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.