Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (1 September) . . Page.. 1723 ..
MR QUINLAN (10.47): Mr Deputy Speaker, in reinforcing a point on the SACS award I may stand to be corrected, and I would like to be corrected, if possible. The last estimate that I saw while working in the community sector was that, for the community services sector overall, there was likely to be about a 14 per cent increase in the actual cost of the same level of service as a result of the introduction of the SACS award. That was not a 14 per cent increase in the wages bill; that was a 14 per cent increase in the gross funding required to maintain output at the same level within those community services.
It is important that we do not lose sight of that. When we make decisions in this regard and set priorities - in fact, reduce services, because we are not funding to that level - we need to be acutely conscious that it is not just a squeaky wheel that receives extra funding but that many organisations out there are working at the margin. One knows that community service organisations have always been required to work at the margin. If they do not spend every last dollar they ever got they are likely to lose it in next year's grants. If they overspend by a couple of dollars it is a bit like Mr Micawber. There is disaster and departmental panic if they overspend even slightly. They are used to spending every cent they have had and they have no reserves and no capacity to ride out this particular problem. My best recollection is that there was about $800,000 in the budget to pick up on some of this, but it is nowhere near that which would be needed to maintain the same real level of funding, given the change in the basis of the costing.
I would like to reinforce Mr Wood's reservations in relation to the extended application of purchaser-provider and the focus on dollars - in fact, providing contracts outside the ACT. I am not totally convinced by the purchaser-provider model. In my relatively limited but nevertheless hands-on experience in the sector, there is much more to it than just the dollars and the hours of service provided. Organisations within the community sector build a relationship with their clients. Those clients are quite often acutely conscious of the fact that they are assessed from time to time. We need to protect them against a passing parade of reassessment that could occur in an open annual tender process. At the nth degree - and I hope it is an extreme we never meet - we could have a passing parade of assessments. We already have that because the services are disparate.
In recent years the Government has made some effort to try to coordinate assessment and the provision of care and to provide a backup system of information and negotiation services to people so that the distressing and embarrassing process of being assessed and reassessed is minimised at least. There are questions that extend to the privacy of information when people confide considerably in an organisation. It is necessary for the community service organisations to accumulate a certain amount of information, and that is formal information necessary to provide the service. Then there is informal information which is kept which is about particular behaviour and likes and dislikes - I do not want to exaggerate it much further than that - and that is necessary for the organisation to accumulate but it would never be passed from one organisation to the other. When we take the purchaser-provider model to the nth degree, we build and destroy relationships between those organisations and the client.