Budget Must Provide Community Sector Sustainability - ACOSS
29 January 2015 at 10:56 am
Australia’s peak welfare body has urged the Federal Government to focus on restoring revenue by addressing inefficient tax arrangements, rather than through spending cuts to end the “severe uncertainty, chaos and deep confusion” in the sector.
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said the Government must learn the lessons of both underfunding and defunding social infrastructure when considering the next Federal Budget.
In releasing its full Budget recommendations to the Federal Government, ACOSS said the 2014-15 Budget had created serious challenges for the community services sector undermining its capacity to contribute effectively to the health and wellbeing of the nation.
“The context for setting priorities within this (new) Federal Budget presents challenges and uncertainties both for the Government and for community services,” ACOSS said.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie told Pro Bono Australia News that “recent Not for Profit funding decisions by the Department of Social Services have only led to severe uncertainty, chaos and deep confusion among organisations across Australia”.
“There’s deep concern about the level of funding taken away from vital services.
“And equally we are very critical of the unnecessary and difficult process that has led to the current environment for both service clients and community organisations.”
Dr Goldie said she had raised these concerns directly with the Minister, Scott Morrison in a meeting last week.
“I urged him to invest in the supporting the lives of disadvantaged people in Australia,” she said.
“We need reform to secure a sustainable revenue base for adequate funding for those people who need support.
“However people on high income and the wealth must contribute their fair share via the tax system.
“We call on the Government to strengthen its commitment to inclusive growth through meaningful engagement with civil society on the supports and services that the Australian community hold to be essential; and how best we can pay for them through fair and sustainable taxation.
“To do so, we recommend investment in the architecture of an active effective civil society, including through peak representative bodies and positions which ensure that the voices of otherwise marginalised groups are heard in public policy debates and decision-making processes.”
The ACOSS Budget Statement said it was important to remember that community services are highly trusted by the Australian public and make a significant contribution to the nation’s health and wellbeing.
“They address poverty, inequality and disadvantage through well designed and delivered programs. They also provide core value through their involvement with and in communities, contributing to social as well as economic inclusion and ensuring participatory communities,” the statement said.
“We must learn from the historic failure of markets to achieve any of these objectives by continuing to invest in the services that can support people and communities, particularly those affected by poverty and inequality.
“We must learn also the lessons of both underfunding and defunding this vital social infrastructure, with prolonged and sometimes entrenched disadvantage that becomes even harder to overcome.
“Funding for services has been reduced and the legitimacy of activities challenged, particularly in core areas of need across the community. The last Federal Budget saw $51.9 million in savings from community service funding cuts in 2014-15 with projected savings of $57.1 million in 2015-16.”
Dr Goldie said the importance of adequate funding for community services remains paramount.
“Funding must be based on need and driven by effective measures to improve and sustain community outcomes,” she said.
“But no amount of funding can be truly effective if the mechanisms around its delivery remain inconsistent, unpredictable, and undermine the value of that funding either fiscally or through insufficient support for collaboration.
“We welcome the moves by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services towards longer-term funding cycles and the recognition that these are important to achieve better processes around funding.”
ACOSS said policy settings must be based on basic principles of contracting that ensure:
Three to five year timeframes within contracts where possible;
Adequate indexation that is not eroded by efficiency dividends;
Timely decision-making and proper compensation for adjustment to services as required;
Adequate negotiation and rollover periods as existing contracts come to end; and
Transitional assistance for organisational change in any Commonwealth funded social service program that is targeted for structural reforms, to provide a minimum of six months’ notice in the event of funding that is reduced or removed entirely from community service organisations.
ACOSS Recommendation: Index community services funding to wage movements
Ensure funding for the delivery of community services includes adequate price indexation tied to the wage price index.
Costing: $360 million in 2015-16 ($370 million 2016-17)
ACOSS Recommendation: Maintain a national regulatory framework
Maintain a national regulatory framework with compliance-based reporting to a national Charity Register and a communications function that sustains and develops further the confidence in charities and not-for-profit organisations in Australia.
Costing: $50 million in 2015-16 ($52 million in 2016-17)
ACOSS Recommendation: Extend DGR recipient status
Extend Deductible Gift Recipient status to those charities whose dominant purpose is altruistic and for the public benefit.
Costing: $700 million in 2015-16 ($730 million in 2016-17)
“If we have learnt anything from the Australian community in 2014-15, it is the importance of including the community in the process of setting our national priorities,” ACOSS said.
“The 2015-16 Budget is an opportunity to show global leadership in the pursuit of inclusive growth. Inclusive growth will be measured by the extent to which we close the gap in social outcomes across income levels and lift people out of poverty.”
ACOSS said inclusive growth would also be measured by the extent to which the decisions that underpin Australia’s growth are influenced by the involvement of a well-informed and engaged public, including:
Budget priority setting: what should we prioritise for additional investment and where can we make savings while ensuring fairness;
The design of our service system: which services should be available universally, and which targeted to particular groups;
The level of social security that we regard as critical to maintaining human dignity; and
Our collective priorities for infrastructure investment to meet the rapidly changing needs of our population, achieve more liveable communities and to benefit from the possibilities of technology and innovation.
ACOSS Recommendation: Provide adequate funding to national peak representative bodies for disadvantaged minority groups, including young people and refugees and asylum seekers
Adequate funds should be provided to ensure representation of politically marginalised groups at the national level, including reinstatement of funds withdrawn in the 2014-15 Budget.
Cost: $1 million in 2015-16 ($1 million in 2016-17)
ACOSS Recommendation: Fund a full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner
A full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner should be funded to enable effective representation of people with a disability both nationally and internationally.
Cost: $300,000 ($330,ooo in 2016-17)
Read the full ACOSS report here.