The Role of Nonprofit Advocacy Organizations in Australian Democracy and Policy Governance


Australia, like many Western liberal democracies, has experienced an unprecedented shift toward market driven policy governance in the past decade, influenced heavily by the demands of globalization but also the dominance of conservative ideas of liberal democracy and market oriented neoliberalism. In this context nonprofit advocacy organizations (NPAOs) have not only been subject to criticism and a reduction in governmental support, but have had their legitimacy challenged and questioned. This paper responds to an audible, visible, and highly contestable critique of NPAOs by exploring their contemporary place and role in Australian democracy. This discussion relies on a review of some key ideas and theories of liberal democracy and an overview of the current Australian context in which NPAOs operate, particularly in regard to their participation in policy governance. A key observation about how integral NPAOs are to ensure an active and open democracy, challenges the current directions of Australian governance and suggests a need for reflection on what actually constitutes a fully functioning democracy that fits the demands of the twenty-first century.


nonprofit advocacy organizations liberal democracy policy governance neoliberalism participation Australia 


  1. ABC (2004). NGOs watching NGOs. Background Briefing, Radio National, March 28, 2004 (Reporter Stan Correy). Available online.Google Scholar
  2. ABS [Australian Bureau of Statistics] (2000). Volunteers make a significant contribution to culture and recreation: Results form the second national survey of voluntary work. Voluntary Work, ABS, Canberra.Google Scholar
  3. ATO [Australian Tax Office] (2005). Is your organisation exempt from income tax? Income tax guide for non-profit organisations. Available online at ATO Website: Scholar
  4. Barns, G. (2003). The IPA is not a suitable body to conduct a review into NGOs. ON LINE Opinion posted August 5: Scholar
  5. Batliwala, S. (2004). Third sector legitimacy and accountability: Why and to whom? Plenary session paper presented to the International Society for Third Sector Research 6th Annual Conference, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, July 11–14.Google Scholar
  6. Bell, D. (2003). Sustainability through democratisation? Assessing the role of environmental NGOs in a liberal democracy. Political Studies Association Conference Papers 2003. Online: Scholar
  7. Bond, M. (2000). The backlash against NGOs. Global Policy Forum website: www.globalpolicy.orgGoogle Scholar
  8. Christensen, J. (2004). Asking do-gooders to prove they do good. The New York Times. January 3, 2004. Available online.Google Scholar
  9. Dahl, R. (1999). Can international organisations be democratic? A skeptics view. In I. Shapiro and C. Hacker-Cordón (eds.), Democracy’s Edges, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 19–36.Google Scholar
  10. D’Cruz, D. (2003). Rebuilding Iraq needs no interference from politically meddlesome NGOs. ON LINE Opinion posted April 28: Scholar
  11. Dryzek, J. (2000). Deliberative Democracy and Beyond, Liberals Critics and Contestations, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  12. Edwards, M. (2003). NGO legitimacy—Voice or vote? BOND Organization. Available online: www.globalpolicy.orgGoogle Scholar
  13. Edwards, M. (1999). International development NGOs: Agents of foreign aid or vehicles for international cooperation? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 28(4), 25–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Edwards, M. (2000). NPAO Rights and Responsibilities: A New Deal for Global Governance, The Foreign Policy Centre in association with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, London.Google Scholar
  15. Frumkin, P. (2002). On Being Nonprofit: A Conceptual and Policy Primer, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  16. Fung, A., and Wright, E. O. (eds) (2004). Deepening Democracy, Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance, Verso, London.Google Scholar
  17. Global Compact Office (2004). Preliminary Report on the Global Compact Leaders’ Summit, United Nations Global Compact. Online: www.unglobalcompact.orgGoogle Scholar
  18. Gibelman, M., and Gelman, S. (2004). A loss of credibility: Patterns of wrongdoing among nongovernmental organizations. Voluntas 15(4), 355–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Held, D. (1994). Inequalities of power, problems of democracy. In M. Muetzelfeldt (ed.), Extending Democracy, Conference Proceedings, Faculty of Arts, Deakin University, pp. 85–97.Google Scholar
  20. Henderson, D. (2001). Anti-Liberalism 2000: The Rise of New Millennium Collectivism, The Institute of Economic Affairs, London.Google Scholar
  21. Higgott, R., Underhill, G., and Bieler, A. (eds.) (2000). Non-State Actors and Authority in the Global System, Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  22. Hirst, P. (1994). Associative Democracy, New Forms of Economic and Social Governance, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA.Google Scholar
  23. Hudock, A. C. (1999). NGOs and Civil Society, Polity Press, Malden.Google Scholar
  24. Hywood, G. (2004). The unelected groups we should scrutinize. Sydney Morning Herald, June 24, Opinion Page.Google Scholar
  25. Johns, G. (1999). NGO’s lazy activism. Australian Financial Review, December 6.Google Scholar
  26. Johns, G. (2000). NGO way to go: Political accountability of non-profit advocacy organisations in a democratic society. IPA Backgrounder 12(3). (Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne.)Google Scholar
  27. Johns, G., and Roskam, J. (2004). The Protocol: Managing Relations with NGOs, Report to the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership, Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  28. Kremmer, J. (2003). Australia scrutinizes influence of non-governmental groups. Christian Science Monitor, September 5.Google Scholar
  29. Leat, D. (2004). In different worlds: Approaches to grantmaking. Third Sector Review 10(1), 129–151.Google Scholar
  30. Lyons, M. (1996). Nonprofit sector or civil society: Are they competing paradigms? Working Paper Series 35, UTS Centre for Australian Community Organizations and Management, Sydney.Google Scholar
  31. Lyons, M. (1998a). From philanthropy to corporate citizenship. Working Paper Series 44, UTS Centre for Australian Community Organizations and Management, Sydney.Google Scholar
  32. Lyons, M. (1998b). Defining the nonprofit sector: Australia. Working Papers of the John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, The John Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  33. Lyons, M. (1999). Australia’s non-profit sector. Year Book Australia, 1999 Special Article, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra. Available on ABS website.Google Scholar
  34. Lyons, M. (2001). Third Sector: The Contribution of the Nonprofit and Cooperative Enterprises in Australia, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, NSW.Google Scholar
  35. Lyons, M. (2004). Helping and harming: The impact of the legal and regulatory environment on the third sector. Keeping Good Companies 56(5), 280–286. (Journal of Chartered Secretaries Australia.)Google Scholar
  36. Maddison, S., Denniss, R., and Hamilton, C. (2004). Silencing dissent non-profit advocacy organisations and Australian Democracy. Discussion Paper 65, The Australia Institute, Canberra.Google Scholar
  37. Melville, R. (2003). Changing roles of community sector peak bodies in a neo-liberal policy environment in Australia. Final Report, Institute of Social Change and Critical Enquiry, Faculty of Arts, University of Wollongong.Google Scholar
  38. Micklewait, J., and Wooridge, A. (2000). Be prepared for the NGO threat. Financial Times, Australia, July 11.Google Scholar
  39. Mulgan, R. (2001). The Accountability of Community Sector Agencies: A Comparative Framework. Discussion Paper 85, Australian National University Graduate Program in Public Policy.Google Scholar
  40. Nahan, M. (2003). US foundation funding in Malaysia. NGO Project Report 1, Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  41. O’Brien, R., Goetz, A., Scholte, J., and Williams, M. (2000). Contesting Global Governance: Multilateral Institutions and Global Social Movements, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  42. Pateman, C. (2003). Participation and democratic theory. In R. Dahl, I. Shapiro, and A. Cheibub (eds.), The Democracy Source Book, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 40–47.Google Scholar
  43. Patterson, Hon. K. (2004). Transparency Maintained for Growing Engagement between Goverment and Non-Government Organisations, Media Release, Former Portfolio Minister, Australian Government: Canberra Scholar
  44. Putnam, R. (2003). Democracy. In R. Dahl, I. Shapiro and A. Cheibub (eds.), The Democracy Source Book, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 157–167Google Scholar
  45. Rawls, J. (2002). Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  46. Shapiro, I., and Hacker-Cordón, C. (1999). Democracy’s Edges, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  47. SMH [Sydney Morning Herald] (2005a). Democracy denied. Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June, p. 1.Google Scholar
  48. SMH [Sydney Morning Herald] (2005b). Senate boss blasts PM’s monarchy. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June, p. 1.Google Scholar
  49. Snavely, K., and Desai, U. (2001). Mapping local government–non-profit advocacy organisation interactions: A conceptual framework. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 11(2), 245–264.Google Scholar
  50. Tandon, R. (2004). Civil society and policy reforms. Civil Society and Governance Programme: Policy Briefs, Civsoc and Governance, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK.Google Scholar
  51. Taylor, R. (ed.) (2004). Creating a Better World: Interpreting Global Civil Society, Kumarian Press, Bloomfield, CT.Google Scholar
  52. Tomar, R. (2003). Redefining NGOs. Current Issues Brief 5, Information and Research Services, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra.Google Scholar
  53. UN [United Nations] (2003). Human Development Report, Millennium Development Goals: A Compact Among Nations to End Poverty, UNDP.Google Scholar
  54. Upadhyay, A. (2003). NGOs: Do the watchdogs need watching. Inter Press Service, June 13. Online: www.globalpolicy.orgGoogle Scholar
  55. VeneKlasen, L., and Miller, V. (2004). A New Weave of Power, People and Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation, World Neighbors Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  56. Warren, M. (2001). Democracy and Association, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
  57. Warren, M. (2004). Informal representation: Who speaks for whom? Democracy and Society, Spring, Centre for Democracy and the Third Sector.Google Scholar
  58. Woodward, S., and Marshall, S. (2004). The more the merrier? Stakeholders in not-for profit companies. Third Sector Review 10(1), 101–128.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Work and Policy StudiesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Social Work and Policy Studies, Faculty of Education and Social WorkUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations