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The New Operating Environment

Sep 06, 2018

You’d be right if you were unsure why all the leadership shenanigans happened in Canberra two weeks ago. Most veteran political commentators are still trying to work it out too.

But fathom it we must, as we need to work out how to navigate the new government and (if you own a really good crystal ball) what might happen in the next few months.

We have become so well-versed at leadership spills in Australia that we run the risk of either dismissing them or failing to understand what they might mean for the not-for-profit sector. That’s a big mistake.

The key driver behind changing leaders is to upgrade to a shinier model. Why? Because the old one has lost the support of their party and, we assume, the electorate. This spill has been brutal, and its fall-out is still emerging.

Part of the reason Australia’s prime ministers have such quick use-by dates these days is driven by the enormous disruption we have seen over the last 10 years, with immediate access to information that sustains the news cycle 24/7.

Disruption has certainly intensified the conflict cycle, compressing it into smaller, louder, bite-sized bursts – and those interminable interruptions have a critical impact on our national political decision-making.

The fact is, conflict underpins our democratic processes. It’s key to settling different viewpoints.

The demand for “new” and “now” in the news cycle – where minute-by-minute developments are reported in real-time on all manner of platforms – means the usual checks-and-balances and due diligence in decision-making, as well as advocacy that the sector does so well, are constantly disrupted.

The frustration for us is that these disruptions impact on real stuff – outcomes with governments changing ministers, changing course, and shifting policy to avoid voter backlash – all simply to create a new shiny thing.

Like it or not, this is our new standard operating environment – at least for the time being.

Where does this leave us right now?

  • We don’t really know when the next election will be but it’s more likely to be next year rather than this year.
  • Your organisation needs simple, good-to-go ideas that you can put in front of government, opposition, crossbench and independent MPs that they can pull off-the-shelf and deploy. If they come with a small or budget neutral impact all the better.
  • The new government – and opposition – will be looking for quick wins to help them reach out to micro stakeholder groups. After-all, elections are won by a whole lot of individuals changing their vote at the same time, often for a wide range of reasons.
  • Think of positive announcements or events they can join you on to capture their interest.
  • Get to know the new players in the Morrison government – there’s been several key changes in the new cabinet and ministry lineup that impact on the sector.
  • It’s important to remember that with a shift of ministers there is also a shift of advisers.
  • Do your research on the new ministers, approach their offices and speak to their advisers. Put forward constructive, simple ideas and you’ll get a positive response. At this stage in the cycle attention spans are very short. I always say it’s their day job and they’re duty bound to speak to you – be polite and you’ll make inroads.
  • While both government and opposition are squarely focused on the election your organisation should not recoil from putting forward major policy ideas – just make sure they’re based on solid data and outcomes, and are well articulated.


Key ministry changes to note:

  • Dan Tehan has shifted from the Social Services ministry to become minister of education.
  • Paul Fletcher has entered Cabinet as the minister for families and social services.
  • Michael Keenan continues as minister for human services but the portfolio has been moved out of Cabinet.
  • Importantly, Senator Zed Seselja shifts to assistant minister for treasury and finance with responsibility for the not-for-profit and mutuals sector including the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.


This article was first published on Pro Bono Australia

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