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April 8, 2013 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Democracy Under Threat

Governments put the Ngo in ‘missing out’, says vic academics

A recent report published by two Victoria academics has criticised successive New Zealand governments for ignoring and restraining information that doesn’t fit their agenda.

The report, undertaken by Victoria University academics Dr Sandra Grey and Dr Charles Sedgwick, details government constraints on public debate, and highlights a heavy-handed approach on the part of successive governments.

The conclusions are sourced from 153 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and clear failings of both National- and Labour-led governments are identified. Agencies say these failings have led to a culture of fear and mistrust. Recent UK-based findings show charity organizations in the UK are reluctant to spread views about institutional injustice, particularly against minority groups, for fear of having funding removed by the government agencies who support them. Similar fears exist in New Zealand, as public policy increasingly seems to ignore public opinion and restrict the independence of such organisations.

a Government official involved in NGO-funding allocations believes the views of NGOs are being sidelined. “[The Government] seems increasingly to see these organisations as…’service providers’ [rather than] ‘civil society’ organisations with a right to their own view,” said the source, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Grey and Sedgwick suggest the Government is improperly guiding the voluntary sector into decisions, and it is important to challenge this. This echoes similar findings in Australia, suggesting that the arrangement is a widespread problem for democracies.

This report suggests that implementing a system in which grievances can be fairly heard is not only preferable but necessary. Governments have consistently promoted certain policies for NGOs to follow, ignoring referenda and blocking unwanted information from being released. Grey and Sedgwick hold that it is important to publicly question government agendas in order to not bestow power in the hands of any single group, and to protect the rights of minorities within the community. NGOs have a strong role to play in this aspect of civil society. “Speaking up in unforgiving times is never easy,” the academics say.

“It is more important, now than ever before, to illustrate how governments are constraining, cajoling and capturing the voice of the community and voluntary sectors.” the report, titled ‘Fear, Constraints, and Contracts: The democratic reality for New Zealand’s community and voluntary sector’, can be found on the University website at victoria.ac.nz.

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