Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Family Relationship Services, Income Management – Doorstop, WA Anglicare

E & O E – PROOF ONLY Subject: Family relationship services, income management

IAN CARTER: Can I begin by acknowledging the Noongar people as the original custodians of this land and I walk alongside them in a journey of reconciliation. And it’s great to be here on the banks of the [indistinct] today for this important meeting and important announcements.

Without any further ado I’ll hand over to Jenny Macklin, the Federal Minister for Family, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you very much, Ian, and thank you to Anglicare for having us here today. I’m very pleased to be here with my colleague, the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and if I can join with you in – in paying my respects to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we’re making this very important announcement today.

The Attorney and I are very pleased to be announcing that we will be investing $100 million into – over the next two years into family relationship services. And if I can just say how much we appreciate the terrific work that is being done by family relationship services around Australia.

Here in Perth that will mean $9.7 million and for Anglicare Western Australia $5 million will go into continuing these extremely important services.

We do understand that over the last few months there has been a considerable increase in the number of families coming to family relationship services for help, the counselling services for the other services that are provided. And we understand that in these difficult times that families are under pressure, and that’s why we do appreciate so much the support that Anglicare in particular but also the other providers of family relationship services, the way in which you go about your job and the way in which you support families, mums and dads, children, as they go through very difficult times.

We know that if we don’t see these services provided then we’re much more likely to see more break-ups, more difficulties for families. There are 60 early intervention services around Australia: 40 Family Relationship Centres and 30 post-separation services, and all of these will be receiving part of this increase in money that we’re announcing today.

So, once again, thank you to Anglicare. Thank you not only for having us here today but for the terrific work that you do, and we’re very pleased that we’re able to announce this $100 million in extension of services over the next two years.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, thank you very much, Jenny, and also thank you to Anglicare. May I also acknowledge the Traditional Owners.

From the Attorney-General’s point of view, obviously the resources that we can put in from a whole of government point of view to family relationship services generally can assist in preventing marital breakdown, and that’s obviously the priority for government. But the reality is when relationships break down, if the issues can be resolved through conferencing, through mediation, there is absolutely no question that the children are better off; all the indicators show that and, indeed, the community is better off because it avoids the need for protracted and expensive litigation.

And already the proof of the pie is in the eating that the family relationship services, including Family Relationship Centres, have reduced, it seems, the filing in the Family Court system by some 18 per cent, which justifies in itself the Government’s commitment of resources to this sector.

The issues are challenging but there is no doubt that a lot has been learnt, a lot is still being learnt, and I think each and every day the centres are becoming far more effective and becoming far more effective not only because of the quality of their work, the training they give to the staff, but because of the relationships that they establish more broadly: with the courts; with the legal professions; with other government agencies; with indeed the non-government sector where appropriate whether it’s through drug and alcohol counselling or financial counselling, a whole range of services that the family relationship services are able to access unquestionably provides a resource base for families that are experiencing difficulty.

But, at the end of the day, if we can assist families resolve their differences, obviously if we can keep them together that’s a priority, but if we can’t, and the relationship breaks down, if we can keep those relationships in place in the interests of children, obviously the next generation of Australians benefits.

So, very, very pleased to be here with Jenny announcing this program, it’s very important, but also if I can congratulate each and every one of you who are involved in these very worthwhile projects.

Thank you.

IAN CARTER: Can I just say a couple of words, and then I’m going to invite Jennie Hannan, who is the head of my service area in this area of our work.

It’s really interesting the journey that Anglicare has been involved in the last decade or more around this area. And I think many community service agencies, charities, used to work with their traditional client group for many, many years, and they were the traditional homeless, the marginalised, the disadvantaged all described in different ways, people in our community.

Nowadays I think we need to talk more about vulnerability in the lives of families and individuals in our community, and that’s what this program goes so much to. It is a fundamental building block of our community that we keep families and individuals and their relationships together, to keep them managed well and keep them positive. And this area is where we’ve grown significantly in the last couple of years. And we’ve certainly been waiting for an announcement about this funding and the continuation of it.

So to both the Attorney and to the Minister it is absolutely critical for us. The work that we’re doing in this area, it is exciting work for us. We at Anglicare WA are very proud of the work that we’ve been doing through the family relationship centres, through our parenting orders program, through our contact services, our early intervention services, all funded through this initiative.

And we are working with very, very vulnerable families, and particularly vulnerable children. And the work that we do in that area is so critical, I think, as the Attorney said, to the future of our communities.

But, a little bit of detail. Jennie Hannan, who is executive general manager of services, and Jennie’s really driven the work for Anglicare in the last five years in terms of the roll-out of the significant relationship services. So, Jennie.

JENNIE HANNAN: I just want to thank you for the opportunity that you’ve afforded Anglicare in the last three to five years in terms of being able to develop models that are inclusive of children; develop models that support families through very, very difficult relationship break-ups.

We ensure the safety of children and of women in all of our programs in relation to separation. We provide programs that are specific for children and the new funding for the supporting children after separation program which was only announced late last year is busy being rolled out here as well.

And so I just again want to reinforce that the opportunity to develop models that move people away from a litigation pathway to establish relationships that are long-lasting between parents, even if they aren’t husband and wife, that supports children is a major priority for us and a major priority for all the services that you currently fund. So thank you very much.

QUESTION: I just want to ask some specifics about the money. One hundred million over the next two years, is that extra funding on top of what has already been put in budgets, or is this extending the same, yes, we like this idea, it’s worked, we’re extending it for two years…

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re extending it, that’s exactly right. So we’re extending the service for the next two years. As was mentioned before, additional money has been announced but that was announced a few months ago.

QUESTION: And that’s from the ’08-’09 budget?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: I’ve got a question about the welfare quarantine.

JENNY MACKLIN: Oh, sure. Maybe just check we’re finished on this issue?

QUESTION: Could you – sorry – just outline more specifically some of the services that [indistinct]?

JENNY MACKLIN: It might be a good idea for Jenny to do that, if you’d like, Jennie..

JENNIE HANNAN: The extension of this funding allows the 65 Family Relationship Centres across the country to continue to operate for an extended period of time. It also supports the Children’s Contact Services which have been rolled out recently; parenting orders program, which has been a long-standing program as well, but particularly the Family Relationship Centres and the Children’s Contact Services that have been rolled out in the last three to four years.

QUESTION: I note with interest in your release, that you say the Australian Government is projecting a 29 per cent…


QUESTION: increase in attendance. Do you think this is related to the imminent threat of recession, financial pressure?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve just been asking the staff here about that issue. Their view is that they’re not seeing that yet. But possibly, certainly starting to see it in the counselling area. We’re certainly seeing it in the demands for financial counselling.

And I think we can expect that as Australia is not immune to the impact of the global financial crisis, and pressure is put on families with increasing unemployment, that these services that we are extending funding for today, we’ll see increased people coming to them. That’s why we increased the funding last year.

We do understand that families are under pressure and we do expect that to get worse as the financial crisis really comes our way.

IAN CARTER: Can I add that one of the things – messages that we’ve been trying to get across at this time is as we’re going through the global financial crisis, now is actually the time to attend to these matters. They often get dropped off. Families are in crisis and they – I mean this morning’s paper, they’re returning cats to the cat haven and they’re doing other bits and pieces. But they’re not actually attending to fundamental issues in their lives around relationships.

So every opportunity we get, we say this funding’s allowed significant infrastructure to attend to these matters to be available in our community. And now is the time for people to go to relationship counselling, education, to turn up to the Family Relationship Centres, attend to these matters in a quality way. Now’s the time. Don’t leave it until it’s too late, because you’re going to end up in a lot more problem than you are at the moment.

JENNY MACKLIN: I think in this case, just like other areas of social relations, it’s always better to intervene early and so if there are problems, it’s better to go and seek help early, rather than late – leave it to a time where relationships are so broken down, they can’t be brought back together. So that’s why we’re very supportive of the early intervention approach, as well as the other services that are delivered.

QUESTION: Just specifically one quick…


QUESTION: …a money question; $9.7 million you mentioned in Perth. Is that over two years and is that for all of WA?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, that’s Perth. Oh, that is WA, I thought it was Perth. Sorry.

QUESTION: So, $9.78.

JENNY MACKLIN: Sorry about that. Yep.

QUESTION: So would – from just the Government, an economic point of view, do you think – believe that this initial expenditure will save you greater expenditure in the future?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think the Attorney…


JENNY MACKLIN: …has talked about that.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: There’s – there is no doubt about that. If you look at an 18 per cent reduction in filings in the Family Court, that in itself is a considerable saving to taxpayers, not only in terms of funding of judicial time, but also in terms of the avoidance of people having to pay for legal expenses.

And obviously if the family can keep hold of those funds rather than pay lawyers, then the kids have more resources to help them through school, and be sustained, and so forth.

So there is no doubt that the investment in the Family Relationship Services is a worthwhile investment, because as has been stated, the early intervention avoids problems, but it also avoids court time which itself is very expensive, very protracted and a burden to taxpayers in itself.

QUESTION: That 18 per cent reduction, in what period was that more specifically?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Yeah, that was to February of this year, for the previous 12 months.

IAN CARTER: And again can I add the cost isn’t just that, and I think that is a critical cost. The other cost is that if children are going through divorce and separation in particular, and that separation and divorce is problematic, violent sometimes and over a long period of time, the cost in the health and the education system are significant.

IAN CARTER: And I think there’s some longitudinal work we need to do around that. Research clearly proves that that’s the reality. But I think the kind of returns off this investment is significant, because you imagine kids, where the parents are at each other’s throats, not resolving the issues. They’re leading their lives daily in crisis. They don’t perform at school. They have health problems and it all exacerbates on top of each other.

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Yes, well said.

IAN CARTER: We need to this is a really complex issue.


QUESTION: Can I just specify the 18 per cent? So you’re saying that there’s been an 18 per cent reduction overall, in people filing any sort of dispute in the Family Court…


QUESTION: In the past 12 – in that 12 months to Feb…

ROBERT McCLELLAND: In that 12 month period.

QUESTION: …compared to the previous 12 months. And you’ve attribute that to Family Relationship Centres?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: We substantially attribute it to the work of Family Relationship Centres. Eighteen per cent reduction in the Family Court and also the Federal Magistrate’s Court, but here in West Australia – the Family Court of Western Australia. Those figures are nationwide. I don’t have the specific breakdown for West Australia, but we have no – absolutely no doubt that a significant part of that reduction has been the work of Family Relationship Centres.

JENNY HANNIN: Okay. Other issues? You wanted to talk about income management?

QUESTION: Yeah. Think that’s going to be extended nationally?

JENNY MACKLIN: We are currently engaged in income management in three different ways, in different parts of Australia. Here in Western Australia, of course, we’ve an agreement with the Western Australian Government that if the Child Protection Authorities notify Centrelink that a family would benefit from income management, in the area of Cannington and in the Kimberley – and we’ve recently extended it to a number of other areas, as you’re aware here in Perth – then families can have their welfare payments income managed. So that’s the approach here in Western Australia that we’ve agreed with the Western Australian Government.

In the Northern Territory, we have around 15,000 welfare recipients who are – have their welfare payments income managed, and that is continuing.

And in four communities on Cape York, we’re taking another approach again. What we’ve done there, with the agreement of the local communities, is go to an approach where we’ve established with the Queensland Government, a Family Responsibility Commission. Local people are engaged in each of the communities, working with an ex-magistrate. And if they recommend to Centrelink that a family could benefit from income management, because they’re not properly caring for their children, then Centrelink can income manage their welfare payments.

So we’re proceeding in three quite different ways. Looking at the experience of income management in these different forms. And, of course, after a period of time, we’ll look at the results and take those issues forward.

QUESTION: So is there any plan to take the WA one…

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, as I say, we’re looking at each of the models. We’ll look at the outcomes of each of those models. The model here, in Western Australia, has only been in place for a few months. We’ve only started in Queensland. It’s only been operating for a few months as well. Obviously it’s been going in the Northern Territory for a little bit longer.

We want to look at the results, and then we’ll make decisions about any further roll out after that.

QUESTION: I understand that there’s an interim report due on income management in WA. Could you give us a specific on when exactly we can expect that and if it will be made public?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what I want to do is look at the experience of each of the different jurisdictions together. So we’ll make a decision about that in a year or so’s time, once we’ve got some decent experience. We want to look at the experience in each of the states and the Northern Territory, where we are implementing these different approaches and then we’ll consider the results after that.

QUESTION: So no report this year?

JENNY MACKLIN: Not at this time. We’ve obviously only just started this approach here in Western Australia. We want to look at the experience.


QUESTION: Just another question, sorry, [indistinct]. This new economic stimulus package, who will benefit from that?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: In what sense?

QUESTION: Kevin Rudd said that there’s a possibility of another stimulus package, so who will…

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Well, that is in the context of what we’re talking about. The Government’s priority is to keep people in jobs, because if you keep people in jobs and you keep indebtedness problems away from families, families are more likely, obviously, to avoid the tensions that can result in breakdowns.

So the Government is certainly focusing its stimulus package on trying to keep people in jobs and trying to sustain Australian industry to get through this period. And obviously cushion the – cushion Australia from the impact of the financial crisis.

But that’s the priority, jobs. Keeping people in jobs. Keeping industry going and building the base for moving out of the economic crisis when, in the coming months, that ends.