Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch of Under Pressure emergency relief report

Location: Melbourne

Thank you Jodie for your welcome. And thank you for inviting me here to launch Under Pressure.

First I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we meet.

On paper, Under Pressure details the responses of 2,000 people who came looking for help. But for all of you here today it’s more than that.

It’s the faces behind the numbers. It’s the personal story each of them tells you. The circumstances of despair which bring each person to your doors. We know from your report that more than half were women. Nearly all on income support. Some homeless. Most turning to you because they had run out of food or money. They rely on you to meet their immediate and urgent needs. And all day, every day that’s what you do.

You provide the most basic essentials of life. Of course your survey was undertaken before the onslaught of the global economic crisis. Before so many Australian families were buffeted by the global economic crisis. Which means many more are turning to you.

I know that this crisis is stretching your resources and capacity to the limit. Here in Victoria, the Cranbourne Information and Support Service has seen a 22 per cent increase in demand for emergency relief services over the last financial year. Many are struggling because they have lost their jobs or have had their working hours reduced. Suddenly, more than half their income is consumed by rent or mortgage repayments.

There’s not a lot left to buy food and pay the bills. And so the responsibility falls on emergency relief providers like you to help them through. It’s the Government’s responsibility to support Australians through these difficult times. Through organisations like yours that provide the services they need. Which is why we have doubled the funding for emergency relief – with an additional $80 million over the next two years. Eleven million dollars of emergency relief funding was distributed immediately to providers in March to meet urgent demand.

Today I want to detail where the remaining funds will be spent. An additional $55 million will help emergency relief providers meet increased demand and fill critical service gaps. This is an increase of 80 per cent on the base level of emergency relief funding in 2008-09.

And because it’s difficult to forecast emerging areas of need in an economic downturn, we are building the capacity and flexibility to respond quickly when we have to. We need to deliver help when and where it’s most needed. Like communities which might be dependent on mining or manufacturing and where a sudden downturn has a huge impact on everyone. And which puts enormous pressure on emergency relief services.

So we need to be able to move emergency relief funding quickly to where it’s needed. To do this, $10 million will go to key community organisations. Using their local knowledge, they will distribute emergency relief funding through other community organisations to get help to the people who need it. We’re also investing $2 million to improve training opportunities for the people who are the face of emergency relief – the workers at the frontline.

All up this means that over the next two years there will be more $120 million in emergency relief funding out there in our communities. Helping an estimated one million people a year.

But we all know that to get people back on their feet for the long term, we need to do more fix their most immediate problems. We need to use the capacity and reach of emergency relief agencies to connect them with other services. We need to harness the front door capacity of emergency relief services to build ongoing financial capability and resilience. So their current crisis doesn’t become entrenched.

Which is why we are funding 50 new financial counselling positions for the next two years – to break the cycle of financial crisis. Eleven positions have already been selected, including the Geelong Ethnic Communities Council. They’ll be operating from July across six states. The remaining 40 positions will be filled by September this year. They’ll be linked closely with emergency relief services with the aim of giving every emergency relief service access to a financial counsellor.

We also want to give organisations more flexibility in how they use emergency relief funding. For the first time, agencies which demonstrate the capacity to achieve good results through case management will be able to use funding to employ case workers. And we’re raising the cap on administrative costs.

What I’ve spoken about today builds on our commitment to rebuild Australia’s social infrastructure. Our $6.4 billion investment in social housing and unprecedented investment in our schools. And of course just last night, the passage of legislation which delivers long overdue pension increase to over three million age pensioners, people with disability and their carers.

These are some of the ways this Government is working to support you. And through you, the most vulnerable people in our community.

So that even in these toughest of times, people have someone to turn to.