Charities Fear Funding Cuts Will Follow SA Election
7 March 2018 at 5:20 pm
Key peak bodies in South Australia’s health and community services sector have urged the major parties to protect their funding ahead of the upcoming state election, with fears that “efficiency dividends” will be implemented by the incoming government.
SA’s Labor government announced an “efficiency dividend” in December’s mid-year budget review, to cut departmental funding after a proposed state bank tax failed to get through parliament.
The Liberal Party has indicated it would also use efficiency dividends if elected.
This has led 11 non-government health and community services peak bodies to write a joint letter to the premier, the leader of the opposition and Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST party, calling for a commitment to protect the sector from any funding cuts.
Ross Womersley, CEO of South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS), which is leading the campaign, told Pro Bono News that an efficiency dividend was just a politically convenient way to cut funding.
“Essentially it’s a measure where the government says to departmental heads, ‘you’ve got to save x or y’, and departments then have to make decisions about how they will save that money,” Womersley said.
“It removes it from any ministerial involvement and allows ministers to separate themselves from decisions.
“It seems likely that whoever forms the next government in South Australia will put us in a position where there’s a reduction of available funding, and all parties are likely to use an efficiency dividend as a mechanism for trying to recover expenditure.”
Womersley said the sector had a number of issues with the proposed dividends.
“The first worry that we have is that the description of an efficiency dividend isn’t particularly accurate, because all that happens is that departments spend a whole lot of time working out how to save money, rather than how to make things more efficient,” he said.
“The other issue we have is that the first thing government departments [tend] to do is cut money to non-government organisations, before they cut their own internal services.
“So what we fear, is that there’ll be this massive reduction in funding that’s available to the non-government community services and health sector post-election. And cutting our incomes is going to create substantial challenges for all our services across the sector.”
Other key bodies involved in the campaign have also spoken out against the potential cuts.
Community Centres SA CEO Gill McFadyen said any funding cuts would be devastating.
“The non-government organisations who provide services in areas like family support, financial counselling, crisis accommodation and emergency relief already run efficiently on small operating budgets with dedicated staff and volunteers. Any reduction in funding will simply mean less support for vulnerable people,” she said.
Michael White, the executive officer of the SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services added: “Anyone who knows someone who’s struggling with alcohol or drug dependence, with mental health problems, or who has lost their job and has hit hard times knows the value of our non-government community services, so I don’t think it is a big ask to have certainty that our funding will at least be maintained.”
Womersley said he hoped the letter would elicit a positive response from the major parties.
“We’re hopeful we could get a unanimous agreement from all those parties to quarantine the sector’s funding and ensure we are protected from those kinds of cuts,” he said.
“But as of yet, we haven’t received any confirmation from any of the parties.”
The SA election will be held on 17 March.