Address to the National Complex Needs Alliance
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Good morning and thank you for your kind invitation to speak here today.
Building a strong and prosperous community
As many of you will know, I have a longstanding personal and professional interest in how we can build a better society; how we can strengthen the institutions of civil society and how we can strengthen community resilience.
And an important part of achieving such a goal is ensuring we properly understand and address complex needs.
And I know I share that interest with the all of you, because it is you that are the front-line in providing such important services and such critical support to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
I believe that improving our society is a role best shared by government, civil society and the community.
All too often I hear people proclaim that government must have the answers; that government knows best; that Canberra is responsible for – well – everything.
That is simply not true. I see government as an enabler; as the vehicle which can be used to empower you – civil society – to do what you do best, using best practice and using the immense experience you have.
It is true that both the government and non-government sectors are facing challenges as our society changes and the sustainability of our current models and systems are tested.
A changing society
The reality is that government has financial, as well as social, interest in investing in Australians and their wellbeing.
For example, we know that, not only does positive family functioning deliver important social benefits to our country, happy families also make a huge difference in lifting our economic productivity.
My Department’s research shows that better family functioning can deliver the economy up to $5.4 billion per annum in increased productivity.
And this boost is not just economic – it reflects a stronger and healthier society, less burdened by crime, unemployment, addiction and broken relationships.
Conversely, when families and communities struggle, government faces a substantial financial burden, as well as an ongoing social burden.
The government is tackling these challenges in many ways.
Some work focuses on intervening early to support people before they encounter trouble.
As you may know, at the end of last year, I commissioned a Reference Group on Welfare Reform, chaired by Patrick McClure.
The Reference Group were asked to advise on how Australia’s welfare system can:
- Provide incentives to work for those who are able to work;
- Adequately support those who are genuinely unable to work;
- Support social and economic participation through measures that build individual and family capability;
- Be affordable and sustainable both now and in the future and across economic cycles; and
- Be easy to access and understand, and able to be delivered efficiently and effectively.
Importantly, I asked that their recommendations be simple and sustainable, to deliver a vision for a future welfare system that is at once navigable and affordable.
To get an idea of just how complex our welfare system is, there are around 20 different payments and around 55 different supplements.
These payments combine in many different ways, with different income and assets tests, different incentives and concessions attached to the payment, all of which interact with the employment services, social services and the tax system.
The combination of these elements push the complexity of our welfare and social support system to a point beyond the realm of human understanding – of which you are all no doubt aware because you deal with it on a day to day basis.
The McClure Review has been looking at simplifying the system to reduce the number of payments and to improve the incentives and pathways into the workforce.
An investment model
The Review is also looking at, and what I think will be of particular interest to the Complex Needs Alliance, is at an investment model for the delivery of social services.
As you would all be aware, governments, both federal, state and local, spend mountains of money on different but overlapping programs, which provide support to vulnerable people with complex needs.
Often these programs are trying to manage a single aspect of an individual’s problem that had its genesis many years earlier when better targeted interventions may have been a better investment of taxpayer money.
The right intervention at the right time could have diverted someone on the path of a lifetime of dependency on social services and income support, into a lifetime of independence and employment.
This is one of the reasons why the McClure welfare review has been looking at the investment approach in New Zealand.
The New Zealand investment approach is about efficiency in successfully getting people onto trajectories that lead to employment and off those that lead to long term welfare.
The New Zealand approach uses actuarial valuations to establish the lifetime liability of both the income support system and of specific groups within the system.
Intensive support is then targeted where it is likely to give the best outcomes.
While there can be up-front costs, with effective early intervention, the long term savings to taxpayers can be enormous when you consider the reduced impact on social services across all tiers of government.
But perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of this approach will be those who get the right supports at the right time, with supports that change their life and provide all the personal and financial benefits that come with that change.
Focusing on the role civil society plays
I am also increasing my Department’s focus on the critical role civil society plays in our modern day society; because civil society has a long history of responsible governance and management. The Government will respect and trust this.
To this end, the Government is implementing a broad deregulation agenda to boost productivity by removing unnecessary and overly complex red tape imposed on business, community organisations and individuals by at least $1 billion a year.
The Government will reinstate the Community Business Partnerships.
This will serve as a mechanism to stimulate philanthropy in Australia and encourage relationships between business and the not-for-profit sector to the benefit of both.
The Abbott Government is committed to ensuring our support system is one that understands and responds to complex needs.
I want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you to ensure we do what is needed to ensure complex needs remain a national focus.
Importantly, you, the front-line, are the experts. My door is always open to you and can I encourage you to continue your strong engagement with the government.
The role you play, the work you do and the contribution you as an organisation offer is commendable.
Thank you for your efforts, but more importantly, thank you for the outcomes they achieve.