The Baird Government has moved to silence non-government organisations (NGOs), voting down legislation to protect them from being gagged in order to receive funding.

In a draconian move designed to stifle criticism of government policy, the Government today voted down the Non-Profit Bodies (Freedom to Advocate) Bill 2015 – introduced by the NSW Opposition earlier this year.

The Bill sought to prohibit government funding agreements from preventing NGOs from commenting on, advocating support for or proposing changes to state law or policy.

As a result, NGOs who advocate for legislative policy changes can have their funding cut by the NSW Government.

The Howard Government routinely used gag clauses in community sector funding agreements – a move overturned with bipartisan support at the federal level in 2013.

The Newman Government in Queensland also imposed gag laws on community legal centres, and subsequently proposed legislation to that effect in conjunction with funding cuts.

Gag clauses are also bad for government. Often NGOs – particularly those who work directly and collaboratively with the community – can provide a better perspective on the reality of problems than bureaucrats.

The role of NGOs in developing policy was supported by the Productivity Commission’s 2014 report On Access to Justice Arrangements, which highlighted advocacy by community legal centres as an efficient use of resources.

 Quotes attributable to Shadow Attorney General Paul Lynch:

 “This is a short-sighted, draconian move by the Baird Government – effectively trying to blackmail NGOs into silence in order to receive crucial government funding.”

 “Simply put, organisations shouldn’t have to choose between funding or speaking out on policy issues that impact on their sector.”

 “Many NGOs represent the most vulnerable in our community and can give critical insights into policy development in areas such as domestic violence, sexual assault, Indigenous communities and the disability sector.”

 “The Baird Government has a fundamental issue with transparency and by stopping this Bill, it has moved to further shroud government funding contracts in secrecy.”