, entrepreneurial, public and privately funded
social enterprise state. The implication of this for Cath, Bernice Shirley
is profound. It means that there is less room for paternalistic and
pastoral advocates and more need for people who have specific business,
organisational skills, andknowledge, and who are capable of nurturing and
creating new enterprises that will create a living wage for people who are
currently missing out.
challenge is to divert both unproductive private and public capital
investment into an array of social enterprises that will operate in areas
as diverse as disabilities and employment creation.
In this new quest organisations such as the Brotherhood of St.
there are, as you know, profound challenges. Last week I attended my first
meeting of Families in Partnership in a year.
Families in Partnership is, as some of you in South West Sydney
will know, the disabilities cooperative that I am very proud to be
associated with. It struck me
that, in working through the difficulties of operating in the space
between public agencies, and the community, between having a voluntary
group of mothers as a Board of Directors, with paid employees, experts and
professionals also working together that we were in fact creating a very
new kind of organisation and in solving these problem of how we work
together, we were breaking new ground.
It takes an extraordinary level of management skills and personal
commitment to make these organisations work and the lessons we learn from
solving them are precious. That
is partly what the social entrepreneurs network is all about. It is about
trying to share the the lessons and the people and the skills that are
currently very precious and in demand across the country.
all of this Mission Australia has certainly been a leader and can I end by
asking you, as the grass roots managers of
thing that the ideologues of the social welfare system have to recognise
is that in our current circumstances the institutions of the old wage
earners welfare state are as repressive and hopeless as any of those
established by the Howard government. It is our job to create new
institutions, new social enterprises that transcend those of the past and
the inadequacies of the present. In that respect, though it may not seem
sometimes seem this way, your jobs are amongst the most important and
exciting that I think there can be. Your job is to give us some hope and
some new ground that we can clamber up on above the rising tide.