ACOSS Annual Report 2023

Key moments

Robodebt Royal Commission

ACOSS was a key witness in the Robodebt Royal Commission, providing two statements and giving evidence at the Commission in December. ACOSS was called to give evidence because we repeatedly raised our serious concerns about the scheme directly with government from late 2016, calling for the scheme to be shut down because of the harm it was doing in the community, and providing recommendations to ensure Robodebt never happens again.

Importantly, the Commission also heard directly from people who received Robodebts and Centrelink staff who raised the alarm that Robodebt was ‘stealing’ from citizens. The Royal Commission will report in July 2023.

The Royal Commission revealed how this advocacy reached the highest levels of government and the departments, correctly identifying the core problems with the scheme, which were eventually found to be unlawful. The Royal Commission uncovered how Ministers and departments sought to shut down criticism of the scheme, from silencing people with Robodebts through to influencing the work of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. It also revealed how they consistently ignored expert advice that the scheme was unlawful.

In April 2023, the Government announced the cessation of external debt collectors to collect social security debts, an ACOSS recommendation. 

In the wake of the Robodebt Royal Commission, ACOSS will continue to advocate for implementation of the Commissioner’s recommendations in full, as well as broader reforms to make our social security system adequate, respectful and humane. Including strengthening protections around automated decision-making. 

The 2023 Federal Budget

ACOSS developed a detailed submission to the 2023-24 Federal Budget, with a major focus on lifting income support payments and achieving and sustaining full employment. Recommendations were informed by the views of members via policy network meetings and formed a platform for advocacy in the lead up to the May Budget. Senior policy staff briefed key Government ministers and departmental officials on Budget recommendations, and a briefing session was also held for media prior to the submission’s public release.  

Highlights and impact

Enabling and amplifying the voices of people directly impacted

Engaging and collaborating through campaign alliances

We continued to support six major campaign alliances: the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the call for Voice, Treaty and Truth, the Everybody’s Home campaign for affordable housing, Healthy Homes for Renters, Close the Gap in support of First Nations health equity, Stronger Charities Alliance and Change the Record to reduce the over-representation of First Nations’ people in prison. 

In addition, as strong allies supporting justice and rights for First Nations Peoples, the Fred Hollows Foundation, Oxfam, ANTAR and ACOSS joined forces to launch the Allies for Uluru Coalition in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament. The Coalition is made up of more than 275 community, non-government and corporate organisations from across the country that support the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, starting with the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution. 

Spreading the word: our collective impact

Poverty and Inequality Partnership

Partnering to inquire and illuminate: ACOSS and UNSW Sydney The Poverty and Inequality Partnership 

In this 6th year of the Partnership, we published the fourth and final of our COVID Build Back Better series of research reports, two reports from our Poverty in Australia series and the first report from our lived experience research stream. The Partnership made its first joint submission to the federal government Inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia. This submission was referenced extensively in the Inquiry’s interim report (including in point 1.1 of the Executive Summary). We have reinvigorated our governance arrangements and engagement strategy and have enhanced our work with people directly affected both in our research and in the Partnership structure.

The issues we worked on

Raise the Rate: Lifting incomes so everyone can cover the basics 

Along with hundreds of members and supporters, the Raise the Rate campaign continued to call for a lifting of the JobSeeker rate and related income support payments.   

Securing quality essential services for all

ACOSS, the COSS network and our members continued to advocate for adequate funding for essential community services, including for adequate indexation. 

Our advocacy was informed by the results of the longest running survey of the community sector, by the community sector – the Australian Community Sector Survey. 

Employment opportunities for all, with no one left behind

Affordable housing for people on low incomes

ACOSS continued our efforts to influence change to Federal housing policy through direct policy and advocacy, support for the Everybody’s Home campaign and close collaboration with national peak bodies. Sustained pressure resulted in further investment in social and affordable housing. Collective advocacy with the state and territory Councils of Social Services intensified pressure on National Cabinet to take action to strengthen protections for renters in the private rental market.

Self-determination and justice for First Nations’ people

ACOSS have continued strong support for the Uluru process and a Voice to Parliament and facilitated a dialogue between First Nations leaders and ACOSS leaders about how the sector can support this historic campaign

Taking effective action on climate change and energy and disaster resilience

ACOSS has advocated for faster emissions reductions and solutions that prioritise and improve the lives of people experiencing disadvantage. We have also been advocating for measures to help the community sector and local communities to better respond, recover and build resilience to deal with climate change impacts. In 2022-23 we: 

A fairer economy and tax system