Coalition Senators Dissenting Report
Government senators acknowledge and appreciate the valuable contribution
that community service organisations make in helping those in need in the
community. There are numerous examples around the country of great work from
frontline services in the community to help those who need it most.
That said, the government also notes that community service
organisations should not always be reliant on enduring government funding to
maintain the stability of the sector.
It is important to note that it is the outcomes delivered to
individuals, families, and communities which are important, not just the
organisations. The demographic makeup of communities and their needs change,
therefore the nature and location of services required also change. It is the
job of the government to ensure programs are adaptable to those changes.
The Coalition members of the Community Affairs References Committee
('the committee') reiterate the concerns raised in the interim report that the
majority report (‘the report’) of the inquiry into the impact on service
quality, efficiency and sustainability of the 2014 community service tendering
process by the Department of Social Services (the department) is a flawed,
partisan, self-serving report that contributes nothing to the real ongoing
debate about how the government can best deliver frontline community services.
The mere fact that an interim report was delivered on such an issue is evidence
of the partisan nature of the inquiry and report.
The recommendations are based on the presumption that all current grant
recipient organisations should continue to receive government grant funding at
the same levels or higher, as a matter of course, instead of the focus being on
ensuring that services are available to those who need it. This is typical of
Labor, who throw money out the door for political gain with no consideration of
the effectiveness of programs to deliver on government outcomes. The recommendations
from Labor suggest there is no need for service providers to develop more
effective and efficient ways to deliver services or to ensure that currently
government funded projects are still delivering their desired outcomes.
The final report also completely ignores crucial evidence, such as the
advice provided by the department to inform the sector of the New Way of
Working for Grants, or the fact that 5500 applications were received seeking
funding of $4 billion. These types of competitive grant processes will always
result in organisations being disappointed at not receiving funding or not
receiving the same level of funding as a previous agreement. This does not mean
that there are not appropriate services provided for the people who really need
them. The fact is vulnerable people in need will continue to receive support,
delivered more effectively, more efficiently and with greater innovation by
organisations selected on merit.
The final report, as with the interim report, fails to make any mention
of the original context of the Coalition government's New Way of Working for
grants, in the 2014 budget. The government inherited a budgetary mess from
Labor that meant that, without policy change, there would be $123 billion in
deficits over the next four years and government debt would reach $667 billion
within a decade. Failure to act on the legacy of profligate spending of Labor
would put the government’s capacity to provide services for our most vulnerable
Australians at risk.
In the written submission from the department highlighted the need for
reform of the government grants programs.
'The formation of the Department of Social Services,
following the Machinery of Government changes in late 2013, brought together 18
discretionary grant programmes from five former departments. There were 12,900
grant agreements across 120 grant activities, accounting for around $3 billion
in funding each year. This formation highlighted issues with various programmes
across the former agencies.'
'The Department's grant programmes also needed to better
foster innovation in the community services sector ('the sector'). Some areas
of the sector had not been subject to a competitive selections process for a
considerable period of time. This has resulted in many new and different
community service providers being excluded from funding opportunities. This has
resulted in the composition of funded services remaining fundamentally the same
for an extended period of time, despite new communities of need having arisen.
For example, Emergency Relief services had not been subject to an open
selection process since the 1970s and programme reform would allow the
opportunity for new providers to apply for funding. It is in this context that
it was necessary for savings to be found and productivity to be lifted. By
streamlining the DSS Grants process, the Government ensured service providers
would not need to spend so much of their time on administrative requirements
and would not be burdened by red tape.'
It was in this context that the New Way of Working for grants program
sought to reduce red tape by removing duplication, reviewing priorities and
streamlining processes, including reducing reporting requirements and moving
towards single agreements - allowing organisations to spend less on
administration and more on the services they deliver.
Changes were also necessary due to recent developments in Australian law
as a result of the High Court's Pape and Williams decisions. Many existing
grant systems had not been reviewed for many years, including the Emergency
Relief sector which had been unchanged for 40 years. The report fails to
acknowledge the significant challenges facing the grants system and any
difficulties in transition to the new system must be viewed in the context of
the necessity for reform.
The department's new broad-banded program arrangements were announced on
13 May 2014 as part of the 2014-15 Budget. The new program arrangements were
given the title The New Way of Working for Grants (The New Way of Working),
which represents the department’s commitment to administer grants in a more
strategic and effective way.
According to the evidence provided by the department,
'Information about the new arrangements was made available
immediately following the Budget announcement on 13 May 2014 including:
- the publication of the Department’s Portfolio Budget
Statements on the Department and Treasury websites;
- media releases on the website of former Minister for
Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP; and
- updates to the Department's grant website, which included
details on the new grant programme structure, timetable for information
sessions and processes for extending existing grant agreements.
As of 14 May 2014 information has been available through:
- a DSS Grants Hotline (1800 625 136) for existing and
potential grant recipients to ask questions about the extensions process and
the new grant programmes;
- a central enquiries mailbox, the Grants Inbox
- updates to the Department's grants website including
detailed programme information documents; fact sheets; details on the
extensions process; improved reporting arrangements; frequently asked questions;
and information session registration;
- detailed communications toolkits provided to
Departmental staff to assist service providers that contact them directly; and
- departmental state offices and policy areas engaging
with peak bodies and funded service providers, including relevant state government
On 17 May 2014 the opening and closing date for applications
and details of information sessions were published in advertisements in
national and major regional newspapers and updates to the Department's grant
website. In addition, subscribers to the website were sent an email advising of
the new information available.
On 19 May 2014 an email was sent by the Department to all
providers that were in receipt of departmental grant funding to outline the new
grant arrangements. Many of these service providers had multiple grants with
the Department but received a single email outlining the new arrangements.
Where no email address was available, or the Department received an email
failure notice, copies of the letter were sent by post.
A copy was also published on the Department's grants website
and subscribers to the email alerts were made aware of this addition through
the email subscription service.
A second newspaper advertisement was released for print in
national and major regional papers to further promote the application dates, on
Saturday 7 June 2014.
As well as information being sent directly to service providers and
information being available on both the department website and via national
newspapers the department also held consultation sessions around the country
between 26 May to 6 June 2014 to provide information on the new grant programs
and the upcoming application period. Sessions were held in Adelaide, Alice
Springs, Brisbane, Canberra, Coffs Harbour, Darwin, Dubbo, Hobart, Melbourne,
Mildura, Sydney, Townsville and Perth. Around 2400 people attended the
Applications closed on 24 July 2014, more than two months after the
budget measure was announced and information was provided to service
Notifications to both successful and unsuccessful applicants were sent
out between 22 and 24 December.
Continuity of service
To ensure continuity of services during the process and to allow
transition of services the department announced extensions to existing
agreements to ensure service delivery continued while new grant arrangements
were being implemented. Extension offers were made for the majority of the
approximately 4200 grant agreements due to expire on 30 June 2014.
To ensure critical services were not disrupted, around 1446 grants
received six month extensions. Twelve month extensions were offered for
specific aged care and disability agreements to facilitate transition into the
National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Commonwealth Home Support Programme
or other long-term, ongoing initiatives. Approximately 1452 arrangements were
extended for 12 months. Extensions were in line with the previous grant
arrangement for the service providers and the activities extended totalled $590
million over 12 months.
In addition to the six and 12 month extensions, around 380 five-year
agreement offers were made for most Family and Relationship Services,
Communities for Children - Facilitating Partners services and Family Law
Services, aligning to commitments from the previous Minister for Social
Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP. This totalled $1.5 billion over five years.
Further extensions were offered on 21 October 2014 to ensure services continued
to operate until 28 February 2015.
On 30 January 2014, Minister Morrison announced gap funding for
Emergency Relief service providers until 31 March 2015, to ensure that new
services could be established. Gap funding was also announced for other services
until 30 June 2015. At the same time Minister Morrison announced that the department
would undertake a gap analysis to ensure that critical front line services did not
fall between the cracks.
The gap analysis resulted in a further $40million being provided to more
than 100 frontline community services.
Coalition senators acknowledge the good work of the community service
sector in helping those most in need in our society. That is why the government
is committed to a continuing grants program that supports community
organisations in providing necessary services. Coalition senators appreciate
the concerns raised by community groups in the hearings of this inquiry but
comprehensively reject the partisan, self-serving nature of the committee's
interim and final reports. The government is committed to dealing with the
legacy of debt and deficit left by the Labor government and reform of the department's
grants process is vital to that ongoing work.
The Coalition senators agree with recommendations 5 and 6 of the
committee's final report:
The committee recommends that where possible, five-year
contracts should be awarded to ensure stability so the sector can plan and
deliver sustainable services.
The committee recommends that the privacy concerns raised in
relation to the department's data exchange protocols' should be resolved as a
matter of priority.
The Coalition senators also suggest that the Minister consider releasing
the final report from NOUS Group.
Senator Zed Seselja
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page