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New ACOSS report confirms Budget fails fairness test

23 May 2015

A new report released today by the Australian Council of Social Service shows that, by keeping most of the 2014 savings measures and delivering new cuts, the 2015 Budget would strip an estimated $15 billion over four years from basic services and supports, with total projected cuts of $80 billion from health and schools funding to the States over the next decade.

"Last year's devastating Federal Budget casts a long shadow that undermines some advances made in this year's Budget," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. "There is a fair alternative path to budget repair - including through structural tax reform - but unfortunately the best options have been ruled out by the Government in advance of the taxation review.

"While ACOSS welcomed the $3.5 billion new investment in early childhood education and care and a more sensible road to pension reform, the overall Budget fails the fairness test because it delivers an estimated $15 billion in spending cuts, with new cuts to child dental and community health programs in this Budget on top of retained savings from the last Budget.

"It is disappointing that the Government appears to be retreating from its commitment to pursue comprehensive tax reform, which is vital to provide the revenue future Governments will need for essential services. People on modest incomes will pay for inaction on tax reform when they need health care, to send their children to school, lose their jobs or retire.

"This year's Budget not only failed to reverse the severe cuts to payments and programs from the previous budget, but directly linked unfair changes to family payments to new spending on child care in the current Budget. The cut to Family Tax Benefit Part B to single income families with children over six years would result in income losses of $49 per week for single parent families or more for those with older children. This cut will have dire consequences, particularly when taken together with the freezing of family payments indexation - a condition for the new investment in child care - given that a third of sole parent families are already living in poverty.

The combined impact of the two budgets includes:

  • $126 million cut from child dental programs;
  • $1 billion cut in health funding;
  • $6 billion cuts to family payments;
  • a combined $80 billion over 10 years for hospitals and education;
  • $1 billion in cuts to vital community services for the people in greatest need around the country, such as those experiencing financial crisis or family breakdown, children at risk, vulnerable young people, new mothers and babies, people facing eviction and homelessness, carers in need of respite, those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and those with mental health problems, including $500 million from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and programs;
  • $674 million from affordable housing and homelessness programs.

In stark contrast, the government has made only modest efforts to raise revenue through fair changes to taxation, and the only significant measure is temporary:

  • $3.1 billion Temporary Deficit Levy
  • $295 million capping of meal and entertainment benefits
  • $845 million tightening of car expenses.

 

"The Government now proposes to reduce the six month wait for unemployment payments for young people to one month, yet neither policy has been justified, especially at a time when unemployment is rising. The modest investment in school to work transition programs is welcome but proposed reductions to youth payments should be withdrawn."

"ACOSS is also concerned by misleading information contained in the Budget papers about the level of assistance being received by some disadvantaged families. A budget table comparing the disposable incomes of different households inflates those of low income families by including child care fee assistance, without factoring in the costs of care. The result is to overestimate the disposable income of a single parent family with 2 children and private earnings of $30,000 by over $16,000. There can be no doubt that this family of three whose disposable income is actually $49,994 needs income support to keep their children out of poverty.

"While this Budget cemented the damaging cuts that will harm people on the lowest incomes, it took little action to strengthen public revenue. We are mystified as to why the government would rule out changes to unfair tax concessions for superannuation and indicate little appetite for reform of negative gearing and capital gains tax, after announcing a review of taxation with 'everything on the table'. A lack of action on the revenue side guarantees that future governments will have no option but to cut more deeply into health and community services or ramp up user charges for essential services.

"This Budget also failed to drive the necessary reforms to improve housing affordability and access to universal services or to drive investment in the jobs and industries of the future. We are particularly disturbed that the Government failed to take steps to address the serious gaps in our social safety net including the low rate of allowance payments and the inadequate indexation of allowances and family payments (which are still indexed to the CPI only).

"The retention of most of the 2014 budget cuts and lack of action to strengthen public revenue tips the scale on the negative side of the fairness ledger as it effectively means that the most disadvantaged and struggling individuals and families in our community are being asked to shoulder the responsibility for restoring the Budget," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando De Freitas 0419 626 155


DOWNLOAD ACOSS Budget Analysis


Summary of harmful cuts


The 2015-16 Budget included new cuts to a number of supports and services which will directly impact on people on low and moderate incomes:

  • Reduced funding to child dental health programs saving $126 million/ 4 years;
  • Cuts to health funding likely to undermine the capacity of community health organisations and services saving $963 million/ 4 years;
  • Reduction in funding of remote housing programs of $95 million/ 4 years.


This Budget also affirmed the Government's commitment to the following major savings measures from the 2014-15 Budget which disproportionately affect people on low and moderate incomes:

  • Limiting Family Tax Benefit Part B to single income families with children under six years which will result in income losses of at least $49 per week for single parent families;
  • Freeze family payment rates for two years and reduce supplements, which will result in lower payments over time for low income families;
  • Cuts to funding for hospitals and education to state and territory governments;
  • Removal of Federal funding for state concession schemes;
  • Change to the eligibility age for Newstart, which will require young people who are not employed to rely on the lower Youth Allowance for longer (this measure has been delayed by one year);
  • Freezing of the free area for Allowances from 2014-27 which will reduce incomes and work incentives for those working part-time (noting that the Government has abandoned moves to freeze the pension free area, instead increasing it, but is still committed to freezing the Allowances free area);
  • Abolition of the Pensioner Education Supplement will result in losses of $40 per week for eligible recipients, including many sole parents;
  • Extend the pension eligibility age to 70 years by 2035;
  • Cuts of approximately $1 billion (over 4 years) to community services, including approximately $500 million in cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and programs;
  • Cuts to affordable housing and homelessness programs totaling $674 million over four years, and the resulting loss of 12,000 affordable housing dwellings.


The Government has abandoned or amended the following major savings measures from the 2014-15 Budget:

  • The 6 month waiting period for young people under 30 years to access income support has been amended to a one month waiting period;
  • Indexing pensions to CPI instead of wages; freezing income and asset test free areas for pensions (the freeze remains for allowance payments) and lowering of deeming rates for payment tests (abandoned in favour of changes to the asset test free area and taper rates for pensions);
  • The $7 GP co-payment.

ACOSS on Budget 2015: Better direction but lower income earners still doing the heavy lifting

12 May 2015

Speaking at tonight's release of the Federal Budget, ACOSS said it shows some improvements in strategy, with a fairer approach to pension reform and increased investment in child care. But the overall package retains many harsh cuts from last year's Budget and will leave many people on the lowest incomes worse off. The Budget also fails to stimulate investment in jobs growth.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "We were looking for the Government to chart a different path from last year's divisive and unfair Budget. The pension changes, youth employment strategy and higher investment in child care show the way forward and are a welcome change of direction, reducing the Budget deficit without creating a fairness deficit."

"However, the Budget should be assessed as a whole - not just the changes announced tonight - and last year's Budget still casts a shadow over this one.

"Welcome measures in 2015 like investing in child care are linked to unfair measures like 2014's family payment cuts; and the Government has yet to find alternatives to cutting health, education, community services and family and youth payments for its savings measures. On the whole people on low incomes are still left to do most of the heavy lifting.

On the key measures, ACOSS said:

"The Families Package is at the heart of this Budget, and increased investment in child care is overdue and welcomed. Yet key features leave it unbalanced and unfair, relying on cuts to family payments for low income families, and providing overly generous subsidies to families on high incomes. Many children in low income families will lose 12 hours a week of early childhood education that helps improve their life chances. Meanwhile the Paid Parental Leave scheme change comes out of the blue and takes us backwards in the search for short-term savings.

"On the part Pension, we strongly support the reforms to the assets and income tests and applaud this change in direction. We now need a similar approach to superannuation reform, which is equally important in building a strong and durable retirement income system. We must get value out of super tax concessions, then benefits of which remain unfairly skewed towards high income earners. Super remains serious unfinished business.

"The Government's Youth Employment Strategy is also a move in the right direction. Investment in school-to-work transition programs to help vulnerable unemployed young people shows the Government has listened to community concerns about the ending of the Youth Connections scheme. Regrettably, instead of reversing last year's proposal to make young unemployed people wait six months for income support, it is reduced to one month and applied to a younger cohort (under 25). There is no justification for this measure.

"We are also pleased to see more flexibility in Wage Subsidies for unemployed people. Together with the BCA and ACTU, we have advocated for the expansion of this program.

"However, the Budget has not gone far enough in providing a strong Jobs Plan or investment in skills. Tax cuts and other small business measures will not stimulate the productive economic activity we know is needed to create new jobs.

"The Budget also leaves gaping holes in the social safety net. Missing in action is any fix to the low rate of allowance payments and the indexation of allowances and family payments (which are still indexed to the CPI only), the continuing lack of investment in affordable housing; and the loss of funding for vital policy, advocacy and service delivery across social services, health and legal assistance and in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

"We support a credible path back to surplus. However, if we fail to strengthen public revenue now, future governments will be forced to make further spending cuts in the future.

"The community is still looking for leadership from the Government to deliver structural reforms in crucial areas of public priority: jobs and skills, health, community services, and retirement incomes.

"Tax reform must be the next priority for responsible, fair and measured action. This Budget should have begun the work to safeguard the social safety net into the future, by trimming unfair tax concessions for superannuation and reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks.

"Now is the time for the Government to lead a staged reform process to secure a sustainable revenue base and enable investment in essential social and economic infrastructure," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Read more:
ACOSS Budget recommendations:
Budget must chart a fairer path back to surplus: ACOSS

ACOSS response to Families Package:
New child care investment welcome, but overall package is unbalanced and unfair

ACOSS response to Pension Reform:
Step in right direction on retirement incomes, much more to be done

Community sector response to Federal Budget - doorstop

12 May 2015

Who: ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and representatives from Australia's Community Sector
When: 10.30am Wednesday, May 13, 2014
Where: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will be joined by representatives from national charities and community sector organisations to provide a comprehensive response to the Budget at a press conference at 10.30am on Wednesday morning, in the Senate Courtyard of Parliament House in Canberra.

The groups will provide their reaction to announcements in the Budget which impact on people living on low incomes and others who are vulnerable in our community.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Attendees at the press conference include:
• Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
• Ian Yates, Chief Executive, Council on The Aging
• Samantha Page, CEO, Early Childhood Australia
• Terese Edwards, CEO, National Council of Single Mothers & their Children
• Leo Fieldgrass, National Director, Australian Youth Affairs Coalition
• Matthew Wright, CEO, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
• Therese Sands, CEO, People with Disability Australia
• Michael Smith, Chair, National Association of Community Legal Centres
• Marc Purcell, Australian Council for International Development
• John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
• Marcelle Mogg, CEO, Catholic Social Services Australia
• Olympia Yarger, Media Advisor, Family and Relationship Services Australia
• Kate Beaumont, President, National Welfare Rights Network
• Mary Mallett, CEO, Disability Advocacy Network Australia
• Ara Cresswell, CEO, Carers Australia
• Glenda Stevens, CEO, Homelessness Australia
• Carol Croce, CEO, Community Housing Federation of Australia
• Kelvin Alley, National Secretary, The Salvation Army National Secretariat
• Roland Manderson, Deputy Director, Anglicare Australia
• Susan Helyar, Director, ACTCOSS
• Jo Briskey, Executive Director, The Parenthood

More information:

ACOSS Budget recommendations:
Budget must chart a fairer path back to surplus: ACOSS


ACOSS response to Families Package:
New child care investment welcome, but overall package is unbalanced and unfair

ACOSS response to Pension Reform:
Step in right direction on retirement incomes, much more to be done

New child care investment welcome, but overall package is unbalanced and unfair

11 May 2015

Responding to the announcement of the Federal Government's ‘Jobs for Families' package, ACOSS has welcomed the effort to simplify and strengthen the early childhood and education system but challenged the overall fairness of the package.

"These changes to child care announced yesterday will deliver a simpler system and increased investment in early years education and care. This is welcome. However, the benefits of the package will not be fairly shared," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"As a total package, the reforms to family and child care payments are unbalanced. Very low income families are being asked to foot the bill for generous subsidies to those who are already doing well financially. In addition, the package does not strike the right balance between workforce participation and child development, with some vulnerable children worse off.

"ACOSS broadly supported the Productivity Commission's model for structural reform of the payments system and is disappointed that the Government has rejected key elements. Specifically, the Commission recommended that families on high incomes receive a base subsidy of 20% of the benchmark costs of care. The Government has instead announced it will adopt a 50% threshold for families on incomes of $170,000 and above. This has significantly increased the costs of the package, which the Government is now seeking to pay for through cuts to family payments.

"It is difficult to reconcile the generous assistance being extended to families in the top 25% of incomes with the severe cuts to payments for families struggling to make ends meet. The package includes the cuts to family payments announced in the last Budget, up to $60 a week for single parent households, while reducing child care subsidies for families locked out of paid work.

"We agree with the Government that child care subsidies are not welfare payments, but they should be targeted to those who struggle with child care costs. Above all, child care subsidies are an investment in the education of young children.

"Harsh activity tests will mean that children in disadvantaged families will have their access to early childhood education halved from 24 to 12 hours a week. This flies in the face of all the evidence about the importance of early childhood education on childhood development and lifelong learning. This is a short-sighted reform which will do nothing to support parents to get a job. If anything, it will place yet another barrier in the way for parents who are looking for paid work.

"Australia spends less on early childhood education and care than most OECD countries: 0.6% of GDP compared to the OECD average of 0.7%. Additional investment in the system is therefore a priority, but it must be targeted to those who most need and will benefit from it.

"We welcome the additional support for at risk and vulnerable children and for those with special needs through the additional Child Care Subsidy and Inclusion Support Program, but believe that the activity test should be reformed so that all children can access a minimum of 2 days early childhood education per week.

"We are also anxious to ensure that services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families are strengthened in this reform process.

"The announcement of further changes to Paid Parental Leave is unexpected, and will leave many Australian families worse off than their overseas counterparts. The Government scheme was always intended to complement workplace schemes and together these programs brought Australia closer to 26 week minimum provided in many other OECD countries.

"ACOSS is very concerned that this package, the centrepiece of the 2015-6 Budget, does not meet the fairness test. We call on the Government to rethink and refocus this package to improve the lives of families locked out of paid work and the life chances of their children," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS Briefing Note: Reform of child care and family payments.

Budget must not forget the unemployed: 83% don’t have enough to live on

9 May 2015

On the eve of the Federal Budget, ACOSS and the state and territory Councils of Social Service have urged the Commonwealth Government to urgently address the gaping holes in Australia's social safety net, releasing new research showing that people on the low unemployment payment and Youth Allowance continue to fall behind.

The report, ‘Payment adequacy: a view from those relying on social security payments', is based on a survey of more than 600 people receiving income support payments. It highlights the plight of people living on the lowest income support payments, Newstart and Youth Allowance, with 83% saying they don't have enough to live on, including one in five reporting they are unable to afford basic essentials like housing, food and electricity.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "We know that everybody who relies on income support to keep their head above water is doing it tough, but our findings confirm that people on working age payments, including Newstart/Youth Allowance, Parenting payments and Disability Support Pension, are struggling the most.

"We know the impossibility of trying to survive on $37 a day on Newstart or $30 a day on Youth Allowance. Nearly half of those on Newstart or the Youth Allowance report having unsustainable levels of personal debt, owing more than they can afford.

"Our survey also found high levels of financial stress and deprivation among people living on the Disability Support Pension and the Parenting Payment, who face higher living costs due to disability or the costs of raising children", said Dr Goldie.

"Thirty two percent of people receiving the DSP reported going without meals in the past 12 months in an effort to save money and more than half could not afford Christmas presents.

"Housing stress is a significant issue with one in five people on the DSP paying more than 50% of their income on housing, and 24% of single parents spending half their income on housing costs.

"Governments have a duty to provide a safety net for those who need it. The reality is that we've allowed holes to develop in this safety net, with vulnerable groups falling through the cracks. Our budget challenge requires that we target spending carefully and take steps to strengthen the revenue base so that we can increase support for those being left behind.

"ACOSS has welcomed the important recognition by the Government that CPI indexation is inadequate for pensions. The time has come to apply consistent indexation to wages to other vital income support payments, including allowances and family payments.

"The Government must take the 2014-15 Budget cuts to young people and low income families off the table. But that is only a first step. We will also be looking to this budget to deliver a better quality of life for people on working age payments, including greater financial assistance and support for those who are unemployed." Dr Goldie said.

Download Full Report

See ACOSS Employment Proposals for 2015 Federal Budget


Media Contacts:
ACOSS - 0419 626 155
ACTCOSS - 0448 791 987
NCOSS - 0412 867 658
NTCOSS - 0418 482 660
QCOSS - 0423 245 252
SACOSS - 0418 805 426
TasCOSS - 0419 361 915
VCOSS - 0418 127 153
WACOSS - 0422 422 438

Summary of key findings
Adequacy of payments

  • 83% of respondents on Newstart/Youth Allowance do not consider it enough to live on.
  • 80% of respondents on Disability Support Pension, 73% on Parenting Payment and 78% of respondents overall do not consider their payments enough to live on.

Financial stress and deprivation

  • 44% of respondents receiving Newstart or the Youth Allowances and 37% on DSP have unsustainable levels of personal debt, reporting that they owe more than they can afford.
  • 52% of respondents receiving the DSP reported not being able to afford to buy Christmas presents.
  • 43% of respondents receiving the DSP and 37% of those receiving the Newstart or Youth Allowance reported not being able to afford dental appointments or procedures in the last twelve months.
  • 32% of respondents receiving the DSP had gone without meals in the last 12 months in an effort to save money, compared with 24% of respondents receiving the Newstart or Youth Allowance and 19% receiving Parenting Payment.
  • The majority of all working age payment recipients reported turning off heating or cooling in an effort to save money.
  • Respondents receiving the DSP reported the highest levels of concern of all payment types about the cost of health and medical expenses (72%), electricity (71%), and food (62%).
  • The top five most common items that respondents had gone without in the last 12 months due to lack of finances were: Buying Christmas presents (31%), Dental appointments or procedures (30%), Car Service (27%), Buying presents for a loved one's birthday (22%) and Medical appointments or procedures (19%).

Housing stress

  • More than a quarter of respondents on the Newstart Allowance are in ‘housing crisis', spending more than 50% of their incomes on housing costs, along with 25% of respondents on the DSP and 24% of those on Parenting Payment.

Capacity to save

  • More than one in four respondents receiving Newstart spend more money than they receive each week, with another 48% reporting to ‘break even'.

Perceptions of living standards

  • One in five respondents receiving the Newstart or Youth Allowance reported not having enough money for basic essentials like housing, food and electricity.
  • 73% of respondents on DSP and 63% on Newstart Allowance reported their income had fallen behind the cost of living in the last two years.
  • 32% of respondents on Newstart or the Youth Allowance describe themselves as poor or very poor, compared with 23% on DSP and 9% on of Age Pensioners.

Step in right direction on retirement incomes, much more to be done

7 May 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the Federal Government's decision to drop its unfair proposal to cut the indexation of all pensions and instead tighten access to part-pensions for people with substantial assets. ACOSS is also calling for broader social security reform to improve adequacy and indexation of the lowest payments and for action to reduce the cost of superannuation tax breaks.

"We are pleased the government is listening to the community on this important issue. It wasn't fair that people on the lowest incomes faced cuts to the maximum rate of pension while a couple with over a million dollars in assets other than their home still received part pensions and concessions," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"This is a modest step in the right direction but much more work will need to be done so that future Governments can afford health and aged care services for an ageing population. ACOSS will closely examine the Government's proposal to assess whether it meets the goals of an adequate pension for those who need it while making sure the payment is sustainable into the future. The proposal partly reverses a decision to ease the assets test by a Government in 2006, which was neither fair nor sustainable.

"The Government must also look to the revenue side of the Budget, especially the over-generous superannuation tax breaks which make paying income tax voluntary for many retirees with substantial income and assets. As ACOSS has argued for many years, and as is now widely acknowledged, superannuation tax breaks are skewed towards high income earners with the top 10% receiving a third of their overall value. Superannuation should be a tool to manage income in retirement not a tool to avoid paying income tax.

"There is much unfinished business in social security reform that should also be tackled in the Budget. The decision to maintain indexation of pensions to wage movements is welcome but people receiving Newstart and other Allowance payments and low income families on Family Tax Benefits do not benefit from this. That means their incomes are falling behind those in the community generally, and Newstart Allowance is $170 a week less than the pension. The assets tests for Allowance payments and Parenting Payments should also be reviewed.

"We have consistently called for an increase in Newstart and related payments. We also propose (and the Government has partly endorsed) the idea that the adequacy of social security payments should be regularly reviewed by an independent advisory body. The cuts to indexation of Family Tax Benefits for low income families in 2009 should also be reversed, so that indexation to wage movements as well as prices is restored.

"We'll also be looking for the government to take off the table other harsh measures in last year's Budget, particularly longer waiting periods for unemployment payments for young people and reductions in family payments for low income families.

"In addition, the Age Pension access age, which the Government proposed to increase to 70 years in the last budget, should not be increased until Newstart and other allowance payments are substantially increased, the preservation age raised to parity with the Age Pension access age (with appropriate early access arrangements for those who need them) and a package of reforms introduced to improve employment services and ease age discrimination.

"As we have said consistently, Australia does have a serious public Budget problem. In dealing with this problem, the Government should not tie one hand behind its back by ruling out tax reforms that strengthen public revenue and deliver fairness and efficiency at the same time, such as proposals to curb tax deductions for negatively geared investors," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Budget proposals:
Budget must chart a fairer path back to surplus: ACOSS

Vilification of ‘struggle street’ is commonplace in Australian media and must stop: ACOSS

5 May 2015

The Australian Council of Social today joined the growing chorus of voices calling for the suspension of the SBS documentary Struggle Street, adding that degrading and insulting portrayals of people doing it tough in our community is commonplace in large sections of the Australian media and must stop.

"While SBS has been rightly called to account by the local community about the way in which this documentary has been produced and the end product, this is not an isolated incident," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS, and many of our member organisations in the community sector, has been deeply concerned about this issue for a long time - the misrepresentation of whole groups of people and local communities, particularly people struggling to survive on low income support payments, including sole parents and people on the Disability Support Pension, or experiencing personal challenges.

"Sadly vilification of people on ‘welfare' continues to be a feature of our commercial media landscape and it's extremely disappointing that SBS should seek to follow suit in this documentary, especially when the special broadcaster is usually one of the most sensitive to the issue of poverty and disadvantage in much of its programing.

"Many of our members have raised these issues with media outlets and the Australian Press Council over the years. ACOSS has also raised it with successive governments, particularly when it has involved government departments like Centrelink providing networks with undercover footage identifying people of suspected fraud activity before people have appeared in court or convicted of any charges.

"It's also been striking to us that despite the very low levels of overall fraud among people on income support (0.02%), it invariably seems to attract disproportionate coverage in influential sections of the commercial media in ways that demean all people on income support payments.

"We have been heartened by the overwhelming reaction to this SBS documentary - from the local community, the wider community and media outlets themselves. We particularly applaud the local participants and the Blacktown Local Council for taking a stand, and we stand with them.

"We urge SBS management to listen to the local Blacktown community and immediately suspend the planned broadcast until the participants are shown the documentary in full and had their views heard about its contents before it goes to air.

"Our hope is that we can use this sorry episode for a conversation about the important role of the media in documenting and portraying individuals and communities experiencing hardship. It's time to draw a line on reporting and portrayals that seek to mock, degrade, insult and do damage to people and divide our community," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

ACOSS to appear before Senate Inquiry on impact of devastating community services cuts

21 April 2015

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO, and Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, ACOSS Deputy CEO

When: 1.45-2.45pm Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Where: Parliament House, Canberra

ACOSS representatives will appear before a Senate Committee today inquiring into the impact of the Commonwealth Government's $1 billion cuts to community services.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine will tell the Senate Standing Committees on Community Services the impact of these cuts is already being felt by people on the lowest incomes being felt right across the country.

Watch the hearing streamed live here.

For more information on the cuts:
http://acoss.org.au/take_action/community_sector_funding_cuts/

ACOSS Submission to Inquiry:
http://acoss.org.au/images/uploads/DSS_Senate_Inquiry_ACOSS_submission_2015.pdf

More information on the Inquiry:
Public hearing into the impact on service quality, efficiency and sustainability of recent Commonwealth community service tendering processes by the Department of Social Services - Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

New Report calls for action on Negative Gearing and Capital Gains Tax

16 April 2015

In a new report released today, ACOSS is calling for action to restrict tax deductions for negatively geared property investments and the 50% discount on Capital Gains Tax, that are together costing the Budget $7 billion a year and fuelling housing price booms.

The report, ‘Fuel on the fire: Negative gearing, Capital Gains Tax and housing affordability', dispels the myths that negative gearing makes rental housing more affordable and that the benefits mainly go to ‘mum and dad' investors on middle incomes.

"Negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks must be front and centre in the tax reform conversation. It's vital that the Government not rule out necessary reform in this area. This area of tax policy is shrouded in myth and those myths should be dispelled so that a sensible discussion can begin. That's the purpose of this ACOSS Report," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Negative gearing and the tax break for capital gains don't improve housing affordability; they make it worse by fuelling home price booms like the one in Sydney right now. Less than one tenth of negatively geared housing investments are for new properties, the other nine tenths bid up the price of existing housing."

"These tax breaks also make it more difficult for the Reserve Bank to manage the economy. Over-heating in housing markets is making it harder for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates when this is needed. The tax breaks are feeding a fire which the Reserve Bank and APRA are trying to put out," Dr Goldie added.

"This is a long standing problem and it's time it was fixed. These tax breaks have inflated housing costs in every housing boom since the 1980s. Easier access to credit and the cut to capital gains tax in 1999 have made the situation worse. Since then, lending for investment housing has risen by 230% compared with 165% for owner occupied housing."

"The best we can say is that negative gearing and the Capital Gains Tax discount are not the only drivers in inflating house prices. But there should no longer be any doubt that they add fuel to escalating house and rent prices by encouraging property speculation."

"It's not your average mum and dad investors on middle incomes who are benefitting from the generous tax concessions that have allowed two thirds of individual rental property investors, or 1.2 million people, to report tax-deductable ‘losses' of $14 billion in 2011," said Dr Goldie.

"The reality is that over half of geared housing investors are in the top 10% of personal taxpayers and 30% earn more than $500,000."

"The reason that negative gearing strategies are widely used is that people can claim deductions for ‘losses' against their wages every year, even though the investment is actually profitable because the value of the property rises every year. They then get a 50% tax discount on the value of their capital gains when it is sold."

"There are better ways to support investment in affordable housing than encouraging people to borrow to speculate on home prices. A tax rebate on new housing such as the National Rental Affordability Scheme is one. That program should be expanded, not abolished."

"ACOSS proposes that ‘negative gearing' should not be allowed for new investments in property, shares and similar assets. This means that tax deductions for ‘losses' on new investments should not be claimable against an individual taxpayer's other income, including wages. To protect people who made investment decisions under the existing rules, existing investments would not be affected: the current rules would still apply until the property is sold."

"We also propose, consistent with the Henry Report, that the 50% discount on individual capital gains be reduced and that the same tax break should apply to other investments such as bank accounts and rents received by housing investors. This would remove the tax bias in favour of speculation in the values of assets such as housing and shares."

"As ACOSS and major housing organisations argued last month, there is no simple ‘fix' for the housing affordability crisis. Federal and State Governments should also invest in social and community housing, improve Rent Assistance and ease barriers to construction of new homes including planning restrictions where these are too strict. Instead of taxing property transfers though Stamp Duties, State Governments should broaden Land Tax as proposed by the Henry Report."

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD REPORT

Summary of ACOSS recommendations

Tax reform is only part of the solution to our housing affordability crisis, but it is a vital part.

Along with reforms of State taxes - especially a shift away from reliance on Stamp Duties and towards a broadly based Land Tax - we advocate the following reforms to federal taxes affecting housing markets.

1. Restrict tax deductions for ‘negatively geared property investments

Income tax deductions for expenses relating to ‘passive' investment in rental housing and other assets such as shares and agricultural schemes should only be offset against income received from those investments (including capital gains) and not against other income (including wages). This should apply to all new investments of this type entered into from 1 January 2016. Investments purchased before that date would be ‘grandfathered', that is, the current rules would continue to apply until the asset is sold.
Revenue: $500 million in 2015-16; $1,000 million in 2016-17

2. Use part of the revenue savings to strengthen tax incentives for investment in new affordable housing, including building on the strengths of the NRAS scheme

As a first step, reinstate funding for round 5 of the National Rental Affordability Scheme to finance the construction of 12,000 new affordable rental dwellings and restore investor confidence in the program.
Cost: $40 million in 2015-16; $100 million in 2016-17

3. Increase tax rates on capital gains and reduce them on other investment incomes including interest bearing deposits and rents, to improve equity and reduce distortion of investment decisions by the tax system.

Consistent with reforms advocated in the ‘Australia's Future Tax System' Report, a common personal income tax discount should be introduced to replace the current tax treatment for capital gains, housing rents, interest bearing deposits, shares and similar investments (excluding superannuation and owner occupied housing). This should be substantially less than the current 50% discount for capital gains.

Negative gearing myths and facts

Myth 1:
The Hawke Government's restrictions on negative gearing from 1985-87 resulted in rent increases and had to be reversed.

Fact:
The main reasons for rent increases at that time were higher interest rates and a share-market boom which diverted investment from rental property. Even so, this only happened in Sydney and Perth. Lending to rental property investors still rose by 42% across Australia.

Myth 2:
Negative gearing can't be responsible for overheating in housing markets in recent years because it's been in place for over 20 years.

Fact:
Negative gearing adds fuel to each housing boom by encouraging property speculation. Its impact has grown because investors have easier access to credit. The halving of tax rates on capital gains in 2000 (in place of the indexation of capital gains for tax purposes which was less encouraging of speculative investment) also made negative gearing more attractive.

Myth 3:
The benefits of negative gearing mainly go to ‘mum and dad' investors on middle incomes

Fact:
This is an illusion due to the way the Taxation Statistics break down deductions for rental property investment by taxable income, which is itself reduced by negative gearing strategies. Many households that appear to be ‘middle income' actually have higher incomes before deductions are subtracted. In reality, half the value of deductions for negatively geared investments go to the top 10% of taxpayers.

New report confirms stable housing is key to work

9 April 2015

A new report from the Productivity Commission dispels the myth that public housing is a disincentive to work and highlights the role of stable housing in employment outcomes. ACOSS has responded with a call for governments to maintain a strong social housing system and to improve security and affordability for private renters.

The Commission's report, ‘Housing Assistance and Employment in Australia', dispels the myth that the form of housing assistance people receive affects employment outcomes. In doing so, it cautions against any move towards market rents for public housing tenants, a recommendation of the recent Welfare Review led by Mr Patrick McClure.

"This report confirms what ACOSS has been saying for a long time, namely that it's the level of disadvantage and employment support available that determines a person's work opportunities, not the characteristics of the housing assistance they receive," said ACOSS Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine.

The Commission's report highlights the difference between the level of subsidy provided to a single, childless Newstart recipient in public housing (about $6700 a year) and in private rental (about $3300 a year). It also notes that rents have increased well above price inflation over the past decade, while Rent Assistance is indexed only to CPI.

Dr Boyd-Caine continued, "The McClure Review correctly identified an inequity in the different treatment of public and private rental tenants on low incomes. ACOSS supports its recommendation for a review of housing assistance and rent settings, including the adequacy and indexation of Rent Assistance. However, the Commission's report confirms our concerns that the McClure Review's proposal to move public housing tenants to market rents would increase rental stress among public housing tenants without increasing employment participation.

"Reform should ensure that both public and private tenants receive adequate subsidies to protect them from rental stress and after-housing poverty.

"In the short term, we are looking to see a 30% increase in Rent Assistance in this Budget to provide immediate relief for struggling renters in the private market. Longer term, the Government should maintain its commitment to an independent review of payment adequacy every 3 years, and expand its scope to include the rates and indexation of all payments, including Allowances and Rent Assistance."

The Commission's report found that housing has an important ‘stability effect' and that short tenures are a concern from an employment perspective. It finds that the more times a person moves in a 12-month period, the less likely they will be working at the end of the year. It also notes that public housing tenancies average seven years compared to 1.2 years in a private market.

"The Commission highlights Australia's weak tenancy protections compared to other OECD countries, with shorter lease terms and notice periods for termination and ‘without-grounds' lease terminations. This undermines stability and security for tenants, and likely has a negative employment effect."

"Importantly, the Commission lends support to recent calls by community and housing peaks for reform of tenancy legislation to increase stability of tenure for renters in the private market, and suggests an increasing role for head leasing by governments," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

ACOSS outlines fair proposals to reform pensions and superannuation

2 April 2015

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO

When: 11.00am Thursday, April 2, 2015

Where: Corner Elizabeth St, Martin Place, Sydney (Outside ch7 MAP)

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie will today outline the peak community organisation's Budget proposals to tighten the Age Pension assets test and reform the unfair retirement incomes system, including superannuation tax concessions.

Dr Goldie will call on the Federal Government, opposition parties and the crossbenchers to work together on making these important reforms, instead of pursing any damaging plans to reduce the Indexation of pensions, that would severely hurt struggling pensioners, sole parents and people with disabilities.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Media Release:
Drop unfair plan to lower pension indexation, reform super and pension assets test instead.

Drop unfair plan to lower pension indexation, reform super and pension assets test instead

1 April 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today issued a call to the Federal Parliament to reject the plan to lower the Indexation of pensions that would severely impact all pensioners, and instead focus on eligibility for the part-pension and reforming the unfair retirement incomes system, including superannuation tax concessions.

The decision to reduce the Indexation of pensions in the last Budget came as a great surprise to most of us, especially to pensioners. It would effectively lead to people on pensions, including older people, sole parents, and people with disabilities, falling behind community living standards," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We know these groups are already struggling to get by on a daily basis and if this measure goes ahead, they would lose as much as $80 per week over the next 10 years based on modelling by the National Commission of Audit.

"This would be a massive cut to the income of some of the most vulnerable people in our community, who simply could not afford to absorb it. The last thing we should be doing is reducing indexation of payments for pensioners down to the inadequate indexation which is still in place for people struggling to survive on Allowances, including young people on Youth Allowance (just $30 a day) and unemployed people on Newstart (just $37 a day). Two thirds of people on Newstart and Youth Allowance have been on these payments for over a year.

"Indexation to wages should be maintained for older people but also for sole parents and people with disability who already experience high levels of income poverty. Indexation for all basic income support payments -both Pensions and Allowances - should be linked to wages if they are to be enough for people to live with some dignity.

"We urge the government, opposition parties and crossbenchers to work together on alternative solutions to ensure the sustainability of retirement incomes system into the future. This must include reform to better target the Age Pension to those who need it and to superannuation tax concessions as part of the tax review.

"ACOSS has put forward sound and fair recommendations to this end, including reducing the current threshold that allows couples with as much as $1.1 million dollars in assets on top of the family home to qualify for a Part Pension.

"We also support the Government's move to abolish the Seniors Supplement, which is available to people who are not eligible for the Aged Pension because they are in a much better financial position than most.

"The Supplement extends to older people who are disqualified from the Age Pension due to the assets test - which means for example, it would go to couples with assets in excess of $1 million apart from the family home. By excluding superannuation income from the income test for existing recipients, it also extends to people with significant superannuation incomes.

"A couple could have a million dollars in a superannuation fund paying them an income of $100,000 a year in addition to their assets and still receive the supplement.

"We strongly support the need for an adequate safety net system to ensure that people are supported when they fall into hard times. However, this supplement of $858 each year for singles and $1,295 for couples, simply cannot be justified," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

ACOSS recommendations

1. Tighten the Age Pension assets test
• Reduce the assets test free area for home owners to $100,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples, and increase the taper rate for both home owners and non-home owners from $1.50 per $1,000 of additional assets to $2 per $1,000, so that the cut out point for the part pension for couples is reduced from $1.1 million in assets besides the family home to $794,250 in assets besides the family home - Savings: $1,350 million ($1,450 million in 2016-17).

2. Abolish the Seniors Supplement
• Abolish the Seniors Supplement (available to people who do not qualify for the Age Pension due to their income and assets) from 1 July 2015 leaving the Pension Supplement in place for Age Pensioners - Savings: $240 million ($250 million in 2016-1).

3. Reform Superannuation system
• Increase the preservation age so that it corresponds to the Age Pension access age by 2027 - with early access arrangements for people with disabilities and caring roles that effectively require them to retire earlier. May include allowing access from age 55 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people whose disabilities or caring roles would ordinarily qualify them for certain social security payments (such as the Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment) or by allowing withdrawals earlier than 55 for any purpose up to modest annual and lifetime limits - Revenue neutral.
• Replace existing tax concessions for superannuation contributions with a simpler taxation structure, in which employer contributions are taxed at the employee's marginal tax rate and a capped superannuation rebate is paid into employee's superannuation accounts - Revenue neutral.
• Extend the 15% tax rate on superannuation fund earnings to accounts in the ‘pension phase', in three annual steps of 5% each year - Saving $300 million in 2016-17.
• Stem the avoidance of personal income tax by individuals over 55 years of age who ‘churn' their earnings through superannuation accounts: From 1 July 2016, reduce the annual cap for concessional contributions by $1 for every dollar withdrawn from a superannuation account in the same year by a fund member - Saving $500 million in 2016-17.

DOWNLOAD ACOSS Budget Submission 2015-16

Competition policy must support community needs and outcomes: ACOSS

31 March 2015

Responding to the release of the Government's Competition Policy Review today, the Australian Council of Social Service said competition policy doesn't exist in isolation but needs to suit the social, economic and environmental environments to which it applies.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: "We welcome the Report's recognition of the importance of collaboration in human services for the community and its focus on consumer choice, which as we know is a key element of community control."

"However, we are concerned about the recommendation of deepening and extending competition policy in human services as a ‘priority reform'. We're not ideologically opposed to competition in social services, but we are saying let's get it right. You can't just roll it out the same way in communities with diverse populations and needs.

"To date, the community sector's experiences of privatisation in health, childcare and employment services point to price inflation, higher costs to government, less collaboration and questionable outcomes for the community.

"The lessons from a lot of the best outcomes in communities is that you can't always scale approaches nationally. Communities identify and meet their own needs in various ways and funding options, including from governments, need to reflect this.

In a reflection that competition policy is front and centre for community organisations struggling to attract the resources they need to meet community needs, the network of Councils of Social Service across Australia provided a submission to the Review.

Dr Goldie said, "We are in the midst of three pretty spectacular disasters that have come about from competitive processes assuming it is the same context as a tender for a bridge or a construction process."

"We support the principle that individuals, particularly those who are disadvantaged, should be empowered to make choices about which services best meet their needs. But reforms need to build on evidence of the Australian experience to date.

"We should not assume that greater market competition will produce better options for people. Recent competitive tender processes have in fact resulted in less diversity and undermined existing collaborative relationships. They have also seen the loss of smaller, specialist and local providers who are uniquely placed to understand the needs of their community and client groups.

"Competition can also result in a race to the bottom on price, with the result being either that organisations are forced to deliver a poor quality service or to deliver services at a loss. Larger organisations may be able to cross-subsidise poorly funded programs but this option is not available for smaller providers.

"On the evidence of how it's currently being operated, competitive tendering is not working in the community sector. We've seen that across different portfolios and under successive governments. Competitive tendering is not supporting communities and is diverting vital social service resources to funding processes that they would have been better off ignoring.

"For example in the latest round with Department of Social Services, many organisations invested time and resources applying for funding that was subsequently discontinued as a Budget savings measure; while others only found out they had lost funding when the tender documentation indicated they were ineligible," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD Joint Submission
by the network of Councils of Social Services in the states, territories and nationally.

Tax reform is the key to solving Australia’s public budget problems: ACOSS

30 March 2015

In response to the Treasurer's launch of the Government's Tax Reform White Paper at our tax reform breakfast in Melbourne this morning, ACOSS argued that tax reform is the key to resolving our long term public Budget problems. The tax system should be redesigned and strengthened so that people contribute to the cost of services according to their ability to pay.

"We welcome the dialogue on tax reform opened up by the release of this discussion paper. It's an opportunity for the community and business to take the initiative: these hard issues can't be left to Governments alone," ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said.

"People understand we have a public Budget problem: they want solutions that don't impose the greatest burden on the least well off. To solve our public Budget challenge in a way that's fair and economically sensible, we must reform the tax system.

"Instead of searching for Budget savings in community services, charging more for doctor's visits, denying young people income support for six months, or reducing the future value of pensions, Governments should clean out the ‘hollow logs' in our tax system.

"It is too easy for people with high incomes to avoid paying their fair share of tax through devices such as negative gearing and private trusts, for some international companies to artificially shift their profits elsewhere, and for retired people with substantial assets to churn their income through their super accounts to reduce tax.

"If too many people play the tax avoidance ‘game' then either tax rates will have to rise or essential services will wither on the vine.

"The starting point for tax reform should be to strengthen the fairest taxes, especially taxes on income, and to make them more efficient. Too many investment decisions are made for tax reasons and that's one of the reasons we have over-investment in housing that drives costs up for everyone.

"Tax reform must not be reduced to a narrow argument over increasing taxes on consumption such as the GST. This would concentrate the risks of reform on those least able to bear them: people on low incomes. A tax on bank deposits is a consumption tax since it will be passed on to consumers, just as the former State Government bank deposit taxes were. We should not start the process by ruling things out.

"Tax reform would not be complete without a restructure of State taxes. The States lack a solid revenue base to fund future health, education and community services. There is a broad consensus that the least efficient taxes include Stamp Duties and insurance taxes, and the State Governments should make better use of Land Tax and Payroll Tax.

"There will be a degree of cynicism about Governments starting a ‘conversation about tax reform' rather than simply making decisions. We don't share that view. One of the main reasons the public rejected the 2014 Budget is that the Government didn't take people into their confidence by clearly explaining the problem, or listen to alternative views on how to fix them.

"We need a different approach to an issue as tough and as important as tax reform," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Key points from the White Paper:

• "Australia has a relatively low tax burden compared to other wealthy countries" (p16).
ACOSS comment: Data in the White Paper shows that we are the seventh-lowest taxing country in the OECD.
• On the mix between taxes and income, consumption and property: "Direct forms of taxation - individuals and corporate income taxes, compulsory social security contributions, plus payroll taxes - raise 63% of all taxation in Australia compared to an OECD average of 61%" (p18).
ACOSS comment: That is, our reliance on taxes that ultimately fall on income is close to average.
• On the impact of different taxes on growth:
ACOSS comment: The White Paper confirms our view that consumption taxes like the GST are not much more ‘growth friendly' than taxes on income. The taxes that have the worst impact on the economy are Stamp Duties levied by the States. See Chart 2.9 (on p25).
• On the progressivity of personal income tax: "Progressive individuals income tax rates and thresholds underpin the overall progressivity of the tax system" (p29).
• Distortions in the tax treatment of different investments probably have an impact on investment decisions: "particularly in Australia's real estate market, where investment is primarily domestic. If this is the case, any additional savings in housing will amount to additional investment in housing and given housing supply constraints, lead to increased housing prices" (p 59).
• On inequity in the tax treatment of superannuation: "the flat rate of tax on superannuation contributions means that most high income people receive a larger tax concession, relative to their marginal tax rate, than low income people. The same is true during the accumulation phase and even more so during the retirement phase, when there is no tax on earnings" (p 70).
• On private trusts and companies: "As a business grows, it would be increasingly rational for it to adopt the legal structure that would minimise its tax liability. This may involve incorporating, or utilising a trust, but more likely it wold involve a combination of structures. ...The tax treatment of different structures means that economically similar activities can be taxed in different ways depending on the legal structure employed by the business...A perception arises that those with additional resources are able to ‘play' the system" (p 109).
• On a failed experiment with a lower company tax rate for small business ‘start-ups" in the UK: "it introduced disincentives for companies below the threshold to grow. ...The Mirrlees Review concluded that this policy was ineffective and costly" (p 119).
• On the impact of GST exemptions: "As a proportion of their income, lower-income households spend more on GST exempt goods and services than higher-income households. This is largely due to higher-income households saving a greater proportion of their income" (p 136).
• More on the impact of GST exemptions: "While households may spend a similar proportion of their total spending on GST-exempt goods and services in aggregate...lower income households may be more likely to spend comparatively more of their total spending on GST-exempt food, medical products and health services, or residential rent" (p 136).
• On Stamp Duties: "Stamp Duties are some of the most inefficient taxes levied in Australia." (p 145).
• On Land Tax: "Land Tax as currently implemented in Australia is far from [the ideal model] because of exclusions and because different types of land attract different rates of tax" (p148).

ACOSS hosts Treasurer Joe Hockey for launch of Tax Discussion Paper

27 March 2015

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO, hosts Federal Treasurer The Honourable Joe Hockey MP
When: 8.15am for 8.30am start Monday March 30, 2015

Where: Studio 1, ZINC, Federation Square (corner Flinders and Swanston St), Melbourne City.

The Australian Council of Social Service will host The Honourable Joe Hockey MP, Federal Treasurer, to launch the Federal Government's Tax Discussion Paper at a special community breakfast at 8.30am on Monday 30th March 2015.

The Treasurer will deliver a speech at 8.40am and will take Q&A from participants at the breakfast, before holding a press conference in an adjacent room at 9.30am.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie will respond to the Treasurer's speech and the Tax Discussion Paper at a press conference at 10am.

Media outlets are welcome to record and cover the event, but please reserve questions for the press conferences afterwards.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

NOTE TO EDITORS:
Please advise ACOSS your intention to record and/or cover the event.

Reversal of legal funding cuts an important first step, rest of $1B must be restored

26 March 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the announcement today by the Attorney-General George Brandis to restore cuts to vital community legal services.

In making this announcement the Attorney-General stated the need and vulnerability of the people these organisations supported, and the need for certainty and adequacy of funding, as key factors driving his decision to reverse funding cuts that had crippled the community legal sector.

"This is an essential first step but only the beginning of the work the Government needs to do to repair the damage caused by $1b in funding cuts to community services across the country," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS calls on the Federal Government to implement the next steps, restoring funding to the social services, health services, supports in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the rest of the community legal sector providing much-needed support to legal services including through policy and law reform advice.

"MPs and Senators returning to their electorates after the last sitting week before the Federal Budget will find crisis as the impact of $1b in cuts to community services hits people most in need in our communities," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The impact of these cuts is already being felt right across the country, from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking health, legal and social services, to people relying on community mental health programs.

"These cuts have targeted people on the lowest incomes, people experience financial crisis or family breakdown, children at risk, vulnerable young people, new mothers and babies, people facing eviction and homelessness, careRs in need of respite, those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and those with mental health issues or other serious health concerns in the community.

"The cuts are destroying the fabric of local communities, and years of hard and committed effort by community leaders, many of whom are volunteers. Community organisations are facing extensive job losses, with highly skilled people on modest incomes now facing the grim prospect of unemployment. With 85% of workers in community services being female, and many aged 40 and over, these funding cuts will also create a fresh generation of people at serious risk of poverty and homelessness themselves after a life dedicated to helping others.

"At the same time the defunding of policy advice and advocacy work by housing, homelessness, disability and financial exclusion organisations has reduced the opportunity for local communities to be involved in the decisions made about them by policy-makers and governments.

"We should not be running down important community services, especially those supporting our most vulnerable, in the search for short term Budget savings that will cost us all more in the long term.

"There is another way, as ACOSS has outlined in our Budget submission, which identified at least $13 billion in fairer savings measures that target areas of waste and ensure those with the most capacity to contribute pay their fair share.

"ACOSS will continue to campaign against Budget decisions that hurt people who need the most support in our communities. We call on local MPs to insist on the restoration of this vital funding," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Summary of community services funding cuts

Since 2013, the Federal Government has introduced up to $1b in savings measures that are cutting community services for the people in greatest need in Australia.
• $500 million over five years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community services (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet - Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion and The Hon Tony Abbott)
• $270 million over four years from social services and a freeze on indexation of sector funding (Department of Social Services - The Hon Scott Morrison)
• $15 million from legal services including legal aid, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, and women's family violence legal and prevention services (Attorney General's Department - Senator the Hon George Brandis)
• Foreshadowed cuts of $197 million over three years from health (Department of Health - The Hon Sussan Ley)

Community experts release national plan to tackle housing affordability crisis

24 March 2015

Peak community and housing groups today called on the Commonwealth Government to work with them in developing a national housing strategy to address the worsening housing affordability crisis in Australia.

The groups, including the Australian Council of Social Service, National Shelter, Homelessness Australia, the Community Housing Federation of Australia and the National Association of Tenant Organisations, today released ‘An Affordable Housing Reform Agenda' which outlines reform priorities to achieve an efficient and affordable housing system that strengthens productivity and participation.

Priorities include:

  • Reforming the tax treatment of housing to remove distortions and improve affordability;
  • Public and private investment in new affordable housing stock to address the shortfall in affordable housing stock;
  • Reform of urban planning, land and building regulation to retain, promote and create affordable housing;
  • Increasing the maximum rate and improving indexation of Commonwealth Rent Assistance to relieve rental stress;
  • Reforming tenancy protections to provide more security for renters; and
  • Adequate and consistent funding for homelessness services to ensure we meet our goal of halving homelessness by 2020.

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, of the Australian Council of Social Service said:
"It is simply unacceptable that four in five private rental households in the lowest 20% of incomes are in unaffordable housing, paying more than 30% of income in rent. A further 30% of the second lowest quintile is also experiencing housing stress.

"The reality is that the housing supply shortfall is becoming a serious brake on productivity. The current policy and tax mix distorts investment decisions, is a barrier to workforce participation and mobility and contributes to house price inflation leading to greater inequality and social exclusion.

"The lack of affordable housing in Australia is taking a serious human and economic toll. We need to start thinking about housing as a national infrastructure priority to maximise its potential to contribute to economic growth, productivity and participation.

"The twin reviews of the federation and taxation provide an opportunity for us to grapple with key aspects of current housing policy failure. Reforms on these fronts must be complemented by significant but cost-effective investment to increase supply and relieve rental stress."

Glenda Stevens, CEO, Homelessness Australia said:
"It is pleasing to see the government extend the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness for another two years, providing much needed certainty for services, especially those supporting women affected by domestic violence and young homeless people. However, we cannot forget other groups of people sleeping rough and with nowhere to go."

"We know that homelessness and housing are inextricably linked. Homelessness cannot be solved if we have nowhere suitable, safe and affordable for people to live. Each day, while the government dithers and discusses, 399 additional people come to homelessness services for assistance. By far the greatest request is for somewhere to sleep. People will remain homeless while there is insufficient suitable housing for them.

"A safe and permanent home underpins all the functions of our society. Living in a car, a tent or on the street, couch surfing or a family crowded into one room, means children are at risk of disengaging from school, young people ‘drop out' and people get sick and cannot access the basic services a country like ours should provide.

"On any one night, in 2013-14, more than 7,000 people spent their previous night sleeping in crisis accommodation. Each day homelessness agencies closed 414 cases of which only 67% resulted in stable housing outcomes."

Adrian Pisarski, Executive Officer, National Shelter said:
"The crisis in affordable housing is now so deep it cannot be far short of catastrophic. Too many households now live in substandard, marginal housing and we have persistent market failure. We need a strategy to recast government programs, taxes and other incentives to create scale investment from institutions in social and affordable housing.

"Governments, community organisations and the private sector must partner to create new ways to leverage investment in affordable housing at scale. Through partnership, innovation, investment and strategic reform we can meet this challenge and unlock the economic and social dividends of secure, affordable and stable housing for all."

Deb Pippen, from the National Association of Tenant Organisations said:
"This worsening picture also highlights the vulnerable position of tenants across the country, their experience in their homes and the inadequacy of laws to protect them from substandard and insecure housing.

"If we as a community are concerned about the most disadvantaged members of society we must ensure that tenancy laws guarantee that everyone has access to secure housing that is of a fair standard."

Carol Croce, CEO, the Community Housing Federation of Australia said:
"For too long the crisis in affordable housing has been relegated to the 'back burner' of the national policy agenda.

"Our housing agenda provides a wide-ranging blueprint for needed reform. What's needed now is the political will and commitment to bring affordable housing to the forefront of national debate and action."

Media contacts:
Cassandra Goldie (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Glenda Stevens (Homelessness Australia) - 0405 900 360
Adrian Pisarski (National Shelter) - 0417 975 270
Carol Croce (CHFA) - 0402 017 557
Deb Pippen (NATO) - 0407 432 390

Download: Summary - An Affordable Housing Reform Agenda

Download full paper: An Affordable Housing Reform Agenda

organisation logos

Community experts to release national plan to tackle housing affordability crisis

23 March 2015

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO, and representatives from peak community housing and homelessness organisations
When: 10.30am Tuesday March 24, 2015
Where: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra (note venue change due to wet weather).

Peak community and housing groups will gather in Canberra today to urge the Commonwealth Government to work with them in developing a national housing strategy to address the worsening housing affordability crisis in Australia.

The groups will release ‘An Affordable Housing Reform Agenda' - outlining reform priorities to achieve an efficient and affordable housing system that strengthens productivity and participation.

Groups include:

  • The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)
  • National Shelter
  • Homelessness Australia
  • Community Housing Federation of Australia
  • National Association of Tenant Organisations

Media contacts:
Cassandra Goldie (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Glenda Stevens, CEO, Homelessness Australia - 0405 900 360
Adrian Pisarski (National Shelter) - 0417 975 270
Carol Croce (CHFA) - 0402 017 557
Deb Pippen (NATO) - 0407 432 390

NOTE: All MPs and Senators are welcome to join us in the courtyard to show their support for national action on housing affordability.

Widespread calls for rejection of ‘cashless’ welfare card ignored: ACOSS

23 March 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today rejected moves by the Federal Government to introduce trials of another iteration of income management through a ‘cashless' welfare card.

"Of all the recommendations in the Forrest Review, it is deeply disappointing that the government appears determined to adopt the Review's Healthy Welfare card recommendation contrary to widely held expert advice. All the evidence to date highlights the ineffectiveness and high cost of similar income management schemes," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Following the release of the Forrest Review, ACOSS and more than 30 community organisations, including many leading National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, urged the government not to proceed with the implementation of this recommendation. Yet those calls appear to have fallen on closed ears.

"The welfare card is modelled on the Basics Card currently used to manage the income of people in disadvantaged communities and locations around Australia. This scheme of income management has failed to effect long-term changes in behaviour or outcomes, despite the high cost of the policy.

"Beyond some limited success with people who have entered into income management arrangements voluntarily, the evidence points to the scheme being unsuccessful in achieving the stated aims of preventing people from spending the money alcohol, gambling and drugs, or getting people to buy healthy and fresh food.

"The Government's intention to consult with communities should include consultation on whether and how they want to participate as well as what other supports communities need to address underlying issues. Any move to introduce such a scheme should only be trialled in areas where there is strong and broad community support. It should targeted narrowly and accompanied by other interventions to address the underlying causes of alcohol and drug abuse."

"We have long held that reform to government welfare programs should be grounded in evidence of what works. If people have chronic alcohol or drug addictions, or children are at risk, they need intensive case management and intervention based on the best professional advice.

"On the one hand the government says it is planning to roll out a new cashless debit card in several disadvantaged communities in a bid to "reduce the overall social harm which is caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse, particularly against women". And on the other hand, it has cut half a billion dollars from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, including services that run alcohol, drug and domestic violence programs.

"Despite this context, the Government has not indicated how much these trials will costs, nor how they will be funded.

"Beyond comments in media interviews, there is little information available about the detail of the policy. There remain many questions about how this scheme would be implemented. For instance, what percentage of funds will be managed by the card; how will communities be selected to participate; will the card be rolled out to entire communities, or just selected individuals; and will trials will be time limited or ongoing?

"There is very little detail beyond a declaration in the media that the government has decided to proceed with this costly scheme, against all advice," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 15

More information:
Groups call for rejection of Healthy Welfare Card

Welcome relief for homelessness services and people in crisis

23 March 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today strongly welcomed the Federal Government announcement to extend the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) for two years.

"This is certainly excellent news, providing vital services some security at a time of great funding uncertainty," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"In doing so the government has recognised that domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness."

"Over 10,000 of the 254,000 people who turned to homelessness services for help last year were young people presenting alone, and more than 13,000 were children in families.

"We must however not neglect other groups affected by homelessness, including those sleeping rough, couch surfing or living in overcrowded dwellings.

"We also must not ignore the structural drivers of homelessness and the need for more secure and sustainable funding arrangements into the future, including adequate indexation.

"The shortage in affordable housing in our major cities is leading more people into homelessness, a point peak housing groups will be making to federal representatives in Canberra tomorrow.

"The combined cuts of around $1 billion in community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services in the last Federal budget has created enormous uncertainty and has already reduced the ability of services to support people in most need.

"We will not accept further cuts to payments and supports for people on low incomes to pay for essential services.

"In our recent Budget submission ACOSS identified savings and revenue measures to pay for community services. We urge the Government to look to wasteful and poorly targeted spending to balance the budget, including tax expenditures which are mainly benefitting those on high incomes," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

More information:
ACOSS Budget Submission

Government must scrap harsh plan to deprive young people of income support for six months: ACOSS

20 March 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the opposition parties and crossbenches to stand firm and vote against the harsh Government proposal to deprive young people of any income support for six months of each year.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

"We are deeply alarmed that the Government appears intent on pursuing this disastrous measure to strip away supports and payments for people struggling to find paid work, especially young people. How will depriving people under 30 of any income support for half the year help them get into jobs?

"It is disappointing to hear the Prime Minister describe the upcoming Budget as being "much less exhilarating" than last year's, which seemingly fails to recognise just how distressing the 2014 Budget proposals have been for people on the lowest incomes. This proposal in particular would have a brutal impact on people's lives if implemented.

"We were shocked to read this plan in the budget papers. Denying people of any financial means to survive altogether is unprecedented and is one of the most extreme measures left for the Federal Government to do away with.

"We urge the Opposition, the Greens and the all crossbenches to stand their ground and vote against this damaging, unfair proposal, which has no merit and no evidence base. It would only serve to drive young people further into poverty.

"We're concerned that with all the focus on other flawed budget measures, such as cutting indexation for pensions, that young people will be forgotten.

"The move redefines youth to mean anyone up to 30 years of age, which implies that parents should be responsible for their children for a very long time. We know that this is simply not realistic in many cases.

"The result would be more young people going without food and shelter and turning to charities for help. The Government has conceded as much by increasing emergency relief funding in recognition of this bad policy. It makes no policy sense.

"With unemployment rising and youth unemployment over 20% in many parts of the country, what we need is a serious plan backed by both employers and the community sector to support and prepare young people who are desperately trying to break into the labour market.

"Instead of punishing young people for not being able to get jobs that simply aren't there, the government needs to invest in effective programs, not cut them as it did the successful Youth Connections program.

"The Youth Connections program was closed down in December last year, leaving a major vacuum. There is now no national program to support young people at risk and facing significant barriers to participating in education, training or employment.

"The program had a 57% success rate in the number of participants re-engaging with education, training or employment. A further 18 per cent made significant progress in addressing their barriers to engagement. It assisted over 74,000 young people with support services from the period 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2013.

"The Government needs to abandon its obsession with the failed work for the dole policy which has a poor record of effectiveness. Just 19% of people forced into the demeaning program are able to get a job after three months.

"The most effective way to address youth and long term unemployment is to address skills and capabilities barriers to work. A first step is to increase the availability of places in wage subsidy programs (such as Wage Connect). This has proven to be very effective with 47% of people remaining in employment longer term. The scheme gives long term unemployed people valuable experience in a ‘real job' and provides a subsidy roughly equivalent to the Newstart Allowance. The government needs to improve funding available for work experience training and service fees for long term unemployed people.

"ACOSS has worked closely with business groups and unions to develop this plan to more effectively linking employment services for disadvantaged job seekers with employer needs - where funding is redirected to targeted training and job seekers are supported once they gain employment. But unfortunately the government has ignored these solutions.

"Other countries are confronting the problem of growing youth unemployment with employment and training guarantees, and working with employers to encourage them to take on young employees and trainees. Yet the Australian Government is opting for a different course, removing income support and withdrawing career counselling programs.

"What we need to see is a comprehensive employment plan for our nation at a time of growing unemployment.

"We reject any move to reach a compromise deal on the six month waiting period for Newstart - young people should not be deprived of all means to keep their head above water for a single day.

"We urge Senators to not countenance any attempt by the government to reach a deal on this measure and dismiss it outright. It unnecessarily punishes young people who already face stringent requirements to look for work, and will only lead to greater hardship," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Find out more:
ACOSS Employment Proposals for 2015 Federal Budget

Time to look at real solutions to Australia’s housing affordability crisis: ACOSS

12 March 2015

Speaking at an affordable housing forum in Sydney on Thursday night, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will call on Federal, State and local Governments to step up to the challenge of improving housing affordability in Australia, warning that we risk sentencing young people and those on low incomes to a life of insecure renting, or worse, if we fail to act now.

"Our housing policy settings are failing to deliver social, economic or intergenerational equity. The case for reform is compelling and urgent, and government action is essential," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Affordable supply is at critically low levels. Young people and those on low incomes are locked out of home ownership and the private rental market remains an expensive and insecure place to be.

"Home ownership rates have steeply declined for young people, with rates for those on low incomes falling fastest. While the proportion of investors has increased significantly, the proportion of first home buyers in the market has reached historically low levels. Meanwhile, 80% of those in the bottom 20% of incomes are experiencing housing stress in the private rental market (paying more than 30% of income).

"There are major areas in need of urgent reform.

"Firstly, we need to be addressing the tax concessions which help individuals with high wealth to profit from the housing market, and which keep first home buyers locked out.

"We all pay a high price for the special treatment of speculative investors in our housing system, particularly through negative gearing and capital gains. $6 billion in tax concessions each year, inflated house prices and rents, homelessness, divided cities and lost productivity.

"Foreign investors are not the main driver. With attractive tax breaks, the housing market is being fuelled by short-term investors looking for short-term gains. Land tax and stamp duty must also be addressed.

"Secondly, we are seeing a diminishing appetite by governments to invest in affordable housing programs. The last 30 years have seen a reduction in government investment in social and community housing by more than 25%.

"Currently, the future of major affordable housing programs is uncertain, with a major homelessness agreement due to expire in June and the future of national partnership agreements being considered by the federation review.

"In the last Budget, the Federal Government walked away from the only program we had for increasing private investment in affordable rental housing, the National Rental Affordability Scheme. This will save taxpayers $235 million over the forward estimates but cost us at least 12,000 affordable housing dwellings for low and moderate income households not to mention the untold social and economic costs of inadequate affordable housing supply.

"Thirdly, we need the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to design a serious joint approach to planning and infrastructure policy and investment. With a national shortage of some half a million affordable rental dwellings, affordable housing, transport and infrastructure should be a national infrastructure priority underpinned by an investment strategy which leverages public and private finance.

"The Commonwealth must be a national leader which recognises that housing affordability and public infrastructure have the ability to unlock much of our productive capacity, whilst delivering much better quality of life, with important health and social outcomes.

"This Budget must chart a new course and deliver a down-payment on future housing investment. It should also deliver necessary relief to those struggling on low incomes in the private rental market though an increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

MEDIA ALERT:

Dr Cassandra Goldie will be speaking at the City of Sydney City Talks event tonight. More information here.

ACOSS Budget Recommendations: Housing and homelessness

(full ACOSS submission here)

1. Limit deductions for expenses relating to housing and other passive investments to income from the same asset - Revenue: $500 million ($1,000 million in 2016-17)

2. Establish a long-term Affordable Housing Growth Fund - Cost: $750 million in 2015-16 ($900 million in 2016-2017)

3. Review Commonwealth Rent Assistance and increase the maximum rate of CRA - Cost: $720.5 million in 2015-16 ($759.6 million in 2016-17)

4. Maintain funding for homelessness services and index to CPI or wage price index, whichever is highest - Cost: $160 million in 2015-16 ($170 million in 2016-17)

5. Improve the adequacy of NAHA indexation - Cost: $33 million 2015-16 ($34 million 2016-17)

6. Invest in the National Rental Affordability Scheme to increase the supply of affordable rental housing - Cost: $36 million in 2015-16 ($98 million in 2016-17).

Budget reform: We have a choice - strengthen the social compact or grow apart

5 March 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service says the Intergenerational Report released today highlights the stark choices we face to fund the services we all want into the future.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:
"The Intergenerational Report throws a spotlight on the fastest growing areas of public spending including health, aged care and pensions. By looking at the ageing of the population, it shows the choices we face to fund the services we all want and need into the future.

"It's time to lay to rest the rejected elements of the 2014 Budget strategy that reduced income support for the poorest and shifted the costs of essential services to those who need them. It is unrealistic for the Government to factor these measures in to the IGR. To index social security payments to the CPI only leaves a quarter of the population falling behind everyone else. To index health funding to the CPI is also unrealistic and unsustainable.

"We need an honest and well informed discussion about the benefits and services we want and how we'll pay for them. Most people accept the underlying message from this report - that our nation does face a challenge to meet the community's expectations with falling revenues and an ageing population.

"Australia has a choice in dealing with the impact of population ageing: Do we restore the Budget by shrinking pensions and essential services or ask those who can, to retire later, and pay their fair share through taxation?

"The compact between Governments and taxpayers, and between the generations, is breaking down. Less than 1 in 4 people of pension age pays any income tax. The superannuation system and other special tax breaks have made paying tax optional for many wealthy older people.

"The IGR, like the Budget, ignores the revenue side of the Budget. Where is the modelling of the future cost of tax breaks for superannuation, which now cost as much as the age pension ($40 Billion a year)?

ACOSS proposes a four part plan to restore the Budget to sustainability. Firstly, the tax system should be strengthened to ensure that people who can afford to contribute, do so. This includes tightening the tax treatment of superannuation to prevent people from churning their income - virtually free of tax - through their super accounts.

"Secondly, is the need to target pensions and services to those who need them. We should all have access to health care because these are essential services needed by the whole community. However, we cannot sustain the costs of pension payments and concessions for people with over a million dollars in assets aside from their homes. We also need to ensure that funding for health services is cost-effective and does not contribute to cost inflation. This calls into question the value of health insurance rebates, which are not reducing the cost of health care in the public system.

"The third part of the solution is to end the waste of human resources that is discrimination against older workers, and bring people marginalised from the work force back in. Due to advances in health and wellbeing, more people can continue to work in their 60s and 70s, even if only part time. We need to move beyond the old system of retirement where people stop paid work forever at 55 while also ensuring a robust safety net for those unable to continue to work due to poor health or disability.

"We need to enable people currently marginalised from the work force, including those unemployed long term, and youth who are unable to get a toe hold in the labour market, to gain the skills and experience needed to find ongoing employment. Improving opportunities for participation and providing adequate income support where it is needed will reduce poverty and the economic costs associated with poverty.

"One of the first steps to increasing participation amongst older people is to raise the preservation age for super, currently set at 55 years. People should only be able to access their retirement savings at the time they can access to Age Pension. It's unfair to those on low incomes who are no longer able to work to deny them the pension while people on much higher incomes can churn their income through super accounts to avoid tax from age 55.

"Fourthly, the Government should identify the biggest gaps in social security and services, where needs for basic services are still unmet. The IGR should examine unmet needs (including the rise of poverty) rather than simply projecting forward all of the existing programs.

"We welcome the bipartisan commitment to the NDIS, but it's unacceptable for people with no other source of income to have to live on the $37 a day Newstart Allowance and for people on low incomes to miss out on basic dental care. Spending on wasteful and badly targeted programs should make way for these higher priorities.

"Through the structural reforms proposed, Governments can afford to continue to provide essential payments and services to those who need them in the future and renew the social compact between Government and people that's served us well for many years," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

National call for urgent reversal of $1 billion worth of damaging cuts to community services

2 March 2015

Councils of Social Service (COSS) across Australia have today joined forces to call on the Federal Government to urgently reverse the damaging cuts to community services so that they can continue to support the country's most vulnerable.

The Federal Government has identified up to $1 billion in "savings measures" from community services that include:

  • $270 million over four years to Department of Social Services;
  • foreshadowed cut of $197 million to Department of Health;
  • $500 million in cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community services;
  • additional cuts to legal services including Legal Aid and community legal services.

"Community organisations have been working in a state of uncertainty for months as these cuts have been made and foreshadowed.

"Last week, we saw the release of the Government-commissioned McClure report in which one of its key recommendations is an investment approach to secure better social and economic participation by those most vulnerable in our communities. Yet these cuts are jeopardising the very social infrastructure provided by community organisations to support such approaches.

"Our strong message today is that the pursuit of these cuts has already had a devastating impact on services and people in communities right across Australia.

"We welcome the efforts of Social Services Minister Scott Morrison to put in place transitional arrangements in recent weeks, which provided short-term relief for some services struggling to support the critical needs of clients and communities. However, many essential community organisations have been facing long-term uncertainty as the Government makes these decisions.

"We recognise that we face a Budget challenge. That's why ACOSS has made a series of fair and responsible proposals to the Federal Budget. But these cuts hit essential community services, during an economic downturn and rising unemployment.

The Councils of Social Service across Australia are calling on the Federal Government to:

  • Stop these funding cuts and determine, in partnership with the community service sector,adequate funding levels to meet community need and maximise social and economic participation for everyone.
  • Extend current funding for organisations that have not yet been able to finalise new Government funding offers.
  • Adopt the recommendations of the Productivity Commission to improve government contracting with community organisations.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Budget Submission containing more than $13 billion of potential savings in the next financial year, rising to over $18 billion in 2016-17.

Facts and timeline on cuts to community services:

  • In the 2014 Federal Budget, $230m was cut from the DSS grants program over four years and the criteria for accessing these reduced funds were reset.
  • In June 2014 services were given six weeks to reframe their service offer according to the new criteria set by the Government, and to bid for the reduced funds available.
  • The Government said they would advise community services on the outcome of this funding round in October 2014.  
  • On December 23, two days before Christmas, the Government contacted services to advise whether their bid for funding had been successful or not; and announced that peak bodies representing many of these services would also be defunded.
  • Some services were advised they were considered ‘preferred providers’ but were not told exactly what services they would be asked to provide, nor how much funding they would receive. They were also told they must treat this advice as confidential.
  • Through January 2015, organisations continued to await detailed funding offers, advising Government that they were being placed at risk of breaching contracts with suppliers and failing to meet obligations on notice periods for staff in terms of potential redundancies, given their lack of funding security.
  • At the end of January, Social Services Minister announced transitional funding for ‘frontline’ organisations that had lost funding; and opened the way for detailed funding offers to be made to organisations that had been successful in the DSS tender process.
  • On 26 February the Government made a further concession, advising that DSS would make available information about who was offered and lost funding for activities in particular areas, to organisations in the context of current contracting; could provide short-term extensions to the due date for signing contracts to organisations that had not yet finalised their funding offers with the Department; would contact organisations that lost funding in the current round and advise them who had been offered funding, so that those organisations could engage in direct discussions regarding transitional arrangements; and that confidentiality in funding agreements should no longer be an impediment to community organisations working together on service provision.

Welfare Review: right questions, flawed model

25 February 2015

Though welcoming key aspects of the McClure report released today, the Australian Council of Social Service said the final report of the Federal Government's commissioned review of Australia's welfare system was a missed opportunity to move to a more rational system based on people's financial need rather than decisions about ‘deservedness'.

"We congratulate Social Services Minister Scott Morrison on the release of this Report today and his commitment to further engagement with the community to inform the Government's response," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"This report should be used as a starting point for further discussion with the community with an objective of achieving structural reform that is bold in vision and scope. It usefully identifies the key problems in the payment system which need to be addressed: complexity, unfairness, inadequacy and disincentives to work.

"However, some of the Report's suggested answers are flawed. While some current income support recipients would go on to a higher payment than they receive currently, many newer applicants would be worse off under the proposed rules. Additionally, the recommended 4-yearly reviews on adequacy are welcome, but indexing to CPI or another price index in the interim would be likely to erode the value of payments over time. In the case of the Aged Pension, the Commission of Audit estimated this erosion at $80/week in a decade if pensions are indexed to prices only.

"Moreover, for people of working age, four income support payment levels instead of three is neither simpler or fairer; and four definitions of disability is likely to be unworkable. To this end, we urge the Government to design a simpler model than that proposed in the Report, which is founded on the principles of adequacy, consistency and fairness.

"We know that many stakeholders raised concerns about the adequacy of allowances and the increasing gap between pensions and allowances. We would have liked to have seen a stronger recommendation that payments to people who are unemployed need to be increased as an urgent priority.

"We welcome the recommendation to establish a panel to regularly review payment adequacy and make recommendations about payment levels. We support this proposal and call on the Government to conduct an initial review of adequacy as a next priority in the reform process.

"Under the current system, people in similar circumstances with similar basic living costs receive different levels of financial support and face different expectations of work.

"Unfortunately, the Report recommendations preserve many of these inconsistencies and create new anomalies in the system through its complex tiered payment proposal.

"While the Report recommends setting higher rates for people with limited capacity to work who are less able or unable to supplement their payments through earned income, this assumes people can get paid work. Yet as we know from the current job market, this is very difficult at the moment.

"While there are savings to be achieved through better targeting parts of the payment system, specifically to address the growth in the Aged Pension, there is very little waste in the working age payments system which is the focus of this Review. In responding to this Report, the Government has an opportunity to reset policy after the Budget and abandon harsh measures that will do nothing to support people in paid work.

"We strongly support the recommendation for a jobs plan for people living with a disability or mental health conditions in the first instance. But it it hard to understand why the review does not include other disadvantaged groups in the plan, including people who are unemployed long term. We look forward to discussing with the Federal Government options to better assist this group, now a majority of people on the Newstart Allowance.

"Any reform must be complemented by increased support to assist people to find paid work, particularly people who are long-term unemployed, older people, single parents, carers and people with a disability.

"In addition to the Minister's commitment to an open dialogue on the Government's reform process from here, we also need a conversation between community organisations, employment services, and employers, so that we can progress policy changes that will work to improve the job prospects of people disadvantaged in the labour market, and to provide adequate income support for those who need it.

"Ultimately the changes we make must simplify the system, improve payment adequacy, and support people into work, as well as to improve the fairness and equity of the system," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

The review report available at here.

ACOSS to respond to McClure Welfare Review: 2pm

25 February 2015

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO

When: 2pm Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Where: ACOSS Office, 619 Elizabeth Street, Redfern, NSW

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie will provide a comprehensive response to the Federal Government's Review of Australia's welfare system at 2pm in Sydney today.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

More information:
ACOSS Submission to Review into Australia's Welfare System

PC Report fundamentals good but risks for low income households must be addressed: ACOSS

20 February 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today expressed its support for the simplification of the child care system proposed in the Productivity Commission's report on Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, but stressed that greater investment was needed in the system and that low income households, including those not in paid work, must be a priority in future reform.

Australia spends less on early childhood education and care than most OECD countries: 0.6% of GDP compared to the OECD average of 0.7%. In designing a reform package, the Government must deliver increased funding for early childhood education. This investment will pay social and economic dividends in the future.

In responding to the Commission's final report released today, ACOSS said it provides a solid basis to reconfigure the current complex and inequitable system through a streamlined means tested subsidy that ensures that most assistance goes to families on the lowest incomes.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

"We strongly support the main recommendation of the report to combine existing child care payments into a single child-based subsidy and the proposal to increase assistance to families who need it the most. This broadly reflects our long-standing policy position."

"However, while we believe that the Productivity Commission has got some of the fundamental design elements right, we are concerned that a number of its specifications will leave some low income and disadvantaged families worse off. In responding to the report, the Government must ensure that this is not the case."

"We are disappointed that the Final Report recommends a maximum subsidy of 85% of the costs of care, down from 90% in the draft report. This will impact on the ability of low income families to access education and care."

"We also strongly oppose the Commission's proposal to introduce a requirement that parents must be engaged in 24 hours per week of work, study or training to receive assistance with the costs of care. It's clear that education in the early years sets children up for life. This is particularly vital for children in low income and disadvantaged households."

"While exemptions are suggested for parents relying on income support, children whose parents are not in paid work would only be eligible for 10 hours of care a week, down from 24 hours under the current system. This is not enough to provide children with a solid educational foundation in their early years."

"The loss of Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance is also likely to mean that very low income families are worse off, including single parent families."

"We are concerned by the proposal to make Family Tax Benefit Part A conditional upon children's attendance at preschool. We do not believe that it is fair to impose a requirement on families which involves additional costs to be eligible for assistance with the costs of children. Pre-school is not free in some states and territories."

"We are also concerned by proposed reforms to transition Budget Based Funded services from block funding to mainstream funding, noting they currently serve many disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The priority must be to support and strengthen community based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early years services, including through secure and sustainable funding arrangements."

"Proposals to extend child care subsidies to nannies should be assessed with a view to ensuring quality educational outcomes for children and delivering benefits to low and moderate income households in need of flexible care arrangements."

"We urge the Federal government to work with all parties and the community in developing a families package that delivers high quality early childhood education which is affordable and accessible. Any reform package should seek to achieve the twin goals of improved educational outcomes for children and improved participation outcomes for parents.

"We look forward to working with the Government and all key stakeholders to design a new system which meets both of these goals."

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Raising revenue and funding social equity: ACOSS address at CEDA

20 February 2015

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO

When: 11am Friday, February 20, 2015<

Where: CEDA annual Economic and Political Overview conference in Adelaide (here).

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie today will deliver a major address at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia's annual Economic and Political Overview conference in Adelaide.

Dr Goldie will stress the need for structural reform of Australia's tax system, including tackling unfair superannuation tax concessions and other tax loopholes currently skewed in favor of higher income earners.

The address will outline a fairer path for the Federal Government to take as it prepares for its second Budget and how we can achieve the twin goal of raising revenue and funding social equity.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

More information:
Cassandra Goldie's chapter titled, ‘Funding Social Equity', contained in the 2015 Economic and Political Overview.

CEDA's annual Economic and Political Overview conference in Adelaide
Friday February 20, 2015.

Speakers

Cassandra Goldie, Chief Executive Officer, ACOSS
Warren Hogan, Chief Economist, ANZ
Hon Jay Weatherill MP, Premier of SA

http://www.ceda.com.au/events/eventdetails/2015/2/s150220?EventCode=S150220

ACOSS on attacks on the Australian Human Rights Commission

16 February 2015

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie:

ACOSS joins the Australian Bar Association and Law Council of Australia (statement here) in expressing alarm at the unprecedented personal attacks on Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs and the Australian Human Rights Commission following the release of ‘The Forgotten Children' report into children in detention.

ACOSS is concerned that these attacks deflect attention from the serious findings in the Australian Human Rights Commission Report which sets out detailed and compelling evidence of the tragic harm caused by the detention of children. The Report holds both current and former Federal Governments to account for policies which have led to documented human rights violations. It also clearly welcomes the reduction in numbers of children in detention under the current Federal Government. The Report offers a deeply disturbing record of the harm inflicted on so many children by successive governments.

ACOSS supports the call by more than 200 organisations for the immediate and indefinite end to the detention of children in Australian controlled detention centres (joint statement here).

The Government, Opposition and all members of the Australian Parliament must take immediate action to ensure that all children are released from Australian-funded detention centres, in Australia and Nauru, and to ensure that these policies are never repeated.

ACOSS calls on the Federal Government to cease personal and institutional attacks on the Australian Human Rights Commissions including its President, Professor Triggs, which only serve to compromise the integrity of our public institutions charged with holding governments to account. ACOSS urges the Federal Government to respond as quickly as possible to the disturbing findings in the Report.

𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁:
The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014)

ACOSS response to Government announcement on funding for part Pensioners

16 February 2015

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

"It is extremely disappointing that despite the budget challenges, the Government appears to be prioritising people with investment assets by effectively reversing last year's budget changes to deeming rates. Those affected are by and large better off in their post working life than those relying on the full pension who will receive a cut to their payments through lower indexation changes in the last Budget.

"The 2014 Budget change to the deeming rates above which assets are deemed to earn a higher rate of interest income was a sensible step towards a better targeted retirement incomes system. It affected older Australians with investment incomes who rely on a part pension. In the interests of ensuring the system targets those who need assistance, ACOSS also supports the abolition of the Seniors Supplement.

"Lowering the indexation of the Aged Pension will have much greater impact on all pensioners, especially those already struggling without the advantage of having investments, and would lead to this group falling behind community living standards.

"It is unclear what public policy interest this change of heart serves, the total cost of which ($200 million per year) is almost equal to the $270 million cut from vital community services in the 2014 Budget.

"What the government should've been announcing today is that it had changed its mind on damaging proposals, such denying people under 30 years of age unemployment payments for six months of each year, and further cuts to struggling sole parents through parenting payment changes."

"This ad hoc announcement, in the absence of consultation, flies in the face of the Prime Minister's commitment to good government. A wholescale review of the retirement incomes system is needed, which examines the superannuation and pension systems with a view to securing adequate and sustainable retirement incomes for the future."

ACOSS on rise in Australia’s unemployment rate

12 February 2015

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie comments on the rise in Australia's unemployment rate

"The big jump in the unemployment rate we've seen today is deeply concerning, especially since it means 34,500 extra people are now in the troubling position of finding paid work in a tight labour market and those who rely on Newstart will have to struggle on the very low unemployment allowance payment of just $37 a day.

"High unemployment is one of the biggest social and economic challenges we face, particularly affecting young people, and a growing group of people who are being locked out of the labour market for more than two years.

"We urge the government to develop a national employment plan, especially to tackle the problem of youth unemployment which is as high as 20% in some parts of the country.

"Identifying opportunities for those looking for paid work, supporting them to develop new skills and linking them with real employers and real jobs must be at the heart of the Government's welfare reform and employment agenda."

"ACOSS has made a number of recommendations to the government, including the redesign of the Employment Pathways Fund model to increase flexibility and redirect resources from ineffective Work for the Dole programs to work experience, training and assistance to people who are unemployed long-term."

"We've also called on the Government to partner with employers, social services and unions to develop a demand led employment strategy which links people looking for paid work with local employers. Our sectors have forged a consensus about what needs to happen. Now it is time for Government to come to the table.

"The result today highlights that investing in solutions that work in supporting people into real paid work must be a priority of the next Budget.

"We must stop the practise of blaming people for not being able to get a job and demonising them when they are already struggling to stay optimistic in a tough labour market.

"It is time for the government to get behind people trying to get a job by investing in solutions and giving people hope."

See ACOSS employment recommendations

Joint Community-business tax reform dialogue gains momentum

7 February 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the Business Coalition on Tax Reform (BCTR) have today jointly urged Australian governments to take up the challenge of tax reform as a national priority, following a major joint Tax Forum co-hosted by the two peak groups.

ACOSS and the BCTR joined forces late last year in an effort to start an open, honest and respectful discussion on tax reform.

The joint ACOSS/BCTR Tax Forum, held on 15 December, brought together prominent tax experts and representatives from sixty major national business and community organisations.

The groups emphasised the need for the Government and the Parliament to take up the challenge of tax reform, and to start by engaging with the community in an open, facts-based dialogue about why it is needed.

Governments at all levels face serious challenges such as Budget weakness, slower economic growth, rising unemployment, and an ageing population. In this context, tax reform is necessary to finance the services required by an ageing population, support affordable housing markets, and keep the economy and jobs growing in challenging economic conditions.

BCTR Chairman Tom Pockett said:

"It's time for the Government, Parliament and the community to face tax reform in a spirit of openness and cooperation. A structured, wide-ranging and inclusive taxation debate is so clearly required.

"Business and community organisations do not always see eye to eye. We have come together on this occasion because the opportunity to reform the tax system is too important to waste.

"A discussion paper is needed that outlines in an objective and non-partisan way the key problems with our tax system. A discussion paper must presents the facts on who pays tax and what effects the system has on securing a sustainable revenue base, economic growth, jobs growth, investment, workforce participation and equity" Mr Pockett said.

ACOSS Chief Executive Officer Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

"Any major reform is hard in today's combative political environment, but tax reform is essential. It will only happen if the community is convinced it will help solve problems that concern us all.

"Tax reform cannot be rushed and it takes time to get it right. The success of tax reform is not about 'selling' a government agenda, or cherry-picking reforms. It will require genuine engagement and wide public debate in the development of reform options, as part of a comprehensive, integrated tax reform package.

"We came into the conference agreeing on some key issues. We agree that reform is necessary to ensure Governments have the revenue they need to enable them to meet the community's reasonable needs for benefits, services and infrastructure, that tax reform should strengthen productivity and jobs producing growth and not diminish it, and that it must be equitable, with people taxed in a consistent way taking account of their ability to pay," Dr Goldie said.

Agreement was reached on some initial key directions for tax reform, including amongst these the need to improve consistency in the tax treatment of investment incomes, ensure the tax system assists effective housing markets, encourages participation and better meets the goals of the retirement income system. It was also agreed that there is a need to ensure adequate revenue for the economic, social and environmental challenges the nation faces.

Conference participants also agreed that all tax reform proposals need to take into account Federal/State relations and that this debate must be held in conjunction with the tax reform debate.

Our organisations commit to work with governments and parliaments to achieve fair and efficient tax reform.

Media contacts:
BCTR Contact Tom Pockett: 0411204784
ACOSS Media Advisor, Fernando de Freitas: 0419 626 155

More information:
Statement of Intent: Tax reform for the common good

BCTR Members: Australian Bankers Association, Australian Financial Markets Association, Australian Industry Group, Australian Institute of Company Directors, Business Council of Australia, Corporate Tax Association of Australia Incorporated, CPA Australia, Financial Services Council Limited, Group of 100, Insurance Council of Australia, Minerals Council of Australia, Property Council of Australia, Real Estate Institute of Australia, Woolworths Limited.

The Australian Council of Social Service is the national peak body for the community sector and advocates for people affected by poverty and inequality. Its 461 members and supporters include organisations that represent people affected by poverty such as sole parents, older people and people with disabilities, as well as major national charities, and peak bodies representing community services such as housing, employment and family services.

A small business tax cut is not a jobs plan: ACOSS

2 February 2015

In responding to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott's National Press Club speech today, ACOSS has urged the Government to develop a national jobs plan with unemployment expected to increase to as much as 6.5% mid-year and the number of people unemployed long-term rising by more than 12% in the past 12 months.

"It's hard to see how a 1.5% tax cut to small business will help address the current revenue problem facing our Federal Budget or help those disadvantaged in the labour market to get a job," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"What we need is a comprehensive employment strategy not more ad hoc decisions, especially one to cut taxes at a time when we are aiming to restore revenue and are about to begin a review of the tax system.

"ACOSS welcomes the Prime Ministers' commitment to ensure the upcoming white paper tax review process will be open and constructive. If we have learned anything from recent events, it is the importance of including the community in the process of setting our national priorities.

"Sadly both sides of politics have failed, not only to explain government decisions but more importantly, to listen and include the community before big decisions are made.

"The community does understand that as a nation we face a challenge to fund important services, such as health, education, income support and aged care into the future. But as recent events show, the public will not tolerate ad hoc decisions being made with little or no consultation or discussion. They also will not accept policies which hurt those with the least, while preserving the privileges enjoyed by those with the most.

"We look forward to the Government consulting widely in developing a new families package to ensure it delivers benefits for families most in need of assistance - low income families and the children.

"The package should be designed to deliver improved educational outcomes for all children, including those experiencing disadvantage, as well as improved workforce participation for women.

"We also seek clarity on the status of the 1.5% company levy, originally for the purpose of funding the Government's amended Paid Parental Leave Scheme. We urge the Government to include the future of the levy in discussions about the families package.

"ACOSS stands ready to partner with the Government and other stakeholders in the development of the families package, and in other major structural reform processes, including tax reform.

"Engagement processes need to be more open and transparent and enable communities to inform, not just be informed about, the policies that will affect Australia's health and wellbeing into the future," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Reprieve for vital community services left in limbo by Government Budget cuts

30 January 2015

ACOSS has welcomed the Minister for Social Services the Hon. Scott Morrison's announcement today to extend funding for government-funded services that were advised they had lost funding on Christmas eve, while also moving to issue funding offers to those who were successful in the recent tender round by Department of Social Services.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "This is a major achievement for community organisations that provide vital support to people and communities across the country."

"These organisations have been in a state of crisis: either because they were told they had lost funding with less than two months notice on current contracts, or because they had been told they were successful in their funding applications but without any detail of the amount of funding or what they would be required to do with it.

"When we met with the Minister he indicated the capacity to ensure appropriate transition for already-vulnerable clients was his urgent priority. The Minister has heard our grave concerns about this. Today's announcement will enable services to work with the clients and communities they support to ensure their needs continue to be met, even as the organisations providing that support might change.

"Of course, this does not mean the $270 million cut to DSS funding over four years has been restored, nor that the key policy and advocacy provided by disability, housing and homelessness organisations has been refunded. At a time when the Government's reform agenda requires a well-informed community and constructive policy advice, this is a major loss that we continue to oppose.

"But for the hundreds and thousands of people who rely on services in areas like emergency relief, financial counselling, community mental health and child, youth and family support, this is significant in terms of their ability to continue receiving the support they need.

"We know there are further details still to come, including the implications of two-year contracts and other implications of redesigned processes flowing from the Williams case, as indicated by the Minister.

"ACOSS will continue to work with the sector and the Government to improve the adequacy of funding processes and their transparency to meet community need," said Dr Goldie.

Media contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

The Government's announcement today provides for:

  • The releasing of funding agreements in the coming days to all organisations who were advised in December that they were successful in their funding tenders, with negotiations to commence immediately given that current funding runs out at the end of February; and
  • Transitional funding for organisations that lost funding in a number of program areas to cover service gaps.

Some organisations that were existing providers and were told they were ‘unsuccessful' in new funding have now had that funding extended from the end of February to 30 June. The following Programs are covered by this extension (some of these are previous program names that have now been broadbanded):

  • Commonwealth Financial Counselling Direct
  • Family and Mental Health Support Services
  • Family Relationship Services for Humanitarian Entrants
  • Kids in Focus
  • Money management services
  • Specialist family violence

More information:

Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison MP Media Release, January 30, 2015 

Morrison to fill critical front line service gaps in Social Service grants

Budget must chart a fairer path back to surplus: ACOSS

29 January 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to focus on restoring revenue by addressing inefficient tax arrangements, rather than through spending cuts, and chart a fairer path back to surplus in its second Budget.

In its Budget submission released today, the peak community sector body has identified more than $13 billion of potential savings in the next financial year, rising to over $18 billion in 2016-17, through measures which it says restore the integrity of Australia's progressive tax system.

"This Budget must be a lot fairer than the last one, and the way this can be achieved is by seriously targeting wasteful spending at the top end, including tax expenditures, instead of pursing policies that shift the burden on to people on the lowest incomes," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We cannot balance the budget with one hand behind our back. When two thirds of the structural budget deficit is due to declining revenues, we need a serious effort to restore revenue to adequate levels. Cutting deep into vital social and economic investments and services is the wrong approach and will cost us more in the long run.

"The reality is that Australia's welfare system is already tightly targeted. We have identified the few areas left in which social services spending can be reined in without causing social and economic harm; such as tightening the assets test to access the part Age Pension and abolishing the Seniors Supplement. These changes will help ensure that government support is going to people who need it.

"Much of the real waste in the national Budget is on the tax expenditure side, in the form of tax concessions which predominantly benefit people on the highest incomes, and this must be a priority in the next Budget.

"A fair Budget must include action to close current loopholes in the personal income tax system, which allow relatively well-off individuals to avoid tax by diverting and ‘sheltering' their income or income producing assets in structures such as discretionary trusts and private companies. ACOSS estimates that tightening the use of private trusts to avoid personal income tax would save as much as $1 billion in 2016-17 and a further $1 billion would be saved by curbing the use of private companies used for the same purpose.

"We must also take steps in this budget for long overdue reforms of negative gearing, superannuation tax concessions, and Capital Gains Tax concessions, which collectively are costing us billions in foregone revenue.

"The removal of CGT concessions for small businesses would save $1 billion in 2016-17. These concessions encourage over-investment in business assets against other options to improve business profitability and are a high risk retirement savings strategy. Reforms to negative gearing tax concessions would generate a further $1 billion, increasing over time.

"ACOSS is proposing a staged reform approach to provide investor certainty where necessary, with most of the savings to come in subsequent years, making more room in future budgets to fund important community services such as health, education, disability, affordable housing and aged care.

"A fair Budget must value appropriate investment in people and the community services and programs that support them, especially during a time of economic slowdown with rising unemployment and growing levels of poverty.

"This must include an adequate living allowance for people looking for paid work, which the current $37 a day Newstart payment simply does not provide. If there is a single policy that would help to reduce the level of poverty amongst the poorest households in Australia, and improve employment outcomes, it is to restore the adequacy of Australia's unemployment payment, and the supplement for rental costs (Commonwealth Rent Assistance) which no government has been prepared to do for over two decades.

"This Budget will also need to take steps to address the youth unemployment crisis, with the rate running at over 20% in many parts of the country. We need to see investment in a youth employment plan to fill the vacuum left by the decision to defund Youth Connections. ACOSS has made further recommendations to improve the employment services system and ways to support and enhance the employment opportunities of people currently locked out of the labour market.

"The necessary investments we are proposing in this Budget are modest but fundamental to close the gaps in our safety net. This must include the reversal of last year's Budget funding cuts to vital services that support people in social and economic disadvantage. The total cost of the investments we propose is around $6 billion in the next financial year, which is affordable given the savings we have identified.

"This Budget cannot repeat the mistakes of the last one, which imposed the heaviest burden on those with the least capacity to carry it, and proved to be socially and economically damaging and divisive. Given the current environment, it would be extremely risky if the government pursued further cuts at this time.

"Australia is a wealthy country with the capacity to ensure all people have access to quality health, education and early childhood services, affordable housing and a strong social protection system. We can manage the challenge of steering our national Budget onto a sustainable path if we make the right choices today.

"Our Budget proposals are about pursuing the common good for people, communities and the country as a whole. They are based on evidence, and sound policy about what will work over the longer term to improve employment outcomes, drive investment in real economic activity, and to ensure that everyone has an adequate standard of living to live with dignity.

"Now is a time for unity not more division. We urge the Government to work with us and the broader community as equal partners in this collective task," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD ACOSS BUDGET SUBMISSION

WATCH VIDEO of ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie outlining ACOSS' Budget Proposals to the media, and this interview on ABC News 24.

Summary of Recommendations

Expenditure savings measures
• Tighten the Age Pension assets test - $1350m ($1450m in 2016-17)
• Abolish the Seniors Supplement - $240m ($250m in 2016-17)
• Abolish the Extended Medicare Safety Net - $400m ($412m in 2016-17)
• Reduce subsidies for out of patent medicines - $1800m ($2000m in 2016-17)

Tax measures
• Remove the private health insurance rebate - $6600m ($6900m in 2016-17)
• Review tax expenditures and reduce/abolish poorly targeted expenditures - $2200m ($2300m in 2016-17)
• Limit deductions for expenses related to passive investments, including housing, to income from the same assets (i.e. reform negative gearing) - $500m ($1000m in 2016-17)
• Remove Capital Gains Tax concessions for small business assets - $1000m in 2016-17
• Curb the use of private trusts and private companies to avoid personal income tax - $2000m in 2016-17
• Stem the avoidance of personal income tax through superannuation ‘churning'- $500m in 2016-17
• Extend 15% tax rate to superannuation fund earnings in pension phase, in stages - $300m in 2016-17.

New spending measures
• Increase Allowances by $51 per week - $400m ($1300m in 2016-17)
• Increase maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 30% - $720m ($760m in 2016-17)
• Strengthen flexible investment for people unemployed long-term and extend and index - $100m ($100m in 2016-17)
• Invest in youth employment transitions program - $65m ($70m in 2016-17) and improve wage subsidy scheme (revenue neutral)
• Index Allowance and Family Payments annually to wages (total $210m in 2015-16 and $230m in 2016-17)
• Increase Family Tax Benefit (FTB) B for sole parents - $480m ($500m in 2016-17)
• Invest in affordable dental care for children and adults - $700m ($1000m in 2016-17)
• Maintain funding for Aboriginal Medical Services - $700m ($718m in 2016-17)
• Index community services funding to wage movements - $360m ($370m in 2016-17) and restore funding cut to community services ($82m in 2015-16 and $100m in 2016-17
• Establish an Affordable Housing Growth Fund - $750m ($900m in 2016-17)
• Maintain and index homelessness funding through NPAH - $160m ($170m in 2016-17)

Total Savings -$ 13,090 million in 2015-16 (-$18,112 million in 2016-17)
Total cost - $5,910 million in 2015-16 ($7,585 million in 2016-17)
NET TOTAL (savings) - -$7,180 million in 2015-16 (-$10,527 million in 2016-17)

Tax: Are we paying our fair share?

23 January 2015

ACOSS today released a new report on Australia's taxation system which examines how fair our tax is system currently.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie:

"We undertook this research to provide accurate information to the public about how the tax system currently works, and who is contributing what share. The findings challenge the suggestion that people are contributing half their income to tax. This is clearly untrue.

"Our research found that although the personal income system is relatively progressive, households on the highest incomes are contributing a modest 20% of their income through taxation. This is because the marginal tax rates are incremental i.e. people on the highest incomes still pay no tax on the first $18 000 they earn, and then for every dollar over that, they contribute 19% up to $80 000, then 32.5% for every extra dollar up to $180 000 and are only then paying 45% on the income earned over $180 000.

"In addition, people on higher incomes are able to avoid paying the marginal rates of tax by diverting income into superannuation, or via negative gearing, trusts and other ‘tax effective' arrangements which have lower tax rates or are tax free. A third of the value of tax concessions on superannuation, for example, goes to the top 10% of income earners.

"Further, the relative progressivity of our personal income tax system is offset by consumption taxes like the GST and other indirect taxes, producing an overall rate similar to that of a flat rate tax of around 25% on all income groups.

"When you combine the effects of personal income tax with consumption and other indirect taxes, the bottom 20% of households pays an average of $129 per week or 24% of their income in tax, while the top 20% pays an average of $1,006pw or 28% of their income in tax. The second 20% pays 21% of their income in tax.

"The key message from this research is that, in order to ensure people are paying their fair share of tax, in accordance with their capacity to pay, we must give priority to reviewing tax minimisation and loophole arrangements that enable higher income tax earners to reduce their income taxed at marginal rates. We must also recognise that the more you move away from the progressive personal income system to rely on consumption taxes like the GST the greater the inequality because low income earners spend a higher proportion of their income on consumption and therefore are impacted to a greater extent (currently 7% for the lowest income households, compared to 3% for households in the highest quintile).

"We are concerned about how skewed the current tax debate is becoming. We seem to be only talking about the GST, yet our modelling shows that lifting or broadening the GST would hit the lowest earners much more than the highest earners.

"Yet we know that superannuation tax concessions and those for trusts, negative gearing and capital gains are far more likely to raise money from well off households than the GST who have a greater capacity. These areas should be a first priority for reform.

"We hope this research leads to a more sensible debate, where everything is in on the table and we have transparency about the facts."

Key findings

The personal income system is relatively progressive:

  • Bottom 20% pays an average of 3% of their income
  • Top 20% pays an average of 20% of their income

Consumption and other indirect taxes are regressive usually ‘flat taxes' with no tax-free threshold

- They do not tax the portion of income that is saved, and high income earners save more
- Overall, the average rate of the Goods and Services Tax paid declines with income, unlike income tax where it increases. ABS modelling shows:

  • The bottom 20% pays an average of $38pw in GST, or 7% of their income
  • The top 20% pays an average of $103pw in GST, or 3% of their income

Other ‘indirect' taxes include business taxes like Payroll Tax, Stamp Duties, and Fuel Excise (this includes State as well as Federal taxes), which are largely passed on to consumers

- These raise more revenue overall than the GST and together have a greater overall impact on household expenses. ABS modelling shows

  • The bottom 20% pays an average of $77pw or 14% of their income
  • The top 20% pays an average of $183pw or 5% of their income

The combined effect of income and consumption taxes - including income tax, GST and other indirect taxes - when added together is not as progressive as often believed. In fact, the picture is much more nuanced, with a rate similar to that of a flat rate tax on incomes of around 25% (+ or - up to 4 %) on all income groups

- The progressive effect of the personal income tax is substantially offset by the GST and other indirect taxes, so that:

  • The bottom 20% pays an average of $129pw or 24% of their income
  • The top 20% pays an average of $1,006pw or 28% of their income
  • The second 20% pays 21% of their income

The greater the role for personal income taxes in the overall tax mix, the greater the reduction in household income inequality from the tax system as a whole.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie is available for interview.

Media phone: 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD Report here.

ACOSS proposes alternative evidence-based and equitable savings to health services

16 January 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the Federal Government to heed the growing community concern about affordable, accessible universal health care; and to focus on evidence-based solutions to pull back wasteful spending in the health Budget.

"We know that our health system faces increasing costs with an ageing and growing population, but it's certainly not a crisis," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. "Savings measures should be selected that will either drive improved health outcomes, or cut real waste in existing spending."

"The Prime Minister has asked for alternatives to the government's proposals for the Health Budget. ACOSS welcomes the invitation. Our proposals are grounded in evidence and would improve the effectiveness of government spending in improving health outcomes for the greatest number of people.

"We urge the government to:

1. Abolish of the wasteful Private Health Insurance Rebate altogether. The PHI rebate has failed in its promise to increase private health insurance and take pressure off public hospitals. It disproportionately benefits people on higher incomes who can afford private cover in the first place, and has been a significant factor in driving up costs without any evident gain in achieving its initial policy intent. We estimate that this alone would save around $6.6 billion, rising to nearly $7b in in 2016-17.

2. Abolish the Extended Medicare Safety Net. This is another poorly targeted subsidy that has failed to adequately assist in reducing out-of-pocket costs for the public. In fact it may have increased the costs of particular medical procedures. This subsidy costs us around $400 million dollars a year.

3. Overhaul ineffective industry subsidies including in the PBS with an initial saving of almost $2billion to reduce the cost of out of patent prescription medicines. Simply introducing single pricing mechanisms, or accelerating these reforms in other ways, can deliver significant further savings. ACOSS has proposed alternatives that would provide a $1.8 billion dollar saving in this area in the next final year, increasing to $2 billion in 2016-17.

"ACOSS welcomes the decision by the new Health Minister Sussan Ley to take the changes to Medicare rebates, scheduled to begin on Monday, off the table. However the original policy for co-payments to GP services remains deeply flawed as a budget measure and inequitable in its impacts on those most needing to access GP services. We urge Minister Ley to work with a wider group of experts and community to develop a medium to longer term strategy on health spending.

"We need an open and rigorous process about the options based on evidence before major policy changes are made. Clearly this hasn't happened in the case of the original GP co-payment plan nor with the plan to cut the Medicare rebate for doctor visits. This is not the way to make good public policy - and it's resulted in very bad policy.

"A GP co-payment, including through cuts to rebates for GP visits, isn't ‘serious reform' as the Prime Minister has it. It's a straight out cut that directly undermines the vital role of the GP in reducing chronic illness, and misses the point about where the most wasteful expenditure lies. We need to see the full picture on health expenditure and canvas a much wider range of options before big decisions are made.

"The Government needs to start again on health policy, and give top priority to supporting a decent universal health system, which is cost-effective.

"The Australian public does not want an American-style health system, and the budget cannot afford it. We also need to heed the advice of health experts to invest in prevention and early intervention, particularly through primary health, to reduce the incidence of chronic illness, and improve health outcomes over time. The GP co-payment would undermine all of these evidence-based outcomes we need to achieve.

"We urge Minister Ley to work closely with all stakeholders in the community to develop the right policies for ensuring sustained health care that is fair, accessible and affordable into the future," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD ACOSS health proposals here

Key proposals include:

  • Abolish the Extended Medicare Safety Net - Saving: $400 million in 2015-16 ($410 million in 2016-17)
  • Remove the 30% Private Health Insurance Rebate from 1 July 2015 - Saving: $6,600 million in 2015-16 (6,900 million in 2016-17)
  • Reduce subsidies for PBS listed medicines which are out of patent - Saving: $1,800 million in 2015-16 ($2000 million in 2016-17)

Collective community sector call for Government halt to ‘devastating’ funding cuts

31 December 2014

ACOSS and state and territory Councils of Social Service have issued a collective New Year's Resolution for the Federal Government to stop devastating funding cuts to community organisations all over the country.

Speaking today, ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said: 'We are determined to convince the Federal Government to reverse its decision to cut funding from community organisations around the country as well as the key national community peak bodies in the housing, homelessness, disability areas, two days before Christmas."

"It is clear that the consequences of these cuts have not been considered by the new Minister responsible, and all our early signs from community people around the country tells us the impacts on vulnerable communities will be devastating.

"Defunding national community advocacy organisations decimates the voices of civil society, with highly skilled experts from the community no longer around the tables with government and business in 2015 to work on solutions to some of the country's national challenges. What happened to this Government's commitment not to gag the community? You don't get a bigger gag clause than completely defunding community advocacy," Dr Goldie said.

Susan Helyar, Director of the ACT Council of Social Services, said: "At a time when we know that up to 80% of services are turning people away it does not make sense to cut services or peak bodies. Demand for services is increasing as unemployment rises and housing costs remain high. Peak bodies are in a unique position to identify critical community needs and service improvements as well as provide well informed policy advice to government."

The Australian Council of Social Service has repeatedly raised the concerns of its members about the flawed DSS tender process, and warned this fraught process would create bad outcomes. The COSS network has advocated strongly for transparency and improvements to the procurement process as a matter of standard practice: including offering contracts of reasonable length and reasonable notifications on tender outcomes.

Mark Henley, CEO of QCOSS said: "The Government and the community sector together, need to develop a formal plan which includes a comprehensive social policy agenda to inform decisions about the services required to better meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in the community. This should focus on how we maximise the social and economic wellbeing of every individual."

Irina Cattalini, CEO, WACOSS said "Early analysis suggests that the Commonwealth is unilaterally shifting costs to the States and Territories for vital services that they no longer want to support. This would be a pre-emptive move at odds with the consultative approach adopted in its ‘Reform of the Federation' White Paper. If the Commonwealth withdraws from funding services in this way it will throw significant pressure on to the State and Territory Governments; already stretched by the twin pressures of the cuts announced in this year's Federal Budget."

Tracy Howe, CEO of NCOSS said, "The community sector has long raised the issue of short-term notifications which are known to be detrimental and has been advocating for six months notice on contract outcomes with six more months for transition to close down services. While some organisations have received notice that their funding will not be renewed beyond June others are being notified that their funding will cease in February."

The leaders of the Councils of Social Service concluded, "For staff the reality of coming back to work after the Christmas holiday period only to discover that services to your vulnerable clients will no longer be there past February 2015 is completely devastating. As the New Year dawns, the effects in communities who will lose services and lose representation through peak bodies is even more distressing."

Media Contact: 0419 626 155

  • Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
  • Susan Helyar, Director, ACT Council of Social Service
  • Mark Henley, CEO, Queensland Council of Social Service
  • Tracy Howe, CEO, Council of Social Service of NSW
  • Irina Cattalini, CEO, Western Australian Council of Social Service

Government urged to make a new start in 2015

30 December 2014

Two of the nation's leading community welfare organisations today called on our nation's politicians and leaders to partner with business, welfare, community groups, and churches and charities in 2015, to address growing poverty and the country's jobs crisis, if we are to build a more prosperous, productive and fairer society.

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and Maree O'Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) said today: "Australia's social security system provides safety for families and individuals and helps stabilise the economy in downturns."

"Unfortunately, a number of social security changes will take effect from 1 January 2015 that will cause hardship for families, young people and people with disabilities. The most welcome news in 2014 was that the Senate blocked the most extreme and harsh social security measures to come before the Parliament since the Social Security Act was first introduced in 1947."

"Of the more than 20 major social security changes flagged in the 2014 Federal Budget, the most extreme involved denying people under 30 years of age unemployment payments for six months of each year. The Government estimated that 110,000 people each year would be impacted by this policy with some becoming destitute. The Government planned to set aside $230 million over four years for food parcels and other emergency relief for those made destitute by this policy.

"The Senate rejected a proposal to raise the eligibility age for Newstart Allowance to 25 for young unemployed people. Due to start on 1 January 2015, over a 12 month period, this measure would leave around 70,000 young people with $48 a week less to live on.

"An estimated 3.8 million Age, Carer, Veteran and Disability Support Pensioners would have been short-changed by $100 a week over a decade if less generous indexation rules were passed by the Senate. The Age Pension eligibility age will not increase from 67 to age 70 while the Senate maintains its opposition. This harsh plan would severely affect older people who lose their job and Indigenous people who have much lower life expectancy than their non-Indigenous peers.

"January 1, 2015 marks two years since the Labor Government pushed more than 60,000 single parents onto the lower-paying Newstart Allowance (some single parents had already suffered this harsh cut in 2006 under a Coalition Government). There are currently around 90,000 single parents - 95 per cent of them women - whose families have lost between $80 and $140 per week under a policy that Labor has now apologised for implementing.

"Around 260,000 Parenting Payment Single recipients were due to have their pensions frozen in real terms under Budget 2014 plans to alter indexation arrangements from 1 January 2015. If this plan had been approved by the Senate it would have left single parent families around $80 a week worse off over the next 10 years.

"From January 1, over 42,000 single parents, carers and Disability Support Pensioners would have also lost up to $64 a fortnight if the Abbott Government's plans to axe the study payment, the Pensioner Education Supplement, had passed the Senate by 1 January 2015.

"New laws in place are set to cause significant harm to low income and disadvantaged people in Australia. Among the major social security changes that are due to take effect in 2015 are:

  • A medical review of 28,000 Disability Support Pension recipients aged under 35 under tighter impairment tables if they qualified for payments between January 2008 and December 2011. Around half (48 per cent) of those being reviewed by the under 35 measures have a mental health condition. An estimated 1.4 per cent (around 1,400 people with disabilities) will be moved onto a lower Newstart Allowance. This would leave them around $170 per week worse off;
  • Apply ‘program of support' rules to DSP recipients under 35 and new compulsory ‘participation plans' with compliance penalties to apply;
  • Generally limit DSP overseas portability to just 4 weeks each 12 months, saving $5 million;
  • Limit of six-weeks overseas portability to student payments;
  • Pause indexation of assets value of limits of all working age allowance, student and parenting payment from single for 2 years from July 2015;
  • Pause indexation for 3 years of assets test free areas for all pensions (except Parenting Payment Single) from July 2017, and
  • Axe relocation assistance scholarship assistance for students relocating within and between major cities from 1 January 2015.

"The first Abbott Government Budget contains billions of dollars in social security spending cuts that will lead to intolerable hardship for the poorest and most disadvantaged in the community."

"The Government has, however, supported a number of modest measures aimed at higher income earners that both ACOSS and Welfare Rights support. From 1 January 2015 untaxed superannuation income will be included in the assessment for Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. The Senate also agreed to improve the targeting of Family Tax Benefit Part B by reducing the primary earner income limit from $150,000 to $100,000 a year from July 2015.

"There is some welcome news for young people receiving social security payments, with small increases in these very low weekly payments on 1 January. Those on Youth Allowance, Abstudy and Austudy Payment increase only even 12 months, unlike other social security payments which are increased every six months. The maximum rate of Youth Allowance for a person over 18 and living away from home is just $213.40 a week, and will be increased by just $6.20 a week. Young people on such low rates find it extremely difficult to make ends meet, especially if they rent privately. Welfare, business and the ACTU are calling on the Federal Government to increase single allowance payments by $51 a week in the 2015 Federal Budget."

"ACOSS, along with the Welfare Rights Network and hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and their families and carers await the release of the Government's review of the welfare system with high levels of both caution and concern.

"While the simplification of social security payments is important, a more critical issue for the overall health of our system is found in addressing the concerns of both the adequacy of payments, especially for those on allowance payments and the provision of more effective employment assistance.

"Leaks suggest over time, payments for people with disabilities will be reduced and that some people with certain types of disabilities should be paid lesser amounts because of the nature of their disability. Indications are that people with psychiatric or mental illnesses will be singled out, despite evidence pointing to the global dimensions of mental health problems, and evidence suggesting that employers are less likely to employ people with mental health conditions.

"We want to see the Government make a new start in 2015, by scrapping harmful legislation currently before Parliament and working with us to develop a strategy to address growing poverty and the jobs crisis facing our country."

Media comment:
Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO: Mobile: 0419 626 155


Further comments
Social Security cuts affecting families

"The Bills currently before the Parliament contain a wide range of measures that have complex interactions with each other. For example, a single parent on Newstart Allowance with a teenage son, an eight year old daughter and a 22 year old son will be hit by many simultaneous cuts to her income and her overall family income will be reduced a number of times by the numerous income tests that apply to her situation (often referred to as the "stacking" of income tests).

"We identified that a single parent could be impacted by 11 different measures in the Bills before the Parliament. If her oldest child is required to serve a six month exclusion period, they will be expected to support that child for six months of each year to help cover basic costs like food and medicines and transport, until they turn 30.

"Other changes that will impact this families' income includes the freezing to income test thresholds, FTB income test thresholds; freezing of the FTB ‘end of year' supplements; a freeze to the Youth Allowance income test threshold; axing of the Pensioner Education Supplement and the Education Entry Payment. They may also lose some of the benefits available through the Pensioner Concession Card as a result of more restricted access to concessions as a result of the termination of the National Partnership Agreement on concessions, with the removal of $100 million in funding to the states and territories.

No strategy to address poverty and the jobs crisis facing Australians
The practical effect of many of the proposed social security changes is to reduce the prospects for work and entrench poverty and disadvantage.

"Our other major concerns with the Government's agenda is that it has no coherent plan or strategy to deal with the crisis of long term joblessness.

"The only response to the explosion on long term joblessness is the funneling of over $900 million into wasteful, expensive and ineffective ‘Work For The Dole' programs. Increased wage subsidy schemes and ‘demand-led' employment programs are needed to support the 705,000 Newstart Allowance recipients seeking to find employment."

Shutting down community voices will weaken Government’s ability to make effective reforms

23 December 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today expressed deep concern at the extensive funding cuts to community sector organisations announced yesterday, including to policy and advocacy work. ACOSS believes this will severely weaken the Federal Government's ability to engage with the community on the important reforms that lie ahead and deliver an inclusive growth agenda.

"Cutting support for vital community expertise and voices is a major mistake. Community voices play a crucial role in providing on-the-ground advice and an important link connecting communities with government decision-making processes," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Peak bodies working in housing and homelessness and disability, among other areas, have all been advised they will not be receiving Government funding for their work in the future, despite the core areas of need and policy priority that they represent.

"Treasurer Joe Hockey has declared that 2015 will be a year of community consultation, yet the government is dismantling the very mechanisms that will allow that to happen effectively.

"It is shocking that the Government would wait until the eve of Christmas to deliver this news, at the very time many community organisations are the most stretched with demands for help.

"We know that 80% of frontline agencies are struggling to meet growing demand for services with 2.5 million people now living below the poverty line. Most of them have been living in a state of uncertainty since the budget decision to withdraw around a quarter of a billion dollars from the Department of Social Services portfolio. Now we are finding out that the very groups that advocate for those services, and the people living in poverty and disadvantage that they represent, will be shut down in the new year.

"This is a major blow to a sector that makes an enormous contribution to our society, not only in providing a lifeline for people and communities in need, but evidence and policy advice to government.

"A strong, independent civil society is essential to a functioning democracy. Defunding these expert voices clearly diminishes our capacity to represent and advocate for the people that we are here to assist. Governments need fearless and frank advice, now arguably more than ever. Business needs community expertise to help us search for common ground on what works. The Australian public needs informed, and sometimes robust public debate. Community organisations are essential to each of these processes.

"The Prime Minister has identified the Cabinet Reshuffle as an opportunity to reset and refocus. We call on the incoming Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Scott Morrison, to reset this decision on funding cuts, recognising that these expert voices in the community sector will be of unique value to his role, bringing independent community views about practical, workable solutions to some of our biggest national challenges.

"The Government has been criticised for being unable to gain public support for many of its unfair budget measures which overwhelmingly impact upon people on the lowest incomes. Now is the time for the Government to listen to these concerns and bring the community together in forging a reform path which is fair and sustainable.

"We urge the Minister to work in partnership with us to enable everyone to participate in our society and have a strong social protection system for anyone who falls into hard times. This is the mark of a strong civil society and will be the measure by which the Government will be judged," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Find out more about cuts to social services here.

New Cabinet: Opportunity to reset unfair Budget policies and work together on major reforms

22 December 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today responded to the Prime Minister's cabinet reshuffle by calling on the Government to seize the opportunity to reset its budget and work with the community, including by engaging with those experiencing poverty and disadvantage, on major reforms.

ACOSS Acting CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said, "The community has voiced its strong opposition to the harshest measures in the federal budget. Now is the time for the government to listen to these concerns and bring the community together down a budget reform path which is fair and sustainable."

"We look forward to working constructively with Minister Morrison and the Government in the coming year to ensure effective policy and service delivery, including as it prepares its new families package.

"The Social Services portfolio is critical to ensure adequate support to people and communities facing poverty and inequality across Australia, and to supporting employment participation. Minister Morrison, and other Minister's responsible for health, education and employment, will play a critical role in determining how the Government best meets the needs of the many people outside the labour market.

"When the Prime Minister took office in September 2013, he said this would be a Government for everyone that would ‘not leave anyone behind'. This reshuffle is the chance for the Government to reset on that commitment and to abandon damaging measures from the 2014 Budget such as withdrawing payments for young unemployed people for six months of each year; restricting access to Newstart to over 25s; freezing family payments; lowering indexation of pensions; further targeting of people on disability support pension; and introducing a GP co-payment.

"We know that frontline agencies are struggling to meet growing demand for services with 2.5 million people now living below the poverty line. At the same time we've seen severe cuts to Department of Social Security funding of around a quarter of a billion dollars. That will reduce our ability to meet increasing need in our community.

"In an economic downturn with growing unemployment, we must ensure that our social protection system is robust. It's not a time to slash these supports and programs.

"As the peak body for this important sector, ACOSS will continue to provide expert advice to government, grounded in the experience of people and communities living in poverty, and connecting communities with government decision-making processes.

"The former Minister Kevin Andrews demonstrated a commitment to meaningful engagement with ACOSS and people with lived experience of poverty and exclusion, even in the face of policy disagreement. We wish him well in his new portfolio of Defence," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Find out more about cuts to social services here.

Groups call for rejection of Healthy Welfare Card

12 December 2014

JOINT STATEMENT

December 13, 2014

Groups call for Government to reject Forrest Review Healthy Welfare Card; pursue decent welfare reform

Australia's community welfare sector and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations are calling on the Federal Government not to proceed with the implementation of the Forrest Review proposal for a cashless welfare card which would apply to everyone - people who are unemployed, carers, single parents and people with disability - except veterans and people on the aged pension.

We recognise the urgent need to open up opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and support many of the employment and education measures in the Forrest Report which would go some way to help move people out of poverty. Specifically, we support the Review's call for increased investment in early childhood education, comprehensive case management for vulnerable families, increased engagement between schools and parents and demand-led employment approaches. These initiatives should be implemented in way which strengthens the capacity of community-controlled organisations.

However, we are united in our strong opposition to the proposal contained in the Andrew Forrest Review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes for a Healthy Welfare Card, which we believe would be demeaning, invasive, unworkable and bureaucratic, creating an entire sub-class of millions of people in the Australian community.

The welfare card is modelled on the Basics Card currently used to manage the income of people in disadvantaged communities and locations around Australia. This income management scheme has failed to effect long-term changes in behaviour or outcomes, despite the high cost of the policy. Beyond some limited success with people who have entered into income management arrangements voluntarily, the evidence points to the scheme being unsuccessful in achieving the stated aims of preventing people from spending the money alcohol, gambling and drugs, or getting people to buy healthy and fresh food. Progress in encouraging school attendance appears to have stalled.

The welfare card also has significant logistical and practical challenges for individuals forced to live without cash in communities in which the cash economy continues to be significant. These individuals may have difficulty making small purchases without cash (many retailers require a $10 minimum spend), will be limited to shopping at retailers with EFTPOS facilities (which will exclude many smaller and second-hand retailers), will make payment of small expenses associated with children's education difficult (payment for excursions, purchases at the school canteen) and will preclude individuals from accessing services or products requiring cash (parking metres, shopping trolleys, laundromats). In short, it will constrain choices and make life more difficult. It would send a message that income support recipients cannot be trusted with cash.

The objectives of welfare reform should be to ensure payments are adequate to meet basic living costs, support employment participation, target assistance according to need and to ensure that the administration of payments respects the dignity of people relying on income support.

The welfare review should be looking to reform which is grounded in evidence of what works. If people have chronic alcohol or drug addictions, or children are at risk, they need intensive case management and intervention based on the best professional advice.

We share the concerns expressed by the Australian Bankers' Association and many others in their submissions to the Forrest review about blocking access to cash or proscribing the purchase of goods and services to people on income support that are available to other members of the community.

We particularly note the concern of the Australian Bankers' Association about the costs and technological and infrastructure limitations associated with implementing the card, which would require ‘changes to be made throughout the payments system at all levels, to retail banking systems and product offerings and to the Government' s Centrelink and payment administration systems'. According to the ABA this simply would not be possible, and ‘undermines the implementation of a workable, efficient and effective scheme'.

We believe that the starting principle for any changes should be to ensure that our income support and employment systems are non-discriminatory in design and implementation. Any changes should be based on evidence about the best way to assist people to participate economically, socially and culturally. This welfare card fails that test.

Signatories

  • Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)
  • ACT Council of Social Service
  • Adult Learning Australia
  • Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance
  • Australian Association of Social Workers
  • Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
  • Australian Community Children's Services
  • Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations
  • Baptist Care Australia
  • Brotherhood of St Laurence
  • Children with Disability Australia
  • Consumer Health Forum of Australia
  • Council of Social Service of New South Wales
  • Family and Relationship Services Australia
  • Financial Counselling Australia
  • Homelessness Australia
  • Jobs Australia
  • Mission Australia
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
  • National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
  • National Association of Community Legal Centres
  • National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
  • National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children
  • National Welfare Rights Network
  • Northern Territory Council of Social Service
  • Public Health Association Australia
  • Queensland Council of Social Service
  • Relationships Australia
  • Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care
  • Social Determinants of Health Alliance
  • South Australian Council of Social Service
  • St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia
  • Tasmanian Council of Social Service
  • The Benevolent Society
  • Victorian Council of Social Service
  • Vision Australia
  • Western Australian Council of Social Service

Revised GP co-payment still bad public policy: ACOSS

10 December 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today expressed concern at the ongoing risk to people on low incomes who may be discouraged from seeking timely health advice due to the Government's revised co-payment proposal.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "We are deeply concerned about people missing out on timely and appropriate medical advice before conditions become serious, due to the increased cost this measure will impose."

"While health care card holders are exempted, they do not cover the many people living with chronic health conditions, nor the growing number of working poor families and elderly people not covered by concessions, who are likely to be hit with a new $5 charge.

"We know that people with chronic health conditions, in particular, need routine health care from GPs and they will be greatly affected by this measure.

"We are also concerned about young people over 16 who are likely to be on low or no incomes and not necessarily on income support because of the tight conditions around independence. They too will be hit.

"While we applaud any move to reduce ineffective and poorly targeted spending within the health Budget, this must be done in line with the equally important priority of improving population health. Unfortunately, this measure has the potential to reduce health and wellbeing, particularly when the evidence shows that such price signaling does not distinguish between genuine health needs. It is unclear who the government sought advice from or consulted with in formulating this new plan.

"We are troubled that it will be patients who will bear the cost, as many doctors will have no option but to demand the $5 from them. It is effectively a co-payment by default," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

80% of Australia’s community services unable to meet demand: ACOSS report

8 December 2014

The largest survey of Australia's community services sector to be released today, reveals that 80% of frontline agencies are unable to meet current levels of demand with the resources they have. The biggest gaps in meeting demand are in the areas of greatest community need.

The survey of almost 1,000 community service workers from around the country shows that 43% of services are simply unable to meet the needs of people coming to them for help. A further 37% can ‘almost' meet demand. Only 20% reported being able to meet demand fully.

"From the coalface of community work, our findings are deeply concerning and should ring alarm bells for Federal Government policies that would inflict deeper pain on the people doing it toughest in our community," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"As a society we simply cannot accept policies that will further erode the living conditions of people on the lowest incomes, or reduce the social services that are their lifeline.

"We are particularly perturbed about the state of our nation's community legal and accommodation services, which have reported great difficulty meeting demand: 72% and 51% respectively are unable to meet demand. Yet, despite the urgent need for these services in our community, they have been subjected to Federal funding cuts and ongoing funding uncertainty.

"Services reported they would need to increase capacity substantially to meet current demand levels in these and other vital areas of need.

"We are troubled by the plight of both young and older people not in paid work and of single parents, with community service workers reporting a noticeable deterioration in their quality of life and levels of stress in the past year. 50% of on-the-ground community workers said that quality of life was ‘a lot worse' for young unemployed people and 56% perceived that life for sole parents was more stressful.

"Life for both young and older unemployed people has become more stressful over the past 12 months and community workers identified employment and affordable housing as top policy priority issues that urgently need to be addressed.

"More than anything these findings highlight the need to bring to an end the current climate of uncertainty, both in funding for crucial services and for vulnerable groups in our community.

"The Federal Government needs to go back to the drawing board on some of its deeply unfair Budget measures, including significant funding cuts for social and community service programmes, and proposals such as removing payments for young unemployed people for six months of each year. This was the strong recommendation of a Senate Reference Committee last week, which found that the harsh approach of the Budget will push more people into poverty and disadvantage.

"The government must abandon other damaging measures which threaten to make the situation worse for people and families on low incomes, including restricting access to Newstart to over 25s; freezing family payments; lowering indexation of pensions; further targeting of people on disability support pension; and introducing a $7 GP co-payment.

"Already 2.5 million people are living below the poverty line in Australia, including 603,000 children. Now is the time for us to work together as a community to turn this picture around. Australia's community welfare sector, which contributes 5% to our nation's GDP and employers nearly one million people, is working hard to meet this challenge.

"We urge governments at all levels to work with us in the pursuit of evidence-based policies that will be effective, not ones based on short term budgetary imperatives that will cost us more as a community in the longer term," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD REPORT

 

Key Findings

How people are faring
Our survey finds that the lives of people living on low incomes have become increasingly difficult and stressful over the past year.
• 49% of sector staff reported quality of life to be ‘a lot worse' for people on low incomes.
• 50% of sector staff reported quality of life to be ‘a lot worse' for young unemployed people.
• 56% of sector staff reported that life for sole parents is more stressful.
• 54% of sector staff reported that life is more stressful for young unemployed people.
• 52% of sector staff reported that life is more stressful for older unemployed people.
Demand for services

Across the community sector, services are struggling to meet demand.
• Overall, 80% of sector services reported being unable to fully meet demand.
• 43% of sector services reported being unable to meet demand.
• 37% of sector services reported being able to almost fully meet demand.
• Only 20% of sector services reported being fully able to meet demand.
Services that prioritise people on low incomes or with specific needs are least able to meet demand.
• 49% reported being unable to meet demand.
• Only 12% reported being fully able to meet demand.

The largest service gaps are in areas of greatest need.
The data on capacity to meet demand suggests the largest service gaps exist in areas of the greatest need: among services working most closely with those on the lowest incomes and with the highest levels of need in their communities.

Community legal and accommodation services reported great difficulty meeting demand.
• 72% of legal services are unable to meet demand.
• 51% of accommodation services are unable to meet demand.

Services not able to meet demand need to increase capacity substantially to meet demand.
• 33% of services would need to increase capacity by 11-25% to meet demand.
• 30% of services would need to increase capacity by 26-50% to meet demand.
• 25% of services would need to increase capacity by 51-200% or more in order to meet demand.

Community priorities
Sector staff identified investment in affordable housing as the highest priority for benefitting the community as a whole, followed by employment, education and skills development, health and income support.

• Employment was the top priority identified for young unemployed people, followed by education and skills development, affordable housing and income support.
• Affordable housing was the top priority identified for sole parents, followed by income support, education and skill development and employment.

Affordable housing was also the top priority identified for older unemployed people, followed by income support, health and social connections and social capital.

Policy priorities identified include:
• Reducing cost of living pressures for people on low incomes;
• Maintaining state and local government concessions;
• Increasing income support; and
• Expanding training programs for people experiencing long-term unemployment.

Service prioritiesSector staff identified increased investment in housing and homelessness services as delivering the greatest benefit to people on low incomes, followed by mental health services and services for vulnerable families and children.

Australia's Community Sector
Australia's community welfare sector makes an enormous contribution to Australian society, contributing 5% to GDP and 8% to employment annually. It employs 919,000 people and a further two million volunteers.

Australia’s community services unable to meet demand: new ACOSS report

7 December 2014

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO

When: 10am Monday, December 8, 2014

Where: Weave Youth & Community Services, Corner Elizabeth & Allen Streets, Waterloo, NSW. Map Link: http://g.co/maps/ukx5m

ACOSS will release the largest survey of Australia's community services sector at 10am on Monday 8th December 2014.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will launch the report which serves as a barometer of how the nation's frontline agencies are travelling in meeting the needs of people who turn to them for help.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Note to media: Please advise your intention to attend. The head of Weave Youth and Community Services and a number of people assisted by the service will be available for interviews and pictures.

Radio Interviews: available tonight and early am before the launch.

Find out more about the Australian Community Sector Survey here.

Inequality report confirms need for policy rethink

4 December 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Federal Government to ensure the upcoming Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outook and future welfare reforms reduce growing inequality, following the release of a damning Senate report.

"In the forthcoming MYEFO and in responding to the Welfare Review, the Government has an opportunity to chart a course which treats people fairly according to their capacity and means," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

The report by the Senate's Community Affairs References Committee, Bridging our growing divide: inequality in Australia notes that inequality in Australia has increased since the 1980s.

It finds that the harsh approach of the Federal Budget will push more people into poverty and disadvantage and calls for many of its more harmful measures to be abandoned.

"We are looking to MYEFO for a change in direction and call on the Government to shelve those measures which will disproportionately hit people on low incomes and to provide funding certainty for frontline services, including homelessness services, which assist people living in poverty."

"The current review of working age payments also presents an opportunity for reform which reduces inequality and increases employment participation.

"Welfare reform must reflect the principles of adequacy, fairness and simplicity and improve housing affordability, employment incentives and administrative efficiency."

ACOSS has developed a set of principles for welfare reform (included in full below) in partnership with our members. With the release of the McClure Welfare Review final report expected soon, the Committee indicated its support for these principles describing them as "fundamental to the integrity of Australia's social security system".

The Committee backed the fundamental principle that payments should be based on financial need, not future employment potential, and that no recipient should be financially worse off as a result of the reforms.

Importantly, the Committee also added its voice to the many community and business voices calling for the inadequacy of the Newstart Allowance to be addressed, noting it was $100 below major poverty lines (the 50% of median income and Henderson Poverty Line).

"In responding to the welfare review, increasing the adequacy of allowances and closing the gap between pensions and allowances must be a high priority," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

 

WELFARE REFORM PRINCIPLES

Adequacy:

The base rates of social security payments for singles and couples should be adequate to meet socially accepted essential living costs; that is, to prevent poverty.

The safety net should be there when it is needed, including for young people who are unemployed.

Income support should be benchmarked to broader community living standards; and indexed to movements in wages as well as prices affecting social security recipients.

Supplements should meet additional major non-discretionary costs; including housing rents, costs of disability, costs of sole parenthood, costs of caring, and retention of a separate system of family payments for the costs of children.

Fairness:

People with the same financial needs should receive the same level of income support. Maximum payment levels should be based on current financial need rather than ‘deservedness'. No group should be financially worse off as a result of reform, and those facing the greatest hardship should be better off.

People should not be moved from higher to lower payments when their financial needs are the same, and the system should be redesigned to prevent this happening.

Housing affordability:

Comprehensive action should be taken to make housing affordable for people on low incomes, including in places where jobs are available.

Rent Assistance should be adequate and indexed to movements in rents.

Improvements in Rent Assistance should complement, not replace, adequate public investment in social housing and reform of incentives for private investment in affordable housing.

Employment incentives:

To improve employment incentives for people with barriers to employment, maximum payment levels should be based on an individual's current financial need rather than their future employment prospects.

Payments should not reduce the closer a person with a disability or caring responsibility comes to securing paid employment.

Base rates of social security payments should be targeted to people in financial need through income and assets tests which ignore modest levels of private income and assets, ensure a fair return to paid work, and can be readily understood and complied with. Supplements should be less strictly income tested, in accordance with their purpose (for example to assist with the extra costs associated with a disability, which do not reduce once a person gains employment).

Simplicity:

The payment system to be as simple and understandable as possible. The main goal of simplification reforms should not be to reduce the number of payments, but to:
• streamline the system so that people in similar circumstances receive the same level of payments with the same or similar eligibility requirements;
• remove the hurdles the present system throws up for people undergoing common life transitions such as employment, unemployment, different stages in the care of children or other family members.
Administration:

Social security should be paid as a legislative entitlement without restriction on its use, unless the recipient or local community elects to receive payments in a different form (for example, to pool payments to provide employment in a remote community).

Entitlements and compliance with any participation requirements should be assessed by a single statutory agency that is accessible to all.

‘Income Management' should not be compulsory and should not apply automatically to categories of people based on benefit type, location, or race.

ACOSS calls on Govt to implement UN Committee against Torture recommendations

2 December 2014

ACOSS today applauded the UN Committee against Torture's clear findings against Australia's treatment of people seeking asylum and refugees.

The Committee found major breaches of our international obligations and calls for Australia to repeal mandatory detention laws. It urges the Government to increase oversight of Manus Island and Nauru detention centres, to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are treated more humanely, and their claims are promptly and properly assessed.

"The report makes it clear that the international community is deeply troubled by Australia's treatment of people seeking asylum and those found to be refugees," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

The Committee described Australia's detention of refugees as 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment' forbidden by international law. The Committee expressed particular concern about Australia's policies of intercepting and turning back boats, and transferring asylum seekers to processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

"The findings of the report cannot be ignored. The Government must listen to the deep concerns that its actions are illegal under international law and immediately act on the recommendations," said Dr Goldie.

"ACOSS reaffirms its strong opposition to offshore processing and mandatory detention as it is inhumane, costly and deflects responsibility for refugee protection. Any punitive measures taken by the Government abrogates Australia's human rights and legal responsibilities and obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and Protocol (UNRC) the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC), and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

"The Australian government must respond to the Committee's findings and recommendations, and commit to processing asylum claims within the Australian community.

"We urge the Government to work with the community and social services sector to develop processes which ensure asylum seekers can be placed, and assessed, with the least trauma.

"The goal should be to enable either the beginning of a new life in a safer country as efficiently as possible, or to enable people to be returned to their country of origin, if and only if it is safe to do so, where their claim for refugee status be unsuccessful," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Community and business come together to call for tax reform

1 December 2014

Representatives from business and community sectors have begun a dialogue about tax reform to explore areas of agreement and disagreement ahead of the Government's tax review next year.

"If we are to effect meaningful tax reform in Australia and encourage inclusive growth that benefits both business and the community, we need to present a case for change," said Tom Pockett, Chairman of the Business Coalition for Tax Reform (BCTR).

Members of the BCTR, which brings together a range of business groups covering the broad spectrum of the Australian business community, are meeting with members of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), representing community organisations and people on low incomes, in Sydney on Monday 15 December.

"The current tax system is not delivering the revenue we need to provide the services and supports we will all need into the future. Reform is necessary to ensure access to ensure equitable access to housing, education, secure jobs and income support," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS.

"In order to address these issues adequately, the Government needs to ensure that the community, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are engaged in the tax reform process."

"We are standing up for changes to Australia's tax system that will promote fair, equitable and sustainable growth, for the benefit of all."

Mr Pockett said: "Change will only be achieved when we have open dialogue between all the stakeholders about what this reform should look like and what its impacts may be."

"While we may not be able to agree on all elements of reform, it is clear that tax reform is needed to address the key challenges facing Australia's competitiveness, barriers to participation, employment creation and investment; complexity and reliance on inefficient taxes."

"A more efficient tax system that supports economic growth, employment creation, investment and productivity will help strengthen the tax base for the future."

"To ensure we get a wide range of views on this key issue, the forum will include representatives from key business and industry bodies, a range of civil society and community organisations, and independent academic and policy experts.

"Successful tax reform requires partnership between governments, community and business. We see BCTR and ACOSS working together as a critical step towards future reform."

The forum is an opportunity for a range of stakeholders to address critical issues in our tax system, such as Australia's budget challenge, sustainable growth, affordable housing, fairness, equity and simplicity.

STATEMENT OF INTENT: Tax reform for the common good

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Caryn Kakas (BCTR) - 0404257540


ACOSS
ACOSS is the national peak body for the community sector and advocates for people affected by poverty and inequality. Our members include organisations that represent people affected by poverty such as sole parents, older people, and people with disabilities; as well as major national charities, and peak bodies representing community services such as housing, employment and family services.

ACOSS has played a prominent role in tax reform for three decades. Our aims include: to ensure that National and State and Territory Governments have the revenue they need to provide essential benefit and services to the community and that this is done as fairly and efficiently as possible.

BCTR
The BCTR acts as an umbrella group to bring together views of a range of Australia's most important and influential business groups. Its members represent both large and small enterprises on tax reform issues.
The BCTR has been a major influence in the key tax reforms of the past two decades.

The principles underlying the BCTR's vision for tax reform in Australia are simplicity, transparency and certainty, all of which underpin competitiveness. A successful tax system should also drive productivity, workforce participation, and balance economic efficiency with fairness and equity.

10 stories to Premier in Sydney

13 November 2014

Ten remarkable women will feature in the Sydney Premiere of documentary 10 Stories of Single Mothers at the Chauvel this Thursday evening.

10 Stories is the story of Wendy, Bianca, Dianne, Penny, Meredith, Kerry, Sarah, Barbara, Sam and Bienvenue who each share their unique circumstances and experiences with a common theme of courage and resilience while struggling to make ends meet. All of the women have been caught up in the unintended consequences of the Newstart policy.

Also premiering is the previously unreleased Politicians Unite to Champion Change - a recording of Members of Parliament voicing their concerns that Newstart is not helping struggling families sufficiently, and that it should be changed.

The evening will include conversations with an expert panel featuring ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie, renowned social commentator Eva Cox, and Penny Wilson, one of the single mothers showcased in the documentary.

The 10 Stories project is spearheaded by Terese Edwards, CEO of the National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children, who said she had been heartened by the support received from across the political spectrum.

"I am committed to the Australian community witnessing this support," she said.

"There is clearly an emerging understanding amongst our elected representatives that this is a serious issue and change is needed to prevent these families from living in poverty."

The team behind 10 stories will also be on hand at the premiere and guests are invited to join in the conversation with them all including documentary maker Claire Stretch.

Media Contact: Terese Edwards 0439 211 493

NOTE TO EDITORS: Media outlets are invited to cover the launch.

10 Stories is a collaboration between FilmStretch, The Snow Foundation, The National Council for Single Mothers and Their Children, Sydney Community Foundation, ACOSS and Documentary Australia Foundation.

Australia’s community sector meets ahead of G20 to call for a national inclusive growth plan

11 November 2014

Australia's community sector will gather in Melbourne today to urge the Australian government to work together with civil society and business groups on a national inclusive growth plan as G20 world leaders prepare to meet in Brisbane this weekend.

"The Government appears to have developed a country growth plan for the G20 without engagement with those who will be most affected - the community," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We are disturbed to find that this strategy includes measures such as cutting unemployment benefits to young people. We strongly reject any measures which increase hardship and inequality in the name of growth."

"Already we find that Australia stands alone among OECD countries in its push to deny unemployed people any income support for up to six months of every year. Elsewhere, Governments have responded to youth unemployment in a more productive and less divisive way - by extending education training and work opportunities and keeping young people engaged with their careers at a time when jobs are scarce.

"Denying people benefits will disengage those in deepest disadvantage. People can't search for jobs and train if they have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Whether it's a six month wait for income support or one month, this is an impoverished approach to poverty that cannot be justified.

"What we need is fair and inclusive growth, and measures that ensure that everyone in the community benefits in the long term.

"Australia's community sector and civil society will be applying the fairness test to any growth target reached by G20 leaders this weekend. We'll be looking for an outcome that clearly demonstrates the Leaders' commitment to fairness by taking concrete and measurable action to reduce inequality.

"We've got a situation now where 2.5 million people are living below the poverty in Australia, we cannot afford measures that take us backwards in the fight against poverty and growing inequality.

"Inclusive growth must be a central focus of G20 decision making and the agenda that leaders bring to it. Unless it is, meeting the two percent growth target will be a hollow achievement and Leaders will be rightly judged as indifferent to those most in need," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Reduce ‘red tape’, not much-needed capacity for Australian charities

29 October 2014

On the eve of the Government's second 'Repeal Day', the peak body for Australia’s community services today said the Federal Government’s plan to abolish the sector’s compulsory reporting through the Charity Register would undermine efforts to reduce red tape.

"We support the government’s efforts to cut unnecessary and costly legislation and regulation. But attempts to scrap newly established mechanisms like the Charity Register or Charity Portal are effectively throwing out the good with the bad," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We want to see a reduction in the regulatory burden that can cripple our ability to get on with the job of doing what we do best - serving our communities.

"In our sector, the worst 'red tape' is reflected in government funding processes that require extensive reporting yet provide very little value back in terms of knowledge about the sector.

"Despite reams of reports to government funders, basic questions have gone unanswered for years, like how many organisations, doing what activities, in what parts of the country. The Charity Register has for the first time provided a routine, reliable and nationally comprehensive process to answer these questions, through a modest mechanism for reporting by all charities. Why would we want to do away with a mechanism like that?"

"Compared to countries like the USA, Australian charities report very little of the most important information," said ACOSS Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, who has recently returned from a Fulbright Scholarship looking at transparency and accountability across America’s charitable and philanthropic sectors.

Dr Boyd-Caine said, "We need to move away from the myth that any reporting is ‘red tape’. The right reporting, through purpose-built mechanisms like the Charity Register, can provide critical knowledge that helps community organisations and the broader community understand what charities do and why it matters.

"It is crucial that we have routine, enforceable collection of basic sector data. This means a Charity Register that is enforced to ensure it is nationally comprehensive and reliable; and resourced to provide information back to the sector and in the interests of public confidence," Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Dr Goldie said, “Our charities make an enormous contribution to Australian society and the economy. The first report from the national Charity Register reflected this, with the sector contributing 5% of GDP and 8% of employment nationally. Charities also provide welcome occupation to over two million volunteers. This type of industry-relevant information is vital to maintaining our effectiveness"

"Meanwhile, charities continue to spend a median of 40 hours paid staff time reporting to government per year, or about one working week. One in five charities reported spending more than 100 paid staff hours (or two and a half weeks) reporting in the last year.

"Cutting these types of red tape will be of far greater benefit to the community. But it requires a strong commitment from governments to fund community services for effective, sustained outcomes. We welcome moves by the Federal Government towards long-term funding cycles. This must be backed up with adequate negotiation periods and guaranteed rollover periods where future funding has not been determined.

"Any effort to reduce red tape must have the support of the relevant industry. Charities and not-for-profits are no different.

"We strongly urge the Government to rethink its plan to abolish the important regulatory reforms that have established a nationally consistent, fit-for-purpose approach to charity regulation. They have received widespread support across the sector and are contributing to the vital objective of reducing unnecessary regulatory obligations on many of Australia’s civil society organisations," Dr Goldie said.

 

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Seniors Supplement is poorly targeted to people who don’t need extra support

28 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Parliament to support the budget proposal to abolish the Seniors Supplement, which is poorly targeted to people who do not need additional support from the Government.

"At a time when we need to be restoring revenue and better targeting expenditure, in part to fund the needs of an ageing population, this supplement represents an unjustified excess," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The Seniors Supplement is available to those who are not eligible for the Aged Pension because they are in a much better financial position than most."

It extends to older people with assets in excess of $1 million apart from the family home. By excluding superannuation income from the income test for existing recipients, it also extends to people with significant superannuation incomes.

"A couple could have a million dollars in a superannuation fund paying them an income of $100k a year in addition to significant assets and still receive the supplement."

"ACOSS strongly supports the need for an adequate safety net system to ensure that everyone is supported when they fall into hard times. However, this supplement cannot be justified on those grounds.

The supplement entitles people to $858 each year for singles and $1,295 for couples.

"Abolishing the Senior's Supplement would not affect people entitled to the Age Pension, who are the vast majority of retirees, since they are not eligible. They would still qualify for the Pension Supplement.

"We think the fairest approach is to restrict supplements to those entitled to receive an Age or Veterans Pension. These are the people who need a supplement the most," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Governments sleep at the wheel as housing affordability crashes

16 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged Australian Governments to take coordinated action to tackle the worsening housing supply crisis.

"New data shows that the housing supply crisis is getting worse and this is taking a heavy toll on first home buyers and low and moderate income renters who are under increasing financial stress," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

The new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare highlighted the serious gap between housing demand and supply, with as estimated shortage of 284,000 dwellings in 2011 projected to increase due to population growth, ageing and decreasing household size.

"'We know that exorbitant rents, particularly in our major cities, is placing a great deal of stress on families, with 47% of low-income earners paying more than 30% of their income in rent. This is one of the major factors driving people into poverty."

"Commonwealth Rent Assistance has a major impact on households' rental affordability, with the AIHW report showing a 27% point reduction in the number of low-income recipients in housing stress after receiving this targeted assistance. Our concern is that this vital rent assistance payment is not keeping up with the rise in community living standards and call for an immediate increase in the maximum rate. The gap between the maximum rate of Rent Assistance and average rent has grown steadily because CRA is linked to the CPI, rather than to national average increases in rent.

"The report also found that social housing schemes, which are highly targeted to people in greatest need, have been extremely effective, however waiting lists continue to grow and supply is not keeping up. As at 30 June 2013, there were over 217,000 households on waiting lists for social housing. There is a critical shortage of over 500,000 rental properties that are affordable and available to low income renters which must be addressed.

"While Australia's housing situation becomes ever more critical, governments seem to be asleep at the wheel. There is no national affordable housing strategy and growing uncertainty about the future of funding for housing and homelessness investment and programs.

"The most recent budget reduced funding to the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which will result in a loss of 12,000 affordable housing dwellings. At the same time, it extended funding for homelessness services for only another 12 months, with growing uncertainty again in the sector about the future of services and those who rely on them for support.

"The Federal Government has a vital leadership role to play in setting national housing policy to ensure all arms of government are working towards increasing the supply of affordable housing stock, alleviating rental stress and ensure pathways out of homelessness. This cannot be achieved without changes to current housing tax settings which encourage speculative investment in existing housing stock, inflate house prices and do little to increase affordable housing stock," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

2.5 million people living in poverty in Australia: new report

12 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has today released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line.

The report provides the most up to date picture of poverty in the nation drawing on new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years. It finds that 603,000 or 17.7% of all children were living in poverty in Australia.

DOWNLOAD: ACOSS Poverty in Australia Report 2014

"This is deeply disturbing and highlights the need for a national plan to tackle the scourge of poverty which diminishes us all in one of the wealthiest countries in the world," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"In particular, the child poverty rate should be of deep concern to us all, with over a third (36.8%) of children in sole parent families living in poverty. This is due to the lower levels of employment among sole parent households, especially those with very young children, and the low level of social security payments for these families.

"Most of the poverty we found is concentrated among the groups of people facing the most disadvantage and barriers to fully participating in our community. Those most likely to be in poverty are people who are unemployed (61.2%) and those in a household that relies on social security as its main source of income (40.1%), particularly on the Newstart Allowance (55.1%) or Youth Allowance (50.6%).

"This finding brings into focus the sheer inadequacy of these allowance payments which fall well below the poverty line. The poverty line for a single adult is $400 per week yet the maximum rate of payment for a single person on Newstart - when Rent Assistance and other supplementary payments is added - is only $303 per week. This is $97 per week below the 50% of median income poverty line.

"It also emphasises the danger posed by Budget proposals to reduce the indexation of pension payments to the Consumer Price Index only, which is likely to result in higher poverty rates over time than would be the case if payments were indexed to wages and therefore community living standards.

"We are also concerned about the higher level of poverty among people born in countries where the main language is not English (18.8%), which is much higher than those born overseas in an English speaking country (11.4%), or in Australia (11.6%).

"All available evidence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continues to show these groups are at a significantly higher risk.

"Being unemployed is the strongest predictor of poverty. However, a significant finding of the report is the number of people living in poverty whose main source of income is from employment. Although workers in paid employment face a lower risk of poverty, they form one third (33.2%) of all people below the 50% poverty line. It is likely that most of these are either employed part time or supporting dependent children on a low wage.

"These overall findings are a wakeup call for us as a community and shine a spotlight on the current policy direction of Federal Government. It provides an opportunity for the government to work with the whole community to reconfigure its first Budget and national policy priorities around the urgent need to address poverty in Australia.

"We need the development of a comprehensive national plan to tackle poverty if we are going to build on our great wealth and more fairly share the opportunities that will include all our citizens," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOAD: ACOSS Poverty in Australia Report 2014

Summary of key findings

  • Poverty line (50% of median income) - for a single adult was $400 per week, for a couple with 2 children it was $841 per week;
  • Poverty rate - 2,548,496 people (13.9% of all people) living below the poverty line, after taking account of their housing costs;
  • Child poverty - 602,604 children (17.7% of all children) living below the poverty line;
  • Income support - 40.1% of people on social security payments living below the poverty line. Includes 55.1% of those on Newstart Allowance, 50.6% on Youth Allowance; 47.2% on Parenting Payment, 48% on Disability Support Pension, 24.8% on Carer Payment, and 15.7% of those on Age Pension;
  • Unemployed - 61.2% of people who are unemployed were living below the poverty line;
  • Working poor - 33.2% of people below the poverty line came from a household with wages as their main income;
  • Overall growth in poverty - Poverty increased between 2010 and 2012 by nearly one per cent (from 13% to 13.9).

Location - 13.8% poverty in capital cities compared to 14% outside capital cities;

  1. Tasmania - 15.1% (Hobart 13.8%, rest of state 16%)
  2. Queensland - 14.8% (Brisbane 13.9%, rest of state 15.4%)
  3. NSW - 14.6% (Sydney 15%, rest of state 13.8%)
  4. Victoria - 13.9% (Melbourne 13.7%, rest of state 14.3%)
  5. WA - 12.4% (Perth 12.4%, rest of state 12.4%)
  6. SA - 11.7% (Adelaide 11.5%, rest of state 12.5%)
  7. ACT and NT - 9.1% (No separate data available due to small sample sizes in ABS survey).

Most at risk groups

  • Women - significantly more likely to experience poverty than men (14.7% compared to 13%);
  • Children and older people - face higher risks of poverty compared to other age groups (17.7% and 14.8% respectively);
  • Sole parents - at high risk with 33% in poverty in 2012 and 36.8% of all children in poverty were in sole parent households;
  • Born overseas - Poverty is higher amongst adults born in countries where the main language is not English (18.8%) than amongst those born overseas in an English speaking country (11.4%), or in Australia (11.6%);
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - ABS data does not include information to accurately measure this poverty rate, however 2011 HILDA data found 19.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in poverty, compared to 12.4% of the total Australian population;
  • People with a disability - latest available data does not allow this poverty rate to be calculated, however our previous report found 27.4% of people with a disability were living in poverty in 2009-2010 compared to 12.8% for the total population.

About the Poverty Report
This Poverty in Australia 2014 is the third report in ACOSS' poverty series and updates earlier reports with new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years. It uses the internationally accepted poverty line, defined as 50% of median household income, and adjusts for housing costs. The research was conducted for us by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Major report to reveal poverty is growing in Australia

10 October 2014

Who: Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS, people living in poverty and representatives from St Vincent de Paul Society, The Salvation Army and other community welfare sector agencies.

When: Start time - 10.30am Sunday 12 October 2014

Venue: Woodville Community Services community garden
Corner of Binna Burra Street and Urana Street, Villawood (Off Woodville Road), Western Sydney - SEE MAP

The Australian Council of Social Service will release the most comprehensive report on poverty in Australia since 2012 at the start of Anti-Poverty Week on Sunday October 12, 2014.

The report will identify the number of people living in poverty in the country, which groups of people are affected by poverty, and where they live. It will include state and capital city breakdowns.

Media outlets and journalists are encouraged to attend the press conference which will be led by ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and include the voices of people living in poverty and representatives from a range of community welfare agencies.

Also present will include:
• Pam Batkin, Executive Officer, Woodville Community Services Inc.
• Envoy Ronda McIntyre, Territorial Community Services/Doorways Co-ordinator, The Salvation Army
• Lisa Ross, Financial Counsellor, The Salvation Army Moneycare
• Yolanda Saiz, Senior Manager, St Vincent de Paul Society
• People with lived experience of poverty and other representatives of Australia's community welfare sector.

Media contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

NOTE TO EDITORS: Reporters and film crews are advised to arrive early to set up, and kindly advise fernando@acoss.org.au of your intention to attend 0419 626 155.

The Report will be made available online after the launch on the www.acoss.org.au website at around 10.45am AEST on Sunday 12th October 2014.

Rethink on harsh job search plan a victory for common sense

8 October 2014

Statement from ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie

"We are pleased that the Government has listened to the concerns expressed by ACOSS, the business community and many others about the ill-conceived proposal to force jobseekers to apply for 40 jobs a month. At a time when there is only one job available for every five people looking for work, this would have been counter-productive and demoralising for jobseekers and an unhelpful burden on employers."

"We are also pleased to see the Government abandon its proposal to shift compliance functions from Centrelink to employment services.

"The investment in wage subsidies is welcome, though more resources are needed to broaden access to subsidies and ensure their effectiveness. Subsidies should also be complemented by demand-led employment approaches with strong partnerships between employers, employment services and jobseekers, as proposed by ACOSS in alliance with the Business Council of Australia and the ACTU.

"We remain very concerned that the major plank in the Government's employment policy is compulsory work for the dole, despite the evidence that it fails to achieve sustained employment outcomes.

"We now urge the Government to listen to the community's deep concerns about its proposal to deprive young people under 30 years from income for six months of every year. Despite the strong community opposition, this proposal still remains in the bills reintroduced into federal parliament last week."

ACOSS welcomes ‘common sense’ of the Senate to reject harsh budget measures

2 October 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today welcomed the Australian Senate's rejection of radical social security budget measures that would cut the incomes of people living in poverty and its support of better targeting of payments to those who need them.

"We applaud the good sense of Senators who have listened to the many community voices raised against harsh budget cuts affecting people already living in poverty including young people, sole parents and pensioners. These measures deprive the very people that our safety net system is meant to protect," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS has consistently argued that social security should be there for those who need it, when they need it, and that payments should not extend to people who don't need them.

"We welcome indications that the Senate is prepared to support the removal of poorly targeted payments such as the Seniors Supplement for older people with over a million dollars in assets apart from their home, and the extension of Family Tax Benefit part B to families earning over $100,000. These budget measures go a long way to achieving the savings that are needed to restore the budget to surplus and meet the challenge of an ageing population.

"The government should continue down this sensible ‘middle road' to budget reform and withdraw proposals that would have the greatest impact on people living in poverty and those in poor health.

"To bring equity and balance to budgetary reform, the Government should devote as much effort to restoring revenues as to reducing spending. The Government's tax reform agenda should sweep away tax shelters that disproportionately benefit people on high incomes, remove inequity and waste in tax breaks for superannuation, and curb tax avoidance by multinational companies." Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Government report finds plan to deprive young people of income support breaches human rights

30 September 2014

Australia's peak community sector and youth affairs bodies have welcomed a joint bipartisan parliamentary committee finding that two of the Government's proposed changes to youth payments are incompatible with Australia's human rights obligations.

In a report published last week, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights chaired by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, found that both the proposal to deny young people income support for six months of every year, and to lift the age of eligibility for the Newstart Allowance from 22 to 25 years, breach Australia's human rights obligations.

The Australian Council of Social Services and the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition said the report is a final indictment on the flawed legislation which should now be dismissed by the Senate.

"The Senate should today reject any compromise deal which would deprive young people of income support for any period, whether it is one or six months. As the joint committee found in its report, the Government has failed to explain how young people are expected to survive, let along participate, with no income", said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"With estimates that more than 100,000 young people would be affected, any brokered deal would have devastating impacts on those affected."

"This measure would see the government breach its part of the mutual obligation deal. Governments have a duty to provide income support and to help people to get a job, while people who are unemployed are required to search for jobs and participate in employment programs."

Leo Fieldgrass, National Director of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition said, "The proposed changes to income support will push young Australians into poverty and increase youth homelessness. With youth unemployment rates at sky-high levels, punishing young people for not having jobs is inconceivable."

"The Prime Minister recently told the United Nations that Australia leads by example. By rejecting this legislation, Senators can lead by example and show how highly we value our young people and their human rights", said Mr Fieldgrass.

Dr Goldie said, "Excluding young people from eligibility for income support altogether is a breach of the government's side of the social contract under our safety net system and a breach of international human rights law, as the joint Committee has found."

"We urge the Government to respect the findings of this important committee established to protect fundamental human rights. We are pleased to hear a number of cross-benchers give assurances that they won't accept any compromise deal and we urge other Senators to do the same," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) - 0419 626 155
Leo Fieldgrass (AYAC) - 0450 427 584


Key Committee findings on the Budget youth measures:

  • The proposed six-month waiting period for people under 30 who were not in employment or training breaches the right to social security (Article 9, ICESCR) and the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11, ICESCR). The Committee noted that the Government had failed to explain how young people would cope without any access to income.
  • The proposed age criteria for accessing Newstart Allowance breaches the rights to equality and non- discrimination on the basis of age.

Download report:
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Examination of legislation in accordance with the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011Bills.

Negative gearing boosts housing costs, not the economy

24 September 2014

ACOSS Chief Executive Officer Dr Cassandra Goldie has today highlighted the risks posed by negative gearing for housing affordability and economic growth in response to a report released by the Housing Industry Association this week.

"Negative gearing distorts investment activity to favour speculative investment in housing and other assets funded by debt and puts upward pressure on house prices. It must be a high priority for reform in the tax white paper next year," said Dr Goldie.

"Negative gearing adds to the boom and bust cycle in housing when what we need is stable investment to strengthen supply. Together with other distortions in the tax system, it also contributes to the boom and bust cycle in the economy as a whole. The RBA may be forced to use higher interest rates to calm the housing market." said Dr Goldie.

"ACOSS advocates for deductions for expenses relating to passive investments in housing, shares and other similar assets to be quarantined to offset income from those assets only, including capital gains, rather than all personal income as is currently the case. We propose that this change be implemented progressively, with existing investors grandfathered."

"With ambitious economic growth targets to be met, and as we transition from growth led by resource investment, now is the time we need to be channeling activity towards productive investments for broad-based economic growth, not contributing towards inflated housing prices."

The Independent Economics report released this week, commissioned by the Housing Industry Association, concluded that restricting ­access to negative gearing for residential property would reduce ­investment in housing, erode housing affordability and put ­upward pressure on rents. It also argued that stamp duty and developer levies contribute to higher housing costs.

"It is difficult to make sense of HIA's claim that removing the ability for people to negatively gear their investments would reduce housing supply when more than 90% of negatively geared investment is in existing properties, adding heat to the market, but not additional stock," Dr Goldie added.

"Investors cannot on the one hand complain about the barriers to their children entering the housing market, including the stiff competition from investors in the market, while defending the very concessions that create the affordability problem in the first place.

"The tax treatment of housing must be reformed as a package. Negative gearing is just one part of the problem. ACOSS supports HIA's call for the abolition of stamp duty, which distorts housing choices, creates market inefficiencies and contributes to the high cost of housing. One option is to replace stamp duty with a broad based land tax which offers a much more efficient and equitable revenue source.

"While a significant proportion of investors with income of less than $80,000 a year access negative gearing, households in the top income quintile receive ten and a half times the benefits of those in the bottom quintile - $3,800 per year compared to $364 per year respectively.

"The tax treatment of savings should be addressed consistently to close tax avoidance opportunities and remove distortions that channel economic activity towards unproductive assets."

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Health groups call for leadership in healthcare funding

23 September 2014

As a new AIHW report showing declining health spending is released, a wide range of health advocacy organisations have joined together today to call on the Government and Parliament to show leadership in relation to health funding, and ensure that decisions take into account the health of everyone in the community, particularly the most vulnerable.

"Good health is a fundamental building block to the well-being of individuals, communities and the economy. There is a need for considered and evidence based approaches to healthcare funding and services," CEO of ACOSS, Dr Cassandra Goldie said today while launching the statement.

"Community organisations with a deep interest in health are growing increasingly alarmed about the significant changes that are being proposed in the area of health, without significant community discussion about the implications, particularly on those who are most vulnerable and most likely to be impacted by changes such as the proposed GP co-payment.

"Organisations who have signed up to today's statement remain opposed to any form of GP co-payment, even one with exemptions as this does not go far enough to ensure that those who most need healthcare are not faced with cost barriers.

"Any changes in healthcare funding needs to protect those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Current proposals on the table do not adequately address the impacts on groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those with chronic illness, and older members of our community. We also know that those who are poorer are more likely to be sick. So, it is those who are least likely to be able to afford it who are going to be most impacted by measures such as new or increased co-payments.

"In addition to proposals such as the GP co-payment, and increases to the co-payment for PBS medicines, there are other adverse changes being made through the budget, such as the reduction of funding to health promotion and preventative health. It's hard to see how this will help improve people's health and take off pressure in the health system.

"There is strong evidence that supports investing in preventive health as the most long-term, cost effective and ethical approach to maintaining and improving Australia's universal health care system. Investing in a healthy Australia takes strong leadership and a vision for a better future for all people and communities in Australia.

"The groups who have come together today stand ready to work with Government to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the health system. We call on the Government and the Parliament to focus on evidence, and not be tempted to introduce short term fixes to expenditure which will only cost more in the long term," Dr Goldie concluded.

A copy of the Joint Community Sector Statement on Health and signatories can be found HERE

Sign on Organisations Media Contacts:

Australian Association of Social Workers - 0400 613 516
Australian Council of Social Service - 0419 626 155
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations - 0421 040 538
Australian Men's Health Forum - 0437 571 130
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation - 0411 254 390
Catholic Social Services Australia - 0400 576 917
Consumers Health Forum of Australia - 0414 358 091
MS Australia - 0427959972
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations - 02-6246 9347
Public Health Association of Australia - 0417 249 731

Pensions up, but little cheer for many as Newstart payments fall further behind

21 September 2014

Joint media release, ACOSS and National Welfare Rights Network, 20 September 2014

A new analysis of social security payments reveals that the single Newstart Allowance paid to over half a million Australians continued to fall in value when compared with both the minimum wage and the pension. Two leading national community welfare groups today warned that the declining relative value of some payments means increased poverty and social division.

In a joint statement today Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and Maree O'Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) said that: "Addressing the $170 a week gap between pensions and allowances is the most critical task that the Government's Welfare Review Taskforce must address.

"Employment goals around people with disabilities will not be achieved until the Government addresses structural problems with the payments system. These problems are at the heart of legitimate fears held by people with a disability that if a new job does not work out that they will be shunted onto the Newstart Allowance, which is now currently $8,800 a year less than the pension.

"Reports that the Government may consider up-front investments to assist young people facing complex health and personal issues are welcome but people also need an adequate income here and now.

"While today brings good news for around 3.7 million pensioners who will receive an extra $10.70 a fortnight from an indexation increase (from September 20); it is not so good for people struggling to keep their head above water on the $37 a day Newstart payment.

"Because pensions and allowances are indexed differently, people on Newstart, widow, sickness, partner and parenting payment partnered allowances will only receive a $5.10 a fortnight indexation increase in their payment from today.

"There are currently 695,000 people on the Newstart Allowance. Three in four are single, and are struggling to meet their weekly daily expenses on the maximum rate of just $257.80 per week (from today).

"These new rates of income support payments this quarter highlight deepening fault lines in Australia's social security arrangements.

"The rate of the Newstart Allowance relative to the minimum wage is near its lowest level since 1990. The Newstart Allowance has fallen from 54 per cent in 1996 to 40.2 per cent of the National Minimum Wage, which now stands at $640.90 per week.

"This means that people relying on allowances are falling behind community living standards, and underlies the importance of indexing payments to wages. Current proposals to index pensions to prices would inevitably see pensions falling behind community living standards over time and should be opposed.

"The maximum payments for a single pensioner is now $854.30 a fortnight ($22,212 per year). Unemployed people on the single Newstart Allowance receive much less, at $257.80 per week, or 40% less than the pension.

"But unemployed people aren't the only people being short-changed by today's indexation changes. Young people on Youth Allowance and Austudy get nothing, and their even lower payments are indexed only once a year, while pensions and allowances are indexed every six months. The 114,700 single parents raising children on the maximum Newstart Allowance will receive a small increase of a mere $2.75 a week. Being pushed onto Newstart means that these families are now $81.20 a week or over $4,222 a year worse off, compared to Parenting Payment Single.

"The artificial divide between pensions and allowances must be addressed by increasing the rate of allowance payments and indexing payments consistently to wages to prevent more people falling further and further behind the rest of the community. Anything less is not the genuine welfare reform that this country needs."
Media contacts:

ACOSS Media Adviser: Fernando De Freitas 0419 626 155

NWRN Policy and Media Officer: Gerard Thomas 0425 296 882

Evidence based Youth Employment Strategy needed, not more ad hoc policy ideas

9 September 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has today called on the Federal Government to bring together key experts to develop a comprehensive Youth Employment Strategy that will work, rather than continuing ad hoc policy announcements which lack evidence or broad support.

The peak community sector body said the Federal Government's training and youth employment packages announced yesterday would provide only a fraction of what's needed to improve the nation's ailing apprenticeship training system and raise the job prospects of young people at a time of growing unemployment.

"This latest announcement is a drop in the ocean of what's needed if we're going to make a difference in giving young people a start in their working life," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Essentially we're talking about around 10,000 training places for young people, not all of whom are necessarily on benefits, compared with over 100,000 who will be losing income support, if the Government's proposed changes to payments proceed.

"This falls well short of the 74,000 assisted each year under the successful Youth Connections program which the Federal Government has defunded.

"The advantage of the discontinued Youth Connections program was that it allowed agencies to work with young people at risk of dropping out of school not only those who have left already. It was a prevention approach which is critical, and had been proven successful on all the evidence.

"The new youth pathways is more limited and is restricted to regional areas when we know that youth unemployment is also a major problem in many of our major cities.

"One key focus should be in the transition from school to paid work and this important element is glaringly missing from this package.

"ACOSS has proposed with the Business Council of Australia and the ACTU a partnership approach that will more effectively link employment services for disadvantaged job seekers with employer needs, where funding is redirected to more targeted training and job seekers are supported once they gain employment.

"It is a hard ask for employers to have the necessary connections with training providers, community organisations and young people to be able to make best use of the funding to truly tackle youth unemployment.

"The model put forward by the BCA, ACTU and ACOSS builds lasting relationships between job service providers and employers, offering them the support of employment brokers and regional employment boards.

"Specifically, the alliance has called for:

  • The establishment of employment brokers to create partnerships between employers and employment services to better match jobseekers with labour demand.
  • The establishment of regional employment boards in areas of high unemployment to promote the partnerships approach among industry, unions, employment services and training providers
  • Redirecting training resources from the existing Employment Pathway Fund to focus more on disadvantaged jobseekers, and to fund work experience and training as part of the partnerships approach.

"There's no doubt that creating job opportunities for young people won't be an easy task, but why doesn't the government work with us to ensure the best possible outcomes? Once again, this is a policy idea developed without the involvement of key stakeholder groups with relevant experience and expertise," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Find out more about ACOSS Proposals:
Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers - June 30, 2014

No income means no income, whether it’s 26 weeks or four weeks

2 September 2014

The Federal Government should immediately abandon plans to cut unemployment benefits for young people under 30 for any period - whether for six months or one month - according to Australian Council of Social Service and the National Welfare Rights Network.

The Budget measure worth $1.2 billion would affect 113,000 unemployed people under 30 years of age.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: "We strongly oppose any move to take vital life support income from young people in need, whether for six months or one month. The fact is this would represent a fundamental departure from the principle of basic support for all, in return for reasonable efforts to look for work.

"The proposal has no merit. Driving people into poverty by taking money away that they desperately need while they look for work simply makes no sense. It would only cause more hardship and swell the numbers of people knocking on the doors of charities seeking shelter, food, emergency relief and other support.

The National Welfare Rights Network's Maree O'Halloran said: "The proposal to make some people under 30 wait six months every year before gaining access to the unemployment benefit was always both extreme and counter-productive."

"Bargaining the proposal down to 28 days still leaves people without the support of family and friends in desperate need, particularly as a cascading number of other waiting periods will also be applied. The Government would be better placed to give up this proposal altogether and look to real solutions to the looming and pressing problem of youth unemployment," Ms O'Halloran said.

"Australia's social security system does not need the added complexity of another waiting period be it 28 days or six months. We already have the Liquid Assets Test Waiting Period (up to 13 weeks), Income Maintenance Period (often months, sometime more than a year) and Ordinary Waiting Periods. These are designed to make people live off their savings while looking for employment, before they can access income support."

"It is our understanding that the New Zealand model expects all claimants for income support to serve a 28 day waiting period. If the Government has a desire to introduce such a waiting period for people under 30 years and then potentially to Age and Disability Support Pension recipients, Carers, Single Parents and Veteran Pension recipients, then it should test this whole New Zealand proposition with the public," Ms O'Halloran added.

Dr Goldie said: "The starting point for policies that work to reduce youth unemployment is investing in the transition from school to paid work. This is where our focus should be. Many young people are not getting the career advice and support they need at school, and schools need to be better connected with local employers and support services. The Youth Connections program is providing that support, but in the same Budget that cuts unemployment payments for young people, that program lost its funding. Youth Connections had assisted over 74,000 young people since 2010, helping them in to study or paid work.

"We have welcomed the federal government's announcement of wage subsidies to give long term unemployed young people a foot up in the tough jobs market. Wage subsidies in regular paid jobs are extremely effective and should be expanded.

"We also need to focus on addressing the barriers to employment for people disadvantaged in the labour market and work together with employers and unions to ensure that employment services are more effectively linked to employer needs and that funding is redirected to more targeted training and in-job support," Dr Goldie said.

"With youth unemployment rates at around 20% in some electorates, the community wants our political leaders to assist unemployed people into jobs, not to make life harder. We urge our elected federal leaders to reject any proposal that deprives young people of crucial income, whether for six months or one month," they concluded.

Media Comment:
Fernando de Freitas, ACOSS Media - 0419 626 155
Maree O'Halloran, National Welfare Rights Network - 0417 672 104
Gerard Thomas, Policy and Media Officer (NWRN)- 0448 007 201

Community groups demand halt to harmful Budget measures

Find out more about the Community Sector's ongoing campaign against the harsh measures in the Federal Budget here.

Joint Community Sector Statement on Budget social security changes

ACOSS has released a statement signed by more than 100 community organisations from around the country expressing serious concerns about these unfair budget measures, and urged parliament to reject the proposals outright. 

DOWNLOAD PDF of Statement here.

Read accessible version of statement here and see list of signatories here.

SIGN statement by emailing info@acoss.org.au.

ACOSS calls on Government to tackle sacred cow of super tax breaks

28 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today said the Federal Government cannot afford to keep giving the top 20% of income earners half of all superannuation tax concessions if it wants the superannuation system to be effective in helping the majority of people to have a decent standard of living in later life, and have the revenue to pay for vital services for an ageing population.

"Right now, the superannuation system has become one of the most favoured tax minimisation vehicles for high net worth individuals, whilst it fails to deliver decent savings for the great majority. To reduce poverty and future pressures on the age pension, we need to target super tax concessions so that they help saving by people on low to middle incomes, not wealthy people who will have no trouble securing their retirement future," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Chair of the Financial Services inquiry David Murray is right to question whether superannuation is doing the job it is supposed to do. Our superannuation tax concessions are inefficient, inequitable and wasteful. As Mr Murray points out, those on higher incomes would save for their retirement without such generous incentives.

"When the top 10% of male tax payers receive more from super tax concessions over their lifetime than they would if they received the full rate of the age pension in retirement, we have a system that is not achieving its aims of ensuring adequate retirement incomes and taking the pressure off the age pension.

"We can no longer afford to allow the majority of super funds to pay no tax at all of their investment incomes, when any other investment would be taxed. The Government should shut down tax schemes which allow people over 55 years to churn their wages through their superannuation accounts, reducing their income tax rates to 15%, at most.

"Decent reform of superannuation tax concessions is long overdue. With broad consensus that Australia faces a budget challenge in the medium term, now is the right time to grapple with the deep inequities in who gets tax relief through superannuation.

"The fact is there are alternatives to the current Budget proposals on the table which overwhelmingly hurt people on the lowest incomes. Instead of cutting future age pensions for those with the least, and penalising low income people on their super contributions, the Government should reduce super tax breaks for those with the most.

"It is unbelievable that the Government wants to abolish the Low Income Superannuation Contribution which would have supported retirement saving by people on lower incomes, when such generous tax concessions are going to top income earners.

"The reality is that we will need to pay for services for an ageing population. Retired people on the lowest incomes cannot afford to pay for doctor's visits or aged care. Nor can they afford to have the real value of their pensions frozen, or to live on the $36 a day Newstart Allowance until they reach the age of 70. These budget proposals shift the burden to those least able to pay.

"In the short term ACOSS proposes that the $25,000 annual cap on super contributions attracting tax breaks be restored and that super fund earnings in the ‘pension phase' be taxed at 15%, the same as fund earnings in the contributions phase.

"Over time, the system of tax breaks for contributions should be restructured, so that all contributions are taxed at the individual's marginal tax rate, minus a rebate. The high income earners would get the same tax break per dollar invested as low income earners, no more and no less.

"It is important that we look at how to fund quality aged and health care in an equitable way, by identifying areas of inefficiencies where those already on high incomes are being subsidised to do what they would do anyway," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

AMA co-payment plan knifes Medicare principle of access for all

AMA co-payment plan knifes Medicare principle of access for all

21 August 2014

Australia's leading community and health consumer groups have rejected the Australian Medical Association's proposal for mandatory medical co-payments as representing a first step towards the breakdown of universal access under Medicare.

"A co-payment would erect a barrier to primary health care for many thousands of families and individuals who would not qualify for concessions. The Government, and now the AMA, are proposing a new impost on health consumers before investigating other ways to make health care in Australia more cost effective," the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Adam Stankevicius said.

"At a time when 700,000 people are hospitalised a year for conditions that could have been avoided through better primary care, the AMA plan would place a mandatory $6.15 charge on general practice care for many people."

"The AMA plan swallows the $3.5 billion in expected budget savings and highlights the need for a stronger primary health system. The AMA itself says that general practice is ‘a low cost and efficient part of the health system'. Why complicate a system that has worked well for 30 years. And where is the Government modelling to support such a dramatic change to Medicare?"

Rebecca Vassarotti, Deputy CEO of Australian Council of Social Services, said:

"The release of the AMA's proposal to Government has done nothing to ease the concerns of ACOSS that the poor and vulnerable in our community will be hard-hit by the GP co-payment plan. Exemptions will always miss out on groups in the community who are at risk."

"Under the AMA plan, we know that groups of people will not access the care they need because they can't afford it. Low income workers, people with chronic illness, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are all groups that will continue to face access issues under the AMA plan."

"Again, ACOSS calls on the Parliament to protect the principles that underpin Medicare - universal access to GPs for everyone in the community, regardless of how much money they have in their pocket. Price signals in primary healthcare just don't make sense. We don't want people to be making decisions about whether or not to go to the doctor or put food on the table. It's bad for them, it's bad for the economy and it's bad for the community".

Michael Moore, the CEO of the Public Health Association Australia, said:

"If the government is really serious about red tape and less regulation and more efficiency it will drop the co-payment idea as soon as possible. The co-payment idea was flawed from the beginning."

"The attempt by the AMA to find a compromise solution illustrated just how farcical the idea is and provides yet another reason for the government to shelve the notion and for the Senate to reject it. Even if the government accepted the AMA proposal they would be seeking to implement yet another tax that will most likely cost more to administer than what it would raise in revenue."

Media Contacts:
Rebecca Vassarotti (ACOSS) ¬ 0408 668 963
Mark Metherell (CHF) 0429 111 986
Michael Moore (PHAA) 0417 249 731

 

Groups reject secret co-payment talks when it’s about the well-being of ALL of us

Thursday 21, 21014

National peak community and health consumer groups today called on the Parliament to reject any deal struck by the Health Minister and the doctors union, declaring that a Medicare co-payment posed an unwarranted burden on the chronically ill and the most vulnerable in our community.

“Health and illness concerns us all and Health Minister Peter Dutton should be listening to voices in the community and groups representing all users of the health system,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

“We know that imposing a fee to see a doctor will lead to people putting off visits than can lead to early treatment which is the best health outcome, both for them and the community because later interventions are always more costly.

“It would hit poor and chronically ill people hardest, and exemptions would not go far enough. Many people would remain exposed and people on the lowest incomes will still face cost barriers,” Dr Goldie said.

Consumers Health Forum CEO, Adam Stankevicius said: “The Government suggests the Medicare co-payment is a price signal for consumers. Price signals work for discretionary items. Health care is not discretionary!”
“It is unacceptable that consumers have been left in the dark. Why is the minister restricting his negotiations with doctors, what about the people who will have to pay?
“At a CHF meeting this week, health system experts suggested several ways Australia could make the health system more effective and save billions of dollars a year. We should be considering these options before slugging consumers with a $7 price hike.”

The CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, said: “At a time when so many countries across the world are working to achieve universal health care it is appalling that the Australian government is working to undermine the very same thing.

"it is not free - it's called Medicare. And it works pretty well. Suggestions that health spending is unsustainable are not borne out by the figures. Australia spends almost half as much as United States on healthcare (10% of our GDP) but have higher health outcomes. So why would we want to go down the US road?” Mr Moore said.

In conclusion, the three organisations made the following points:

  • When it comes to health costs, no decision about us should be taken without us.
  • A mandatory co-payment would wreck a fundamental principle of Medicare: universal access to healthcare.
  • We urge the Health Minister, Peter Dutton, to consult on the Medicare co-payment issue with groups representing all users of the health system, not just the doctors.

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) – 0419 626 155
Mark Metherell (CHF) – 0429 111 986
Michael Moore (PHAA) – 0417 249 731

Big power company profits: the real outcome of any changes to the Renewable Energy Target

18 August 2014

Weakening or abolishing the Renewable Energy Target (RET) would benefit owners of polluting coal plants at the expense of households and small business, finds independent analysis released today.

"Who really benefits from weakening the Renewable Energy Target?" is the question asked by The Climate Institute, Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF-Australia. Based on independent modelling by Jacobs, the report finds that a weakening of the RET as per companies' proposals would result in:

• $8 billion additional profit to coal and $2 billion to gas generators (net present value of future profits 2015-
2030).This includes $2 billion in extra profit for EnergyAustralia, $1.5 billion for Origin and $1 billion for AGL.

• No decline in electricity prices: in fact, they could increase slightly (an average $30 increase to the annual
household power bill, with most of this increase taking place after 2020). This is consistent with modelling
commissioned by the Government and studies conducted independently by leading economic analysts.

• Additional carbon pollution of about 150 million tonnes to 2030 (equivalent to adding nearly 4 million cars to the
road) with additional pollution costs of over $14 billion.

• Loss of $8 billion in investment in new renewable capacity, with New South Wales and South Australia each
standing to lose over $2 billion in foregone investment.

"This modelling highlights the cynical self-interest behind power companies' calls to weaken the Renewable Energy Target. Companies like Origin and EnergyAustralia are pushing to weaken the target not, as they like to claim, because that would be good for customers, but because a weaker target is better for their bottom line," said John Connor, CEO The Climate Institute.

"The RET is a bipartisan policy that is effectively reducing carbon pollution from the electricity sector and building our nation's renewable energy industry. Both these objectives are vital - they help avoid dangerous climate change and sensibly position Australia's economy to remain competitive in a world moving to clean energy sources."

Various power companies and industry lobby groups want to weaken the RET, or to do away with it altogether. However, any change to the legislated target will need to be agreed by the Senate.
"Some of the claims that have been made do not stack up against the clear evidence and are a distraction from who would really benefit from reducing the amount of clean renewable energy in the electricity market," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS.

"We need to be investing in the future - in clean energy for people in Australia, energy efficiency measures particularly for people on low incomes and in new jobs in sectors that are growing around the world."

Kelly O'Shanassy, Australian Conservation Foundation CEO said: "These power companies are trying to hide behind the customers as they work to undermine Australia's efforts to become a clean energy leader. This research shows the power companies have eight billion reasons to attack clean energy and they have actually forgotten about their customers - and the air we all breathe."

Dermot O'Gorman, WWF-Australia CEO said: "Renewable energy is crucial to combating climate change and helping protect the Great Barrier Reef and much of our unique wildlife."
"Australia has a natural advantage in solar and wind energy. We must build our renewable energy industry instead of supporting old, dirty power stations. The RET benefits jobs, the economy and the environment," he said.

The full report telling the story of "Who really benefits" can be found here.


For more information
Kristina Stefanova | Communications Director, The Climate Institute | 0407 004 037
Josh Meadows | Media Advisor, Australian Conservation Foundation| 0439 342 992
Mark Symons | Senior Media Officer, WWF-Australia | 0400 985 571

ACOSS proposes ‘common income support payment’ in overhaul of social security system

12 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling for a major overhaul of the social security system for people of working age, proposing a single or ‘common' income support payment with added supplements depending on a person's need, similar to the 'Universal Credit' in the United Kingdom.

In its submission to the Federal Welfare Review released today, the peak national community body, proposes the establishment of an Independent Commission of experts to review and develop a benchmark for rates of the new payment.

It also wants the Federal Government to abandon a number of harsh Budget measures that pre-empt and undermine the Review.

"The social security system for people of working age is complex, unfair and it undermines employment participation. The system is broken, and tinkering at the margins won't fix it," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"People with the same financial needs receive vastly different payments and those on the lowest payments such as Newstart Allowance receive as little as $35 a day. A carer, person with disability or sole parent who moves to the lower Newstart Allowance loses up to $170 a week in income for no valid reason.

"To qualify for higher payments people have to prove they cannot engage in paid work. This is counterproductive and it means too many people are being ‘written off' in the jobs market. Payment levels should be based on people's financial needs now, not their future employment prospects.

"We believe the best solution is to remove the distinction between pensions, allowances for unemployed people and student payments and replace them with a common income support payment for people of working age, based on essential living costs.

"Under this model, people with extra costs - including the costs of a disability, caring for a person with disability, and raising a child alone - would receive supplements on top of the common income support payment. These supplements would extend to many people on low to modest wages.

"The levels of payment needed by people to meet basic essential living costs in Australia today should be based on recommendations by an independent Commission of experts. This would help ensure that payment rates are based on objective assessment of financial need, not the opinions of decision-makers that some groups ‘deserve' more or less than others.

"Comprehensive payment reform will take time. In the short term, the Government should adopt the sensible calls in the Interim Report to improve Newstart and other allowances for single people - as was done for people on pension payments.

"It should also boost Rent Assistance for those paying the highest rents, to stop payments for sole parents from falling as their children grow older, and to bring student payments for adults up to the same level as Newstart Allowance. These are sensible and urgent reforms to reduce the worst poverty.

"A key condition for our support of payment reform is that no group should be worse off and those on the lowest payments such as Newstart Allowance should be better off. There is a danger that many people will be worse off if proposals to shift people whose disability is not ‘permanent' to a lower payment than the Disability Support Pension is implemented. The ‘shell game' of endlessly shifting people from higher to lower payments to save money has to stop.

"We urge the government to drop the harshest of the Budget's social security changes and wait until the Welfare Review runs its full course. These include the proposal to deprive young people under 30 of income support for six months of each year, reducing the indexation of all payments, and changes to Family Tax Benefit B which cut payments for families on the lowest incomes.

"We need to reform the safety net, not to shrink it," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Summary and Recommendations - Download

ACOSS Submission to Welfare Review - Download


Key ACOSS Recommendations
• A common income support payment to replace pension and allowance payments for people of working age, based on essential living costs;

• Supplements should be paid in addition to the common income support payment to people on low to modest incomes to meet specific costs incuding the costs of disability, caring, and raising a child alone.

• Independent Commission of experts appointed by Government to review and develop a benchmark to determine base rates of payment and report to Parliament on adequacy of the common income support payment and supplements on a regular basis;

• In setting future payment rates no group should be financially worse off and those facing the greatest hardship should be better off;

• Withdraw or suspend Budget proposals that pre-empt the Review's findings
1. six month waiting periods for unemployment payments for young people
2. indexation of pensions to the CPI only
3. changes to Family Tax Benefit Part B;

• Social security should be paid as cash benefits without restriction on their use: ‘Income Management' should only apply where the recipient or local community elects to use it.

• Activity requirements should be reasonable and directly relevant to people's employment prospects. The social security system should not be used as a social engineering device by imposing requirements around the care of children or how money is spent, that don't apply equally to the rest of the community.

Unemployment is rising and Budget policies cast young people adrift

8 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today said the sharp rise in unemployment is disturbing and highlights the risks posed by current Federal Government proposals that strip away supports and payments for people struggling to find paid work, especially young people.

"The latest unemployment figures expose the folly of policies that cast young people adrift without income support for six months and make them search for 40 jobs a month," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The reality is that it's becoming increasingly difficult to find work, not easier. In many parts of the country, the jobs simply aren't there. There are less jobs available to young people now than there were before the GFC six years ago.

"The answer is not to make people search harder, or push them into failed ‘work for the dole' programs.

"The starting point for policies that work to reduce youth unemployment is the transition from school to paid work. Young people are not getting the career advice and support they need at school, and schools are not well connected with local employers and support services. The Youth Connections program is providing that support, but in the same Budget that cuts unemployment payments for young people, that program lost its funding.

"ACOSS welcomed the recent announcement of wage subsidies to give long term unemployed young people a foot up in the tough jobs market. Wage subsidies in regular paid jobs are much more effective than working for the dole.

"However, the Government has largely ignored cost-effective proposals that are widely viewed as likely to help, such as the joint recommendations from the Business Council of Australia, the ACTU and ACOSS Alliance on how to remove barriers to employment for people disadvantaged in the labour market.

"We all - business local communities, unions, and social services and governments - need to work together to open up job opportunities for unemployed people. If we don't do this, a temporary weakness in the labour market will become an economic and social disaster," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

More information on ACOSS proposals:
Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers
- 30 June 2014
ACOSS calls on government to dump plan to cut payments for young unemployed people and focus on jobs
- 5 June 2014
Focus on jobs not penalising people: ACOSS
- 28 May 2014

Community Organisations to get savvy with IT

7 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today launched the Community Sector Digital Business Kit Project in partnership with Infoxchange and has released modules on a new website www.improveIT.org. This is part of the Australian Government's Digital Business Kit programme.

"Australia's community sector is facing great challenges but also great opportunities in this fast moving digital age. This project has the potential to revolutionise the way small and medium sized organisations do business and better serve low-income and vulnerable people in our community," said ACOSS Deputy CEO Rebecca Vassarotti.

"The aim of project is to equip community groups with important IT skills, information and resources that will lead to more efficient and effective delivery of services. Smarter use of IT - through faster connections, better use of technology to manage information, and tools to measure the impact of programs are making in the community - will ensure organisations can better support their clients.

"This project is specifically designed to target small and medium sized groups that may not have access to large IT budgets and in-house expertise. We know that improved IT performance is not about how much money you spend, but how you use the resources."

Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs said, "One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that we have been able to host it on our new ImproveIT website. This website has been designed as the ‘go to' place for community organisations to improve their efficiency and effectiveness using information technology."

"It will help organisations who are looking for resources and how-to guides, want to discuss IT problems, or are looking for events, conferences and IT training. This means that the Digital Business Kits will be supported by a range of complementary information and tools, and organisations accessing them will be connected to a community working through similar issues."

Ms Vassarotti said, "ACOSS has been delighted to work with Infoxchange to provide this much needed resource to the sector. The first part of the project has dealt with issues such as how to make the most of current information technology options, how to ensure appropriate on-line security, how to improve websites and how we can support new modes of working such as teleworking."

"This is just the first stage of this exciting project, which will then go on to develop resources to support the sector make the most of new opportunities presented by cloud technologies, as well as to utilise electronic referrals and on-line collaboration tools.

"We hope that community organisations all over the country access the resources and make the most of the opportunities that IT provides," Ms Vassarotti concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS joins voices welcoming Government rethink on RDA changes

6 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today joined the chorus of human rights and community leaders welcoming the Federal Government's decision to maintain current protections against discrimination in the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Government's proposed amendments to section 18 C of the Act were widely opposed by ethnic community leaders, state governments and civil liberties and human rights experts, who warned it would effectively give the green light to racial based vilification of minority groups in our country.

"This is a sensible step and we praise the Prime Minister for listening to the overwhelming voices in the community," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The last thing we want to see in our country is the watering down of important protections that have helped make our community strong, by condoning abuse and intimidation on the basis of a person's race or ethnicity and potentially fuelling racial tension.

"This decision ensures that an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and protection from racism is maintained in our laws," Dr Goldie said.

Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

Forrest review includes some sound proposals, but radical social security changes should be rejected

1 August 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today responded to the Andrew Forrest review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes by welcoming the emphasis on early learning and demand led employment but cautioning against radical measures that fly in the face of available evidence and would cause more harm than good.

"The report's focus on early childhood investment is a positive step, including the proposal for comprehensive case management for children 0-3 years who are identified as being vulnerable. This emphasis reflects the substantial evidence base highlighting the importance of early childhood intervention, education and care in determining long-term educational and employment outcomes," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We also support the proposal to provide schools with extra support to engage with parents and broader community to deliver responsive services. We have long argued that part of the solution to improving school attendance is to improve the engagement between schools, parents and the broader community."

The Forrest review also highlights the effectiveness of demand-led employment models.

"We welcome the emphasis on demand led employment, which has been a focus of ACOSS' work with the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Demand-led or partnership based employment models should effectively link employment services with employer needs and redirect funding to more targeted training and in-job support."

"Other welcome measures include setting a 4% target for the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the public service within 4 years, and imposing procurement requirements on the Commonwealth Government to buy from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises (4%).

"These are sound policies that will make a real difference. However, the potential benefit of these policies risks being undermined by damaging proposals such as the so-called Healthy Welfare card. This card would apply to 100% of income to all payment recipients (except veterans and age pension). It would remove individual autonomy and decision-making and imposing unnecessary bureaucratic controls on the lives of people reliant on income support.

"This proposal would take our nation back to 1930s when unemployed people did not get cash benefits and had to work on the roads or beg for charity to survive.

"Punishing families by cutting Family Tax Benefit payments if children don't meet school attendance targets would inflict further pain on families struggling to cope and does nothing to address the complex issues these families may be facing.

"We also strongly oppose proposals to make it harder for young people to access vital income support by requiring that Youth Allowance recipients be endorsed for eligibility by a school principal. Eligibility should be based on need, not principal discretion.

"The report also recommends that all of Centrelink's discretion to waive job seekers' obligations and grant exemptions or transfer to non-activity tested payments be removed (for ‘capable people'). This would be extremely detrimental for many people, especially those experiencing complex issues like family violence or homelessness.

"We are deeply concerned by the hardline and counterproductive approach to people who are out of work, which demonstrates the need to move beyond welfare stereotypes and towards social security and employment policies based on consultation, partnerships and evidence. Extending a costly and intrusive system of income control and expanding the failed Work for the Dole program would risk undoing all the good work that could be achieved by the adoption of the positive measures in this review.

"ACOSS strongly believes that our income support and employment systems should be non-discriminatory in design and implementation and be based on evidence of what works to assist people into work.

"We urge the government to review the evidence and engage directly with communities in determining employment and education pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and all those in our community facing barriers to participation," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

One sided obligations will make it tougher for people looking for work: ACOSS

28 July 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today described the Federal Government's proposed changes to job search requirements as one-sided and harsh, with Government investing too little to make a difference and jobseekers expected to undertake activities that will not help them get a job.

"Australia's employment services system is premised on the notion of mutual obligation. The current policy proposals fail to meet the Government's obligations," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Governments have a duty to provide income support and to help people to get a job, while people who are unemployed are required to search for jobs and participate in employment programs.

"The youth employment measure in the Federal Budget would breach the Government's income support obligation by providing support for only six months a year in many cases. At the same time, Government investment in employment assistance is inadequate, at only half the OECD average (0.3% compared to 0.6%).

"New requirements appear to be designed to make unemployment unattractive rather than assist people obtaining employment. There is too much activity for activity's sake and not enough flexible investment in what works such as wage subsidies and vocational training relevant to the labour market.

"The proposed expansion of the Work for the Dole program is likely to be expensive and ineffective. At least $1,500 per person is being invested in this program despite less one in four jobseekers getting a job after Work for the Dole.

"The doubling of the number of jobs people have to search for - from 5 to 10 jobs a week - is likely to be self-defeating and demoralising. It reflects thinking that jobseekers are mainly responsible for their own unemployment regardless of the availability of jobs or the individual's personal circumstances. Missing is an equal onus on government to invest in strengthening people's employment capacity.

"Capacity building is especially vital given that most people are now unemployed for over 12 months and half for over 2 years. Over 100,000 people have an assessed disability and another 100,000 are sole parents.

"ACOSS welcomes increased investment in wage subsidies for people who are unemployed long-term. We have long supported wage subsidies for young people who are unemployed long-term, but are concerned that this is being funded by a reduction of income support for young people who need it.

"We think wage subsidies should go to those experiencing long term unemployment and disadvantaged in the labour market, rather than eligibility being determined by age.

"The new model appears to provide more flexibility for providers to invest in individual jobseekers through reduced red tape but is dominated by a single program, Work for the Dole. This focus creates an ‘inflexible flexibility' that overshadows other activities.

"We need to see greater investment in employment capacity building to ensure assistance is individualised rather than standardised. For instance, funds available to providers to invest in training and other help for people disadvantaged in the labour market range between just $850 - $1200 per year and access to vocational training will be much more limited than at present.

"Simply increasing job search requirements and increasing punishments without added investment will make it tougher for people looking for work, and skews the mutual obligation model against the very people the employment services system is meant to support," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Long live climate action: groups call for end to polluting politics

Long live climate action: groups call for end to polluting politics

17 July 2014

A coalition of civil society groups has urged Parliament to end divisive climate politics and take constructive action to reduce carbon pollution. The group has expressed deep disappointment at the abolition of the carbon tax today, while welcoming Senate action on renewable energy. It has issued a call for the Australian Parliament to show national and global leadership on climate change.

Andrew Dettmer, National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) said:  "The Abbott government has deliberately misled the public about the costs of action to protect Australians from climate change. Thanks to the measures around the carbon tax for instance, Australia now produces lower emissions and uses less energy to smelt metal. It seems that abolition of the tax suits the government’s rich mates, who don't want to pay a price for their pollution.

“The AMWU is joining calls for the Abbott government to stop the lies and come clean about the cost of inaction on climate change. Rather than being hell-bent on abolishing industry programs that create real jobs, the government must take positive action to address climate change urgently. Failure to act on climate will lead to long term damage to the environment, hobbling our economy and generations to come."

Michael Moore, CEO of the Australian Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) said: "The impact of climate change on our health will be serious and costly. The Public Health Association of Australia calls on the government to be honest about who pays the real costs of carbon pollution. The government must act to protect Australians from increases in vector-borne disease, the incidence of depression as farm land becomes less viable, as well as injury and death associated with adverse weather events.”

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), said: “We know that people experiencing poverty will be hit first and hardest by the impacts of climate change and have the least capacity to adapt. We also know that the drivers of energy prices and other costs of living pressures are much broader and more complex than the introduction of a carbon price or renewable energy target.”

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the securing of the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority was now crucial to protecting jobs growth and opportunities for innovation into the future.

“Investment and support for the local clean energy industry is vital if Australia is to create and capitalise on the high skilled, innovative, clean tech jobs of the future,” Ms Kearney said.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific stressed the importance of protecting renewable power laws, particularly considering there is now effectively nothing to discourage big polluters from dumping carbon pollution into the environment.

"With the disappointing repeal of the Carbon price, protecting the Renewable Energy Target is now even more essential," said Senior Climate Campaigner, Nic Clyde. "Doing so should be a no-brainer, because not only is the Renewable Energy Target an effective mechanism to cut pollution, it also means billions of dollars in investment in Australia and lower electricity bills for households.”

Oxfam Australia emphasised that cutting carbon pollution is essential to fighting poverty and hunger.

“Climate change is hitting developing countries first and hardest. It is the single greatest challenge in the fight against hunger,” said Kelly Dent, Oxfam Australia’s food and climate specialist. “Australia must do its fair share towards global efforts to cut carbon pollution and support communities to adapt to climate impacts. The repeal of our carbon price is a significant step backwards that puts us out of step with the international community.”

GetUp's National Director Sam McLean said:  "Australians want to see our nation lead the way on renewable energy. Support for meaningful action on climate change continues to grow, yet the Abbott government has failed to present a credible climate policy. The government needs to get with the times. We need climate action that makes polluters, not ordinary Australians, pay for the price of carbon pollution."

Civil society groups have released a joint video stating their commitment to keep up the fight to force responsible action on climate change: http://youtu.be/Ir5KGOeivbk

MEDIA CONTACT: Alison Martin 0432 941 5330432 941 533

 

 

 

Australian community leaders unite in defending a price on pollution

8 July 2014

Note: representatives of the AMWU, ACOSS, ACF, AYCC, PHAA, UFU and ARRCC will conduct a press conference in the Senate courtyard, Parliament House, on Tuesday 8 July at 10.30 am.

More than twenty civil society groups ranging from trade unions to youth, health, emergency services and faith-based groups, have united in a call to Australia’s new Senators to protect Australians from climate change.

For groups including ACOSS, the ACTU and Save the Children that means that the Senate must vote to keep a price and limit on greenhouse pollution and to protect our existing renewable power laws.

This legislation is crucial as it creates jobs in the renewables sector and provide billions in investment to industry.

Andrew Dettmer, National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, says the union movement supports a price on pollution because it is the best way to secure the future of workers, their families and the Australian community.

“Making polluters pay, rather than ordinary Australian families, is the fairest way to protect Australians from climate change,” Mr Dettmer said.

“Investing in clean energy production creates jobs, it’s as simple as that.”

Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, says that ACOSS supports a price on pollution and renewable power laws, because low-income earners are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather, bushfires, floods and food price increases.

“People living on low-incomes will be the first and worst hit by the effects of climate change.

“It is irresponsible to repeal the clean energy laws when they remain the only credible and independently assessed mechanism for Australia to adopt.”

“Rewarding investment in clean energy and energy efficiency assistance programmes makes sense, creating significant employment opportunities and leading to substantial savings in energy costs over time,” Dr Goldie said.

“There are no climate change sceptics at the end of a firehose. Firefighters know that climate change is real and happening now. They see it in the changing patterns, frequency and intensity of recent blazes in several states,” said Peter Marshall, National Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia.

"Global warming is not only an environmental issue. Without dramatic action the potential for adverse impacts on health are enormous. There is already evidence of an increase in vector-borne disease, depression as farm land becomes less viable as well as injury and death associated with adverse weather events,” said Michael Moore, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia.

“We see it as a moral and theological imperative to recognise the rights of all people, especially the rights of future generations and those in poverty, who will bear the heavy cost of our dependence on carbon-based energy if we lack the will to limit climate change,” said Dr Beth Heyde, Member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, and Chair of the Public Affairs Commission of the Anglican General Synod.

“The Synod met just last week and unanimously expressed grave concern to the Government that a market mechanism such as an emission trading scheme is not part of its strategy to address climate change - and urged the Government to do much more to decrease Australia’s heavy fossil fuel dependence.

“A market mechanism such as an Emissions Trading Scheme is not a carbon tax - it is a key way by which 21st century Australia can achieve two important goals: lowering the very serious risks from global warming which have been so clearly identified by the IPCC, and moving to a thriving, sustainable economy based on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels,” said Dr Heyde.

"As young people, we have the most at stake and we need our leaders to listen and act urgently. Our message to new Senators is this: think about your children and grandchildren, the future generations who will bear the cost of your decisions on climate,” said Lucy Manne, National Co-Director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

“What mustn’t be forgotten in this debate is that our price on pollution is working,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

“Since its inception, pollution from electricity generation has fallen more than ten per cent, total pollution has fallen more than at any time in more than two decades, clean energy is booming and all without hurting families.

“Why would any government scrap a policy that works as well and as efficiently as this one?”

ACOSS pays tribute to Graeme Innes’ contribution as Disability Discrimination Commissioner

5 July 2014

ACOSS pays tribute today to Disability Discrimination Commissioner Mr Graeme Innes AM for his important contribution to human rights in Australia, as he leaves the role that he has held since 2005.

"Mr Innes has made an important and valuable contribution to the recognition of human rights in Australia for those living with disability. He has showed great leadership in important initiatives to improve the lives of people with disability, including the drafting of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

As Commissioner, he has also made a significant contribution to improving employment opportunities for people with a disability. He has challenged the business sector, government and the broader community to work together to remove barriers to employment for people with disabilities.

"He has brought to the role not only decades of experience as a lawyer and human rights advocate, but also the experience of living with disability and a personal insight in to the barriers and discrimination that all too often affect those living with disability", said Dr Goldie.

"Mr Innes has demonstrated by example the enormous contribution people with disability have to make to public life and our community. He, and the role of a dedicated full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner, will be missed."

Media contact: 0419 626 155

Payment reform must reduce poverty, complexity, and exclusion from employment

30 June 2014

In responding to the Interim Report of the Reference Group on Welfare Reform, ACOSS says reforms should ensure that no disadvantaged group is worse off, that payments are targeted to need and that the system supports employment participation.

“The current review is an opportunity for the Government to reset its income support reform agenda, away from reducing payments and towards reducing poverty, system complexity, and exclusion from employment,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

“We will be looking to the Government to engage with the sector and affected individuals as partners in reform. However, we are concerned that the six weeks for consultation is inadequate to enable people to get to grips with these complex issues and participate meaningfully in the Review. The lesson from the Budget is that Governments have to listen the community and bring people with them if reform is to be achieved.”

“Real welfare reform is not about shifting people, including people with disabilities, sole parents or carers, from one payment to another. We need to change the system: from a labyrinth of higher and lower payments based on degrees of ‘deservingness’ towards a simpler one based on financial need. Once it meets people’s basic financial needs, income support should connect them with employment opportunities and supports.”

The strengths of the report are its focus on reforming the whole payments system rather than changes at the margin, its recognition that payments for unemployed people and students and many sole parents are inadequate, and its emphasis on building bridges between income support and employment through employment services and social supports.

The Report’s main weaknesses are that it does not take payment simplification far enough and it takes activity requirements too far. It proposes to retain different levels of payment for pensions, unemployment and student payments regardless of financial need. It advocates new requirements for people receiving income support that go well beyond training and finding employment, including requirements for the care of children and management of their budgets. The use of income support as a form of social engineering is unnecessary, intrusive and wasteful.

 “Like many reports before it, the interim report once again shines a spotlight on the inadequacy of Newstart and student payments. We welcome the recognition that the gap between pensions is unfair and counterproductive,” said Dr Goldie.

 “The interim report also recognises the disadvantage experienced by sole parent families as their children get older, when costs increase but payments fall. Child poverty in sole parent families is the fifth highest in the OECD and 286,000 children are living in poverty in sole parent households. Increasing support for these families must be a high priority in the reform process.”  

The interim report rightly argues for reform of the employment services system to make it more responsive to the needs of both jobseekers and employers. ACOSS shares this goal and has today released a joint proposal with the ACTU and the BCA to develop and pilot a demand-led employment model based on a partnership between jobs services and employers to achieve better results for disadvantaged jobseekers.

“The report recognises that Rent Assistance is currently not meeting the needs of many low income renters and should be increased for those with the highest housing costs. It is important that this issue is considered in the context of the Federal/State housing review later this year to ensure Rent Assistance is designed in a way which supports affordability and sustainability over the long-term as part of a comprehensive national affordable housing strategy.”   

While there are a number of positive reform directions flagged in the interim report, ACOSS is concerned that some proposals could leave vulnerable people at greater risk of poverty and with less autonomy over their lives.

The apparent retreat from the much simpler model proposed by Mr McClure in his 2001 report of a single payment benchmarked to basic costs of living standards with supplements to meet additional costs, for example those related to job search, disability, sole parenthood, is disappointing.

“The four tier system proposed is likely to retain unfair and complex distinctions between payment levels for students, those who are unemployed and pension recipients. Inherent in this model is the risk that people will continue to be moved from higher to lower payments as part of ‘welfare to work’ policies, a concern already raised by disability advocates. This would further impoverish people of working age on income support.” 

“People should not have to move to payments that are $80-$170 per week lower simply because their youngest child reaches 8 years of age, they have a disability and have moved closer to finding employment, or they have ceased caring for a family member with a chronic illness. The system should support these transitions, not make them harder for people.”

“ACOSS cautions against the attachment of further conditions on income support payments which are not linked to paid employment, such as the extension of income management or requirements to care for children. We should not turn income support recipients into second class citizens. Children should be protected, and people should be helped to budget, whether or not they receive income support. Beyond reasonable work requirements, people should not be treated differently simply because they need income support.”   

“Payment reform should be based on key principles: payments should be based on need, no disadvantaged group should be worse off, the system should support employment participation and any participation requirements must be relevant, reasonable and backed by employment and other supports.”

“Whatever road is taken, it is vital that the divide between pensions and allowances be reduced (including through a $50 per week increase in Newstart Allowance) and ultimately removed. This is the main source of poverty, unfairness and complexity in the system of working age payments.”

“In the next stage of the review, ACOSS encourages the Reference Group and representatives from the Government to engage directly with people who currently rely on income support payments to ensure their voices are heard in this process. We stand ready to assist in bringing individuals affected together with the Reference Group to enable this important engagement to occur.” 

ACOSS Media: 0419 626 1550419 626 155

Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers

Alliance proposes partnerships to secure jobs for disadvantaged jobseekers

30 June 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Business Council of Australia today jointly proposed improvements to employment services to deliver better job outcomes for people disadvantaged in the labour market.

The proposal, put forward ahead of the announcement by the federal government of new national contracts with employment services providers, follows the development of an alliance between three organisations to work together to tackle entrenched disadvantage. Click here to read the proposal.

The organisations propose employment services be reoriented towards a ‘partnerships approach’, which more effectively links employment services with employer needs, and where funding is redirected to more targeted training and in-job support.

The partnerships approach is proposed to include the following:

  • Establishment of employment brokers to create partnerships between employers and employment services to better match jobseekers with labour demand.
  • Establishment of regional employment boards in areas of high unemployment to promote the partnerships approach among industry, unions, employment services and training providers.
  • Redirecting training resources from the existing Employment Pathway Fund to focus more on disadvantaged jobseekers, and to fund work experience and training as part of the partnerships approach.

“Stronger partnerships, supported by employment brokers would enable job service providers to better respond to employer demand, tailor training opportunities to employer need and provide in-work support to jobseekers to ensure lasting employment outcomes,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

“It is critical that people currently excluded from the labour market are given support to participate, and at the same time, employers need to have a direct line of sight to disadvantaged jobseekers,” she said.

The demand-led model offers employers the opportunity to partner more directly with service providers, and ensure services can link jobseekers with opportunities.

“The employment services system needs to be much more effectively matched to the needs of employers, the other crucial half of a successful job match,” said Business Council of Australia Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott.

“Business wants to play a role in ensuring all jobseekers are in a position to contribute to and benefit from economic growth. A partnership with service providers will help make the most of opportunities for disadvantaged jobseekers,” Ms Westacott said.

The ACTU believes the model offers an opportunity to overcome obstacles facing disadvantaged jobseekers.

“There are groups of people in Australia – the very long-term unemployed; many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and high numbers of people with disability who remain excluded from society,” said President of the ACTU, Ged Kearney.

“A partnerships approach would be facilitated by the broader community, including training providers, unions and community services. By working together we can reduce poverty, enhance human dignity, and improve job security and the economy”, Ms Kearney said.

The organisations are seeking government support to facilitate two trials of the employment partnerships – one at the national level focused on large national employers, and one at the regional level focused on a network of regional employers.

Media contacts

ACOSS media: Jacqui Phillips, Director of Policy, ACOSS, 0419 626 155

BCA Media: Scott Thompson, Director, Media and Public Affairs, Business Council of Australia, (03) 8664 2603, 0403 241 128

ACTU Media: Carla De Campo Ph: 0410 579 575 E: cdecampo@actu.org.au

 

Background: The model explained

The system would focus on three groups: very long-term unemployed people; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People identified as disadvantaged jobseekers, and people with disability identified as disadvantaged jobseekers.

As far as possible the employment partnerships approach would be embedded into the mainstream employment services system, to avoid duplication of effort and to allow best practice to be spread as widely as possible.

The organisations propose two trials of the partnerships proposal be conducted – one at the national level focused on large national employers, and one at the regional level focused on a network of regional employers, with employment services and jobseekers at the centre.

The trials should be facilitated by our organisations and government, but initiated by service providers and employers, and would run for two years prior to being evaluated.

Specifically, the organisations have recommended:

  • The appointment of national and regional employment brokers to promote and coordinate partnerships and to connect employers with disadvantaged jobseekers.
  • Establishing regional employment boards or networks in regions with high unemployment to promote employment partnerships among employers, industry organisations, unions, employment services and training providers.
  • Redirecting resources for provider investment in the Employment Pathway Fund to focus more on disadvantaged jobseekers, and allow providers to use the fund for employer partnership development and related work experience and training.
  • Rewarding lasting employment outcomes where jobseekers remain in paid employment.
  • Giving providers more incentives to attract the most disadvantaged jobseekers, and giving jobseekers more information to make an effective choice of provider.
  • Ensuring access within the Vocational Education and Training system to training up to AQF3 level for jobseekers in receipt of income support payments, while ensuring that the training matches the jobseeker’s interests and skill sets and aligns with current skills shortages and labour market needs.

 

C20 Summit: ACOSS challenges Government to lead G20 response to youth unemployment

21 June 2014

In her address to the C20 Summit, Dr Cassandra Goldie will call on the Government to show global leadership in reducing youth unemployment and achieving inclusive growth.


"A key goal of this year's G20 agenda is to reduce youth unemployment and increase employment opportunities for young people. As host of the G20 Summit, the Australian Government should be leading the way by strengthening supports to assist young people to transition from school to work," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

The 2012 G20 Employment Task force report pointed to the need to strengthen training and school to work transition programs and provide career guidance as essential measures for reducing youth unemployment.

"By contrast, the measures proposed in the recent federal Budget will leave young people who are unemployed with no income support for the first 6 months each year. This move is unprecedented among wealthy countries and contrary to the advice of respected organisations like the OECD which have called for a strong income support safety net and more investment in training for those affected by the Global Financial Crisis."

At the same time, the Government is offering no commitment to funding vital programs like Youth Connections, which work with young people to help them complete their schooling and make a successful transition to further education, training, or employment."

The youth unemployment rate is now 13%, or around 260,000 people aged 15 to 24. This compares to an unemployment rate for the working age population of 6%.

"We call on the Federal government to confirm its responsibility to take the lead in reducing youth unemployment and to ensure a decent income support safety net for those affected. The Government should work with civil society organisations and employers to reverse the loss of over 30,000 jobs for young people over the last six years."

"The C20 Summit offers a crucial opportunity for Government to meaningfully engage with civil society and community sector representatives to develop an inclusive and sustainable growth agenda and to ensure that no one in our local or global community is left behind, including young people."

"Australian civil society organisations are already working in close partnerships with business groups and others on policy solutions to address social and economic policy challenges. It's time the government worked with us in this effort by supporting civil society organisations and providing opportunities for meaningful engagement in the policy process."

Dr Goldie will be addressing the C20 Summit at the University of Melbourne Law School at 9am on Saturday 21 June.

ACOSS Media contact: 0419 626 155

ACOSS National Conference Resolution on the Federal Budget

12 June 2014

More than 300 participants of the 2014 ACOSS National Conference have today passed a resolution calling on the federal parliament of Australia to reject divisive and unfair budget proposals that severely impact on the most vulnerable people in our community.

The resolution reads:

Participants of the 2014 ACOSS National Conference call on the Australian Parliament to ensure that Australia moves to become a fair and inclusive society, in which all people can participate economically, and be included in the community.

We call on the Australian Government to work with us in designing policy that is sustainable, inclusive and fair.

The Government and the Parliament should abandon the following divisive and unfair proposed budget measures that severely impact on the most vulnerable people in our community:

  • Removal of the income support safety net for many young job seekers;
  • Measures that erode the value of income support for people at risk of poverty;
  • Reductions in family tax benefits for low and moderate income earners; Increases in user charges for essential health services, including GP payments, medicines and tests;
  • Withdrawal of federal funding to essential social services;
  • Silencing of advocacy organisations working to ensure that the voices of disadvantaged and marginalised groups are heard.

National leaders to deliver major addresses at ACOSS National Conference

12 June 2014

When: June 12, 2014
Where: Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre

National leaders will today present their parties vision for a fair and equitable Australia, including the direction of welfare reform, at the ACOSS National Conference in Brisbane.

The annual ACOSS National Conference is the premier community sector event and will include lively discussions on the state and future of universal health and employment services, as well as inclusive policy practices that ensure the most vulnerable people in our community are protected as we move to put our national budget on a long term sustainable path.

The conference will bring together key decision-makers, experts, policymakers, and frontline workers and agencies to discuss public policy priorities to address poverty and inequality in Australia.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOWD Full Program

Speakers

Political leaders

  • The Hon Kevin Andrews MP, Minister for Social Services
  • The Hon. Bill Shorten MP
  • Christine Milne, Leader of the The Australian Greens

Key speakers

  • Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
  • Fred Chaney AO, Senior Australian of the Year
  • Patrick McClure, Chair, Welfare Review Reference Group
  • Helen Szoke, CEO, Oxfam Australia
  • Mike Callaghan AM - Director, G20 Studies Centre, Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Senator Scott Ludlam, The Australian Greens
  • Eddie Cubillo, Executive Officer, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
  • Kirsty Parker, Co-Chair, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
  • Peter Martin, Economics Editor, The Age

Key Topics include:

  • The direction of welfare reform in Australia
  • Health - a retreat from universalism?
  • Employment, equity and diversity
  • What does justice reinvestment look like in Australia?
  • Driving inclusive growth through infrastructure investment
  • Can inclusive growth address inequality?
  • Harnessing partnerships for community development
  • Sector sustainability: A people powered response to rising energy prices and climate change

ACOSS calls on government to work with - not against - Australia’s civil society

11 June 2014

What: ACOSS National Conference (program)
When: 11th and 12th June, 2014
Where: Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Federal Government to embrace the capacity that civil society brings to public policy debate.

In the aftermath of a divisive federal budget, ACOSS is bringing together civil society groups to discuss the importance of community advocacy in setting future policy directions at its annual conference in Brisbane.

"ACOSS has long argued that the quality of our democracy requires governments to engage in meaningful dialogue with all key stakeholders, including civil society organisations and the broader Australian Public. However, this is largely absent in the current approach.

"It is disappointing that the voices, experiences and ideas of the community are going unheard, leading to an erosion in confidence in public institutions and our democratic systems.

"Since its election, and particularly through its first Budget, the government appears to have taken the view that supporting the legitimate advocacy activities of civil society is not an appropriate role or responsibility of government.

"At the same time as it delivered a budget that will severely hurt the people who are the most vulnerable in our community, the government has de-funded a number of organisations representing politically marginalised groups: young people, refugees and asylum seekers, people affected by drug and alcohol addiction and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"We were deeply disturbed with the recent comments made by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, a Senior Cabinet Minister, that "It's not the government's view that taxpayers' funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group".

"ACOSS strongly rejects this view. Good public policy relies on the informed and meaningful engagement and input from affected stakeholders and the broader community. However this is not happening.

  • At least nine community advisory or engagement mechanisms have been dismantled and five peak or advocacy bodies gone;
  • There are a limited number of new advisory, review or engagement structures, but with limited scope and membership;
  • No new advisory mechanisms have to date been announced on key policy issues, including housing and homelessness, child and family policy, income support, employment and others
  • There is no prime ministerial, or ministerial, community sector advisory body like the Prime Minister's advisory council on business.

"We call on the federal government to confirm its responsibility to support civil society advocacy to enable robust, open, informed and balanced public policy debate and better policy outcomes.

"Australia's civil society organisations are already working in close partnerships with business groups and others on the best policy solutions for our nation. It's time the government worked with us and not against us.

"A good starting point would be for the government to urgently establish an open and transparent community advisory council to the Prime Minister to provide high level expert advice on the national challenges we face - particularly focusing on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, providing an adequate safety net and creating job opportunities, including for our younger generations.

The Government must also:

  • Reaffirm it's pre-election promise not to reintroduce gag clauses to stifle civil society voices;
  • Reject any suggestion that advocacy and policy work is not a legitimate role for civil society, locally, regionally and at national level. Policy and advocacy by civil society organisations is a vital role that clearly needs government funding and support;
  • Reverse funding cuts or bans that have already abolished or reduced the ability for civil society organisations to advocate on behalf of their constituents.

'Everyone loses when our voices and solutions are lost from the debates we need to have," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas – 0419 626 155


ACOSS National Conference:

Global problems, local solutions: Tackling inequality in Australia and beyond - June 11-12 at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre.

TWITTER hashtag: #ACOSSConf2014

The annual ACOSS National Conference is the premier community sector event, providing an important platform for community voices to be heard.

ACOSS calls on government to dump plan to cut payments for young unemployed people and focus on jobs

5 June 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the Federal Government to drop its damaging plan to deny young unemployed people access to income support for six months after analysis from the Department of Social Services that it will lead to a 24% increase in demand for emergency assistance.

"This is a shocking revelation that government policy makers are well aware that many more young people who can't get paid work will be forced into begging for charity when they are cut off income support. It makes no sense for the government to pursue a policy that will cause this level of hardship and does little to give young people a sense of hope and self worth through getting a foothold into a real job," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Frontline agencies working with young people looking for work have made clear that depriving young people of payments and employment services will make it tougher for them to get ahead, especially those with no family support or from in families living on low incomes.

"The focus should be on opening up job opportunities for our young people, in collaboration with business leaders, investors, local communities and social services to give young people hope, and help them get a foot in the door.

"A more effective way to address youth and long term unemployment is to invest in overcoming skills and capability related barriers to work. Instead of penalising young people the government should invest in programs we know to be effective like Youth Connections which has been discontinued. They should also increase the availability of places in cost-effective wage subsidy programs like Wage Connect.

"It's disappointing that the Budget has cut funding to important career counselling and vocational programs such as Youth Connections, which has assisted over 74,000 young people since 2010. Ninety-three per cent of participants in this program were still engaged in study or paid work six months after completing the program in 2012 with most no longer receiving Centrelink payments.

"Similarly, 47% of people out of work for over two years assisted by the Wage Connect wage subsidy scheme retained their positions after the program ended, which is more than double the results achieved under the work for the dole scheme.

"The government has announced that it will pay subsidies of up to $10,000 over two years to employers who hire mature workers over the age of 50. This initiative should be extended to other groups locked out of the labour market, including young people.

"With the rate of unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds more than double the overall rate (12.5%), and the Fair Work Commission noting that earnings inequality is on the rise as it handed down its minimum wage decision yesterday, it's time for a new approach.

"The main reason for high youth unemployment is that young people were worst affected by the global financial crisis. The overall number of jobs for 16 to 19-year-olds was still below 2007 levels five years later. Employers want experience but it is difficult for young people to gain experience if they can't get entry-level positions.

"Strengthening support and investing in programs will save us more in the long run because more young people will be able to overcome the barriers they face to entering the workplace and would reduce the need for emergency support. Investing today in their futures will save us more in the longer term.

"We urge the government to rethink its current policy of withdrawing income support and work with business leaders, local communities and frontline agencies on solutions that work," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

ACOSS National Conference to discuss the future of public policy and advocacy in Australia

4 June 2014

In the aftermath of a divisive federal budget, Australian civil society will come together to discuss the current state and future direction of public policy and community advocacy in Australia, on June 11-12 in Brisbane.

The annual ACOSS National Conference is the premier community sector event, providing an important platform for community voices to be heard.

This year's conference theme is Global problems, local solutions: Tackling inequality in Australia and beyond, and will be held in Brisbane, the host city for November's G-20 heads of government summit.

The conference will bring together key decision-makers, experts, policymakers, and frontline workers and agencies to discuss public policy priorities to address poverty and inequality in Australia.

When: June 11-12, 2014
Where: Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

DOWNLOWD Full Program

Speakers

Political leaders

  • The Hon Kevin Andrews MP, Minister for Social Services
  • The Hon. Bill Shorten MP
  • Christine Milne, Leader of the The Australian Greens

Keynotes

  • Kirstie Parker, Co-chair National Congress of Australia's First People
  • June Oscar, CEO of the Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre
  • Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service

Key speakers

  • Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
  • Fred Chaney AO, Senior Australian of the Year
  • Patrick McClure, Chair, Welfare Review Reference Group
  • Helen Szoke, CEO, Oxfam Australia
  • Mike Callaghan AM - Director, G20 Studies Centre, Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • John Daley - CEO, The Grattan Institute
  • Sediqa Karimi, President, The Association of Australian Tertiary Students from Afghanistan
  • Senator Scott Ludlam, The Australian Greens
  • John Falzon - CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
  • Kasy Chambers, Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
  • Peter Martin, Economics Editor, The Age

Key Topics include:

  • Inequality: The role and response of civil society
  • How will we pay for adequate support and services for an ageing population?
  • Making sense of the budget ‘crisis'
  • Health - a retreat from universalism?
  • Driving inclusive growth through infrastructure investment
  • Can inclusive growth address inequality?
  • Employment, equity and diversity
  • The pursuit of justice in refugee and asylum seeker policy
  • What does Justice Reinvestment look like in Australia?
  • The G20 - More than a meeting

Workshops:

  • We're all in this together: 21st Century Advocacy Campaigns
  • Innovative financing for social services: risks and opportunities
  • Working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities
  • People's experiences at the heart of advocacy: a world cafe conversation


Community Sector Awards finalists announced
Join us to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the community sector at the conference dinner where we will be presenting the annual HESTA Community Sector Awards. The finalists for the awards have now been announced - you can check them out here.

ACOSS Board expresses deep concern at funding cut to Refugee Council of Australia

3 June 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service notes with deep concern the decision by the Commonwealth Government to end funding to the Refugee Council of Australia and the implication for the Government's ongoing support of civil society advocacy. The announcement was made on Friday that $140,000 per annum allocated to the RCOA as part of the 2014-2015 Federal Budget and allowed for under the Government's forward estimates to 2018 has been withdrawn. ACOSS acknowledges the vital role of the Refugee Council and expresses its deep disappointment at this development.

ACOSS acknowledges that the Refugee Council's dual roles supporting vulnerable people and demonstrating the contribution that people from refugee backgrounds make to Australian society is profound. RCOA was founded by Major-General Paul Cullen in November 1981, just a month after he received the UNHCR's global Nansen Medal for his support of refugees through Austcare and Australian Jewish community organisations, and has represented the community sector's views on refugee policy to governments of both political persuasions for almost a third of a century.

The decision to withdraw funding already committed to RCOA is particularly concerning and will be a significant disappointment to RCOA's 185 member organisations and over 800 individual members. The Council's vital work has included extensive consultations with member organisations and refugee communities, provision of reports, submissions, letters and public statements as well as direct representations to government and inter-governmental bodies.

RCOA Chief Executive Paul Power said he had no prior warning the funding was under threat and had been advised of the decision in a phone call from a Department of Immigration and Border Protection official.

Of particular concern are the alarming comments made by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to reporters in Melbourne on Friday, that "It's not the government's view that taxpayers' funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group."

ACOSS calls on the Abbott government to confirm its role in and commitment to supporting civil society advocacy and public policy discourse and to affirm the centrality of open and transparent discussion to the Australian political system.

Australia has experienced waves of different refugee communities arriving from vastly different corners of the globe and refugees make up an important part of, and make a significant contribution to, the Australian community. It is crucial that their experiences and voices have an opportunity to continue to be heard and that the vital work of RCOA does not end.

ACOSS calls on the Australian community to rally behind the Refugee Council to provide direct support in order to allow it to continue its constructive work in such an important area of Australian public policy.

Spokesperson contact - 0419 626 155
Micaela Cronin, Deputy President, ACOSS and Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

Find out more on Refugee Council of Australia website and support its ongoing work here.

Major Panel: Issues in refugee and asylum seeker policy at the ACOSS National Conference, June 11-12 in Brisbane.

Focus on jobs not penalising people: ACOSS

28 May 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has called on the Federal Government to focus on improving job opportunities for young people and strengthen training and education available instead of penalising them at the very time they need support and hope.

"It makes no sense that the government has decided to spend new and precious dollars on restarting the failed work-for-the-dole yet cut programmes that clearly work, flying in the face of all evidence," ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

"The problem in high unemployment areas around the country is the lack of jobs, not inertia on behalf of people who are looking for paid work.

‘‘Past experience shows that work-for-the-dole programs are not effective in helping young people get jobs. Under the previous Coalition government's scheme, only about one in three participants were still employed three months after the program.

"We know that the main reason for high youth unemployment is that young people were worst affected by the global financial crisis. The overall number of jobs for 16 to 19-year-olds was still below 2007 levels five years later. Employers want 'experience' but how can young people gain experience if they can't get entry-level positions?

"The focus should be on opening up job opportunities for our young people, and this should be done in collaboration with business leaders, investors, local communities and social services to give young people hope, and help them get a foot in the door.

A more effective way to address youth and long term unemployment would be to address skills and capability related barriers to work. A first step would be to increase the availability of places in cost-effective wage subsidy programs (such as Wage Connect), and Youth Connections, providing a subsidy roughly equivalent to the Newstart Allowance to a real employer, and mentoring and sustained supports. This gives young people with work experience they desperately want.

"Instead the government has decided to withdraw support from young people for six months of the year and make it harder for them to put themselves in a position to get paid work.

"Young people are already subject to tough requirements to get assistance - people under 22 years who leave school early are already required to complete school or train, or they lose income support. Those over 21 are required to search for 10 jobs a fortnight and prove it to Centrelink or they risk a loss of payments for eight weeks.

"The Budget has also cut funding to important career counselling and vocational programs such as Youth Connections, which has assisted over 74,000 young people since 2010. Ninety-three per cent of participants in this program were still engaged in study or paid work six months after completing the program in 2012 with most no longer receiving Centrelink payments.

"Similarly, 47% of people out of work for over two years assisted by the Wage Connect wage subsidy scheme retained their positions after the program ended, which is more than double the results achieved under the work for the dole scheme.

"The government has announced that it will pay subsidies of up to $10,000 over two years to employers who hire mature workers over the age of 50. With the rate of unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds more than double the overall rate (12.5%), this initiative should be extended to people locked out, including our young people.

"Young people want to work and participate in society. Now is the time to invest in their futures, not put further barriers in their way," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Opinion: Removal of income support for young people risks creating a lost generation - by Cassandra Goldie, 21 May 2014

Who will really pay for Budget repair? ACOSS analysis

22 May 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has released new analysis revealing that people on low and middle incomes will carry the overwhelming burden of repairing the federal Budget.

"Our analysis brings home the harsh truth that the heavy focus on spending cuts will be socially harmful and cost our nation more in the long run," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"The burden of restoring the Budget will not be fairly shared. Over the next four years, people and families living on low incomes will be expected to contribute over half the savings in the Budget (52%), compared with less than one sixth coming from people on high incomes.

"More than $19 billion out of $37 billion (52%) in budget savings in key programs and services over the next four years will come from reductions in spending on programs that mainly assist low and middle income earners. Only $5.7 billion (15%) billion are tax increases or savings in programs mainly benefiting people on high incomes.

"The people that will particularly be affected are those under 30 looking for work, people with disabilities, carers, single parents and struggling low income pensioners and families. The income losses sustained by many people relying income support and family payments are large and crippling.

"Lowering indexation for pensions and freezing family payments for two years will affect families living on low incomes the most and increase poverty and inequality. A single parent on a low income with one child over 6 years stands to lose $50 a week from the changes to Family Tax Benefits alone. We estimate that over a decade, changes to indexation will mean that single people relying on most pensions will be $80 a week worse off.

"New rules will deny income support to young people up to 29 years for six months of every year, unless exempted, resulting in income losses of $207 to $255 a week. Changes to eligibility for the Disability Support Pension are likely to result in more young people currently on this Pension being moved to the much lower Newstart or Youth Allowance, an income loss of at least $166 per week.

"The same people will also be hardest hit by the move to introduce $7 co-payments for doctor's visits and other services. It will deter patients with severely constrained incomes, particularly those with complex health conditions, from seeking necessary help, leading to more costly hospitalisations down the track.

"In contrast, people with high wealth and incomes will scarcely feel any pain, and much of it will be temporary. There are some efforts to remove or tighten access to a number of poorly targeted entitlements, such as abolishing the Seniors Supplement, capping Family Tax Benefit part B payment at $100,000, and the introduction of a temporary deficit levy. However, measures impacting disproportionately on those with high incomes represent just 15% of the overall savings and revenue measures considered in ACOSS' analysis.

"Everyone is expected to contribute to repair the Government Budget but more is expected of those with the least ability to pay.

"To be fair and sustainable this budget should have restored public revenue as well as reducing waste on the expenditure side. Three fifths of the decline in the Budget bottom line since the Global Financial Crisis was caused by a loss of revenue, yet the Budget has not begun the process of major structural reform of the tax system. The Budget instead left generous tax concessions that mainly benefit people on higher incomes in the too-hard-basket: superannuation, the treatment of private and company trusts and generous housing tax concessions. It is vital that these are front and centre in the Government's tax review.

"We urge the government to withdraw the harshest of the spending cuts and start an open dialogue on budget reform to design and build support for the structural change that's needed on both the revenue and expenditure side. " Dr Goldie.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Find out who pays and who should be paying for Budget repair:
DOWNLOAD ANALYSIS

G20 lead-in gets underway with C20 Summit

21 May 2014

Global civil society will come together in Melbourne in June for the C20 Summit which is the first of the lead-in G20 ‘satellite' conferences to debate policy suggestions to be put to the G20.

The C20 Summit on 20-21 June, will refine and endorse the specific policy issues and solutions civil society wants the G20 to consider when it meets in Brisbane in November.

The C20 (or ‘Civil Society 20') brings community voices to the G20 as the world's leaders face massive challenges including fostering sustainable, inclusive growth. In a world where there is increasing inequality within and between countries, the C20's primary aim is to ensure that people are put at the centre of G20 decision making.

Delegates chairing discussions or speaking at the event include senior representatives of the leading NGOs including World Vision, ACOSS, WWF, Oxfam, Transparency International and the National Council of Churches, as well as international speakers across the four key policy issues of:
• Inclusive Growth and Employment;
• Infrastructure;
• Climate & Sustainability; and
• Governance.

Who: Politicians, policy-makers, civil society leaders and advocates including:

• Hon Julie Bishop MP: Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs
• Hon Tanya Plibersek MP: Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
• Hon Kevin Andrews MP: Minister for Social Services
• Huguette Labelle: Chair, Transparency International
• Sharan Burrow: General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation
• Tim Costello: Australia's C20 Steering Committee Chair and World Vision Australia CEO
• Cassandra Goldie: CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
• Gillian Triggs: President, Human Rights Commission


When: 20-21 June 2014
Where: Melbourne University, Parkville

For more information on the C20 and the full list of Summit speakers go to: www.c20.org.au

Media enquiries: John Lindsay, Media & Communications Manager, C20 Secretariat Tel 0423 456 046 email johnlindsay@oxfam.org.au


Budget rethink needed to keep Australia on course

20 May 2014

The Federal Budget does not set a course for building the social infrastructure and opportunity that Australians need according to representatives from state and territory Councils of Social Service meeting in Sydney.

"An open and transparent conversation is needed with the community, business and state and territory governments to identify the services and safety net Australians expect, who will deliver these services and how they will be funded.

The backlash the budget has received from State and Territory governments and from the community shows it delivered no certainty on any of these points.

Australia stands at a cross roads. If implemented, this Budget will deliver some of the harshest living conditions low income earners and vulnerable people have seen in decades. It will also go no way to addressing the true challenges Australia currently faces.

We are currently one of the lowest taxing countries in the OECD with one of the lowest debt levels. What we don't have is the sustainable revenue base needed to deliver the services that a country in Australia's economic position has the capacity to support.

Government, business and the community must work together to deliver a long term plan for Australia that is sustainable and does not disproportionately hit those who can least afford it.

Many of the measures in this Budget, including co-payments to see a doctor and changes in support for young people and people with disability are quite extraordinary. We must see changes in these and other areas of the Budget or it is unclear how many people affected will get by.

If people start avoiding going to the doctor because their income won't allow it we will see a huge rise in chronic illness and even more pressure on our health system.

The big questions Australia now faces about how to deliver and fund these services and provide the safety net Australians expect must be answered through robust public discussion, not by using a budget to starve the states and push the debate into crisis mode.

We must ensure there is no longer a situation where federal, state and territory governments can pass the buck on responsibility for delivering crucial services such as health and education.

Part of this is establishing a sustainable revenue base. Tax reform has to be a part of the process of delivering this but we are concerned there is an assumption that increasing the GST is the only fix.

While the GST should be part of a broader discussion about tax reform, we cannot assume that its adverse impact on low incomes earners can be wholly addressed through compensation which we know to be vulnerable to erosion or withdrawal over time.

We would be very concerned if this discussion did not also look at reforming other tax concessions that mainly benefit high income earners, including superannuation tax concessions, negative gearing and capital gains tax, company and family trusts, land taxes and stamp duties.

All of these were identified by the Henry tax panel which is widely considered the best place to restart our debate about tax reform in this country."

MEDIA CONTACT: Fernando De Freitas, 0419 626 155

State and territory community sector leaders respond to Federal Budget

20 May 2014

MEDIA ALERT

Who: Leaders of state and territory Council's of Social Service
When: 10.30am Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Where: NCOSS Courtyard, 66 Albion St Surry Hills

Leaders of state and territory Councils of Social Service met today in Sydney to discuss the implications of the recent Federal Budget for the states and territories.Leaders of state and territory Councils of Social Service are meeting in Sydney to discuss the implications of the recent Federal Budget for the states and territories.

They will provide a joint statement with ACOSS responding to key Budget initiatives at a press conference in Sydney this morning.

The response will cover:
• the need to secure a sustainable revenue base and current debate around the GST;
• reform of the Federal and State and Territory relationship; and
• the impact of budget initiatives around the country.


Speakers:
• Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
• Alison Peters, CEO, Council of Social Service of NSW
• Emma King, CEO, Victorian Council of Social Service
• Mark Henley, CEO, Queensland Council of Social Service
• Ross Womersley, Executive Director, South Australian Council of Social Service
• Irina Cattalini, CEO, Western Australian Council of Social Service
• Susan Helyar, Director, ACT Council of Social Service
• Tony Reidy CEO, Tasmanian Council of Social Service
• Wendy Morton, Executive Director, Northern Territory Council of Social Service

Media Contact: Laura Maclean 0412 867 658

Budget divides the nation, young and old, rich and poor: ACOSS

13 May 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service tonight said it was deeply concerned that those in our nation who carry the greatest burden from spending cuts in the Budget are those who can least afford it.

"The Budget divides rather than mends. It entrenches divisions between those with decent incomes, housing and health care and those without them. It undermines the fabric of our social safety net with severe cuts to health, disability support, income support, community services and housing programs," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"A few measures are in the right direction, targeting those for whom the age of entitlement should be coming to an end: Abolishing the Seniors Supplement, Capping Family Tax benefit part B at $100 000, introducing a levy for people earning over $180,000, and taking super payments into account in assessing eligibility for the Senior's Health Card. Corporate welfare is also shaved. However, most of these measures will inflict little damage or will only be felt for a short time.

"The real pain of this budget - crushing and permanent - will be felt by people on low incomes, young people, single parents, those with illness or disability, and those struggling to keep a roof over their heads. These are the groups doing the heavy lifting' for the Budget repair job.

"One of the most disturbing targets of this budget are our young people. The new rules will deny income support to young people up to 29 years, for six months of every year, unless exempted, and then force them into work for the dole. It will deny them Newstart Allowance until 24 (a loss of $48 per week), and move more young people on DSP to Newstart or Youth Allowance, a cut of at least $166 per week. We are excited about the investment for older workers who lose their jobs, but why treat the young and the old so differently?

"Poorer families will also be worse off as a result of the freezing of family payments for 2 years, the $7 co-payments for doctor's visits and other services, the fuel excise, and the increasing costs of PBS medicines. And no investment in lifting the abysmally low unemployment benefit (Newstart Allowance) for the individuals and families living the most meagre lives, in an otherwise wealthy country.

"For people on low incomes, housing is the biggest cost of living problem. Yet, this Budget offers no guarantee of future funding for homelessness services, and cuts funding to the NRAS, the one bright light for creating new affordable housing.

"To then cut funding for community services, including financial counselling and emergency relief - small amounts in big budget terms - just seems a cruel blow.

"We were told on election night that the new government would not leave anyone behind, now we find its first Budget places the most vulnerable directly in the firing line," Dr Goldie said.

"The Government managed to find room in the budget to deliver a $4 billion tax cut for business, and major investments in infrastructure and defence.

"For a decent society, we need a budget that brings us together, rather than pulls us apart," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

NOTE TO MEDIA:
ACOSS CEO Budget Response: 9.30pm tonight, Press Gallery boxes
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will outline the peak community sector body's response to the Federal Budget tonight at 9.30pm at the Press Gallery Boxes, Parliament House, Canberra.

Further comments
Social security

"The safety net is being pulled out from under young people in this Budget. Unemployment is twice as high for young people yet school leavers who struggle to find a job could be deprived of income support for 6 months of every year. It is not realistic to expect parents on low incomes to support their young people until they reach 29, and many young people out of paid work don't have parental support. Removing the Youth Connections program that provides career counselling and support to early school leavers will only make matters worse.

"Most people with disabilities on the DSP payment want a job but employers are often reluctant to take them on, especially people with mental illness. Shifting people to the lower Newstart Allowance will leave them $166 a week worse off without getting them a job.

"The age pension is a vital safety net for older people. Indexing it to the CPI instead of wage movements would reduce it by around $80 a week in a decade's time. We oppose increasing the pension age any further until Newstart Allowance is increased. Without doing so will only leave more people on the lowest incomes worse off.

Health and education
"The Medicare co-payment and cuts in schools funding move us closer towards a two tier system in health care and education - where those who can pay get first class service and those who can't afford it are relegated to second class.

"People on low incomes can't afford GP visits unless they are bulk billed. Already many people have to choose between feeding their families and buying the medicines they need. The health system can't afford to leave people to get sicker.

Housing
"The effective cessation of the NRAS scheme for investors in low cost housing will make it even harder for people on low incomes to keep a roof over their head.

Debt levy
"The proposed debt levy is a much fairer way to pay for essential services such as health care and the NDIS as the population ages than the harsh ‘user pays' approach. However, the proposed levy lacks a clear purpose, it is introduced when it's least needed and withdrawn just when it's needed most - in 2017, exactly when more revenue is needed for essential programs like the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

"The public supported a levy to help finance NDIS and has long supported a levy to help pay for health care. Any new levy should build on these firmer foundations.

"The levy would return to government a fraction of the massive tax cuts given to high earners over the 2000s which were clearly unaffordable both then and now.

Community sector response to Federal Budget

13 May 2014

Joint community sector response to Budget: Doorstop

Who: ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and representatives from Australia's Community Sector
When: 10.30am Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Where: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra

Dr Cassandra Goldie will be joined by representatives from leading charities and community sector organisations to provide a comprehensive response to the Budget at a press conference in Canberra on Wednesday morning.

The groups will provide their reaction to any changes to essential services, programs and payments which impact on people living on low incomes and others who are vulnerable in our community.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Participants to speak include:
• Craig Wallace, President, People with Disability Australia
• Matthew Wright, CEO, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
• Ian Yates, Chief Executive, Council on The Aging (COTA)
• Emma Robertson, Director, Youth Coalition of the ACT
• Frank Quinlan, CEO, Mental Health Council of Australia
• Kasy Chambers, Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
• Terese Edwards, CEO, National Council of Single Mothers & their Children
• Gerard Thomas, spokesperson, National Welfare Rights Network
• Adrian Pisarski, Executive Officer, National Shelter
• Carol Croce, Executive Director, Community Housing Federation of Australia
• Dr John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society, National Council of Australia
• Steve Hackett, Executive Director, Family Relationships Services Australia
• Mary Mallett, CEO, Disability Advocacy Network Australia

Other participants include:
• Kelvin Alley (Major), National Secretary, The Salvation Army National Secretariat
• Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia
• David Pigott and Patrick Flynn, Mission Australia
• Therese Sands, Co-Chief Executive Officer, People with Disability Australia
• Eddy Bourke, Spokesperson, Community Housing Federation of Australia
• Susan Helyar, Director, ACT Council of Social Service

Cutting payments and employment supports puts young people at risk

5 May 2014

Australia's peak community sector and youth affairs bodies today expressed deep concern at proposals to deprive young people of payments and employment services, that would make it harder for them to get ahead, especially those with no family support or from low income families.

"We want to see more opportunities for young people to build a future for themselves and participate fully in our society, but the draconian measures being considered would only create hardship at a time when young people are struggling to get a start in the world," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

"How will young people get a leg up if we force them to wait six months after graduating before they can get any assistance? And how will keeping 22 year olds on the lower paying Youth Allowance until they are 25 years help them get a job? Dr Goldie asks.

Mr Craig Comrie, Chair of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC) said, "this proposed cut in income would mean that some of the most vulnerable young people could end up homeless and put them on a downward spiral that would make their job prospects even worse. We cannot assume that all parents can support their children until they are 25, especially when we know that the parents of unemployed young people have low incomes themselves."

"The neat tag line ‘earn or learn' would be more appropriate if it involved real incentives and investment in programs that are effective. However, the complete opposite is being proposed, including a reduction in funding for employment assistance, which will make it harder for many people to find work.

Dr Goldie said, "it will be even tougher if effective programs such as Youth Connections and the School Business Community Partnership Broker program, which have been hugely successful, are discontinued. Youth Connections has helped many thousands of young people who had disengaged or were at risk of disengaging from education or employment. It has achieved excellent results in an increasingly tough job market.

"Similarly, the wage subsidy scheme has been very effective in getting people who have been out of work for extended periods into ‘real' jobs. Recent figures from Senate Estimates show 47 per cent of Wage Connect clients who completed the 6 month job placement retained their positions after the program ended, which is more than double the results achieved under the previous work-for-the-dole scheme," Dr Goldie said.

"How can we even consider cutting crucial programs that are clearly working at a time when youth unemployment is growing? The latest figures show youth unemployment is twice the general unemployment rate (12.2%) and as high as 20% among 15-24 year olds in some parts of the country," Mr Comrie said.

"We urge the government to steer away from such hard line proposals that will only make the situation worse."

"Young people are crying out for opportunities to develop their skills and get a crack at their first job that will put them on the road to a decent future. We would be harming their chances by wielding a bigger stick while taking away assistance at a time when they need support the most," Dr Goldie.

Media Contacts:
Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155
Craig Comrie (AYAC & YACWA) - 0405 972 978


Background Stats:
• The number of Youth Allowance (other, non-student) recipients rose 6.8% from 106,244 to 113,456 between February and March 2014.
• At March 2014 there were 216,363 young people receiving Youth Allowance (student) making a total of 340,000 young people on Youth Allowance.
• March figures reveal the number of Newstart recipients has grown 7.5% over the previous 12 months, from 682,120 to 733,601.
• Long term Newstart recipients increased 9.2%, from 443,932 to 485,069 people.
• Youth Allowance (single) = $207.20 per week.
• Newstart Allowance (single) = $255.25 per week
• Those not eligible for Newstart who previously were will be $48.05 a week worse off, or $100 per fortnight.
• The national unemployment rate for young Australians aged 15 to 24 years hovers around 12% per cent - double that of the headline figure.

Commission of Audit recommendations

1. Force young people who are unemployed to move home in search of work:
• Require young single people aged 22 to 30 without dependants or special exemptions to relocate to higher employment areas or lose access to benefits after a period of 12 months on benefit;
• Will remove access to income support for young people who are unemployed but can't move.

2. Tighter income tests for Newstart Allowance:
• Increasing the income test withdrawal (taper) rate to 75 per cent for Newstart Allowance and pension recipients;
• Cuts the incomes of many income support recipients and discourages part time employment.

3. Cuts to employment services:
• Reduce average cost per jobseeker for Job Services Australia providers from 2015;
• This will make it harder for many people to find work.

4. Scrapping wage subsidies
• Wage subsidies for employers employing long term unemployed people to be cut - proven to be a very effective programme;
• Recent figures from Senate Estimates show 47 per cent of Wage Connect clients were in paid employment at the end of the six-month program - more than double the results achieved under the previous work-for-the-dole scheme;
• In the last two years, the Wage Connect scheme was paused part way through the year when the annual cap of 10,000 places was reached before the end of the year, indicating strong employer interest in the program.

Youth Transitions programs at risk:
• The Federal Government funds the Youth Attainment and Transitions programs, including Youth Connections and the School Business Community Partnership Broker program;
• They have been funded since 2010 and are delivered across Australia by a large range of organisations including youth specialist NGOs and local or State Chambers of Commerce;
• Together they cost $124M in a full year ($77M YC and $44M Partnership Brokers);
• There is wide speculation they will not be re-funded in the May budget although it would cost only $62M in the forthcoming financial year 2014-15 as they are funded to 31/12/14 already;
• Youth Connections serves young people still at school, about to leave school or those who have recently left school;
Nationally, 67 organisations deliver Youth Connections over 113 service regions, assisting over 70,000 young people.

Audit fails the fairness test: ACOSS

1 May 2014

The Australia Council of Social Service said that most of the recommendations contained in the National Commission of Audit report fail the fairness test, and has called on the Government to adopt a few but to reject the majority.

In responding to the release of the Commission of Audit report today, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "the biggest failure is that this Commission never got the chance to look at the real problem which is public revenue. Revenue is more than $30 Billion down a year on pre GFC levels. The Commission tackles some areas of poorly targeted spending, but if the report was adopted, the community would lose many essential social protections and services."

"The Commission came up with a radical proposal to give the States a share of federal income tax revenues, yet tax breaks for high income earners such as superannuation and negative gearing were out of scope.

"It is fair and reasonable to expect that governments to ensure that when any of us get sick we can get treatment; that when we lose our job, there's a safety net to see us through the tough times; and that all children get a chance to a decent education.

"However, these reasonable expectations are under challenge by proposals to create a two tiered system in health and education that will result in decent services for those who can afford to pay and a second rate system for those who can't. For this reason we reject the proposal of a GP co-payment that will severely impact people on the lowest incomes and those with chronic illness. It would lead to reduced visits to doctors and greater pressure on the hospital system.

"The Federal Government should not retreat from its responsibilities to ensure that everyone has access to affordable housing, and all children have access to quality schooling.

"Similarly we strongly oppose cuts to incomes for people doing it the toughest in our community - people with physical and mental disabilities, carers, sole parents, and younger people struggling to get into paid work, people on the maximum rate of age pension, and minimum wage earners.

"Pensions are already frugal and the proposed cuts to indexation, which would reduce the single pension by around $100 a week in decade's time, and payments for sole parents by around $75 a week should be rejected, as well as the excessively tough 75% income test for income support payments.

"The pension cuts remove much of the increase that was granted in 2009, and there is no proposal to increase the abysmally low Newstart Allowance.

"Reducing funding of employment services and wage subsidies will make it even harder for unemployed people to find paid work, and forcing unemployed young people to move home to search for work will cause hardship without improving their job prospects.

"The Audit advances a number of welcome proposals to curb spending for people who arguably don't need assistance. These include restrictions on health cards for retirees with financial assets over a million dollars, a fairer system of child care benefits and paid parental leave, opening up pharmacies for competition, potentially fairer means tests for the pension and family payments, and an increase in the preservation age for superannuation.

"But the Commission does not go far enough in clawing back poorly targeted programs. A balanced review, which looked at the revenue side as well as spending, would review superannuation tax concessions, one third of which goes the top 10% of wage earners. These cost the public purse around $40 billion each per year. They are growing more quickly than the age pension and they are unfair and grossly inefficient, yet they remain untouched.

"The Audit is a first step not the last, in our collective effort to develop a reform blueprint to put our national finances on a sustainable footing.

"This should not be left with a small handful of experts. We all have a stake in this, and we urge the government against rushing to wholesale adoption of these radical changes in the coming Budget without closer evaluation and taking them to the community at the next general election.

"In his election speech the Prime Minister said his government ‘would not leave anyone behind'. ACOSS agrees that as a nation we need to be prudent about the way we spend our money. That should mean cutting back on the generous supports for people who don't need it, not crucial support services and payments for people who really do need it," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155

 

Fair
• Age Pension: single means test for income and assets.
• Tighter means testing of Senior's Health Cards
• Increasing super preservation age, however, this should be equal to the age pension age.
• Paid Parental Leave: lowering the government contribution to average wages
• Childcare - a fairer, single payment to replace Childcare Benefit and Childcare Tax Rebate.
• Expanded role for allied health professionals in medical practice
• Independent pricing authority for PBS, and opening pharmacies up for competition
• Tighter means tests for family payments, excluding families on high incomes.
• Establish a policy process to review and simplify the structure of welfare payments.

Unfair
• Freezing of tax revenue at 24% of GDP for a decade, which will severely limit provision of essential payments and services beyond about four years.
• States having access to personal income tax. Income tax is the fairest way to raise revenue and if the States compete tax rates down, fairness would be jeopardised.
• Abolish direct federal funding for affordable housing and homelessness programs
• Market rents for public tenants, offset only by the inadequate Rent Assistance payment.
• Cuts to pensions, including Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, Carer Payment and Parenting Payment: reduction to pensions of 28% of overall average wages (25% for Parenting Payment Single) instead of average male wages. This reduced indexation would cut single pensions by $100 a week in a decade.
• Cut in minimum wages which will increase poverty and could also lead to future reductions in Newstart Allowance.
• Tighter income test for pensions, Newstart Allowance and other income support payments, reduced at 75c in the dollar instead of 50-60. This will mean less money for people and less incentive to undertake part time work.
• Schools funding: transferring responsibility for schools policy and funding distribution, to States.
• Aboriginal programs - rationalising 150 programs into 67 (potential loss of programs). Converting some programs into vouchers for individuals
• Commonwealth grants: Abolition of financial management program with the exception of problem gambling. Also abolition of rural financial counselling program.
• Family Tax Benefits: abolish Part B payment. No alternative payment for single parents whose youngest is over 8 so their payments are cut. Low income couples would experience a cut in payments as well.
• Employment services - cuts to Job Services Australia services for people who are unemployed, making it even harder for people to find employment; including reduced wage subsidies for long term unemployed.
• Tougher and more frequent medical assessments for Disability Support Pension which would shift people onto Newstart Allowance which is $166 a week lower
• Increasing the Age Pension eligibility age to 70 without raising Newstart Allowance would cut income support for many older people by $166 per week;
• $15 co-payments to visit, restricted access to hospital emergency departments, and increases in the cost of medicines, will have the greatest impact on people on low income peoples and those with chronic illness.
• Extending private health insurance into primary health care services, risking a two tier health system where only those who can afford to pay receive a decent service.

Snapshot highlights need for expansion of NRAS and a National Affordable Housing Plan

30 April 2014

Australia's peak community sector body and leading housing groups today called on the Federal Government to commit to continuing the National Rental Affordability Scheme as part of a national affordable housing plan, following the release of the Anglicare national Rental Affordability Snapshot.

The annual snapshot shows that while the number of houses advertised for rent has increased in the past year, the number affordable for those most in need is extremely inadequate, virtually non-existent.

According the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Community Housing Federation of Australia (CHFA), and National Shelter, this neon sign of housing distress should light the way for the Abbott government to extend the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "Clearly the market is failing when it comes to providing a market for low-cost and affordable rental properties. NRAS has been designed to respond to this market failure and attract private finance to increase the supply of affordable rental housing. While the current scheme is not perfect, it has shown that there are ways to get the private market interested in different types of housing for a modest government outlay."

"The benefits flow to low and moderate income households not eligible for other housing assistance but who are priced out of the private rental market. It is creating a new form of housing that moves beyond social housing and supports households doing it tough," Dr Goldie said.

CHFA Chief, Carol Croce, said that "despite the additional supply made possible by NRAS, it's clear this is just a start. But NRAS is doing what it was intended to: promote investment at the affordable end of the rental market where it's needed."

"NRAS has been a significant driver in the expansion of not-for-profit community housing organisations, who are both developers and tenancy managers of NRAS dwellings. Indeed, more than half of all NRAS recipients are not-for-profit community housing organisations," she added.

A number of media reports have looked for alleged failings and abuses of the Scheme, which has built over 20,000 new affordable rentals and cast doubt on its future.

According to National Shelter head Adrian Pisarski, "all new government programs require tuning. NRAS is tracking better than the US Low Income Housing Tax Credits which took seven years to gain acceptance as an institutional asset class."

"The Anglicare Snapshot proves the need for Government to build the supply of affordable housing. Any program that leverages private investment to do this means better value for the taxpayer. The Anglicare Snapshot is evidence we need to build on the strengths of NRAS rather than abandoning what is a fundamentally sound program.

"Ultimately, we need to have a national affordable housing plan with a dedicated housing minister if we are to begin to address Australia's housing affordability crisis," Mr Pisarski said.

Media Contacts:
Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS - 0419626155
Adrian Pisarski, National Shelter - 0417 975 270
Eddy Bourke, CHFA - 0407 211 413

A National Affordable Housing Plan would include:
1. Developing a National Affordable Housing Strategy
2. Having a dedicated Cabinet Minister who can coordinate national policy levers and cooperate with states and local authorities
3. Treating housing as an infrastructure investment rather than wealth creation or welfare
4. Tax reform to ensure new supply of affordable rentals and which does not inflate house prices
5. Expansion of the National Rental Affordability Scheme based on institutional investors
6. Planning coordination with states and local government
7. Improved housing tenure for renters and certainty and security for owners of rental property

In addition a national housing plan must include:
• Addressing the gross inadequacy of income support payments such as Newstart - currently $36 a day and has not been increased in 20 years.
• Increase the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) to assist people on low incomes to meet rising rental costs.

NRAS was introduced by the Labor Government in 2008 with support from the Coalition and the Greens and provides financial incentives over a ten year period for new dwellings that are rented out at less than 80% of market rent to low and moderate income earners.

Don’t target the most vulnerable to restore the budget: ACOSS

29 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to prevent unnecessary cuts to vital payments for some of the most disadvantaged people on the lowest incomes in the country, as it prepares its first Budget.

“If proposals under discussion were implemented, pensions for people with a disability, carers, sole parents and older people would be much lower in future and people on the lowest incomes could not afford to visit the doctor when they need to,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“In his speech last night the Prime Minister said, ‘'this budget won't be for the rich or the poor but for the country'. Yet so far it appears that most of the pain will be borne by people who can least afford it.

“We urge the Government to stand firm in its commitment to target government funding to the people who need it. This is a Budget that should be there for people who are poor, including the almost 600 000 children living in poverty. Government support for people who do not need assistance should be targeted, by reducing tax concessions, rebates and supplements which are benefiting people in the higher income brackets in our society. This would be good policy.

“Superannuation tax breaks cost the same as the age pension (around $40 billion a year) and one quarter of their value goes to the top 5% of wage earners. It’s time to put superannuation reform, and the generosity of the pension assets test, on the Budget agenda. The Seniors Supplement and private health insurance rebates for ancillaries are also poorly targeted, and disproportionately benefit higher income households.

“A fairer alternative to cutting the payments and services most needed by people on low incomes is to restore budget revenue. The mooted ‘deficit levy’ could help pay more of the future cost of the NDIS and health care and avoid policies such as $6 GP co-payment that would harm people on low incomes, but it lacks a clear purpose and as it stands it is only temporary. It would be removed in a few years’ time, just when the budget is coming under the greatest pressure.

“Reducing indexation for pensions to inflation only instead of wage movements would inevitably increase poverty as people on the lowest income fall further behind the rest of the community. One of the main reasons Newstart Allowance is only $36 a day now is that it has only been indexed to the CPI for the last 20 years. 

“We have long said that the Government should not consider raising the retirement age to 70 in the future until it first deals with the gross inadequacy of allowance payments such as Newstart for those who are unable to work and addresses the discrimination experienced by older people trying to stay or re-enter the workforce. The age at which people can access their superannuation, which is still only 55 years, should first be raised to the same as the pension age (67 years).

“ACOSS has already advocated a tightening of access to family payments to ensure they are targeted to households who really need assistance the most. We have proposed reducing Family Tax Benefits Part B once family incomes exceeds about $100,000. Any changes would need to ensure that single parent families, who have already been targeted under previous governments aren’t penalised again. ACOSS has proposed replacing FTB Part B for sole parents with a Sole Parent Supplement, paid at a higher rate for parents of older children to reflect the higher costs and demands of caring for children as a sole parent.

“To date, there are no signs of greater investment and support for people who need government to be there, including people locked out of the labour market. Closing the gap between the adequacy of the unemployment payment, and pensions should not be achieved by cutting the adequacy of pensions, but by lifting the adequacy of Newstart. Raising the rate and indexation of Newstart is an urgent and overdue reform, widely supported across business, economists, unions and the community sector. 

“Putting more money into compulsory income management is not the priority, It costs per person more than half the value of the social security payments which are being ‘managed’ by Centrelink, and remains widely unsupported by the sector that has the direct experience of what is needed to support families and individuals to move out of poverty and into economic independence.

“The Prime Minister has said that budget measures will be fair and equitable. To be fair and equitable we need to seriously look at the revenue problem and be brave enough to embark on the structural reform that is required. Ultimately this is the way to restore the Budget coffers and put our national finances on a sustainable path, without resorting to unfair cuts and charges that hurt those at the bottom the most,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

 

Signs low income and vulnerable to bear brunt of Budget repair

24 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today said that those living on low incomes and vulnerable appear likely to bear the brunt of the Federal Government's effort to steer the Budget back on a sustainable footing, following the Treasurer's speech in Sydney last night.

"ACOSS agrees we face a significant fiscal challenge but all the signs are that people at the very bottom of the income and wealth scale are to be asked to carry the overwhelming burden of the Budget repair job," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Despite the rhetoric that the Government would prioritise spending for those who need assistance, measures proposed to date will disproportionately target those with the least in our community.

"The proposed 1.75% cap on growth in spending would freeze spending for a decade once growth in the population is taken into account. That means a ten year spending freeze in government benefits and services everyone relies upon, including basic health services, pensions and benefits, community services and schools.

"ACOSS urges the Government to deliver on its promise to target expenditure to people most in need. It should take a balanced approach to balancing the budget, which means that the burden of fiscal restraint should be shared equitably across society according to means.

"However, currently the Government is failing to meet urgent needs, including people on the intolerably low Newstart Allowance payment of $36 a day, and is providing generous assistance to those who don't need it, such as those on high incomes benefitting from housing and superannuation tax concessions at enormous cost to the budget, and pensions and concessions for retired couples with a million dollars in financial assets.

"We are particularly concerned that focus to date by Government, including through the National Commission of Audit, has been exclusively on direct spending, ignoring the other side of the ledger - tax expenditures and the need to raise revenue.

"Restoring tax revenue to 24% of GDP would raise the equivalent of $30 billion a year in extra public revenue. This would go a long way to restoring the Budget and more could be done by closing tax shelters and loopholes, not by relying on income tax bracket creep alone.

"We welcome the Treasurer's acknowledgement that the growing cost of superannuation tax concessions is unsustainable. These concessions now cost around the same as the age pension, at around $40 billion a year.

"As the Treasurer Joe Hockey said in his speech, we need structural reform to get our national Budget back in the black in the longer term. This cannot be achieved in a single Budget. And we simply cannot allow it to be achieved through hitting the most vulnerable members of our community. This will only accelerate growing inequality and poverty in Australia and cost us more as a nation in the longer term," ," Dr Goldie said.

"The majority of savings measures mooted to date have been targeted to social programs and supports, which will disproportionately affect those least able to manage with less - those on low incomes and vulnerable. This is clear when you look at who will pay for the proposals raised so far:

Who will pay?
• The introduction of a $6 GP co-payment will impact on low income people most and those with chronic illness and is likely to lead to reduced visits to doctors and greater pressure on hospital system;
• Proposed changes to eligibility for the Disability Support Pension will require more frequent medical assessments and shift many people onto Newstart Allowance which is $166 a week lower, without addressing barriers to work;
• Increasing the Age Pension eligibility age will force many older people to struggle on the $36 a day Newstart payment for longer;
• Proposed changes to indexation of pensions to prices instead of wages will cause payments to fall behind community living standards and lead to an increase in poverty amongst older people, people with disability and others relying on pensions;
• Abolishing Medicare Locals will reduce the access to primary health care services for those on low incomes;
• Abolishing the low income superannuation contribution will effectively penalise people on low incomes for saving for their retirement;
• Abolishing the Income Support Bonus Payment would reduce assistance to people on the below poverty line Newstart payment by $4 week;
• Cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, including legal services and peak representative bodies and community legal services will all reduce access to essential services to some of the most disadvantaged members of our community.

Who should pay?
While the Government has signalled a reduction in ‘corporate welfare', the Government has been reported as refusing to touch expensive tax expenditures or poorly targeted payments, which benefit those who are wealthier, driving greater inequality in Australian society, including:

• Superannuation tax concession, of which one third go the top 10% of wage earners, now cost the same as the age pension, around $40 billion per year;
• Housing tax concessions, which also largely benefit those on high incomes and contribute to house price and rent inflation which is locking many low and middle income households out of the market, at a cost of more than $8.3 billion a year;
• The assets test for eligibility for the part pension, by which people with investment assets of more than $1 million, in addition to the family home, are eligible to receive a part pension - causing rapid growth in uptake of the pension;
• The Seniors Supplement, which extends to those who are too wealthy to receive a pension;
• The Private Health Insurance Rebate for ancillary cover; and
• The tax treatment of private trusts which largely benefit those on high incomes.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Avoid DSP changes that are likely to further exacerbate mental illness

20 April 2014

DOORSTOP: 12.30pm Sunday, April 20, 2014

Press Gallery boxes, Parliament House, Canberra

The Australian Council of Social Service and disability advocacy members today urged the Federal Government to ensure that changes being considered to the Disability Support Pension do not further exacerbate the health conditions, poverty and disadvantage experienced by people who rely on the important payment.

"ACOSS supports a review of income support payments, but we won't support any changes that simply take money away from people in desperate situations and which will risk making them sicker and more disadvantaged," said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

"Reform is needed to improve job prospects and invest more in skills development and support. The last thing we need is to plunge people into further distress. If the Government chooses to go down that road - it would be a major backward step and extremely damaging to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

"We know that people with disabilities and those with severe work incapacities, such as mental illness, face enormous challenges. More than 600, 000 people with disability are living below the poverty line. A shocking 42% per cent of people on the DSP are already living in poverty. This is unacceptable and it would be unconscionable for us to make the plight of those who rely on the DSP worse.

"We cannot accept that people with major work incapacities are shifted onto the below poverty line Newstart Allowance payment of $36 a day, purely to save a few pennies that will make little difference to the overall Federal Budget. This would merely further punish people who are already doing it tough.

"It would be wrong to put people who are in a vulnerable position through constant reassessments in-order to retain crucial income that they need to keep their head above water. And creating a tiered payment structure would add further complexity to an already complicated system.

"Our nation does not have a DSP or 'welfare crisis' but rather a jobs crisis, with record low rates of employment of people with disability including in the Commonwealth Public Service.

"How will these changes open up job opportunities? How will they tackle discrimination? How will they improve training and support?

"People with disability and major work incapacities like mental illness want to be in paid work when able - but many simply can't without additional support. The Government and the private sector can and should do more to increase employment opportunities for this group of people.

"A great place to start is in the public service where employment of people with disabilities has more than halved from six per cent in the early 90s to just 2.9 per cent now.

"The federal government should focus on how to better transition people on DSP into secure paid employment, while ensuring those with significant barriers to work are still provided adequate support.

"We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made by past governments, where welfare reform involved little more than shifting vulnerable people on to lower payments to make budget savings, putting them through further assessments, and in and out of training program's leading no-where - while failing to provide sufficient support to improve their chances of securing paid work, and providing a pathway into a real job," Dr Goldie said.

Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia, said, "We know that two thirds of people with disability between 15 and 64 don't complete year 12, and education is one of the biggest enablers of employment. Whilst students with disability continue to confront an inadequate and underfunded education system it is a fast track for many to the Disability Support Pension."

"People with disability on the DSP are not fakes. Using this kind of language is less likely to endear employers to employing people with disability," said Fiona Given, Vice- President, People with Disability Australia (PWDA).

PWDA President Craig Wallace said, "Moving people into poverty won't get them jobs. The only people to get more work will be Doctors and we need them helping sick people."

"We're very concerned that the Government seems to be conducting reform discussions around DSP in an ad hoc way. It's alarming vulnerable people with disabilities when they should be spending time with family on Easter Sunday and when we haven't even seen the interim report of the McClure review," Mr Craig Wallace said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155


Media Contacts:

Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS - 0419 626 155
Fiona Given, Vice, President, People with Disability Australia - 0417 693 696
Craig Wallace, President, People with Disability Australia - 0413 135 731
Stephanie Gotlib, Executive Officer, Children with Disability Australia - 0425 724 230
Maree O'Halloran, President, National Welfare Rights Network: 0417 672 104

Australia’s vital community services face funding uncertainty crisis: New Report

15 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to make funding certain for vital community organisations, in the wake of an alarming survey revealing almost nine in ten organisations (87%) have no guarantee of key funding for services beyond June 2014.

The survey run by ACOSS in conjunction with the Community Council for Australia (CCA) and NetBalance and distributed through Pro Bono Australia - shows that Australia's Not for Profit sector is in crisis with the lack of funding certainty forcing agencies to lay off staff and unable to fill vacancies.

"The results are indeed disturbing with only 13 per cent of organisations reporting that they have settled funding arrangements, which is impacting on their ability to keep staff and stretching services, providing vital support to the most vulnerable members of our community," said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

"It's simply not good enough that within months of contracts expiring and funding drying up that so many groups remain in the dark about the viability of their service and the continuation of important community programs.

"The ongoing uncertainty is having a serious impact across the country, with service management unable to plan, and staff increasingly anxious. Valued workers are under pressure to start looking for new jobs, with many not knowing if they will be employed in just a few months. Whilst we can't establish the exact number of clients and staff who are affected, it is clearly in the thousands.

"It's time the Government put an end to all this uncertainty and immediately signal its ongoing commitment to funding these crucial services. Services that ACOSS is aware of that are facing this uncertainty include, employment services to unemployed young people, financial counselling for low income people in financial stress, and health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, among others.

"Just like business, the not-for-profit sector needs the certainty of funding to drive confidence, leading to longer term planning, investments in people and operational assets to foster productivity and growth.

"In contrast the lack of confidence leads to short term planning and potential inefficiencies as uncertainty creates churn in the workforce and a lack of investment leading to low productivity and stagnation and decline. Sadly this is the current situation, and is happening at the same time that more people will need these services due to the economic down turn. It can only exacerbate the national economic picture at a time when we are trying to lift our economic fortunes.

"Australia's 600,000 not-for-profit organisations play an enormous role in society, not only in supporting some of most disadvantaged people in our community, but also as a large and growing employer (6.8% in 1999-2000 to 8.5% in 2006-07). Our sector contributes more than $40 billion annually to gross domestic product and shouldn't be underestimated or undervalued," said Dr Goldie.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Key Points
• 248 respondents representing organisations in receipt of Commonwealth funding
• 87% stated that their organisation was yet to agree all their funding for July 2014
• 13% stated all their funding had been agreed
• 57% stated that less than 10% of their Commonwealth funding for July 2014 had been agreed
• 15% stated that less than half of their funding had been agreed - which means that almost three-quarters of respondents (72%) have less than half of their funding agreed.

Implications of funding uncertainty
• 62% of respondents have not extended staff contracts
• 34% stated that they had delayed filling staff vacancies
• 35% have delayed recruiting staff
• 38% have developed a contingency budget
• 13% had increased the frequency of board meetings.
• 12% have revised their reserves policy

Will you continue to deliver the service from July 2014?

• Only 15% of organisations that had not agreed their Commonwealth funding stated that they would continue with the service after July 2014
• 43% were unsure
• 42% stated that they would not continue with the service

Of those that said that they would continue to deliver the service
• 66% stated that they would use their financial reserves.
• 16% stated that they would secure other short-term non-government funding

What interim action can government take to reduce this uncertainty?

• 74% stated that Government should provide an interim funding agreement for 12 months
• 15% stated that Government should provide an interim funding agreement for 6 months.

Govt has stark choice on pension reform to improve fairness and Budget sustainability

14 April 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to tighten access to the Aged Pension for people with significant assets and increase the preservation age of superannuation rather than introduce changes that make savings from those on the lowest incomes.

"The Government has a stark choice in this Budget: it must target payments to people who really need them, not make people at the bottom of the income and wealth scale struggle to survive day to day on even less income or work longer by increasing the retirement age," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"We reject calls today for the Federal Government to "cut hard and cut early" in next month's budget. This is unnecessary and risks hurting people at the very bottom the hardest.

"The Aged Pension is a vital shield against poverty for older people and many people of working age, and it is frugal by international standards. ACOSS has consistently argued it should be better targeted to those who need it - couples with a million dollars in financial assets should not receive a part-pension - but the rate of the pension for those who do need it must be high enough to prevent poverty.

"Before we can consider raising further the age to receive the age pension, two things must happen in tandem: income support payments especially Newstart Allowance must be raised to an adequate level, and the preservation age for superannuation should be increased so that it is the same as the pension age.

"ACOSS acknowledges the Government faces a challenge to restore the budget, but it must not be done at the expense of people struggling to survive on the lowest incomes . Raising the pension age would mainly affect people on the lowest incomes. Many people would be stuck on Newstart Allowance if unable to get paid work and lose $166 a week in income. Before increasing the pension age, we need to increase other working age payments to a liveable level and improve the employment prospects of older people.

"The maximum rate of pensions and other income support payments should not be cut, and all income support payments for people on low incomes including pensions and Newstart Allowance should be indexed to wage movements, not just to prices. The inadequacy of Newstart shows what happens when we only index payments to the Consumer Price Index. It hasn't been increased above price movements since 1994, which means people who are unemployed have their living standards frozen at 1994 levels, falling well behind the rest of the community.

"The gap between pensions and allowance payments should be closed, but lowering the indexation of pensions to the CPI is not the way to do this. Instead, the lowest payments for single people should be raised by $50 a week, so that people who are unemployed, sole parents and students, also benefit from the payment increases awarded to single pensioners in 2009.

"On the other hand, the superannuation preservation age is only 55 years, a full ten years before the existing pension age. This early access to super mainly benefits people on high incomes and significant assets with large super account balances, who can either chose to retire early or avoid income tax on their earnings by churning their wages though their super accounts.

"Our immediate recommendations for changes to the retirement income system are targeted, and measured, generating savings for other priorities, and taking long term reform in the right direction. Our proposals would tighten the pension assets test to make it fairer (so that the pension is no longer available to those with over a million dollars in assets in addition to the family home), while reforming superannuation tax concessions to reduce the proportion of tax breaks going to those on the highest incomes.

"This would include capping concessionary contributions to $25,000, extending the 15% tax on superannuation earnings to include earnings generated in the retirement phase, and reducing the capacity for people in the retirement phase to churn their income through superannuation funds. These changes could be introduced in the short term, without impacting on those on the lowest incomes.

"The pension age should not be increased until the alternative social security payments are adequate. To strengthen workforce participation among older people, the best and fairest place to start is to raise the age at which people can claim their super," Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

More information on ACOSS Budget proposals here.

The ACOSS Board stands with refugees and asylum seekers

14 April 2014

On Sunday 13th April 2014 thousands of Australians attended peaceful rallies around the nation to express their concern over current policy approaches to asylum seekers and refugees. The ACOSS Board stands together in echoing this deep concern.

There is currently a significant gap between Australia's human rights obligations under international law and our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. As key representatives from the community and social services sector, who have expertise working with people in Australia who have been severely traumatised, including by long term and indefinite detention, we unanimously call on both the Government and Opposition to adopt a more humane approach.

The ACOSS Board urges our political leaders to increase the accountability and transparency of Australia's immigration detention facilities by committing to regular, publicly accountable independent monitoring. The establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism is particularly important in the case of Australia's off-shore immigration facilities, due to their remoteness and the current lack of transparency about operations in those locations. For instance, there is currently no monitoring or advisory body regarding the Manus Island regional processing facilities, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has described conditions on Manus Island as both harsh and below international standards. The establishment of an independent and accountable monitoring mechanism is therefore vital in ensuring that conditions in Australia's immigration detention facilities do not violate human rights standards.

We also urge the Government to provide full disclosure about off-shore detention facilities, including providing the Australian public with information about the costs of running offshore processing systems. There are significant budget savings to be made by ending the offshore processing system. These funds could be better invested in community services to provide adequate support to asylum seekers, the majority of whom have historically been found to be refugees and have gone on to make a valuable contribution to the Australian community as citizens and tax payers.

The ACOSS Board reaffirms our previous strong opposition to offshore processing and mandatory detention. We continue to urge the Government to commit to processing asylum claims within the Australian community, and call on the Government to work with the community and social services sector to develop processes which ensure asylum seekers can be placed, and assessed, with the least trauma to enable either the beginning of a new life in a safer country, or to enable them to be safely returned to their country of origin, should their claim for refugee status be unsuccessful.

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