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Tamed or Trained? The Co-option and Capture of “Favoured” NGOs
In the past ten years in Australia, a growing climate of hostility toward, and critique of, Australian non-government organisations (NGOs) or non-profit organisations has developed. Recognised as a significant shift in a broad view of the role and nature of NGOs by the Australian government in particular, current relationships between the Australian government and NGOs have undergone close scnltiny. Recent Australian third-sector research has also demonstrated that NGOs are experiencing a muting effect through the directly critical position of the government on their advocacy role. However, there are some NGOs that stand out as 'favoured' organisations and, from a public perspective, appear to have been selected to make policy contributions to and carry out Australian government programs. Based on a recent, comprehensive examination of governmental and ministerial media releases, speeches and reports of the past ten years, NGO reporting and broader media reports, this paper explores ideas about which NGOs are 'favoured' under the current Howard government. It also explores two effects of the current government s policies and political positions on NGOs, and explores the idea that these effects are manifested as either 'taming' or 'training' as a means of controlling the behaviour and influence of NGOs. The paper also discusses some of the effects of that favour on other NGOs that have traditionally functioned as lead advocacy organisations or peak bodies. Focusing on specific areas, such as welfare and the environment, this paper examines the implications for the broader role of NGO advocacy in policy governance. This discussion also adds to a wider debate about the importance of advocacy organisations in Australian democracy, and how selective influence demonstrates one of the limitations ofrepresentative and parliamentary democracy, particularly when it effectively reduces a pluralist approach to government.