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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 01/06/2009 - FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO

CHAIR —And then, Senator Hanson Young, whether the questions you want to cover have been picked up yet.

Senator Hanson Young —Some of them have. I have got questions around COAG as well, but I also just wanted to tease out, in terms of the general kind of budget allocations, how much of that has been specifically earmarked for increasing the capacity of service delivery. If we are rehashing the telephone service with the online service and putting that out to tender and all of those things, what exactly have we allocated to increase the capacity of service delivery for when those people are referred?

Ms McKenzie —At this stage, as I explained, there was $42 million that was set aside to fund the government’s immediate actions. A further $15 million has been identified to support initiatives under the national plan. But that has not been allocated to specific initiatives yet. At the moment, government is considering the various actions that the council recommended.

Senator Hanson Young —So that is $15 million for initiatives?

Ms McKenzie —At this stage, yes.

Senator Hanson Young —And what you are saying is there is nothing necessarily earmarked for any of those initiatives to be allocated to service providers who perhaps are going to be even more inundated with calls for help?

Ms McKenzie —At this stage, the most appropriate use for that funding is still being considered.

Senator Hanson Young —So at the moment, there has been nothing specifically earmarked for increasing the capacity of service delivery?

Ms McKenzie —The government, in its immediate response, looked at the priority actions that the council had identified and funded 11 of those, and it is referring seven of those to COAG for consideration. Really, the things that we are talking about were related to those that the government is funding already.

Senator Hanson Young —So again, just to clarify, no specific money has been put aside, earmarked, for helping to actually deliver the services to women physically experiencing violence?

Ms McKenzie —At this stage, the government is responding to the priority actions that were identified by the national council in their national plan. There are a further 97 actions that the government will be considering over time and with COAG.

Senator Hanson Young —So I will take that as a no to my question.

Ms Beauchamp —Sorry, Senator, can I just reiterate, Ms McKenzie did actually refer to the $19.5 million in terms of what the Department of Health and Ageing are doing around increasing the capacity of workers.

Senator Hanson Young —Is that new money?

Ms Beauchamp —A proportion of that is.

Senator Hanson Young —A proportion. Do we know how much?

Senator McLucas —We can do that in health.

Senator Hanson Young —Could you take that on notice for me?

Senator McLucas —Yes.

Ms Beauchamp —Can I also point out that in terms of the delivery and capacity of the service system, the service system is primarily the responsibility of the states and territories. One of the reasons for putting this on the COAG agenda is to see a working partnership with the states and territories to see how we can collectively or jointly increase the capacity of the service system.

Ms Stodulka —In terms of the 1800 service, the fact that we will be staffing that with professionally qualified experts will make a significant difference, we believe, in terms of the first door being the right door for clients seeking help. And also as part of our Respectful Relationships program, certainly one of the criteria of us testing a program is its focus on building the capacity of the prevention education sector so we are not putting programs out there where external experts come into a community or into a school or an organisation and deliver and leave, it is actually about building the capacity in those service systems. As you would know, people do not only go to a domestic violence or a sexual assault service when they disclose that they have been a victim of violence. It happens in schools; it happens in youth refuges; it happens at universities.

Dr Harmer —In addition to all the initial money that has gone through health, of course there is quite a lot of initial money in the national partnerships under housing for homelessness and for support services—the homelessness with the matching from the states, social housing initiatives et cetera. There is quite a lot of initial money there, not specifically in the women’s program, but will be available to assist women coming through this program.

Senator Hanson Young —Has there been any thought in terms of the time frames about responding to the rest of the recommendations?

Ms McKenzie —As I said, the Prime Minister, when he formally received the report, said that he would refer the report to COAG. My understanding from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is that the Prime Minister has signed a letter out to his COAG colleagues asking them to consider this matter.

Senator Hanson Young —My understanding is that the Prime Minister had indicated that COAG would be releasing the whole-of-government plan some time early next year. Does that mean that that is also in conjunction with the response to the rest of the recommendations from the report, or is that just in relation to actioning the seven—

Ms McKenzie —No. The Prime Minister was talking about the national plan, so it would be the full and complete consideration.

Senator Hanson Young —So all we know is that we think the Prime Minister has sent a letter to the states at this stage, to put it on the agenda for the next meeting or are we not sure?

Senator McLucas —I think the COAG agenda is something that this department cannot comment on. Maybe we could get some information from Prime Minister and Cabinet. This department cannot comment on the agenda for COAG.

Senator Hanson Young —Sure. I am just thinking we are in June now; it is 1 June.

Ms Beauchamp —We understand those discussions have already commenced with the states and territories through first ministers’ agencies. As our budget papers indicate, we are required to have a national plan agreed through COAG by early 2010, which means we will be contributing to that effort.

Senator Hanson Young —But based on the knowledge along the table here, we do not know when—

Dr Harmer —We do not know which of the two—I think there is at least two COAG meeting issues between now and the beginning of 2010 and we are not responsible for the agenda for those two—

Senator Hanson Young —I realise you are not responsible for the agenda. But you have not necessarily been asked yet to prepare and feed into it, given that date. That is what I was asking. That is what I was trying to get an indication of. But if you do not know, you do not know, so that is fine.

Where in the budget is an allocation to actually see this process happen? Maybe you did cover that, and perhaps you lost me a little bit, I am not sure, but when I looked through it I could not see specifically what money had been allocated to see this process happen in terms of developing the whole-of-government approach and making sure that we could deliver it by early 2010.

Ms McKenzie —Are you talking about departmental resources to be able to support the negotiation of the plan? Currently, the safety task force, which is in my group which is headed up by Ms Stodulka, has been assisting the council to develop the plan. Those resources will now be transferred to supporting the development of a national plan with COAG.

Senator Hanson Young —But there was no specific identification as to ‘This is how much we are going to commit to the process happening and the implementation of it’?

Ms McKenzie —No. The minister was keen to know if we would require additional resources or whether it could be done within existing resources; and we believe this process can be done within existing resources.

Senator Hanson Young —And then, obviously, when we get the signed-off agreement from COAG, then it will be a discussion about how it is implemented.

Ms McKenzie —Yes.

Senator Hanson Young —That is probably it for me, if you want to continue with the COAG questions.

Senator BOYCE —You have pretty much covered the only thing I was going to cover, which was: what happens to the other seven recommendations that have to be discussed?

Senator McLucas —I can help Senator Hanson Young with that figure. I will confirm it with DoHA, but we understand the increase in training money through the Department of Health and Ageing has been from $12.6 million to $19.5 million.

 

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