By asking wrong questions, PC Inquiry distracts from the big challenges facing human services

Responding today to the release of the Productivity Commission’s Study Report on competition policy and human services, ACOSS cautioned against proceeding with attempts to improve competition and contestability in human services without a broader analysis of current barriers to improving access and service quality for people, regardless of their means or location, including the adequacy of available funding.  

“We have said from the beginning of this process that the Government’s terms of reference pose the wrong questions, in the wrong order. The Productivity Commission has been asked to consider which sectors should be priorities for competition reform and how should this be done. The right first question should instead be, how can we improve access to quality, affordable services which improve people’s lives?” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS CEO.

“Asking this question first would lead to a very different set of priorities for investment and reform. They would sharpen the focus on better outcomes for people and the chronic inadequacy of funding for basic human services in areas of acute need – for example in social housing and dental health where waiting lists are extraordinarily long and scarce resources rationed extremely tightly.”

“The PC cites little evidence to support its contention that competition could improve outcomes for service users in the areas identified: palliative care, social housing, public dental, Indigenous services, the commissioning of family and community services and public hospitals. We must learn from the experience to date in applying competitive processes to human services, with salutary lessons to be learned from the VET, employment and aged care sectors.”

“It must be remembered that the current inquiry takes place against a backdrop of major cuts to the funding of human services, including the long term erosion of funding to social housing (social housing forms just 4.5% of our housing stock, compared to 18% in the UK for example), $1.5 billion in cuts to community and Aboriginal services in the 2014-15 Budget, in addition to deep cuts to health and education funding with impacts to be felt over the coming decades. To ignore this reality is to distract from the real drivers of poor health, social exclusion, homelessness and financial stress.”

“Rather than highlighting the erosion of government investment in social housing over the last 30 years and the adverse impacts on people’s lives, the PC’s report instead highlights the desirability of improving choice for social housing tenants in their place of residence. While this is desirable, it seems far removed from the current reality of 200,000 households on current social housing waiting lists around the country.”

“Similarly, while more than one in three people delay or avoid going to the dentist because they cannot afford it, and waiting lists range from 9 months to 3 years, choice of dentist is likely to be further from people’s minds than their ability to access any dentist before their condition becomes acute.”

“Of course, funding is not the only answer and determining appropriate funding levels is complex. For this reason, we welcome the PC’s proposals for reforms of the commissioning of family and community services which recommend starting with mapping of need and service gaps. ACOSS has long recommended a comprehensive analysis of service needs and availability as a basis for calculating a new, evidence-based funding formula for community services. We also welcome the PC’s support for greater involvement by service providers in the design of outcome and performance frameworks but urge that this should extend further to include participation by service users who are most directly affected.

“There are a number of other positive proposals in the family and community services section which align with ACOSS policies, including longer term government contracts with service providers, more time for organisations to develop funding proposals to enable more collaborative approaches and less prescriptive contractual terms. However, we believe that these reforms can advanced outside of a competition reform process.”

“ACOSS is concerned that, despite high levels of engagement by community sector organisations outlining a range of concerns about the direction of the PC’s original report, there has been no change to the identified priority areas or directions for reform.”

“Finally, while ACOSS welcomes the recognition by the Commission that more stable policy settings are required to support the delivery of services in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we are astounded that the PC Report fails to acknowledge the unique role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations in the design, management and delivery of services in their own communities.”

Media Contact:  Fernando de Freitas – 0419 626 155