Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Launch of Community Southwest’s – Collaboration – Doing it Better 2020 – Conference – Warrnambool, Victoria

Location: Warrnambool Entertainment Centre, Warrnambool, Vic

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  • Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Gunditjamara people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.
  • Let me extend a warm welcome to The Hon David Hawker, Federal Member for Wannon, who is with us in the audience today.
  • I’d also like to thank the Community Southwest for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today.


Collaboration – Doing it Better 2020. Congratulations on such a succinct appraisal of the work ahead.

Collaboration underpins the Government’s strategy to tackle disadvantage. ‘Collaborative approaches’ to overcoming disadvantage is at the heart of our social inclusion agenda.

I’m very pleased that experts working at the coal face in this corner of Victoria share this view.

This conference brings together community groups and not-for-profit agencies, giving you the opportunity explore how working together collaboratively helps not just individuals, and families in need, but the entire community.

Playing your part in building a community that is inclusive – where people feel good about themselves, hold down a job, have good health and enough social contact – is fundamental to the health of our nation.

And collaborative partnerships – where people work together across all levels of Governments, the community and the business sector – is the only way to make a dent in entrenched disadvantage.

It’s the only way any of us can make a difference. The problems are just too complex for government alone to resolve, too multifaceted for business to manage and too complex for your particular organisation to fix.

But collectively we can make inroads. Together we can make a difference.

For the first time an Australian Government is establishing an integrated framework that will see new, more effective ways to reduce disadvantage.

We know that the way forward to an inclusive and socially sustainable country is for us to learn from each other, and work together – and agree – on strategies that work.

Social Inclusion Agenda

The Australian Government’s Social Inclusion Agenda is about giving everyone a chance to participate fully in Australian society.

It’s about people getting the opportunities, capabilities and resources they need to contribute to, and to share in, the benefits of Australia’s success as a nation.

The Australian notion of a ‘fair go’ means that we have to make it possible for all Australians to create rewarding and fulfilling lives for themselves.

Entrenched disadvantage, or chronic poverty trickling through generations of families, doesn’t just blight the lives of individuals, it holds us back as a nation.

We all pay for rising health care costs, we pay through the welfare and justice system; through higher crime rates and lower workforce participation and productivity.

When the third intergenerational report was released the Prime Minister said we must help as many Australians as possible to participate in secure and fulfilling work.

He said this would help us to manage our ageing population and maintain our prosperity.

The shortage of skilled workers and the diminishing opportunities for unskilled workers are other reasons we have for removing the blocks that stop individuals overcoming disadvantage and reaching their potential.

Social Inclusion Statement

As you may already know, the Government recently launched the National Statement on Social Inclusion – A Stronger, Fairer Australia.

It sets out the Government’s vision and strategy for social inclusion and builds on the many reforms and investments of the past two years.

Reforms like fairer workplace relations, employment, pension reform, housing and homelessness, early childhood education and schools. It also builds on the existing strengths of individuals, families and communities.

The statement recognises the impact that disadvantage has on the lives of many Australians, and their capacity to participate and contribute to their communities.

It acknowledges that disadvantage is often perpetuated across generations by a complex interplay of factors such as poverty, mental illness, locational disadvantage and a lack of educational opportunities.

The Social Inclusion Statement will guide governments, business and not-for-profit sectors. It suggests ways to work with disadvantaged Australians—and with each other—to reduce disadvantage and build stronger and more resilient communities.

Our Social Inclusion Agenda is built on five pillars.

Five Pillars of Social Inclusion

Firstly, economic growth. This is about maintaining a strong, sustainable and internationally competitive economy to secure jobs for the future. This is a crucial backdrop for ensuring every Australian has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Secondly, equitable social policy. This is about creating the opportunities and resources that every Australian needs to participate in the economy and community life through education, skills training, employment strategies, incentives for entering the workforce, and providing adequate income support when people need it.

Thirdly, quality services. We need world-class services that meet the needs in crucial areas like education and training, health, housing and social support. And we must have the flexibility to target these resources where there’s extra need, such as in disadvantaged Indigenous communities.

Fourthly, strong families and communities. We need to support families and develop strong and cohesive communities. We do this through better family services. We build capabilities and improve community infrastructure.

And finally, partnership for change. We know the Government, by itself, cannot overcome long-term disadvantage. That’s why we’re building new and innovative partnerships between government, businesses and not-for-profit organisations.

New Ways of Working

We all know that entrenched disadvantage is not a new problem. And unfortunately we haven’t always had decisive leadership in this area. Just the other day, for example, Tony Abbott portrayed homelessness as a lifestyle some people choose.

That is not how we as a government think. We realise that for a multitude of reasons, some people simply start out life three steps behind and need some assistance to simply get to the same starting point.

We realise that the old ways of tackling entrenched disadvantage haven’t worked. And we are determined to make a difference. So we’re introducing new ways of thinking and new ways of acting.

We have a new approach to developing policies and programs that create lasting change in communities.

We’re building on individual and community strengths. We’re building partnerships with key players in the field.

We want tailored, or ‘wrap around’, services that address the specific needs of individuals, families and particular communities.

Services need to work together in new and flexible ways – building ‘joined-up’ services and solutions that prioritise early interventions.

The days of a siloed approach to an issue are over. I am sure you all know from experience in your working lives that it just doesn’t work when different agencies, different organisations look at one aspect of a person’s situation in isolation.

That most wonderful thing called a human being has physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. You know better than me, you can’t treat one and ignore the others.

So if we can develop the structures and develop agencies’ capacity to work together and tailor their offerings we stand a much better chance of addressing the needs of individuals. And when we do that we go along way towards helping their families and their communities.

Location-based Approach

The evidence also demonstrates that lower incomes, poorer health, lower education attainment, higher unemployment and higher crime rates tend to concentrate in particular locations.

And the sad reality is that these pockets of disadvantage persist over time, condemning people’s lives to be determined by their postcode.

The Government’s Social Inclusion Agenda is about the need to break this cycle of entrenched disadvantage.

And we recognise that this requires locally-based solutions to local issues.

Since the needs of every community are different, communities themselves must rise to the challenge of finding solutions. And we are inviting local leaders to step forward and share their experience and knowledge.

Not-for-profit and community organisations work closely with people in need. You listen, genuinely consult and build strong connections and trust with disadvantaged people and people at risk.

You understand their needs. And I’ve no doubt you’ve got great ideas on how we can better target policy interventions. We want and need that in-depth knowledge of local communities.

Effective Partnerships

So the government recognises that we need to partner with you if we’re going to make an impact on disadvantage.

And you need to partner with each other to create a culture of innovation and flexibility – which is why it’s so wonderful to see you all here together today.

Key players in the area, including governments, must cultivate strong relationships with each other. By reducing fragmented and cross-purpose service delivery you increase the potential to get enduring results.

Effective collaboration has many benefits – wider geographical reach, a co-ordinated approach to need, better use of resources, sharing the risk of untested projects – to name just a few.

Partnerships that work are based on mutual respect and a commitment to sharing information. They flourish when there is a willingness to consult each other and listen to the needs and views of partners serving various sectors.

Cross-sector Partnerships

Effective partnerships span across sectors, extending from government to community organisations to the business sectors.

We are examining new ways to partner with the business sector. Businesses have particular strengths and expertise they can bring to the task.

Now I don’t want to steal Robert Fitzgerald’s thunder but I will say that I welcome the Productivity Commission’s recent report on the not-for-profit sector.

The Report found Corporate Australia has moved away from cash donations to getting involved, literally.

We’re seeing joint ventures, participation on the boards of not-for-profits, long-term secondments, and pro-bono work.

They bring with them the rules of business: continual evaluation and measurement, good governance and transparency. And this is a good thing.

Corporations report that working with their third sector partners helps to develop their staff skills. And, not-for-profit organisations in turn say that they benefit from not only the dollars invested, but also the skills and knowledge of the business people who get involved.

For all these reasons, partnerships are at the heart of our social inclusion approach – and a particularly important one of these is the partnership between the not-for-profit sector and the government.

Compact With Third Sector

In recognition of this, I have been leading the development of a partnership agreement – a National Compact – between the sector and the Australian Government.

You can imagine my joy last week when the Prime Minister – on behalf of the government – and Tim Costello – on behalf of the sector – signed the National Compact at a special launch celebration in Parliament House.

The National Compact is a commitment to change; a vehicle for promoting not only social inclusion in Australian communities but a framework that exemplifies this new era in government.

The National Compact spells out a strengthened government-third sector relationship, based on mutual respect and understanding. It gives community organisations, large and small, real input into Government policy and program delivery. It enables true collaboration on key social, economic and environmental challenges facing our communities.

It contains a vision, shared principles for guiding our relationship and priorities for action.

Organisations from the many different parts of the third sector have been vital contributors in creating the compact. And this has been matched by broad participation across the Australian public service.

But our task does not end here.

Active leadership and engagement by both the Commonwealth and the Sector will be required to promote and effectively implement the Compact. To help us with this I have established a Sector Advisory Group to begin work on this task.

I would like to invite you to also be a part of this exciting activity. There are many ways you can get involved. Check out the national compact website and then join the national conversation on the sector’s own compact website – Compact Voice Australia.

I know that there is a lot of interest here about signing a local compact, and so at the invitation of Community Southwest, I plan to come back to work with you on developing a local compact with the Commonwealth.


As an alliance of a broad variety of not-for-profit organisations in your region, you are already a fantastic example of the power of partnerships.

And this conference is about reinforcing and reinvigorating these partnerships.

I’ve been known to find inspiration in unusual places, but I think this quote from Henry Ford perfectly captures the essence of your conference.
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.

I think we all can learn from that as we work in partnership towards our shared goal of a fairer, inclusive Australia.

And on that note, I now officially declare the Community Southwest – Collaboration – Doing it Better 2020 – conference open.