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

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.