Social, Community and Disability Services Sector

29 March 2017

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from the

Australian Services Union, including the assistant secretary in Queensland, Jennifer Thomas, Delisiah Brooks,

Sian Tooker, James Farrell and Kerriann Dear. The ASU represents 135,000 members across a diverse range of

industries in the social, community and disability services sector. These members work hard every day supporting

people experiencing or at risk of experiencing crisis, disadvantage, social dislocation or marginalisation. In short,

these people work on the front line of supporting some of the most vulnerable members of our society. However,

I was very concerned and very distressed at the end of our meeting after learning that local residents in the

electorate of Oxley will be affected by this government's devastating cuts to supporting organisations that the

ASU and their members work with. In particular, I learned about how funding for the community sector is

provided in a chaotic way that disrupts community support, secure work and quality services.

The recent Turnbull government reforms have focused on short-term funding and opening the sector to greater

market forces. Of particular concern, the Productivity Commission's current inquiry into Human Services is

exploring how to increase 'the competition, contestability and user choice' in family and community services.

Just like most things this government does: always looking at how it can punish those at the bottom end of the

scale rather than looking at helping them for the long term. What we are dealing with here are the lives of every

day Australians and the critical support that they need. I find it disturbing that this government is wanting to play

with 'market forces' in determining who and how this support is rolled out. These people deserve to be treated

with dignity and respect and not this government's trickle-down economics policy it seems to be applying across

the board.

Profit motives and cost reductions will inevitably lead to the erosion of the quality services that are provided

to people in need. In a bid to win tenders, organisations may underestimate the true cost of service provision.

This will mean either lower quality services or cuts to the conditions of wages of workers in the sector. Forprofit

providers should be explicitly exempt from providing such services. Every dollar of government funding

for community services should go to supporting people in need, not profits for shareholders.

We also spoke about the important role that advocacy place in the community services sector—an incredibly

important part that members of the ASU and their colleagues play to support vulnerable Australians by speaking

out in support of their challenges. Advocacy is why the community sector has traditionally been funded to do

the vital work it does, so that services independent of government can speak out about broader social problems

facing their clients and put solutions on the table to support vulnerable Australians. I was disappointed and angry

to learn that this government is now dictating, through the use of gag orders, in contracts with the community

service organisations to minimise the type of advocacy that is so important the sector. I witnessed this firsthand

under the former Newman LNP government, which put gag orders in place so that community organisations

could not speak out for some of the most frail and vulnerable in our community. This fits hand in glove with

the rapidly expanding community services sector and how it is important to meet the growing demand with an

effective workforce plan. Instances of homelessness and DV are on the rise whilst awareness about mental health

and the rollout of the NDIS are contributing to this rapid expansion.

In today's House of Representatives, in this parliament, the government used its numbers to make sure that

over 1½ million families would be worse off—not better off, worse off—at the same time the Turnbull Abbott

government has ripped out $1 billion from the community sector; $1 billion of essential need and support.

We know that funding for professional training and development opportunities for workers to increase their

skill set are being reduced. The ASU is working closely with its members to develop minimum standards for

the workplace, including qualifications. However, to work effectively minimum standards would need to be

supported and funded by government, such as training subsidies for relevant TAFE courses. I have spoken in this

place before about the critical need to invest in skills and training through our TAFEs. However, the government

continues to rip out of money from the TAFE system, which disadvantages not only thousands and thousands

of students gaining accreditation but also the community sector, with increasing limitations on opportunities

to further gain skills and training. This is critically important in the disability sector, where the workforce is

expected to double by 2020 in order to meet the demand for services.

It is estimated that an additional 100,000 workers, at least, will be need to be found to support people with

disabilities in the NDIS. In order to attract sufficient workers to meet this demand, disability support jobs must be

secure and well paid, with career paths to retain workers in this sector. The ASU have informed me that the current

NDIS pricing regime is not adequate and that it is based on assumptions made about the nature of disability

support without any consultation with frontline workers, people with disabilities or their representatives. Indeed,

in response to the current pricing scheme many providers are seeking to reduce NDIS workers' pay and conditions.

This will only exacerbate the workforce shortages in the sector and mean less quality and less continuity in

support for people with disability.

The appalling way that the government has treated some of the most vulnerable Australians does not stop here.

It continues through the latest round of community legal aid cuts that this government is relentlessly pursuing.

Community legal aid centres, including the South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre in Inala, are facing

a 30 per cent cut to federal government funding from July this year. These centres provide free legal advice and

information to community members who cannot afford a lawyer and who are not eligible for government legal

aid. The acting director of the Inala centre, Jonathan Ward, said that there is a high demand for the service to

provide advice about family law, domestic violence and child protection issues. Currently, there is a five-week

waiting list for assistance. To put that into context, a 30 per cent cut in funding from 1 July will mean less people

able to access the justice system.

I know that the critical work that this centre does for local residents in and around the south-west of Brisbane

cannot be underestimated. They have had to fight for every dollar that they have had. It was thanks to the

Palaszczuk Labor government that funding was restored, because it was under a conservative, extreme, rightwing

government, led by Campbell Newman, that the doors of the centre were closed. They did not just reduce

funding, they shut the doors. They slammed them shut tight. For all of the talk we hear about empowering

residents and about ensuring that residents under this LNP government have a voice, by delivering a 30 per cent

cut to funding they do not practice what they preach. This is an important issue not only for the South West

Brisbane Community Legal Centre in my home state of Queensland, but for legal centres right across the country.

When I have met with representatives from legal aid, when I have sat with women who have benefited from

the advice, support, direction and assistance, words cannot put into action how important these services are. My

plea to the government and to the Attorney-General is very simple: do not make these funding cuts. For every

electorate in Australia there is a need beyond words for access to justice. For young people and for women's

access in crisis situations, we need to ensure that this funding is kept in place. In the budget that is being brought

down in about a month's time, I call on this government to do the right thing and show some compassion. Make

sure every Australian has the access to justice they deserve.