Epitaph for the Charities Crisis Cabinet

As it disbands, CCA CEO David Crosbie pays tribute to the achievements of the Charities Crisis Cabinet, which was conceived and convened at the start of the pandemic.  


Epitaph for the Charities Crisis Cabinet, Pro Bono News, 8 September 2022.

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.
~Albert Einstein

When the pandemic hit most of us struggled to make sense of what was happening.  First came the sudden withdrawal of community contact and the cancellation of many face-to-face events; and then the forced lockdowns, border closures and travel bans.

In the last week of March 2020, the Charities Crisis Cabinet issued its first media release:

“Cabinet co-chair Rev Tim Costello said today, ‘Many charities are facing a battle to survive.  Fundraising activity is grinding to a halt.  Activities that involve bringing people together have ceased.  Volunteers and staff are much less available.  Opportunity shops, churches, group training, fundraising events and socially based community activities are all shut down.  Many charity workers have lost their jobs.  As many as 300,000 could find themselves unemployed.  These are tough times, but if we want Australia to have a vibrant future we need as many charities as possible to survive.’

“Cabinet co-chair Susan Pascoe said, ‘I look forward to co-chairing this cabinet. I hope that by coming together with leaders from across the charities sector, sharing our knowledge and experiences, we will be able to develop strategies to help more charities continue serving their communities.’”

The cabinet had already endorsed a letter to the Prime Minister asking for consideration of seven initiatives:

  1. Offer more security to maintain programs and employment: Governments guarantee not to cut funding to charities over the next 12 months.
  2. Enable flexibility for charities to respond: Charities can vary contract terms to be more responsive to need and new delivery requirements.
  3. Provide additional funding to meet additional demand: in areas like food, shelter, domestic violence, mental health etc.
  4. Offer wage subsidies and other bridging options: Trying to keep as many staff employed in the charities sector as possible through the crisis.
  5. Offer tax incentives to encourage continued support of charities:  Governments could encourage philanthropy by increasing the tax deduction for donations to registered charities.
  6. Provide support for adaptation in service delivery: support registered charities as they adapt their services to the new distancing requirements including shifting their services online and working from home.
  7. Extend support to all charities, big and small:  All donations to legitimate charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission made in 2020 should be tax deductible..

Two and half years since the Charities Crisis Cabinet was established by CCA, it is interesting to look back and think about just how much was achieved.  Charities received JobKeeper at a concessional rate, incentives were put in place to promote philanthropy during the crisis, more government funding was provided to emergency relief services, flexibility was provided to many charities in fulfilling their funding requirements, and some governments offered additional support for digital transformation.

The cabinet did not achieve all these positive outcomes, but feedback from very senior government officials informs us that the Charities Crisis Cabinet played a very significant role in the advocacy to ensure these policies were realised.

The Charities Crisis Cabinet met 44 times, sent more than 20 letters or submissions to government, and provided more than a dozen media releases that were distributed to all Federal politicians as well as the media. The Cabinet ran future planning workshops, met with key people including senior government officials working in community resilience and recovery, and supported many initiatives including loans schemes, digital transformation and the Saatchi and Saatchi Donation Dollar.

In the past week, co-chairs Rev Tim Costello and Susan Pascoe have written to all Charity Crisis Cabinet members informing them that the Cabinet will not meet again, and thanking them for their contributions, wisdom, generosity and collegiality in a period when our sector most needed a step-up in collective leadership.

The cabinet was a remarkable coming together of sector leaders to advocate for charities and the communities they serve at an unprecedented time of global pandemic.

Without Tim and Susan, the support of Cat Fay and Perpetual Trustees, and the backing of CCA staff and board, the Charities Crises Cabinet would not have existed.

Without a group of dedicated selfless leaders from right across the charities sector, the Cabinet would not have achieved so many positive outcomes for charities across Australia.  All participants gave freely of their time, their experience and their insight, and we should acknowledge their invaluable contributions.  I will miss regularly meeting with this remarkable group of people who were so supportive through challenging times.

Sometimes we hang on to our programs, projects, even our organisations for too long.  Knowing when to end is as important as knowing when to start.

The Charities Crises Cabinet’s time is over as we focus our energies and effort on working with a new government looking for ways to reform and strengthen the charities sector and the communities we serve.

We should acknowledge its passing and celebrate both what it represented, and what it achieved.

Members of the Charities Crisis Cabinet

Name Organisation Role / knowledge area
Rev Tim Costello Community Council for Australia Co-Chair
Susan Pascoe Chair, Community Directors Council Co-Chair
David Crosbie Community Council for Australia Secretary
Marc Purcell Australian Council for International Development International development
Dr Lucia Boxelaar

Connie Lenneberg

Brotherhood of St Laurence Social policy/youth
Prof Kristy Muir Centre for Social Impact Research / impact / training
Jon Bisset Community Broadcasting Association Australia Community radio
David Spriggs Infoxchange On-line and digital economy
Sue Woodward Justice Connect Legal and governance
Claire Robbs Life Without Barriers Disability
Denis Moriarty Our Community Smaller charities/ community groups
Ronni Kahn OzHarvest Emergency services
Jack Heath

Sarah Davies

Philanthropy Australia Philanthropy
Karen Mahlab ProBono Australia Media and communications
Paul Ronalds Save the Children Children
Violet Roumeliotis Settlement Services International Migrants and refugees
Doug Taylor

Dr Lisa O’Brien

Smith Family Education
Mark Pearce Volunteering Australia Volunteers
Dermot O’Gorman WWF Environment
Bethwyn Serow Australian Major Performing Arts Groups The arts
Dr Ursula Stephens CEO, Catholic Social Services Aust. Social services


Read in Pro Bono News: epitaph-for-the-charities-crisis-cabinet