PM Turnbull: Civil society must be represented at the G20

29th March 2017 by Thomas Howie

Dear Prime Minister Turnbull,

We write to you as leaders of Australian civil society, appointed by the Australian Government to form the Civil 20 Secretariat during Australia’s G20 presidency in 2014. As you prepare to represent Australia in Hamburg, we wish to alert you to the dire reality facing civil society actors in many G20 member states and ask you to raise the issue of the shrinking space for civil society at the upcoming G20 Summit.

According to the CIVICUS Monitor more than 100 countries actively limit the space for, and in many cases violently repress, civil society. Peaceful and democratic civil society organisations – from grassroots movements to large international NGOs– and their staff face undue vilification, threats, arrests, frozen bank accounts, revoked licenses, blocked websites, coerced registrations with government bodies, and the closure of their offices. In many countries today, civil society activists fear for their lives, with many disappearing or murdered at the hands of government or government-supported forces.

Australia has a long and proud history of promoting the important role of strong and robust civil society in advancing social and economic development and securing human rights and social accountability around the world. Through its aid program, Australia has supported transformative civil society strengthening efforts in many developing countries and through ongoing bilateral human rights dialogues, Australian leaders have been steadfast in expressing concerns about the suppression of civil society in many of our neighbouring countries. As Australia continues its campaign for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, we have no doubt that these issues will continue to be a high priority for your Government.

The G20 need a peaceful, organised, and protected civil society to help achieve the goals established through the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. The active engagement of people in all societies contributes to alleviating poverty, protecting the environment, achieving gender equality and countering the dangers of extremism and violence by working with the marginalised and disenfranchised. Repressing civil society creates an unstable economic and political environment and obstructs the transition towards a just, equitable, and sustainable world.

During the past year, civil society organisations from around the world have come together to create a Civic Charter, which clearly articulates the globally established obligations of states to secure civic rights for all people. We hope to see Australia and all other governments around the world acknowledge and fully implement the Civic Charter. As an important step in doing so, we ask you to implore your fellow G20 leaders to ensure that the issue of civil society participation features prominently on the G20 Agenda.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you or to provide further information on this important issue in advance of the Summit. Please don’t hesitate to contact Dermot O’Gorman: 0438 222 114 or to discuss.


Dermot O’Gorman CEO

Marc Purcell CEO
Australian Council for International Development

Dr Cassandra Goldie CEO
Australian Council of Social Service

Tim Costello Chief Advocate
World Vision Australia

His Honour Judge Rauf Soulio
District Court of South Australia

Helen Szoke CEO
Oxfam Australia

Rev. Tara Curlewis Minister
Uniting Church of Australia

Sally Sinclair CEO
National Employment Services Association

Janelle Weissman Executive Director
UN Women National Committee Australia

Colonel Kelvin Alley
The Salvation Army

Greg Thompson Executive Director International
Transparency International Australia

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre