Page 779 - Week 02 - Thursday, 12 February 2009

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Community services

Discussion of matter of public importance

MADAM ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ms Burch): Mr Speaker has received letters from Ms Bresnan, Ms Burch, Mr Coe, Mr Doszpot, Mrs Dunne, Mr Hanson, Ms Hunter, Ms Le Couteur, Ms Porter and Mr Seselja proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, Mr Speaker has determined that the matter proposed by Ms Bresnan be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

The importance of community service delivery in the current financial crisis.

MS BRESNAN (Brindabella) (3.15): Even in the best of times, the challenges facing those community sector groups with the task of delivering services to the disadvantaged among us are great. These are the organisations that help families in finding somewhere to live, support young people with difficulties and help them pursue educational and employment opportunities, assist the frail and aged, provide meals and, among many other things, fight for services and entitlements for those disadvantaged in our community.

It is important that we understand and acknowledge the issues faced by the vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community as well as the enormous strain community organisations are working under to meet the increasing number of these people needing assistance. While the needs of those struggling—and it is estimated that one in 10 people in Canberra are doing it tough—continue to grow, it is essential that adequate funding, including funding for wages, staff training and occupational health and safety obligations, is provided to ensure quality service provision.

Even before the impact of the global economic crisis, the Australian community sector survey of 2008, which is conducted annually by ACOSS, recently released, reported that community services had experienced a sharp increase in demand and were under strain trying to meet the needs of the disadvantaged in our community. A lack of resources meant that one in every 25 people who wanted to access a service was turned away last year. People needing housing assistance, family relationship support and legal advice found it particularly difficult to get assistance. The survey also showed that increased demand, coupled with resource constraints, led to long waiting lists and additional unpaid work by staff and volunteers.

Over 80 per cent of agencies reported that the cost of delivering services was not matched by funding levels and more than 60 per cent of agencies reported difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified staff. The Australian Services Union, which is the key union in the non-government social and community service industry, in their paper Building social inclusion in Australia, released in 2007, indicated that 77 per cent of managers surveyed nominated low wages as their main barrier to attracting and retaining staff and that almost 50 per cent of managers expected a turnover of between 20 and 49 per cent over a two-year period. In the ACT staff turnover is now at 26 per cent, nearly double the rate for the community services workforce nationally.

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