Election 2019: Healthy, inclusive, thriving communities need quality, secure community services

12 April 2019

The Australian Council of Social Service is today launching its Federal Election 2019 Policy Platform: Community Services, calling on all parties to properly resource community services, and build a policy framework that ensures those services are high quality.

“Community services are the third pillar in our services system, supporting the health and education systems to build healthy, engaged and inclusive communities. Despite this, community services have been subjected to large scale cuts under the Coalition Government, and are chronically under-resourced for community needs”, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“Community services educate our young children, care for older people, support people with disability and provide financial support and housing to those on low incomes. People value these services and want them to be properly funded instead of being handed a tax cut as an election sweetener.”

“All of us will rely on these services at one point or another in our lives. And we know that spending in these areas must rise to meet community need and population growth.

“Despite this, over the past five years we have seen billions of dollars cut from the programs and services that people, families and communities rely on.

“And there are more cuts planned. Since 2012 a government funding program has ensured that the community sector can meet the additional wage costs that arose out of the “Equal Remuneration Order” that applies to the community sector. The Federal Government has indicated that this funding will cease in 2021 for most funding programs.

“The Equal Remuneration Order was a landmark decision that addressed the unjust, gender based undervaluation of the work performed in our sector, and resulted in increased wages for workers of up to 45%. Ripping away this funding will inevitably lead to job cuts and service cuts in the community sector. The Government and Opposition must commit to continue to fund this program that has been so successful in lifting the wages of our predominantly female workforce, and ensuring we can maintain quality services.

“In addition to these overt cuts, we have also seen real cuts to the value of funding, through a failure to index many community sector grants. As the cost of delivering services rises, and the funding does not, community service organisations are forced to make tough choices – squeezing more out of already stretched budgets, cutting workers’ hours and sometimes reducing services. The costs of this policy are borne by the people using the service, their families and communities.

“We also need to see additional investment in the early years. We welcome Labor’s commitment to fund preschool in the two years before school, but that commitment needs to be bipartisan, and we need to see investment and focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood education and family focussed programs.

“People, families and communities rely on the services that our sector delivers. They also rely on our sector to speak out on issues that affect them. That’s why it is vital that the major parties commit to fund and support advocacy, including by removing gag clauses that prevent organisations using Commonwealth funding to undertaking law reform and advocacy work.” said Dr Goldie.

“ACOSS is now calling on all parties to commit to a significant, $2 billion annual funding boost for community services, along with changes to how community services are designed and funded, to ensure that they meet the needs of the people, families and communities that they work with.

In addition to these proposals, ACOSS has called on the major parties to commit to address some of the policy and regulatory challenges that the community sector faces, including:

  • Redesigning community service delivery to put community control and development at the heart of design and commissioning of services
  • Moving away from competition policy in human service delivery
  • Improving funding transition processes to reduce uncertainty and disruption
  • Increasing the duration of standard contracts for community sector funding.
  • Increasing community sector participation in decision-making, policy development and governance structures
  • Reforming outdated fundraising laws and regulation
  • Amending the ACNC’s governing legislation to improve its operation

“Community services have been undervalued by governments, and underfunded, for too long. This Election is a time to change that story.”

Read the full policy here.