LGBTI Funding : The Gorilla

by marfis75

The new funding model for community organisations is impacting all government-funded community organisations, not just LGBTI Health Alliance. I spoke about this on Joy 94.9 earlier today:
Click here to listen.

This “new” model isn’t, in fact, all that new. The current changes were first flagged by Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard, fell off the map under Kevin Rudd, then revived by Tony Abbot and Malcolm Turnbull.

Roughly speaking, LGBTI organisations have had two years to adjust to this new way of doing things, and it’s fair to say not all are coping well. So what the hell have they been doing these last 24 months?

The old way of working looked like this. The government provided two types of funding to “peak bodies”. The first was ‘core’ or ‘secretariat’ funding, which broadly speaking pays for an office, staff and policy development work. The second provides money for short-term specific programs and projects, usually for three years.

In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both Labor and the Coalition agreed that in future the government would stop providing secretariat funding. Peak bodies would now have to get this money from the organisations they service and represent.

So, to take one example, the LGBTGI Health Alliance is supposed to ask the various AIDS Councils etc. for their core funding, not the government. They might, for example charge them an annual subscription.  From now on, the government will only provide, as a spokesperson put it to me, “money for people to actually do things on the ground, not to sit in offices and churn out paper.”

On the surface, that’s a laudable objective. We’ve all run across top-heavy LGBTI “peak bodies” who invite the question, “what do they actually do?” Besides providing an income for career queers, that is. The late and largely unlamented ALSO Foundation, at least in its later years, being a prime example.

But there’s a sting in the tale, and it’s called competitive tendering. The Department of Health (or Foreign Affairs, or Attorney General, or Human Services) will invite organisations to tender for a project, and select a winner.

Imagine if you will, a utopian paradise where the entire LGBTI sector, knowing they would no longer get base funding, knowing they would have to compete for scarce contracts, got together and worked out how to minimize the damage and maximize the gain for everyone. A world in which agreement was reached as to who would bid for what, and at what price. A world in which everyone agreed to pay a regular sub to the peak bodies.

Didn’t happen. Instead they are sometimes bidding against each other and their client organisations. A lot of bad feeling has been generated. The same is happening internally, as factions fight to keep their jobs, and ditch their rivals.

If the government had wanted to silence and cripple the community sector for a while, they could hardly have found a better method.

However – there’s always a however – the LGBTI Health Alliance will probably survive because it serves a function that’s rarely mentioned. Which means it cannot be allowed to die. According to some sources, the Alliance was created to stop ACON from taking over the sector entirely.

Others disagree. As well-known activist Corey Irlam points out “If you go back to the origins of the Alliance you’ll find the proposal, the idea and the initial staff for the Alliance all came from ACON.”

Nevertheless, the rest of the sector was, and remains, wary. Well resourced, with bequests in the bank, ACON has renamed and redefined itself.  ACON is no longer an acronym for “AIDS Council of New South Wales”; now it’s just a name, to reflect the fact that ACON is no longer just about AIDS, but all LGBTI wellbeing. Many believe it dreams of becoming the national gay peak body. The Alliance is seen as a roadblock to any such ambition.

Now that the sector is divided against itself, and the Alliance weakened, is the 900lb Sydney gorilla once again dreaming of controlling the LGBTI landscape? We shall see.

[My interview dates stood me up today: I’ll be following up on them tomorrow!]

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)