Sector Calls for Social Services Stability After Prentice Dumped
14 May 2018 at 5:25 pm
Social sector leaders have called for greater stability in the social services portfolio, after Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services Jane Prentice lost preselection in her Queensland seat ahead of the next federal election.
Prentice controversially lost a preselection battle on Saturday to Julian Simmonds, a Brisbane City councillor who was previously a part of Prentice’s staff.
This has led to severe backlash in Canberra, with Labor leader Bill Shorten attacking the government for a lack of female representation in the House of Representatives – with only 13 women part of the Coalition’s 76 MPs.
“Women politicians in the government are becoming an endangered species,” Shorten said.
“Under Mr Turnbull, the number of women in the government has gone backwards, even from [Tony] Abbott’s time.”
Congrats Liberals – you have just rolled a female minister halfway into her third term, one of only 13 women in the 76 member lower house Coalition team. And for a star…a local councillor who used to be a staffer to a local councillor. That's merit Liberal Party style…
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) May 12, 2018
Prentice was appointed assistant minister for disability services in February 2016, and became assistant minister for social services and disability services in December last year following a cabinet reshuffle.
Her eventual departure as assistant minister adds to a wave of instability in the social services portfolio, with Dan Tehan’s appointment as social services minister last December making him the fourth appointment to the role in as many years.
Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) CEO Ross Joyce, told Pro Bono News that Prentice’s departure would make things more challenging for the social sector.
“It’s fair to say that [Prentice] has been performing well. She’s been a constant force while we’ve had a number of changes with the minister for social services, and that that does sort of make everything topsy-turvy,” Joyce said.
“It means that you have to start again with somebody new. No matter how good they are, you still have to start again and ensure that they’re aware of what the current issues are.
“You also need to be aware from your own perspective how they are going to respond to these concerns. Sometimes that’s an unknown.”
Joyce said he would like to see greater stability in the portfolio in the future.
“From our point of view, we’d like to have some more consistency with what’s happening with the minister and the assistant minister positions within the government,” he said.
“Because we see that as a way of ensuring that we maintain consistent decisions and that they’re fully informed decisions. And I think that’s the difficulty we see in this case, once again we’ll see someone new appointed as assistant minister and we’ve just had Dan Tehan – who’s very good and seems to be doing a good job so far – but he only started in January.
“So assuming the election is either September or early next year, once again we go through another change.”
He added that there had also been a lot of changes within the Department of Social Services itself.
“There’s been a lot of churn and movement of people within that area as well and that just makes it very hard to keep everyone informed and briefed on what the issues are particularly from an membership perspective,” he said.
“So it’s a constant ask of us and our membership to keep informing everybody and to keep making sure that they’re up to speed with what the current issues are.”
The CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA), Mary Mallett, told Pro Bono News she agreed with Joyce that greater consistency within the portfolio was needed.
“When [ministers change], the senior people in the department also change. And both of those things form the full picture of the policy setting and the direction for the disability sector and so that can be a challenge to navigate,” Mallett said.
“For national peak bodies who are doing systemic advocacy on behalf of people with disability, it means we have to keep trying to make sure they understand the issues.
“But the same is true inside the department, that when senior level people change over, you can also lose some ground that you gained… and sort of need to start again.”
She said Prentice has been a strong presence in the sector.
“We are disappointed about [Prentice] losing preselection. We believe she has taken a strong interest in all areas of her portfolio,” Mallett said.
“She has been a stable presence now in the disability sector and has taken a close interest in the NDIS and other disability issues as well, and we’ve been pleased to see that during her time in the portfolio her awareness of disability issues has improved and strengthened.”
Mallett added she would like to see more women on all sides of politics, so the population was better reflected in Australia’s public representatives.
“We’d like to see more women in politics, we’d like to see more people with disability in politics and we’d like to see more Australians from language backgrounds other than English represented in politics as well,” she said.
“Because we believe that the parliament will make better decisions about social issues in particular if there is a broader depth of experience and backgrounds reflected in parliament.”
I don’t agree with her on most things but Jane Prentice is a thoughtful, decent and thoroughly competent Liberal. And of course one of very few women. That there’s no space for her views speaks volumes to the sad state of the LNP. #auspol https://t.co/NdluYXPNRL
— Andrew Giles MP (@andrewjgiles) May 12, 2018
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Prentice has been doing a “fantastic job” as assistant minister, but refused to intervene in the preselection process.
“She’s done extraordinary work, particularly with the disability sector, and she’s a good friend,” Turnbull said.
“But the LNP (Liberal National Party) has a very much grassroots preselection system. There were 370 people attending, 370 members of the LNP.
“I’m told only 18 of them were from the state council, so that was overwhelmingly a local members’ decision, and that is how the Liberal Party around the country operates.”