frontline vs administration and advocacy?

In last week’s Sydney morning Herald, Michael West’s article, A taxing tale of two peak bodies, notes:

Four days out from Christmas, Blind Citizens Australia (BCA), Deaf Australia, Homelessness Australia and Down Syndrome Australia learned they were to be subject to federal government funding cuts. New Social Services Minister Scott Morrison assured concerned parties that frontline services to the disabled would not be cut, just grants to these and other organisations advocating for the homeless and the disabled.

West goes on to compare this funding cut with the concurrent decision to back away from proposed tax avoidance reform that would have netted more than $600 million from multinational companies, after lobbying from big business peak bodies. The hypocrisy of this decision should be obvious, but let me spell it out.

One of the more mischievous methods of justifying funding cuts is to claim that they will be targeted only at administration and advocacy, and that frontline services won’t be affected. The idea is that all that is being done is to cut down on government waste, and so ensure that our hard earned taxes are properly targeted and spent efficiently.

You hear the same argument used when people consider what percentage of their donation is given directly to charity recipients, and what percentage is used to administer the charity itself. The ideal, it is assumed, is to focus on the former and eliminate the latter. In fact however, frontline services are not in a tug-of-war with the administration of charities but, rather, the two go hand-in-hand. That is to say, effective servicing of recipients of charity is utterly dependent upon the quality of administration. This is not to say that all charities operate at peak efficiency. The solution to waste, however, is not to cut funding, but to conduct audits and help organisations to implement high-quality policies and procedures (another important administrative cost).

I have no connection with and very little knowledge of the organisations targeted by the current round of government cost-cutting. What is certain, though, is that people with Down syndrome, along with those who are blind and deaf, will be negatively affected by cuts to the agencies that provide them with frontline services and advocate on their behalf.

In my view, advocacy is especially important. Since disability is as much a social as it is a physical and intellectual experience, by definition, people with disabilities are socially marginalised, and generally without a public voice. One of the key purposes of disability support groups is to advocate on behalf of their members, and so to ensure that governments and the wider society remember and prioritise the well-being of those among us who are especially vulnerable.

The value of advocacy is proven by the success of big business in having politicians eliminate the mining tax and chicken out on the proposed reforms to the taxation of multinational companies. In this light, the cutting of funding to Blind Citizens Australia, Deaf Australia, Homelessness Australia and Down Syndrome Australia  (among others) is an ominous sign. In cutting their funding we are not only impacting upon frontline services they provide; almost inevitably we are making them vulnerable to future cuts.

After all, with the advocates out of the way (or at least hamstrung financially), who will there be to make the case for disability when next year’s budget comes around?

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • lizknits99
    January 5, 2015 at 9:47 am

    The other thing to keep in mind are the hoops that these organisations are constantly jumping through in order to keep funding or apply for other (usually tiny) grants to keep operating. These take administration and man hours that would be better spend in other areas.

  • Clare Harrison
    January 5, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    I would never have noticed that article had you not pointed it out, or perhaps if I had I would not have tuned in to it’s significance and left it there, awash in the sea of media. It makes me really aware of spinal injuries Australia, and the equipment they have helped us with, after the longest time of struggling on our own. Becoming aware of something is at least the beginning, isn’t it.

  • danclifton72
    January 6, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    When the Newman government came in in qld in 2012 they reduced red tape by sacking 20, 000 public servants. Luckily my job was protected as ‘rangers’ were considered front line staff but we lost 50% of our administration staff. The effect of this is that we now have field rangers doing more and more administrative duties_ and guess what? Rangers do admin poorly.

    Do not buy this line. Reducing admin makes organisation less efficient not more efficient as these functions are still required.

    Make sure you thank your admin staff for the great job they perform – I think their role is undervalued in our society.


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