ACOSS conference – CHP CEO report back

On 12 June 2014, CHP CEO Jenny Smith attended the ACOSS conference, the national conference for the community services sector. Jenny’s report on the key themes of the conference is below

Federal Budget

The community sector is very concerned about the government’s proposals in the federal budget and what proposals may or may not make it through the Senate come 1 July.

This budget represents a major departure from Australia’s historical commitment to a strong safety net with a foundation of universal health and education. The federal budget unfairly focuses on those least able to pay.  Cutting payments to young people is unfathomable both in human terms and economically, as these payments are a very small part of welfare expenditure.

The conference heard that the Budget proposals focus on reducing expenditure while the main cause of the budget deterioration has been declining revenue.  All the heavy lifting is proposed to be through spending cuts rather than raising revenue through taxes. There has been little attention paid to the impact of the big cuts in personal income tax we received in 2007.  The loss of NRAS round 5 funding is also a huge disappointment.

Attendees at the conference, representing community sector agencies across the country, passed a resolution calling on the Government to work with the community sector to design policy that is sustainable inclusive and fair, and rejecting the severest cuts in the Federal Budget.

Federal Housing Review

Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews addressed the ACOSS Congress, focussing on the federal budget and, in his words, on ‘’the why and not the what’’.

Minister Andrews described 3 inter-related challenges the government grappled with in their budget:

1) the economy is undergoing a transition post mining boom, from construction to production, which has levelled out;

2) a growing deficit

3) the ageing population with the baby boom being the last major demographic shift.  The baby boomers are now becoming the old age population with the related impact on health care costs and contraction in the work force supporting those costs.  Minister Andrews referred to the costs of the aged pension and NDIS as particular challenges. 

In response to my question about when we can expect reassurance about NPAH funding beyond this year, Minister Andrews advised it is time to review housing in context of the housing shortage.  He indicated that the tax & constitutional reviews being led by the Treasurer are also relevant.

Minister Andrews indicated that the Housing Review would involve considerable consultation.

Following his address to the ACOSS Congress, Bill Shorten, leader of the federal opposition was asked whether a future Labor Government would tackle negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions.  Mr Shorten’s response emphasised that the opposition are very alive to the housing affordability issue at present and are currently doing a lot of work on it.

Welfare Review

Patrick McClure let us know that the Interim Report of his review of welfare payments is with the government.  Patrick advised that the four pillars of reform will be:

1) A simpler system over the medium to long term.  An employment focus with rewards for work.  Better integration of tax & welfare systems. 

2) Strengthening individual & family capability.  Both Patrick and Minister Andrews referred to the New Zealand model of identifying those at risk through an actuarial model, investing up front to develop pathways to employment with mutual obligations, and individually tailored requirements including educational outcomes for children.  There was an emphasis on early intervention with wrap around services to support access to employment and training for those on disability pensions with challenges such as depression and anxiety.

3) Engaging with employers.  Reference was made to the Andrew Forrest business covenant to create 50,000 jobs and the need for more big companies to recognise that they need to have people with disability in their workforce.

4) Build community capacity to deliver employment opportunities –  particularly in the regions that currently provide limited employment prospects.

With community sector agencies still grappling with what the Federal Budget will mean for the vulnerable households they work with, the conference heard there are more big changes to housing and welfare policy on the Government’s horizon.