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Ministry memo a further attack on community sector

30 September 2004

Health Ministry memo a further attack on community sector

Green MP Sue Bradford says a Health Ministry funding statement recently sent to health and disability NGOs is designed to restrain or even prevent the groups' ability to lobby and advocate politically.

The draft instruction issued by Director General Karen Poutasi for feedback earlier this month says it is aimed at ensuring that the Health Ministry does not fund Non-Government Organisations' lobbying activities. Lobbying is defined as "seeking to influence MPs of whatever Party, over specific legislation under consideration by Parliament or targeting MPs on the development or implementation of policy... and includes making submissions to Parliamentary Select Committees, and otherwise petitioning Parliament."

"The Greens believe this proposal is unacceptable and unfair and will severely restrain the ability of NGOs to do their legitimate work," said Ms Bradford, the Green Party's Community and Voluntary Sector Spokesperson.

"This Health Ministry memo is an attempt to muzzle political criticism which will have a chilling effect on the health and disability sector. It is essential to democracy that these organisations are able to freely lobby on behalf of those they are working for, which include people affected by problem gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, diabetes and obesity and child abuse.

"Disturbingly, it runs directly against the principles outlined in the He Waka Kotuia report of a respectful relationship between Government and NGOs and the other good consultation over the last five years of the Labour Government. A Government body should not be threatening to withhold contracts and funding from this key part of the health system, especially if doing so also risks constraining its ability to carry out a valuable and essential part of its work.

"And this move is arguably quite sinister when placed alongside the Charities Bill presently before the House, which in its current form poses a threat to the political advocacy work of the whole of the not-for-profit sector.

"The Green Party calls on the Government to step in and reverse this memo from the Ministry of Health and also withdraw the Charities Bill. Only then will Labour be able to properly consult with the sector according to its own avowed policies and principles.

"The Ministry is trying to cover itself by implying that it may be OK to lobby, but not if funding from the Government is used for that purpose. But groups will have to prove they have funding from other sources to carry out that function. The danger is that direct funding for political advocacy is hard to find; direct public donations or running a commercial wing are really the only options," said Ms Bradford.


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