Walking into the Federal Budget lock-up this evening, I was not under any disillusionment that there would be any additional money in the budget for the family and relationship services sector. The main priority for me was to ensure that there were no cuts to existing promises – both to the sector and the children, families and communities we work with.
Thankfully, the need to find savings in the budget was not done by scraping away at commitments already provided to the family and relationship services sector.
However, there is still a cloud hanging over the range of services within the Families and Communities Programme that are only funded through until 30 June 2017 (more on that below). But the Government has not broken any existing promises/commitments on that front.
A key area of interest in tonight’s Budget was the extent to which the Government might provide further responses to the issue of Family Violence in our families and our communities. There is a relatively small budget of around $100 million provided over the next three years. But, in fairness, I did not have great expectations where this area of great need was concerned either. The planets are not in alignment for the Federal Government on this issue. The Coalition deferred a national summit on Family Violence until the end of this year and the Department is only part way through its planning for the Third Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (2016-2019). Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has only just finished its work in this area. This is certainly an issue to watch out for in the Election Campaign, MYEFO or the Federal Budget next year.
One surprise in this Budget was the Government’s decision not to proceed with the Jobs for Families Package. This clearly signals that the Coalition remains resolute in its position that it wishes to get the Family Tax Benefit changes through before it will commit to this Package. In the meantime, the demand for services and pressures on families will remain for a further year.
I am excited to see the Government’s plans for the cross-portfolio/non-government and not-for-profit responses to breaking the cycle of long-term welfare dependency through the ‘Try, Test and Learn Fund measure’. Breaking down the silos that exist between Government agencies has always been a significant obstacle in working with complex clients and disadvantaged people and it is encouraging to see the Government prepared to invest $96.1 million in a scheme aimed at delivering innovative policy interventions to decrease welfare dependency that will be developed with the ‘Education and Training, Health, Social Services and Employment portfolios, and the non-government and not-for-profit sector. I see great hope in this model of service delivery. We will just need to ensure that it is not administratively thwarted in achieving its intended objectives.