Thursday, March 21, 2013

Should corporate and business advocates lead NGOs who fight for social justice ?

The  appointment of  Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia  as Chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia is further evidence of the trend towards  the "corporate and business takeover" of the not- for- profit sector in Australia.

This "takeover" occurs in many ways and brings the not-for-profit sector closer to the value, agendas and practices of corporate Australia and the business sectors.

One of the many ways this occurs is through the "revolving door" of business and corporate leaders appointed to senior management positions and the Boards of not- for- profit agencies.

The intent of the "takeover" is to harness the not-for-profit and civil society sector (the non- market sectors) so it adopts and serves (and does not challenge) the interests, visions and hegemony of corporate Australia and business interests.

Jennifer Westacott may be eminently qualified and deeply concerned about the mental health of her fellow Australians.

But the Business Council of Australia, the organization she leads, is actively and forcefully pursuing agendas to slash public spending on social security and social spending and promote privatization of public services.

It is hard to see how the CEO of  the Business Council of Australia, a powerful business and corporate lobby group, who argues, advocates and lobbies for policies that are antithetical and hostile to the social justice agenda of the mental health sector could seriously advocate and fight for the interests of the people and stakeholders the Mental Health Council represents and acts on behalf of.

Who can forget the Business Council's campaign to reduce public spending on income support for people with mental health problems struggling to survive on the Disability Support Pension.

As CEO of the Business Council since 2011 Westacott has been an active player in advocating and lobbying to protect and advance the interests of corporate Australia. She is a forceful advocate for what she calls "unleashing the wealth creating parts of the economy"to allow them to pursue endless economic growth.  This requires that social policy become a fundamental plank of, and subservient to economic policy that is  pro-growth, in other words pro-corporate and pro business. 

In the BCA view of the world social policy and the needs of vulnerable and marginalized people are secondary to the interests of  unleashed and unrestrained corporations and business who they claim are the real drivers of economic growth and social prosperity. The BCA and Westacott view is that business and corporations are the ones that really create prosperity and wealth.

Westacott regularly argues the BCA line that it is only by unleashing economic and business growth that social prosperity and the vision of a good society can be achieved. Westacott argues that the Australian mindset and cultural values has to change to support this unleashing of the power of economic growth.

In 2011 Westacott gave the Sambell Oration for the Brotherhood of St Laurence where she laid out her views about social policy. While she was reflecting the views of the Business Council of Australia,  the speech shows how profoundly her world view and vision is shaped by corporate and business ideas that are antithetical and hostile to a not- for- profit sector committed to social justice.

In the Sambell Oration Westacott called for a new partnership between the NGO sector, Government and business and urged the sector to engage in difficult conversations. The real purpose of those conversations was primarily for the NGO sector to adopt and advocate pro- business and pro- corporate policies of the Business Council of Australia that she argued were necessary to ensure wealth creation and economic growth, and ultimately social prosperity.

Westacott called on the NGO sector to support a new social contract, part of which was built upon accepting the BCA  agenda of :
  • the need for eonomic growth to be unleashed
  • lower corporate and personal taxes
  • removal of any "regulation" that restricts profit making
  • more flexible labour market
  • reducing the size of Government and cutting Government spending
As Bernard Keane argued in Crikey Westacott's interventions in public policy have almost always driven by the self interest of the business community and corporate Australia.

The decades long neglect of the needs and well being of people with mental illness and their family members, carers and people affected has partly been the result of the dominance in public policy circles of the sort of "market fundamentalist" (neo-liberal) policy ideas that Jennifer Westacott and the Business Council of Australia advocate.

What on earth leads NGOs to think that corporate and business advocates and lobbyists who advocate for market fundamentalist policies are the best people to fight for and speak on behalf of some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people?

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