10 years ago the Beattie / Labor government began to threaten NGOs with defunding if they dared to speak out on social problems. This was the first blatant move by the Queensland government to introduce censorship to silence the community sector. You would think Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) would have been representing the right of the sector to speak out and promote dissent and constructive criticism as part and parcel of our advocacy work. But unfortunately QCOSS sided with the government in stifling any debate. Even conservative Courier-Mail journalist, Des Houghton was outraged. He wrote an article in the Courier-Mail describing how he gate crashed the QCOSS conference that year and not long after the conference began the executive director of QCOSS politely warned speakers that there was a newspaper reporter in the room. She specifically urged her colleagues to be wary of criticising the government while the Courier-Mail was listening. Houghton described this as “Shameful” and went on to say “this is not only about stopping discussion, it’s about media censorship”.
Fast track forward ten years and now under LNP peak bodies service agreements have been signed that prohibit them from undertaking any advocacy or even having any connection with an advocacy organisation. These contracts are being rolled out across the sector and the draft “Social Services Investment Framework” released by Queensland government earlier this month clearly states the government’s intention to “Ensure the sector understands and meets the terms and conditions of contracting arrangements, including complying with relevant advocacy clauses”.
As the human services sector in Queensland we are at a pivotal point concerning our integrity, our practice frameworks that are based on decades of evidence, and our basic right and responsibility to speak up and advocate for the marginalised people we are supposed to represent is all at risk. Labor, LNP and organisations such as QCOSS have played a key role in getting us to this place. It is now up to us to work out how to get ourselves out of this mess and remaining silent is no longer an option.
If we have become so reliant on funding that has enforced such self-censorship, we should seriously think about changing our jobs. Perhaps in our silence we should contemplate the wise words of Susan B. Anthony who wrote "Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences."