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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
Australian Institute of Family Studies
- Committee Name
Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Bernardi, Sen Cory
Siewert, Sen Rachel
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Payne, Sen Marise
Fierravanti-Wells, Sen Concetta
Ludlam, Sen Scott
Furner, Sen Mark
Fifield, Sen Mitch
Rhiannon, Sen Lee
Abetz, Sen Eric
Di Natale, Sen Richard
Brown, Sen Carol
Wright, Sen Penny
Boyce, Sen Sue
McLucas, Sen Jan
Ms S Wilson
Ms K Wilson
- Sub program
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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 16 February 2012)
FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Senator CAROL BROWN
Ms S Wilson
Australian Institute of Family Studies
Senator CAROL BROWN
Ms K Wilson
Ms S Wilson
Senator DI NATALE
Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency
Ms Cate McKenzie
Senator CAROL BROWN
Senator CAROL BROWN
Senator DI NATALE
Senator CAROL BROWN
- Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
- FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO
Content WindowCommunity Affairs Legislation Committee - 16/02/2012 - Estimates - FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO - Australian Institute of Family Studies
Australian Institute of Family Studies
CHAIR: Thank you very much to the officers from outcome 1. We now move to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. I know that Senator Bernardi and Senator Siewert have questions in this area. We can run slightly over because there is quite a lot of space in housing. We can run slightly over half past 11. We are going to start with Senator Bernardi.
Senator BERNARDI: I have been trying to ascertain a few facts from the annual report and there are a few things I am missing out on, so I am hoping you can fill me in. Does the agency lease its current premises or does it own the premises?
Prof. Hayes : We lease the premises.
Senator BERNARDI: How much rent do you pay on the lease?
Prof. Hayes : I will ask Ms Tait to go to that.
Ms Tait : We pay approximately $50,000 a month, but I would want to take the actual figure for you on notice.
Senator BERNARDI: Around $600,000 per annum.
Ms Tait : Correct.
Senator BERNARDI: Are there any assets—and I will use the term 'significant'; I know that is subjective—that the agency does own?
Prof. Hayes : Our information technology and other supported technological assets.
Ms Tait : It is relatively minor. It would be computer systems and the like.
Senator BERNARDI: You do not have investments?
Ms Tait : No.
Senator BERNARDI: Looking at the two committees—the advisory committee and the ethics committee—are the members of these committees remunerated for their participation?
Ms Tait : Yes, they are based on Remuneration Tribunal reference rates.
Senator BERNARDI: I could not find the details of that in any report. It may be that I missed it. Are you able to gather that up for me?
Ms Tait : We can take that on notice and provide it to you if it is clearly based on reference rates.
Senator BERNARDI: The reference rates are per meeting or of each period?
Ms Tait : Yes, they are based on per meeting in most instances; that is right.
Senator BERNARDI: If you let me know the quantum, the number of meetings and things of that nature, that would be great.
Ms Tait : Indeed.
Senator BERNARDI: On staffing, at 30 June I think it was 74 people; that was detailed. Has the staffing changed at all?
Prof. Hayes : We have 75 people.
Senator BERNARDI: Is there a total salary bill?
Prof. Hayes : Yes, we can give you that.
Senator BERNARDI: There must be, but can you provide it to me, please?
Prof. Hayes : There is. Yes.
Ms Tait : The total expenditure on staffing for the first half of the financial year was almost $5 million.
Prof. Hayes : It was $3.612 million.
Senator BERNARDI: Is $3.612 million for the first half of the financial year?
Prof. Hayes : The first half of the financial year.
Senator BERNARDI: If I extrapolate that out, it is going to be $7.2 million-odd. Where did that $5 million figure come from?
Ms Tait : I was reading a wrong column.
Senator BERNARDI: I know that in the information provided last time there was a gender breakdown as well. I presume you have had some staff changing rather than just an additional staff member. Can you give me the gender breakdown of your staff?
Prof. Hayes : Seventy-five per cent female staff.
Senator BERNARDI: To save my maths immediately—
Prof. Hayes : That is 56 out of 75.
Senator BERNARDI: It has gone down.
Prof. Hayes : Slightly; by one.
Senator BERNARDI: It was for the record. How many SES-level staff does the agency have?
Prof. Hayes : Two SES level 1, and that has been stable for many years.
Senator BERNARDI: In reviewing the financial statements—I will just use round figures—there was about $5 million worth of service or other income outside of government appropriations.
Prof. Hayes : Yes, that is from contracts and commissions.
Senator BERNARDI: The commissions are for research that is undertaken by—
Prof. Hayes : Correct, or dissemination of the research as well.
Senator BERNARDI: You will undertake the research yourself and then people will pay to access it.
Prof. Hayes : No, there is no payment. The revenue is to undertake contracted research projects or commissioned research projects. The bulk of those are for the Australian government, although we do some work for state and territory governments and also a small amount of work for the community sector.
Senator BERNARDI: The government, according to the financial statements I have seen, gives you about $3.6 million.
Prof. Hayes : Correct.
Senator BERNARDI: That is without any ties to undertaking any research. Is that right?
Prof. Hayes : No, there is an expectation that we would undertake research projects that are initiated under that appropriation. At the moment we have six projects that we are undertaking in that area.
Senator BERNARDI: The $5 million or so—the additional funds—is not for additional research undertaken by the federal government. It is for external clients.
Prof. Hayes : The bulk of that research is for the Australian government.
Senator BERNARDI: The $5 million?
Prof. Hayes : Yes.
Senator BERNARDI: That is an additional payment you are demanding from the Australian government for undertaking research outside the $3.6 million.
Prof. Hayes : Yes. We are commissioned to do that. Approximately 36 per cent of our funds are under the appropriation and 64 per cent in the current year—it varies from year to year—from work that we either compete for in terms of competitive tenders or, in some instances, are commissioned to undertake.
Senator BERNARDI: Are you able to tell me, then, the clients that you have undertaken research for?
Dr Higgins : I give an example. One of the services that we provide that Professor Hayes alluded to is information dissemination. We have a range of clearing houses or information exchanges. One of those is called the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse. The funding for that comes from COAG and is administered through FaHCSIA to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. We partner with them in delivering on that, so a proportion of the money comes from the Institute of Health and Welfare to us for our role in delivering that. That is just one example of the complexity. Yes, it is government money from the Commonwealth and from the states and territories for a very specific purpose. The nature of our funding agreements determines the particular nature of the service, whether it be a primary research project or dissemination of research information to policymakers and practitioners in a particular area.
Senator BERNARDI: Are you able to table a list of the organisations or agencies that you have undertaken work for in the last 12 months and the value attached to each contract?
Dr Higgins : Yes, we can take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT: Can I ask for an update on the adoption research project?
Dr Higgins : As you are aware, we have been working on this project for a while now. We are towards the end of the data collection phase. We have had excellent responses from participants. So far we have had over 1,300 people respond to the online survey. That will remain open at least until the end of this month. We would anticipate at the current rate that people are logging on and completing the survey that approximately 1,500 people in total will have participated. As a second phase to the research, we also have a qualitative component where we have asked people to indicate that they would like to participate in either a face-to-face interview or a focus group. Those are currently being conducted right around the country in every state and territory, all capital cities and a number of other major centres. So far we have scheduled over 44 separate consultations or data collection events—if you like, focus groups—and more than 300 people have participated so far in those, which is above our original expectations for that component of the research.
Senator SIEWERT: You have started the second phase while the first phase is being undertaken.
Dr Higgins : Absolutely, yes, because the first phase was the recruitment, if you like, of people with an interest in participating in that much more in depth—people telling their life experience face to face, because there are, of course, limitations to how you can squeeze someone's life into a checkbox on a survey. We really felt that this was a project where we needed to have both aspects front and centre.
Senator SIEWERT: With the first phase you are coming to the time line, are you not?
Dr Higgins : That is right, at the end of this month, and similarly with the second phase, where I have staff members flying around the country as we speak, and I am involved in that as well. I have a couple more consultations set up for next week. That will be finished by approximately the end of the month as well. Then we will be into the intense data analysis phase in order to be able to meet our requirements of submitting the report to government in June.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the process of engagement, we have been through the discussion about the various processes of engagement and the advisory panels. How are they now being involved in this next process of the data analysis?
Dr Higgins : Neither of the stakeholder groups—be they the technical advisory group or those stakeholders that have been in touch with FaHCSIA over a number of years registering their interest and, if you like, lobbying for action in this area—have been or will be directly involved in the data analysis; that is the research team from the Institute of Family Studies. Towards the end we will involve the technical advisory group in some limited way in terms of quality assurance around some of the data analysis for the survey, because that is an appropriate thing for a technical advisory group, but they will not in any way be influencing the interpretation of the results.
Senator SIEWERT: Where you have chosen the various locations, is it possible for you to provide on notice a geographic location for where that consultation is being carried out?
Dr Higgins : Yes, we can take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT: When you decided where to go for those more intensive consultations, did you then consult either of those advisory groups; the technical or the stakeholder group?
Dr Higgins : No. The process for deciding where to hold those consultations was really two issues: first of all, where we had people alerting us that they wished to participate; and then it was purely a matter of logistics in terms of did we have a concentration of people in one place where we could hold a focus group and where it was logistically feasible for us to have a researcher there to conduct that. That is the decision-making process that we used.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the number of people that have indicated they would like to do a face-to-face, how many have you been able to accommodate?
Dr Higgins : We would need to take that on notice to give you a more concrete answer and that will be information that will be provided in the final report. At this stage we have had approximately 700 people through the survey indicate an interest in participating in the second phase and, up to today, we have had approximately 300 participate but we have a number of additional focus groups scheduled over the next couple of weeks so that will hopefully get greater than 300.
Senator SIEWERT: The focus groups, the participants, are people that have indicated that they would like to do a face-to-face.
Dr Higgins : That is right.
Senator SIEWERT: You have done some one-on-ones as well.
Dr Higgins : Where that has been the most feasible thing to do. We have particularly had sensitivities around not wanting to inappropriately put people together who have had different experiences; sometimes that has occurred and they have been aware of that. Mostly we have used the one-on-one interviews where that has been a necessity for privacy and sensitivity reasons. Largely, particularly in the major metropolitan centres, we have had enough people in the various groups that we have been able to hold focus groups for the various groups of participants.
Senator SIEWERT: Did I pick up from your comments earlier that there seems to be a flurry of activity now that we are coming up to the end of the consultation period?
Dr Higgins : Yes, it is a flurry but it was as planned flurry. This was the scheduled time for conducting the focus groups and interviews.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the size of the focus groups, how many would you have in a group?
Dr Higgins : They vary but typically it might be between four and eight; small enough that people would be able to share their story and feel comfortable doing that, without being overwhelmed by it being a large group.
Senator SIEWERT: You are going to meet your deadline. I was going to say 'intend' to meet your deadline but I am sure you do intend to meet it. It looks like you will meet your deadline.
Dr Higgins : We will meet our deadline; we are on track for doing so.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Dr Higgins, is all this information going to be on the website?
Dr Higgins : That is a difficult question to answer. Which information in particular are you referring to?
CHAIR: The number of people, where they have been, size of groups and gender. I am really interested in the gender focus of the numbers of the groups. Is that going to be on the website?
Dr Higgins : Most of the issues you are referring to are issues that would be described in the methodology section of the report. The report is due to go to FaHCSIA in June and what happens to it there is really a question for FaHCSIA.
Senator SIEWERT: That is why I did not ask it.
CHAIR: I was thinking in terms of the methodology stuff as opposed to what comes out of it.
Dr Higgins : From our point of view, research reports cover both because the methodology is an important part in understanding what comes out as research findings.
CHAIR: Can we also, on notice, get a clarification of the budget?
Dr Higgins : I can clarify the budget now. It is $375,000 for the life of the project, plus GST.
CHAIR: That takes care of everything.
Dr Higgins : That is right.
Senator SIEWERT: Do you have a time line for the public release of said report?
Ms Carroll : That would be once we had received the report and provided it internally. We would not have that at this point in time.
Senator SIEWERT: It is the intention that it will be publicly released?
Ms Carroll : It would be a decision for government.
CHAIR: It is important amongst all these things to state the enormous consumer interest in this report. Some reports have individual interest and interest from individual committees but this one has extraordinary community support. You know, Senator McLucas, we, on behalf of our committee, like to reinforce the need that that should be taken into account in any decision.
Senator McLucas: Thank you.
CHAIR: Senator McKenzie.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. Dr Higgins, with the numbers of respondents that you quoted to Senator Siewert, the percentage that were adoptees, adopters, mothers, fathers and all the spectrum.
Dr Higgins : We did an analysis of that based on the first half of the year, up until the end of December. At that stage we had approximately 1,000 participants. I have given you the breakdown: at that stage approximately 64 per cent were adoptees; 31 per cent were mothers; 60 per cent were other family members; 5.5 per cent were adoptive parents; and one per cent were fathers.
Senator McKENZIE: Part of getting your research findings that give weight to all sides of this equation, which is problematic in itself, are there any strategies—I know we touched on it briefly at last estimates—that you have identified through the research process to maybe increase that 5.5?
Dr Higgins : Yes. There are a number of strategies that we have been engaging in. One of them is the publication the other week of a facts sheet called 'Past and present adoptions in Australia'. The point of it was to highlight some relevant facts that the media and the Australian community might not be aware of relating to adoption. The secondary aim of it was to highlight the fact that we are doing this study and that we are interested in all people who have experiences of closed adoption participating in the research. It is activities like that that we have tried to do to spread the word about the research and to get as wide a representation as possible. I would like to emphasise, though, that that breakdown was at December; of course, the survey is live and that will change from day to day. We are hoping that we will continue to get a strong representation. However, even on those figures, that would give us a group of 55 out of 1,000 which, for the sort of analysis we are wanting to do, is sufficient to be able to get some trends and to look at what some of the issues are, even for that subgroup being smaller than the others.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. Any further questions? Senator Siewert.
Senator SIEWERT: Have you either done or been involved with or are you considering looking at the impact of income management on families?
Prof. Hayes : We have an involvement in terms of the Northern Territory evaluation as a subcontractor, with a particular focus on the collection of information from merchants and also from Centrelink staff, but that is a project that is being led by a consortium of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales and the Australian National University.
Senator SIEWERT: What is the value of the contract that you have?
Dr Higgins : I think I can answer that. The value of the contract for our role is $131,818.17.
Senator SIEWERT: When did you start that contract?
Dr Higgins : The commencement date was 11 February 2011.
Senator SIEWERT: When are you due to report by?
Dr Higgins : We are not due to report. We are contributing to the report that is—
Senator SIEWERT: When are you due to contribute to the report?
Dr Higgins : We have made our substantial contributions and it is in process at the moment.
Senator SIEWERT: You have completed?
Dr Higgins : We are in the finalisation stages.
Senator SIEWERT: What did your part of the work entail? You outlined merchants and Centrelink.
Prof. Hayes : It is collecting information from those providers, just on their perceptions and experiences of income management. It is a quite circumscribed area, largely based on the expertise we developed in the family law evaluation around the service provider survey there. That is the expertise we have drawn on.
Senator SIEWERT: You did not have anything to do with specifically talking to families about their impacts?
Prof. Hayes : No.
Senator SIEWERT: It was purely the merchants and Centrelink. Is it possible to get a copy or outline of the sorts of information that you were seeking, or do I have to go to FaHCSIA?
Dr Higgins : It is a question best asked of FaHCSIA because we are a subcontractor to another organisation, the University of New South Wales, that has been contracted by FaHCSIA to do the overall thing. As Professor Hayes has said, we are doing some circumscribed parts and playing an advisory role more broadly in what we would call the baseline evaluation; collecting information so that, after implementation, further data collection can be undertaken to see whether things have shifted.
Senator SIEWERT: If you started last year, and that is four years into the Northern Territory intervention, what are you benchmarking?
Dr Higgins : This is not about the Northern Territory emergency intervention; this is about the new scheme of income management, which is not restricted to the 73 prescribed communities.
Senator SIEWERT: You are still, presumably, collecting the information from prescribed communities which have been on it, by that stage, for four years.
Dr Higgins : The large focus in this is not particularly the prescribed communities. For example, it is being rolled out through child protection workers; that is one of the measures. The bulk of child protection work is in agencies located in Darwin and Alice Springs. It is those kind of professionals that we have been seeking responses from.
Senator SIEWERT: It is not just Centrelink and the merchants?
Dr Higgins : Child protection agencies are another one of the stakeholder groups.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice a full list of who you were surveying? Child protection agencies are very different from merchants, as far as I am concerned, and Centrelink. So can you give us the whole list and all the areas that you sought information from?
Dr Higgins : Yes, we can take that on notice. We need to be sensitive to which parts were our responsibility and which parts were others, but we can address that.
Senator SIEWERT: I understand that.
Prof. Hayes : It is appropriate for us to give you the information about our areas of responsibilities.
Senator SIEWERT: I appreciate that and I am only asking for yours.
CHAIR: It is important that we do have that information. The issues are normally taken up in other portfolio areas but the role of your particular organisation has not been discussed, and I think it is important we get that information.
Prof. Hayes : I am very happy to give you that.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Any further questions on AIFS? There not being, thank you very much to the institute. That completes questioning under outcome 1, families. Thank you to those officers. Now we will move to outcome 2, which is housing.
Welcome to the officers from outcome 2. Senators Payne, Ludlam and Furner I know have questions and also I believe Senator Fierravanti-Wells could be coming in later, just so you know where it is going. Senator Payne has won the toss.
Senator PAYNE: I was going to start with some social housing numbers updates. We did an update from 30 September last time. Can you tell us what the changes in figures are since then in social housing: how many have been commenced and how many completed across the jurisdictions?
Ms Croke : I will run through them by jurisdiction: for New South Wales we have 6,329 commencements, and completion of 6,120; for Victoria, 4,588 commencements and 3,909 completions; for Queensland, 4,034 commencements and 3,271 completions; for Western Australia, 2,085 commencements and 1,782 completions; for South Australia, 1,377 commencements and 1,045 completions; for Tasmania, 530 commencements and 480 completions; the ACT have completed their program, with 421 commencements and 421 completions; and for the Northern Territory there are 208 commencements and 163 completions.
Senator PAYNE: How are we tracking in terms of the allocated construction timetable? Are we likely to be finished by 30 June this year?
Ms Croke : We are very close to being at full completion by 30 June. It is possible that there are a couple of projects that might go beyond 30 June, but we are working very closely with all of the jurisdictions to keep a very close watch on their milestones. We have commencements now for all but 28 projects across the country.
Senator PAYNE: Where are those 28?
Ms Croke : They are in Victoria and we expect that they will do a spot purchase of new construction rather than start from slab.
Senator PAYNE: Are they the larger homes you referred to—they had left larger homes until the back end of their project?
Ms Croke : No, they are probably not the larger ones. The larger ones are at this stage on track. It is possible there might be some slight overrun.
Senator PAYNE: Which jurisdiction will have the largest problem with time overrun?
Ms Croke : I think it would be Victoria and possibly South Australia, but they will be close to coming in. It could be a matter of weeks.
Senator PAYNE: It will not go beyond the end of the year, for example?
Ms Croke : No. It is possible that Queensland too may experience some delay, but I think we have spoken before about the effect of the floods. They have done a fantastic job to get to where they are given what had happened to them last summer.
Mr Innis : It is fair to say that we are coming down to a relatively small number of projects. Some of those are quite large projects. In South Australia there is a very large project that is scheduled to come in this side of June. We are narrowing down to quite a small number of projects yet to be completed.
Senator PAYNE: That takes us to the question of the review, which we also spoke about on the last occasion about what we have been getting in terms, as I think you put it, Ms Croke, of value for money—that is, around design, sustainability and what the tenants are saying and so on. How is that review progressing at this stage?
Ms Croke : The contract has been awarded for that review. KPMG have won that contract. It is being managed by the Western Australian government and the Commonwealth is part of that project management role of that review. They have commenced and we expect to see, I think, a first draft report possibly in April with a final report expected to be completed in August, which will leave time for those final projects to be able to be included.
Mr Innis : It is worth noting that when we started the program we expected dwellings to cost around $300,000. The actual cost has turned out somewhat less than that. We are delivering more dwellings than had been originally anticipated. On that measure of cost benefit, the program has done well.
Senator PAYNE: Will the outcomes of the review be made public?
Ms Croke : I do not think we have gone to that.
Mr Innis : It is a Commonwealth-state review and it will ultimately be a decision for Commonwealth-state ministers. It has been developed under the auspices of the former housing ministers council. We simply do not know the answer to that at this stage.
Senator PAYNE: Could I ask you to formally take that on notice, then, as a question on notice to be responded to from the appropriate level.
Mr Innis : Certainly.
Senator PAYNE: Particularly in light of the very large amount of money that was expended across the program and the potential value of a report like that to the future of social housing programs and decision-making.
Ms Carroll : Thinking about that question on notice, at the next estimates we would not be in a position because the report would not have been completed. It will not be until later in the year, when Commonwealth and state ministers would consider the report. We can definitely take it on notice to come back, but I am conscious of our questions on notice; we do not want to have to say to you that it is definitely not—
Senator PAYNE: Are you saying nobody will give it any thought until they have the report? That is not a critical observation; it is just a statement. They will not give any thought until they have it in their hand?
Ms Carroll : Collectively, the ministers would want to look at the report before they thought about releasing it.
Senator PAYNE: In terms of it being managed by one particular government, which I understand completely, what terms of reference is KPMG working with? Are they public, for example? Is it something the committee can be provided with?
Ms Croke : It was a public tender that I am aware, so I could take on notice that we would be able to provide the terms of reference or the scope of the work that was commissioned when it went out to tender.
Senator PAYNE: Is it meant to engage participants in the social housing programs—so builders, subcontractors, tenants and so on—or is it meant to be at a higher level than that?
Ms Croke : We expect that the stakeholders discussions will be with all states and territories, including policy advisers and program managers. The community housing providers are a representative sample of them. From there we will probably work with our state and territory colleagues to determine whether or not tenants, for instance, might be interviewed as part of that. At this stage what I am advised is that the initial discussions are with those key stakeholders.
Senator PAYNE: As a member of the parliament, and in my case with some portfolio responsibility in this area, I have had issues raised with me, and I will give you a case in point. There is a development at Narooma in the South Coast of New South Wales which is ostensibly a development for older Australians and people with disabilities; I think the street is called Davidson Street. I would be very interested to pursue some specific questions on behalf of constituents in relation to that development. I am sure you are not familiar with every development around the country, nor do I expect you to be. I can describe it for you. For a development in relation to older Australians and people with disabilities which is accessed by an almost vertical driveway that you cannot walk in and out of if you have either of those conditions, one unavoidable and the other often the same, I am fascinated as to how it fits into the category and fascinated as to how land was purchased for that specific reason that seems to me completely unsuitable. What sort of opportunity will there be in the review process for discussions of issues like that?
Ms Croke : We could take that on notice. We are part of the committee that is managing the contract. New South Wales are also part of the committee.
Mr Innis : We are very happy to raise the issue with the organising committee. Failing that, we are always happy to respond to individual inquiries and work with our stakeholders.
Senator PAYNE: There are a lot of them. I appreciate that feedback; thank you very much. On notice, when was the land in Narooma purchased, for how much and from whom?
Ms Croke : Yes.
Senator PAYNE: The committee will have a continuing interest in this review and in the level of engagement and at what level that is made. I guess there will be more questions about that along the way. What is KPMG being paid for the project management?
Ms Croke : I do have a figure here. It is around $250,000.
Senator PAYNE: May I ask a few questions about the community housing regulation question which we discussed on the last occasion. You said, I think, that you were commencing the national consultation process towards the end of last year. Is the start date still 1 July?
Ms Croke : At this stage we are still working to having New South Wales introduce legislation on 1 July. The consultation has finished; it finished on 20 January. We are working with the New South Wales directorate and the New South Wales government to finalise the feedback from the consultations. It is both face-to-face consultations and written submissions.
Senator PAYNE: Did the consultation force or produce any changes into the way you are going to follow the reform through?
Ms Croke : No. In fact, generally there has been overwhelming support for the model that has been presented. There are a few matters of detail that some of the stakeholders are looking to but which we expected. It is on track. It will be tight, but we are working to still have 1 July.
Mr Innis : A group of Commonwealth-state officials considered the consultations recently and looked at the issues raised against the proposal, and advice is going through to ministers on that, probably in March.
Senator PAYNE: Are there any jurisdictions displaying less enthusiasm than others?
Mr Innis : I would need to ask them individually for a level of enthusiasm. There has been support throughout this process for the national regulation.
Senator PAYNE: I was being colloquial; I could have rephrased it to say, 'Are there any jurisdictions which are not supporting the reform process?'
Mr Innis : No.
Senator PAYNE: Because these estimates give us quite a limited time, I wanted to jump to the issue of the bulk verification of rent, which we discussed on the last occasion. I think DHS was implementing that bulk verification.
Ms Croke : Yes, that is correct.
Senator PAYNE: Can you update us on that, Ms Croke, in terms of the increase in the numbers choosing to opt in and any decrease in the numbers of people who are eligible for CRA but are not receiving it?
Ms Croke : I can update on the first question. I think last time we were at 950 updates.
Senator PAYNE: Yes, that is what you said.
Ms Croke : We now have 2,300 customer updates. We have 20 community housing organisations now taking up bulk verification, including one Indigenous community housing organisation. On your second question, it will be difficult for us to indicate a direct effect of bulk verification on people who were eligible for rent assistance and, through not supplying their rent certificate, then missing out, because there are other things that happen in terms of Centrelink reviewing customer records. Centrelink have a different rent review arrangement now. When the initial proposal was put forward we were working on the rent review process that Centrelink used. I think it will be difficult for us now to absolutely pinpoint a set of customers who, through bulk verification, are now eligible and in receipt of rent assistance. What we will be able to do, though, is give you customer numbers—customer updates—on each occasion. It is possible Centrelink or DHS may have more information, but that is what I have.
Senator PAYNE: You have gone from eight to 20 organisations. Is it the same number in terms of Indigenous community housing organisations?
Ms Croke : Yes.
Senator PAYNE: Are you expecting that number to increase for the Indigenous community housing?
Ms Croke : We would expect the number of Indigenous community housing organisations to increase. It is an opt-in system. There is an approval process that has to be worked through to be able to participate in bulk verification and it is possible that they might take a little bit more time to participate. I understand DHS are working closely with all of the community housing organisations to get them on to bulk verification. It does make life easier.
Senator PAYNE: I am sure it does. If we were to ask that again at budget estimates, there would be a further update?
Ms Croke : Yes, certainly.
Senator PAYNE: What progress have we made on the deduction scheme under the NAHA in relation to public housing rents that we discussed on the last occasion? That was in train when we discussed it last time.
Mr Innis : The issue is still before ministers.
Senator PAYNE: Just Commonwealth ministers or all ministers?
Mr Innis : Commonwealth ministers at this stage.
Senator PAYNE: Do you have an expected timing, Mr Innis, as to when it might be resolved?
Mr Innis : I would hesitate to give a timing at this stage. We are not working to a specific timetable.
Senator PAYNE: Is it meant to be resolved under the current agreement, the current NAHA?
Mr Innis : It is an issue under the current agreement, so you would expect it to be resolved.
Senator PAYNE: Before that expires?
Mr Innis : Yes.
Senator PAYNE: I can ask about that again in May. We discussed the mid-term review of the NPA on homelessness as well on the last occasion, Ms Mandla.
Ms Mandla : Yes.
Senator PAYNE: I think the review time was extended up until the end of last year.
Ms Mandla : That is correct.
Senator PAYNE: Where are we up to with that review, please?
Ms Mandla : The mid-term review was completed by the working group in November 2011, and it has gone to the steering committee made up of representatives of first ministers' agencies, state and Commonwealth. The recommendations are still to be considered by COAG and it is anticipated that will occur in the first half of this year.
Senator PAYNE: Does that mean the meeting on 13 April?
Ms Mandla : It should be considered, if it is going to be considered, at that meeting or possibly out of session.
Mr Innis : The agenda for COAG is determined by the Prime Minister but that is the track we have been on.
Senator PAYNE: Will the results of the review be publicly available?
Ms Mandla : That will ultimately be a decision for COAG, given that we have had state and territory governments participating in the review, and they may have views on that as well.
Senator PAYNE: In terms of public policy development, this is a very important review in the homelessness space—probably one of the more seminal of recent years—and policymakers and stakeholders would be very keen to see the results released.
Mr Innis : I understand; it is one of the many reviews of agreements being conducted under COAG auspices.
Senator PAYNE: I know.
Mr Innis : We are playing by the rules.
Senator PAYNE: I would not expect anything less, Mr Innis. Thank you for that. We talked about the NPA on mental health—I see Senator Fierravanti-Wells is here as well—and the $200 million initiative. Mr Donovan and I spoke in relation to targeting homeless people or people exiting institutions in particular. You said, Mr Donovan, that bids were to be submitted from the states by 31 October last year. Can you indicate whether those bids were received by that time?
Mr Donovan : We did receive 29 bids for funding from the relevant states and territories.
Senator PAYNE: From all jurisdictions?
Mr Donovan : From all jurisdictions. We have gone through an assessment process with our colleague agencies in the form of DoHA and other relevant Commonwealth agencies, and we have now provided some advice back to Minister McClelland and to the Minister for Health and Ageing as to the outcome of that assessment; we are awaiting some advice back in terms of where to from here. We expect that the final version of the national partnership agreement would be developed and considered by COAG at some stage this year as well.
Senator PAYNE: Are you able to make available to the committee the criteria on which your assessment process was made?
Mr Innis : The national partnership is a joint effort between FaHCSIA and Health. Health have the lead role. We would have to take that on notice so that we consult with Health.
Senator PAYNE: I understand that.
Mr Innis : For the most part they have the management responsibility for the agreement.
Senator PAYNE: If you would not mind taking that on notice, Mr Innis and Mr Donovan, I would be grateful. Let us know. Mr Donovan, in terms of the time frame—I understand that is with the minister and it is part of the process—when do you expect to be able to respond to applicants?
Mr Donovan : When we get advice back from the relevant minister.
Mr Innis : The timetable is largely determined by the health portfolio in their lead role.
Senator PAYNE: Is the lead minister Minister Butler—
Mr Innis : Correct.
Senator PAYNE: or Minister McClelland? Minister Butler—okay.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: On the last occasion the minister indicated as part of that process that there was also the hospital interface component of that. Is that a Health and Ageing responsibility or do you have some input in relation to that as well, Mr Innis?
Mr Innis : In terms of the assessment of the proposals and the development of the criteria et cetera, we have been involved. From a homelessness perspective the interface, particularly emergency departments, is quite important. Whilst it is formally within the health system, I would not characterise it as not having an impact on homelessness. One of the things that this national partnership provides an opportunity to do is work on the issue that homeless people often have their only connections with an emergency department.
Mr Innis : We would hope and expect that having better service provision around the emergency department interface would have benefits to homelessness.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Both the admission and the discharge component of that interface, yes.
Mr Innis : That is correct.
Ms Carroll : It was a joint assessment process; both our department and the department of health were involved in the assessment of the bids that came in. We have been working very closely on the assessment process to take account of those sorts of issues.
Senator PAYNE: Is it possible to ask a question of FaHCSIA—I am not sure, because I have done this through PM&C before—in relation to the report from the housing supply and affordability working group and where that is up to, now that we have brought housing back into one portfolio, which Senator Ludlam and I had as a mantra for some time?
Senator LUDLAM: I am going to table some champagne shortly.
Senator PAYNE: Can I ask questions now here in relation to that?
Mr Innis : Having congratulated us all, I am about to disappoint you slightly.
Senator PAYNE: You are going to say, 'No, I cannot.'
Mr Innis : The housing supply responsibility is a Minister McClelland responsibility; he is supported by Treasury in that function. The Housing Supply and Affordability report was developed through the Treasury portfolio. Ms Croke or someone else might have where we are up to, but my understanding is it is heading towards COAG. You have indicated a meeting in April; that is the best information I can give you.
Senator PAYNE: I will ask a process question—it is not hypothetical, it is process. If it goes to COAG in April, it is dealt with by COAG and it comes out the other end—that is hypothetical in relation to COAG—is that something you would then take back in to FaHCSIA to inform the work across the broad of the policy area now?
Mr Innis : Treasury will have the ongoing running.
Senator PAYNE: Yes.
Mr Innis : We work very closely with Treasury across the housing set of issues; the ministerial changes and government changes have reinforced that joint work.
Senator PAYNE: I will wait and see what comes out of COAG or if the communique is less opaque than usual and if it says anything that illuminates this particular area.
Senator LUDLAM: Senator Payne, I had a couple on portfolio redistribution. Are you okay for me to chip in on that now?
Senator PAYNE: Yes, I was going to move on to housing programs.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. I was going to add my congratulations; it is great, and you do not have to put up with me whingeing any more—on that issue at least. I was not whingeing, we were both really critical that we finally got a housing minister and then we splatted the responsibilities all over the landscape. Can you be specific for us on the announcement made in December. I am not clear about your relationship with Treasury. For example, if I ask you an NRAS question, you are not going to send me off to a different room anymore, are you?
Mr Innis : We are not going to send you off to a different room.
Senator LUDLAM: That is a start.
Mr Innis : The best way to describe the split in responsibilities is that Treasury are responsible for the broad supply agenda—things like the supply council report that came out a little earlier in the year.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes.
Mr Innis : Things like the fact that there has been a land audit. Those sorts of issues of pure supply and the housing supply and affordability Commonwealth-state work are all Treasury's responsibility. More or less everything else rests with us—so affordability as a policy matter, particularly for lower income earners, and the programs that used to reside in the environment department, such as NRAS, HAF and Building Better Regional Cities, have all come to FaHCSIA.
Senator LUDLAM: That is great. How much alarm and despondency has occurred behind the scenes with people moving offices? I know there was a huge amount of work in redistributing people to different offices. Is that all being wound back now?
Mr Innis : We are a portfolio that has experienced significant changes over the years, and we have got quite good at ministry of government changes. We worked very hard with the 35 or so people in SEWPaC who came across. The transfer has been effected and seems to be working very well. Physically, the people move into our building later this month; I would need to check for certainty.
Mr Tregurtha : Staff are due to move on 24 February into the FaHCSIA premises.
Senator LUDLAM: It has all happened fairly quickly. Clarify again for us what is being pitched into COAG.
Mr Innis : On?
Senator LUDLAM: In answer to Senator Payne's question before.
Mr Innis : On the housing supply and affordability working group?
Senator LUDLAM: Yes.
Mr Innis : I hate to have congratulations turn to some disappointment. The Housing Supply and Affordability Reform Agenda is a Treasury responsibility. I am not in a position to say what is and is not going into COAG on that issue.
Senator LUDLAM: In that space, fine. That is all right; we have the opportunity to talk to Treasury separately. I still think it is a substantial improvement on where we were.
CHAIR: Mr Innis, was housing supply always in Treasury?
Mr Innis : No. Responsibility for the Housing Supply Council used to be in SEWPaC.
CHAIR: Sustainability et cetera?
Mr Innis : But Treasury has always had a significant interest in housing because it is a very big social and economic issue.
CHAIR: They have always had the money, yes. You could always ask questions in Treasury on those issues.
Mr Innis : Exactly right. They do a lot of economic analysis of housing, which supports us all.
Mr Pratt : To close the lid on your question, I am not aware of any despondency.
Senator LUDLAM: That is fantastic. It was more around the pulping of large amounts of stationery and this kind of stuff that I assume goes on behind the scenes. One thing that was potentially good that I hope we have not lost is there was a focus on sustainability and affordability, bringing those agendas together. Have the smart people on housing sustainability, energy efficiency, water and so on made the transfer or are they now stranded within where they were?
Mr Innis : The responsibilities in the broad remain with SEWPaC. Sustainability et cetera has been part of the housing agenda and will continue to be part of the housing agenda.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you internalised some of that expertise or are they still over with Minister Burke?
Mr Tregurtha : A number of staff transferring from SEWPaC into FaHCSIA and Treasury had exposure to the sustainability work in the department of sustainability, coming out of things like the Sustainable Population Strategy and then taking those things forward. A number of staff have transitioned through those roles into roles in both FaHCSIA and Treasury so there are linkages there.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not know whether you want to do this on the spot or whether you want to table it: what has been the net effect on the numbers of staff working in the housing affordability space where some people got elbowed out of the way on the way through? Or have we got the same number of people employed as we had before?
Mr Innis : We will take the precise numbers on notice. In the broad the numbers have not changed. Some people from SEWPaC went to Treasury, some people came to FaHCSIA, and we have maintained our existing housing effort and added to it.
Senator LUDLAM: If you can make us a really simple diagram using primary colours, that would be appreciated.
Mr Innis : We are pretty good at primary colours.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Senator Payne has asked some questions in relation to the Social Housing Initiative, which I will have a look at on the transcript. On the last occasion I asked some questions in relation to some of the work that had been done by the Bethany Group in Western Australia. Ms Croke gave me some information in relation to the review and looking at value for money and what type of stock that we did build and the minister talked about the advisory committee. Particularly in relation to this project, because of its uniqueness, have you done specific work on analysis of value for money—not just the value for money but whether it was a good spend in terms of achieving objectives for social housing.
Ms Croke : We have just engaged a consultant, KPMG, to undertake a review of the Social Housing Initiative; they will look to issues of value for money. Mr Innis indicated earlier that, through the Social Housing Initiative, we have already seen value for money. The estimated cost per dwelling is now less than what was estimated. The review that has started will look to issues around what has happened to waiting lists, demand, the design features we had incorporated, value for money. So that review will go to quite a broad range of issues.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So the answer to my question is yes, the work being done by Bethany will be specifically looked at, particularly because it was such a unique model?
Ms Croke : As part of the committee looking after that review—the Commonwealth is party to that as well as Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia—we can make suggestions as to particular projects that might be looked at.
Mr Innis : Our expectation and the intention of the review is to review the program, not each individual project. There was some Commonwealth-state work done about halfway through the process where we looked at the projects which appeared to officials to be delivering the best benefits. That was some work that officials had developed for ministers. This review is really about the totality of the program itself. I do not think it will give assessments about individual projects.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Mr Pratt, thank you to your officers for providing me the COAG mental health programs over 2006-2011, not to be outdone by the department of health. Thank you very much for that.
Mr Pratt : We are slightly competitive.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Absolutely. I was told that your officers were on the phone immediately that afternoon, thank you.
CHAIR: Senator Payne, you are going down to another stream?
Senator PAYNE: I want to ask some questions which were the result of answers to questions on notice to SEWPaC but concern in the first instance the BBRC program. I was told on the last occasion that there had been 43 applications under the program. I was not able to receive advice at the time on which particular councils had applied; can you update the committee on that, including any detail you have on the councils that made the applications, on approved applications, on quantum of funding and the sorts of proposals?
Ms Mandla : This time I am wearing my transitional manager hat as branch manager of the housing affordability programs. We are still going through the assessment process for the Building Better Regional Cities program; we are in the final stages of that. At this stage we could take on notice the councils that have applied; we have received 43, as you have noted. We are still assessing them so no announcements have been made on successful applicants yet.
Senator PAYNE: Instead of taking it on notice, Ms Mandla, can you tell us the councils that have applied? Can I go back one step: when do you expect the assessment process to be completed? Then I assume it has to go to the minister?
Ms Mandla : Yes. We are aiming for it to be completed in the first half of this year and are quite advanced in the assessment process. We are undertaking a number of probity compliance checks as part of that process, then it will go to the minister for decision, the successful applicants will be announced and then we go through the funding agreement negotiation stage.
Senator PAYNE: I am probably slightly ahead of myself in terms of the timing in asking about approved applications, quantum of funding and the nature of the proposals?
Ms Mandla : It has not been determined yet. There is still a decision to be made on that.
Senator PAYNE: Shall we agree on let's give me what we can? Thanks, Ms Mandla. Can we also go to the status of the Housing Affordability Fund? Is that you as well, Ms Mandla?
Ms Mandla : Yes, it is.
Senator PAYNE: We had six remaining offers to be executed which were delayed by the Queensland flood situation, as I recall.
Ms Mandla : Yes.
Senator PAYNE: Is that still the case? Are they still outstanding?
Ms Mandla : The status: we had 75 projects that were offered funding, one has since withdrawn, Ipswich City Council; we have funding agreements in place for 70 projects; and we now have only four projects remaining unsigned.
Senator PAYNE: Why are they still unsigned?
Ms Mandla : Due to delays caused by a range of factors, including the extreme weather events and some change in market conditions.
Senator PAYNE: What do you describe is the impact of the change in market conditions in terms of causing the delay?
Ms Mandla : I would have to go through each individual unsigned—
Senator PAYNE: There are only four though.
Mr Innis : As a general thing, these projects can be quite complicated and rely on a number of factors. Local circumstances can change and that needs to be reflected in the discussions over agreement. They tend to be quite individualised things that are causing delays. I would hesitate to give you a category and try and define it too precisely.
Senator PAYNE: Were all four of those in Queensland, Ms Mandla?
Ms Mandla : I have the locations here: Kingaroy and Palmview, in Queensland; Rockingham in Western Australia; and Palmerston in the Northern Territory.
Senator PAYNE: Perhaps on notice you could give us a little more detail on what is holding those up, what the local conditions are or the changing market conditions to which you referred and what the impacts of those are.
Ms Mandla : Happy to do that.
Ms Carroll : Perhaps if I can give an overarching comment before we dive down into the specific details around the housing programs. The department takes very seriously the findings from audits like this HAF audit, and we would look not only at how we apply those findings and changes to our procedures to those specific programs but right across the board. One of the things that we do is through committees within the department, like audit committees and program management committees, is highlight what the findings were and look at were there substantive things in the way the department does its business that we need to change. We are looking at those audit findings and looking across the department to make sure things like this do not happen again, not only within the housing programs but within broader programs across the department. Given the fact that the Housing Affordability Fund and the Building Better Regional Cities funds have come back to the department, we are also looking at the very specific things within those programs, how can we change our practice and make sure the kinds of things that happened in the program do not happen again. Ms Mandla can give you some quite specific details about actions that we are taking.
Ms Mandla : I can give you some specific details about what FaHCSIA has done, what has happened with the HAF program, and how we have applied the learnings and findings from the audit to the design and processes within the Building Better Regional Cities program, if you are happy with that?
Senator PAYNE: I am, and I appreciate that comment. One thing that is repeated page after page in this report is that the Auditor-General, which does an extraordinarily good job in these inquiries, repeatedly says they could find no evidence of so many activities around the department's work. My personal favourite is that there was no evidence that FaHCSIA had formally assessed the relative merits of the Victorian government's proposal against the HAF's published selection criteria. That is on page 89 of the report. That is one of almost 20 statements of the Auditor-General being unable to find evidence of the principles and the processes being applied, which is very disturbing considering the amount of money that was being distributed and considering the implications which flow from this report in relation to its overtly political nature for these particular projects.
Ms Mandla : Would you like me to start with what FaHCSIA has done—what we have done with HAF and the BBRC—and then address the Victorian projects?
Senator PAYNE: Yes.
Ms Mandla : Overall, with FaHCSIA, we have reviewed the current instructions providing grant recommendations to the minister, and we have found them to clearly state the correct process to enable a fully considered decision to occur. That was pointed out in the report. We have reviewed the process used to inform staff of their responsibilities under the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines, the grants administration and the processes currently in place to meet the requirements of the ANAO. Staff are informed of their obligations in a range of ways through fact sheets, and we update our instructions based on advice from the Department of Finance and Deregulation as required. Within our internal intranet we have links to relevant information to assist staff in the grants management process. We have a monthly electronic publication on grants management and a service-delivery help desk where we have expert advice around grants management policy.
Senator PAYNE: While you are on staff, Ms Mandla: are any of the staff who were involved in the decisions in this process still involved in the HAF and in the BBRC?
Ms Mandla : I cannot specifically answer that right down to the last staff member. I am, however, aware that at a high level there has been a quite significant turnover within that program and that we have quite a lot of new staff in that program. Taking on board the flavour of the recommendations from the ANAO, we have a significant increase in staff with expertise in program management.
Mr Innis : None of the people at this table were involved at that time. As you know, part of the process was that this audit came out while the program was being managed by SEWPaC. What we are doing is building on a very good start that SEWPaC made in response to the findings.
Senator PAYNE: I would have been asking them if they had still been at the table.
Ms Mandla : Within the Housing Affordability Fund with the implementation of recommendations, quite a lot of work was done by my colleagues over in SEWPaC. They have developed a model contract template to improve performance management across projects with an infrastructure component, and we have targets and reporting requirements particularly to capture those supply side outcomes, including the number of dwellings that have been brought forward. We have commenced a stock-take of current funding agreements to improve reporting and monitoring arrangements so that we collect all the relevant information we need to assess progress. We have standardised financial reporting requirements and we have been implementing a monitoring assurance and compliance regime for the program, including site visits. We are undertaking quarterly reporting. We are improving our data and information management processes and, as I mentioned previously, there has been quite a bit of recruitment of specialist staff with expertise in not only program management but also contract management.
The learnings have been applied significantly to the Building Better Regional Cities program in both its design and the processes that we have undertaken to date. For example, we have ensured that we have complied with the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines. We have used checklists; they have been used by SEWPaC staff and FaHCSIA now to ensure compliance with those guidelines and internal grants management frameworks that were in place in SEWPaC as well as FaHCSIA.
We have engaged a probity advisor to provide oversight of the program. We have a departmental panel that has been assessing applications. We are working with a panel of external experts with expertise in relevant fields, including urban and regional planning, infrastructure planning and development of social planning and economics. We have also engaged an external consultant to undertake independent project viability assessments. Unlike with the HAF program, which involved a software tool on the assessment of applications, we have got out the calculators and are doing manual assessments, and we are doing a lot of checking as part of that process.
Additionally, the design of the program for Building Better Regional Cities was informed by extensive consultation with the eligible local governments and other stakeholders. The draft funding agreement was developed quite in advance, in the early stages of the program, in consultation with eligible local governments. It includes specific requirements for performance targets and reporting obligations. The grant guidelines provide for ministerial discretion in decisions, and they are quite specific about how that is to be exercised.
Senator PAYNE: I appreciate that update. Can any of the officers present at the table, Mr Pratt, tell me how we got to a point where funding was being granted for applications that did not align—I am using the words of the Auditor-General—with the stated purposes of the HAF, where we had a lack of effective control over the implementation and use of the assessment tool and ended up with over 75 incorrect scores; where documentary evidence was simply, according to the Auditor-General, not kept and not maintained; where the risks were improperly assessed; where, as I said before, there was no evidence that the department had formally assessed the relative merits of the Victorian proposal against the HAF's published selection criteria; where the ratio of savings is seriously drawn into question by the Auditor-General; where the department's decision to moderate the rankings was—and I am quoting from the Auditor-General's report—'incongruent with the statement in the HAF guidelines about the funding round itself'; where the department departed from the published selection criteria; where the applicants were not advised about changes to the published selection criteria; and where the decision to moderate the spread of funding was not consistent with the selection assessment process published in the guidelines.
I have been doing this for a long time; so has everyone else who is involved in this process and your very senior officers at this table. I do not understand how a department can get to that point. Can you or another officer please indicate to me how that is actually possible?
Mr Pratt : I will check with my colleagues, but I suspect in the light of Mr Innis's response a few minutes ago that we probably do not have anything else to add. As Ms Carroll has pointed out, we take the findings of the ANAO report very seriously. We and SEWPaC have put a lot of effort into attempting to re-engineer our processes to bring them up to standard. We are making sure that any lessons learned from this process are also picked up across the rest of the department, where these sorts of issues have not arisen. I will check with my colleagues whether anyone feels that they have anything else that they would like to add to that.
Mr Innis : No, there is no one at the table who is able to comment on that history for you.
Senator PAYNE: That is quite disappointing, Mr Innis. I am a very calm person in these processes, by and large. I regard these as committees, not as theatres—but that is very disappointing to me. I, and other senators too, have over the period of these important activities—in some cases they have been stimulus activities; in others more broad housing policy activities—tried very hard to meet the government in a constructive fashion in the middle. But to end up with a report like this from the Auditor-General is nothing less, for me at least, than profoundly disappointing, because I have worked in good faith to try to examine the programs. Knowing now that this was possible within the interstices of the department is, as I said, very disappointing. However, I appreciate the fact that you tell me you cannot tell me any more.
Mr Pratt : This is not a calculated strategy of the department; this is just circumstances over time. People move on into other jobs and—
Senator PAYNE: I was not suggesting it was a calculated strategy, Mr Pratt.
Mr Pratt : I just wanted to put that on record.
Senator PAYNE: But again I say that it is particularly disappointing. Madam Chair, I realise I have taken up a lot of time. Any further questions I have I will put on notice, unless I jump in on top of Senator Ludlam.
Senator LUDLAM: Senator Payne saved me from having to fly off the handle about the HAF, so maybe we can move on. There was some pretty strong language there which I would add my voice to.
In the lessons learned you gave us a bit of a rundown of what you are trying to do, and somebody used the expression 're-engineering'. But you are also bringing in a couple of programs from the other portfolio, such as better cities, which look to me at the outset to be great ideas with tiny funding appropriations against them—they are massively oversubscribed. Rather than re-engineering the HAF, why don't we just burn it to the ground and shift the resources in what would have been HAF 3 across to those sorts of things?
Mr Pratt : I am not sure my colleagues can comment on this. It is really a matter of policy for government.
Mr Innis : There was no question that projects under HAF were worthy projects; there were questions about process and issues where our administration had failed.
Senator PAYNE: I am not sure that that is the case in relation to the Victorian projects. But that is a matter for further discussion, I imagine.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, and probably dispute. I might leave the HAF there for the time being because I think we have had a good start at it. You provided me with an answer to my question on notice, 1225. In your answer you identified that only six per cent of all staff in FaHCSIA work in housing, homelessness and remote indigenous housing. Is that true? Is that a typo—six per cent?
Mr Innis : I am sure that those figures are true, noting that my understanding of the timing of the response was that it was pre the administrative changes.
Senator LUDLAM: That is right, yes.
Mr Innis : The figures will be correct, but, as you know, FaHCSIA is a very large department.
Senator LUDLAM: What do you think they will look like if I ask you that question now, post the reshuffle?
Ms Carroll : It would have gone up by a couple of per cent.
Senator LUDLAM: You might not be in a position to tell me that right now, but I will pop that in again on notice, and we will get an update.
Mr Innis : Okay.
Mr Pratt : Senator, that is more a reflection of the extent of a footprint around the country in terms of Indigenous affairs and our program management and grant management responsibilities, both here and in Canberra and all throughout the country, than an indication of priority accorded to housing and homelessness issues.
Senator LUDLAM: It is a small slice of a very big pie, but nonetheless it is still large. Is that your contention?
Mr Pratt : Yes, that is right.
Senator LUDLAM: I have a couple of question about housing for the aged and the loss of independent living units as housing for the aged. My understanding is that there has been quite a steep decline, as much as 26 per cent between 2002 and 2010. Is that an issue that the department is aware of?
Ms Croke : We had undertaken a piece of research—with Swinburne University, from memory—to investigate the footprint of independent living units. It has shown a decline in the number of independent living units.
Senator LUDLAM: Is it roughly of the order that I am describing?
Ms Croke : I am trying to find if I have a number with me.
Senator LUDLAM: While you are checking, my question attendant to that was: is there any current policy or funding at the Commonwealth level which relates specifically to independent living units?
Ms Croke : Not at the moment.
Senator LUDLAM: Is that is in consideration?
Ms Croke : FaHCSIA is aware of the issue of housing for older Australians. I think the Productivity Commission also pointed to particular issues for housing older people, and it would be part of our general policy deliberations around what particular cohorts of people need particular responses.
Senator LUDLAM: I am always a little bit amused when we drift into discussions about our ageing population. For example, 27 per cent of the population will be over 65 years by 2050. That is us; it is not some notional statistic but everybody in this room. At what point is it going to be necessary to set up specific expertise or a particular nameplate on a door to say who is responsible for things such as making sure that the decline is reversed in independent living units?
Mr Innis : Independent living units is only one type of accommodation that people who are growing older use.
Senator LUDLAM: I am picking on that one because it looked as though that particular category is—
Mr Innis : I understand; but set against that are things such as the spend through the stimulus program, which in part will be devoted to properties designed for older Australians. So there is a bigger picture around the ageing of the population, how it interacts with the housing stock and what is needed for the future. There is a range of research being done, and I know it is an active question for academia in the housing space. I would hate to think that that one little statistic about a small subcomponent of the housing market translates to a failure of consideration around the issue.
Senator LUDLAM: I take that on board. I want to move this on, but if there is anything that you would be able to provide for us on notice that would give me some context so that I can worry less about that. My understanding is that—although you are correct, it is one form of housing—it does make up a very significant fraction of affordable rental housing for older people, around 27 per cent or thereabouts, and we no longer subsidise them, from about 1986, so there has been that very steep decline since then. If you are sanguine about that, if you think something else is making up for that drop, I would be happy to see anything. The homelessness recognition bill: we have a name but not a bill; who is able to speak to where on earth that is?
Mr Donovan : The government is still proceeding with developing and introducing homelessness legislation. Due to a large legislative agenda last year, the bill was not drafted in time. As the previous Minister Arbib indicated he did want to do a series of consultations with the sector as well.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes.
Mr Donovan : We are still seeking to introduce that bill as soon as possible. We are hopeful that an exposure draft of that bill will be finalised shortly.
Senator LUDLAM: Please tell me what you mean by 'shortly'. People have been telling me this for two years.
Mr Innis : I understand. You would appreciate that the new minister is taking the opportunity to consider both the bill and the consultation strategy.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes.
Mr Innis : He is looking at the terms of the bill as well as how and what length of time we should devote to the consultation approach. The consistent theme through our work has been that this is a bill that warrants a good degree of consultation. That is really what we are settling. For the most part we have something that is reasonably complete. The minister is, quite understandably, asking us questions about the terms of the bill and its extent; the next step is for that to translate into a consultation program.
Senator LUDLAM: I did not get an answer to the 'shortly' question though, did I?
Ms Carroll : We would not be in a position to be very specific about that. I understand we could take that on notice and see how specific we can be.
Senator LUDLAM: This is great fun. I could probably have just read this conversation from the last two or three estimates and we could have saved Hansard the trouble. I would like to touch on two concerning cohorts of homelessness and ask for your response, in the context of the bill if you like. The first is people with complex needs, particularly people over 55 who are trying to find affordable housing. Who is responsible at the Commonwealth level for the housing needs of people with complex needs?
Mr Innis : We are responsible for providing support to people who cannot operate effectively in the private market. That support is provided through the states with the exception of things like rent assistance et cetera. We have the National Rental Affordability Scheme as a major plank in creating more affordable properties. We have regard to people's needs in designing priorities et cetera. Allocating properties is largely a state responsibility. There is a Commonwealth-state discussion that needs to be had.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you think there is room, for example, for a housing affordability strategy for older Australians?
Mr Innis : It is a matter for government as to how they set those priorities.
Senator LUDLAM: We have a minister at the table. To me it feels as though, and the research has been saying this for years, there is this demographic iceberg, or pick your disastrous metaphor of choice, which could be seen as a real opportunity if we choose to view it that way. We appear to be drifting in that direction. We do not have anybody with the specific responsibility for housing for older people; we do not have a housing-affordability-for-older-people strategy. I would like to see something at a Commonwealth level that embodied the research and the obvious demographic trend into a plan. If I am being handballed to the minister, then over to you, Senator McLucas.
Senator McLucas: I am very happy to take that up with the minister, who I am sure would like to provide some information to the committee.
Senator LUDLAM: The second cohort that I wanted to ask you about is private renters, so 50 per cent of people seeking crisis housing assistance are now coming from the private rental market. We are not surprised that it is large; I was a bit surprised that it is that large. Will private rental affordability or reform of the current rental market be a significant focus of the new minister?
Senator McLucas: Once again I will ask the minister if he has some comment to make.
Senator LUDLAM: That would be great.
Mr Innis : I can add the National Rental Affordability Scheme is a major response to rental affordability, and it is always worth remembering that rent assistance, which goes to over a million households and costs around $3.1 billion a year, is a major supplement.
Senator LUDLAM: It is. You could look at CRA through two different lenses though. The first lens it that it needs to be substantially increased because it simply has not kept pace with rising rents. The second is that it is a $3 billion indicator of a broken rental market, the fact that we have even to hand this subsidy across to landlords because the market is so stuffed. I would love to see the CRA go up, and have been advocating for that for years, but I think it is also a symptom of a broken market that we would even need to do that. That is editorialising rather than a question. Is the minister aware of the rental affordability snapshot work that was done by Anglicare last April in every capital city that found on average less than one per cent of rental properties were affordable to people on a low income?
Mr Innis : We would have to take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: I have a couple of questions that go to the NAHA, and this might be something that you can table or you might need to point me to places where this material already exists and not take up your time. Where can I find how much the federal government provides annually to each state and territory under the current NAHA?
Ms Croke : That is part of the intergovernmental agreement on the COAG website; we can point you to that. There is intergovernmental agreement and then there is a payment and schedules link.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, that is in the budget papers?
Ms Croke : No, it is on the COAG website. It is an intergovernmental agreement with all of the national agreements.
Senator LUDLAM: I will chase you for a specific reference to that. Will that also tell me the sum allocated under the National Housing Partnerships in the stimulus? Or would I have to look somewhere else?
Ms Croke : It will not tell you stimulus; stimulus is a separate national partnership. On that COAG website you will find the National Partnership on Social Housing, the National Partnership for Homelessness, and the National Partnership for Remote Indigenous Housing via the intergovernmental agreement link. There is a separate link to the stimulus funding that was agreed post the intergovernmental agreement.
Senator LUDLAM: That is disaggregated by state and territory?
Ms Croke : Yes, I think that is as well.
Senator LUDLAM: Presuming that is not going to take months for you to nail it down for me, but I will chase you for those references.
Ms Croke : Certainly.
Senator LUDLAM: What I want to know, and maybe this is in the too hard basket, is it possible to know how much each state and territory government has contributed in addition to the federal grants to fund housing from all sources?
Ms Croke : No, it is not possible to tell you that.
Senator LUDLAM: That is really important. Is that because you do not know, the figures do not exist, or have I got to go and ask all the state and territory ministers to tell me?
Ms Croke : They are not required to tell the Commonwealth what their spend is on housing.
Senator LUDLAM: Does that strike you as a really interesting and important lapse that we should fix?
Mr Pratt : I do not think that Ms Croke will want to offer an opinion; I think you are going to have to ask the states and territories that.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. It is really problematic that we do not know that, a spreadsheet that would fit on a single page. It would fit on a single line, but it does not exist. The reason I am asking is that the state and territory housing affordability advocates and organisations cannot tell when cost shifting is going on. Money comes in, and then a state government, for example, Victoria, will say we are spending all this money on affordable housing. It is not possible to tell whether they have simply taken the money that they were spending on affordable housing and shifting it somewhere else. There is nothing in the Constitution that says the Commonwealth could not collect that information from state treasuries or housing budgets?
Ms Carroll : The way that the national partnerships and national agreements work is governed by the intergovernmental agreements, and the owner of those intergovernmental agreements is the Treasury. If you wanted to go into how you would influence that they would be questions for the Treasury.
Senator LUDLAM: There is no reason really that those numbers could not be collected. It would be an amazing blindfold that we have chosen to put over our heads if we are not even interested in finding out. That is a Treasury question. Are you interested? Is anybody at the table interested to know how much the states and territories spend?
Mr Pratt : It would be useful information for us, but at the risk of providing constitutional advice, I am not aware of anything in the Constitution which would prevent us from collecting that information.
Senator LUDLAM: No, I was being snarky; I know that there is not.
Mr Pratt : Apologies. It is ultimately a matter for the states whether or not they will give that information to the Commonwealth, or anyone else.
Senator LUDLAM: You must know. I feel like I have stumbled across some weird elephant, and presumably people have been trying to run this elephant down for years.
Senator McLucas: This has been the matter of Commonwealth-state relations, not only in this portfolio but right across our Federation for a great number of years.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. I just think it is weird that nobody—
Senator McLucas: It is not that nobody has ever had this conversation before.
Senator LUDLAM: It is that we have been having it for 100 years.
Senator McLucas: Probably. I blame men, because there were no women at Federation.
Senator LUDLAM: It is wonderful that that is now on the record.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you point me to anything that the Commonwealth is doing with the states to improve transparency in the state budgets regarding what they are spending out of their own budgets on housing? You have just put on the record for us that you do in fact care, that it is useful and interesting information that we do not have; what are we doing to fix that?
Ms Carroll : Can I clarify: in those intergovernmental agreements that Ms Croke mentioned, where there is a requirement under a national partnership, for example, for matching funds, then the states or territories have to demonstrate how they are doing that.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, like in NRAS, you use a separate line.
Ms Carroll : Under the national agreement, however, different levels of reporting are required so they are all governed by the way those intergovernmental agreements are structured and what kind of agreement it is: whether it is a national partnership, which requires matching, or whether it is not, whether it is part of a national agreement. What we try to do in developing those national partnerships or national agreements is get as much information as possible and reporting from the states.
Senator LUDLAM: We are not asking for rocket science. Can I propose, and I am sure I am not the first one who would have, that we fix that in the next NAHA? The Hansard record would record a row of blank stares. Is that a hard thing to ask for?
Mr Innis : Again at the risk of providing Constitutional advice, there is nothing in the Constitution compelling the states to provide that information that I am aware of. This would need to be a cooperative thing with the states.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I am not suggesting it would not be cooperative. I have run the clock down so I will leave it there, thanks.
Mr Pratt : Thank you, we will take on board your suggestion.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you.
CHAIR: I have Senator Furner with a couple of questions which we will end with.
Senator FURNER: Most likely some on notice, subject to running up against lunch time. Social initiative housing arrangements: I want an update on how many have been completed, how many are yet to be completed, where we are at in respect to the $5.6 billion funding.
CHAIR: That question was asked before you came in.
Senator FURNER: Was it?
Mr Innis : It was. The only thing we could provide is the total number. We provided the states by states; we did not add it all up. The number was 17,190-something.
Ms Croke : Of our national target of 19,600 dwellings, we have commenced construction on 19,572; there are dwellings in Victoria that we expect will be a spot purchase arrangement; we have completion numbers of 17,191. In terms of allocations, of the $5.6 billion so far we have expended $5.247 billion.
Senator FURNER: There was $400 million contributed to repairs; where are we at in respect to the number of repairs and yet to be—
Ms Croke : Repairs and maintenance is a completed program, the $400 million was fully expended and all projects have been completed. The project numbers for repairs and maintenance is 73,699 episodes of repairs and maintenance.
Senator FURNER: Out of the dwellings, how many were accessible for disabled people and what was the extent of the overall environmental ratings?
Ms Croke : In terms of environmental design—that is, looking at six-star energy efficiency ratings—we have 96 per cent of the stage 2 allocations. You may recall that the Social Housing Initiative was broken into repairs and maintenance, stage 1, which were projects already on the ground or already approved, and stage 2 was the bulk of the effort. For the stage 2 dwellings of 16,168, 96 per cent have received six-star energy efficiency, 64 per cent have solar or hot water pump systems and 70 per cent have water tanks. Did you want me to go through universal design? We are looking at around 93 per cent meeting the basic universal design, and around 34 per cent will meet the highest class C standard in terms of accessibility for people who are ageing or with a disability. I correct a figure, sorry: for repairs and maintenance it is 80,570 repairs and maintenance.
Senator FURNER: Great, thank you.
CHAIR: I thank the officers from outcome 2; I know there will be many questions on notice. We will now break for the lunch period and come back at 2 o'clock with outcome 3.
Proceedings suspended from 13:02 to 14:00
CHAIR: We will reconvene. We are going to outcome 3, but before we do, Mr Pratt has an update he wishes to share with Senator Bernardi.
Mr Pratt : Thank you.
Senator McLucas: Senator Bernardi, earlier you asked about the exceptional circumstances for FSP providers, and whether any of them had requested an exemption. The answer is no.
Senator BERNARDI: Thank you very much; I appreciate that.
CHAIR: We will now go to outcome 3, Community capability and the vulnerable. I understand that Senator Fifield is going to lead with some questions across a few of the areas. Senator Siewert has questions in the area of income management and their trial sites. Senator Rhiannon may come in for some of that as well. Then we have a number of questions on the gambling issue.
Senator FIFIELD: Is the government's grants link website managed by FaHCSIA? There is a general portal, I think it is called.
Mr Pratt : We have a major grants management system called FOFMS.
CHAIR: Does that stand for anything?
Mr Pratt : Yes, it does. It stands for 'FaHCSIA's Online Funding Management System'. A number of departments use that system that we host.
CHAIR: I do not think that is what you were after, Senator Fifield.
Senator FIFIELD: Is there a government grants website?
Senator McLucas: There is a grants link.
Senator FIFIELD: That is not something that FaHCSIA—
Senator McLucas: It might sit in Finance, Senator.
Senator FIFIELD: Okay. While I am in the area, one of my colleagues from the other place, Mr Neville, the Member for Hinkler, has raised an issue. One of his constituents was calling a 1300-number that the constituent thought was a government grants number. It turned out that it was a private business that helped facilitate people applying for government grants and provided various fee-for-service arrangements. Have you become aware of any private businesses whose names are similar—that have words like 'government grant' in their title? Have you come across that?
Mr Pratt : It is certainly nothing that I have come across.
Senator FIFIELD: That is fine.
Senator McLucas: I will take that up, because in correspondence I often refer people who write to me to the government grants-link pages. If you want to get Mr Neville to give me a call, I am happy to follow that up for him.
Senator FIFIELD: Okay; we will do that offline. Thank you, Senator. Has the department done any preparatory work or research on implementing income management in the APY lands?
Ms Hefren-Webb : The minister made some statements last year indicating that the government is looking at it. As we normally would, we have provided some advice to government. We will provide some more as time passes.
Senator FIFIELD: So the department, in response to that, is doing some preparatory work providing advice as to how that might be done?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.
Senator FIFIELD: Has the department received any correspondence from individuals or groups in the APY lands seeking to have income management put in place or—the alternative—not put in place?
Ms Hefren-Webb : That type of correspondence would probably come to the Indigenous part of our department. We might be able to give you an answer on that tomorrow, at the Indigenous estimates hearing.
Senator FIFIELD: There will be a colleague here. Thank you for that. In answer to a question that I put on notice previously about how much the portfolio spends each year in the APY lands, FaHCSIA's answer was that approximately $33.9 million in administered funding for programs and services is delivered in the APY lands. Is it possible to get a breakdown of that $33.9 million figure?
Mr Lye : That is another question that might be best answered tomorrow.
Senator FIFIELD: Are you able to take it on notice and feed it through, so the answer will come out either tomorrow or on notice?
Mr Lye : Yes.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. Again, this might be better for tomorrow, but what is the number of people who live in the APY lands?
Ms Hefren-Webb : I do not believe I have that data with me. Again, I can make sure that we have it for you tomorrow.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you; that would be good. Has any work been done by the department as to how much it would cost to roll out the BasicsCard nationwide?
Ms Hefren-Webb : A number of stores, national chains, already carry the BasicsCard. Coles, Woolworths, Best&Less, Big W, Target and a number of other stores nationwide already carry the BasicsCard. So to some extent it is available nationwide.
Senator FIFIELD: The infrastructure is already there.
Ms Hefren-Webb : Obviously, that is not sufficient servicing. If we were to extend income management to new areas, we would have to look at what other local shops and providers people access. We have not done specific work on a national cost in that sense.
Senator FIFIELD: So that work has not been done?
Mr Lye : In the income management space, the government indicated its intention to examine a national rollout of income management; the BasicsCard is part of that policy area. I think it is fair to say that one of our main jobs is doing that policy work.
Senator FIFIELD: It is ongoing. I will leave it there.
Senator SIEWERT: Why don't we start where that left off? How much have we spent on income management in the Northern Territory since the new process was brought in? Then can you give us your forward estimates?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Are you talking about—
Senator SIEWERT: Since the new extended process of income management.
Ms Hefren-Webb : The majority of the spending sits in the human services portfolio. Are you looking for FaHCSIA-only expenditure or the whole cost to government of the program?
Senator SIEWERT: The whole cost to government. Who do I ask for that?
Ms Hefren-Webb : I can provide for you the information about FaHCSIA. DHS could provide for you this evening the details of their costs. Or, if you would rather us provide you with a joint response, we could do that.
Senator SIEWERT: I would prefer a whole-of-government approach because that is obviously what you are working on—to provide the government with advice about how much income management across Australia would cost. If it comes tonight that is fine.
Ms Hefren-Webb : I will endeavour to have that ready so that DHS would have those costs tonight.
Senator SIEWERT: That would be much appreciated; thank you. Can we go now to the process of the usual update of the figures of how many people are on income management in the Northern Territory—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—and the number classed as vulnerable, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal; and the number of exemptions?
Ms Hefren-Webb : There are 17,215 people on income management in the Northern Territory. Of those, 4,200 are volunteers and 179 are on the vulnerable measure of income management. In terms of Indigenous versus non-Indigenous, 90.5 per cent of the participants in income management in the Northern Territory are Indigenous. I can give you the number as well—it is 15,575 people.
Senator SIEWERT: Of that, how many are voluntary and how many are compulsory?
Ms Hefren-Webb : The rate of Indigenous participation in voluntary income management is 98.5 per cent. The rate of Indigenous participation in compulsory income management is 87.9 per cent.
Senator SIEWERT: Sorry; you have lost me. Of the rate—
Ms Hefren-Webb : I do not think I can break down the 90.5 per cent in the way you have asked.
Mr Lye : But we can tell you the number of Indigenous people on voluntary income management.
Senator SIEWERT: So, of the 4,200 people in voluntary income management, 98.5 per cent are Indigenous?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct. Of those remaining who are on compulsory income management—it must be around 13,000—87.9 per cent.
Senator SIEWERT: So 87 per cent on compulsory income management are Indigenous.
Ms Hefren-Webb : Correct.
Senator SIEWERT: Of the 179 who have been classified as vulnerable, how many are aged, if you have that broken down? What percentage are Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal?
Ms Hefren-Webb : I do not have those specific figures with me.
Senator SIEWERT: I can understand the aged one, but is the vulnerable—
Ms Hefren-Webb : I do not have the vulnerable measure written down.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you take that on notice?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes; absolutely.
Senator SIEWERT: A lot of the other issues I need to ask DHS. Could we go on to the trial sites? I suspect that you may need to take some of these questions on notice. How much engagement have you had in the income management trial sites? I am talking about the income management trial sites rather than the team. As I understand it, it is now called 'Team Parents'.
Ms Hefren-Webb : I think it is called 'Young Parents'.
Senator SIEWERT: 'Young Parents'—right. My apologies are ready if I lapse. Where are you up to with the advertising? I would like you to take on notice how much you have spent—up to when the latest figures have been collected—on advertising for merchants in each of the five income management sites, the budget for any other advertising you have done and the dates for that. I will not waste the committee's time now because it is fairly limited, so if you could take that on notice.
Ms Hefren-Webb : The funding for those advertisements is appropriated direct to human services.
Senator SIEWERT: Okay; I will ask DHS.
Ms Hefren-Webb : We have around $75,000 this year for communications generally on income management in those five sites. I can give you an update on how much of that has been spent, but that does not pay for those ads.
Senator SIEWERT: And I will need to ask them for the merchants?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of service providers, are you the right people to ask?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Is this about financial management service providers or Communities for Children?
Senator SIEWERT: Communities for Children. You know how previously we have talked about the coordination of services. Are you the right people to ask?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Have you now, in each of the five sites, appointed those central coordinators and established service providers for those other services?
Mr Lye : We can tell you about the Communities for Children service providers and the money management ones. But if you are talking about the CALs—the Community Action Leaders—that is a DHS function, as is the government action leader position.
Senator SIEWERT: The government action leader?
Mr Lye : Yes. There are two positions: a government action leader and a community action leader. Both of those positions are DHS funded.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I will obviously follow up with them tonight. If they are listening, can they get them for me tonight?
Mr Lye : In terms of the Communities for Children component, all of the providers have been selected. So obviously in three sites, as we have talked about before, we had to stand up new services.
Senator SIEWERT: I am having trouble hearing.
Mr Lye : In three sites we had to select new providers because we did not have an existing Communities for Children provider. In the remaining seven sites we were providing additional funding to already established Communities for Children providers. All those sites have been established with funding and are operating.
Senator SIEWERT: They are already in place?
Mr Lye : That is right.
Senator SIEWERT: Can you take on notice who the providers are and the expenditure against each of those providers?
Mr Lye : Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you; that would be appreciated. Is it Centrelink I need to ask about the meetings with the community?
Ms Hefren-Webb : There have been some joint meetings. Both FaHCSIA and DHS have participated in community meetings.
Senator SIEWERT: It may come as no surprise to you that I have been paying quite a bit of attention to these trial sites and have been trying to liaise with some of the local communities. I am astounded by the lack of information in those communities about this process. I have had complaints about cancelled meetings. I have had complaints—and I will be raising this with DHS—of meetings being cancelled because people who are opposed to income management were likely to attend. That could be an exaggeration, but what I am after is: how many community meetings have you had in each of these localities and what numbers have attended? You do not have to tell me which organisations because they may not want that made public, but how extensive have these meetings been? What attempts have been made to engage the broader community in each of these locations?
Ms Hefren-Webb : There was a series of community forums in each of the 10 sites, run in August, September and October last year.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice to provide me with the details of each of those community forums, when and where they were held?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes, absolutely.
Senator SIEWERT: And the advertising that was done for them.
Mr Lye : Senator, not to be unhelpful, but they were DHS led forums. We obviously attended, so we can give you a feel for the forums because we were there, but it might be better if DHS provided you with that, because then they will provide you also with the follow-up ones that they have conducted as the coordinator of the exercise.
Senator SIEWERT: I understand; that is fine.
Ms Hefren-Webb : We have also had a number of one-on-one meetings with organisations that have contacted us or been publicly speaking about income management in the various sites. I have been to several meetings with stakeholder groups in Bankstown, and so have my staff. Our state and territory offices have had one-on-one meetings with a number of organisations. We have been participating in a lot of discussions. I am not aware of a meeting that was cancelled, but that could have happened at a local level and I am not aware of it. We can certainly look at that.
Senator SIEWERT: Senator Rhiannon wants to ask about Bankstown, so I am not going to go to Bankstown specifically. Thank you for that—and I will follow up with DHS. I am given to understand that at least one meeting was cancelled in the Shepparton trial site.
Mr Lye : I attended the community meeting in Shepparton and I do not think that was rescheduled or cancelled. There might have been another meeting. To give you an idea about community involvement, a broad range of local organisations was present at the meeting I went to. It would have had pretty much all the major community providers and there was a broad spectrum of views. There were employment providers and disability service providers, as well as the service providers who will be more directly providing services under the trial. It was a large number of people.
Senator SIEWERT: When was that meeting?
Mr Lye : As Ms Hefren-Webb said—and I am not sure of the exact date—it was in that band of September to October.
Senator SIEWERT: The latest meeting I have been told about was very recently. I am told—and I will check this with DHS, obviously—that Centrelink pulled out at the last minute. I will ask DHS about the round of community meetings. Can you take on notice to get details of the ones you have attended? Have there been more recent ones?
Ms Hefren-Webb : There has not been a formal round of community forums, a further round. We have been having one-on-one meetings with interested organisations. There has been a fair bit of consultation with, for example, the Bankstown Council's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee. We have been speaking individually to various groups about income management and their views about it.
Senator SIEWERT: What progress have you made in the development of indicators for vulnerability since October? We have had a series of discussions around what they are and who is going to be responsible for them, et cetera. Can you update me on where you are at the moment with the development of those indicators?
Ms Hefren-Webb : As we discussed last time, there is already that existing legislative instrument, so we are just reviewing that to see whether it needs any amendment or whether the policy settings on that instrument are right. We have been having a number of discussions with DHS—because it is the social workers at DHS who obviously make assessments under those criteria—just to make sure that the criteria are proving useful to them, that they think the criteria are targeting the people most in need. We are still looking at the results of that analysis. But obviously any amendments to the instrument will be coming forward before the extended measure kicks off on 1 July.
Senator SIEWERT: When you say 'looking at the results of that analysis', who carried out the analysis?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Some internal work is being done by the DHS social work branch; we have been having discussions with them about it. They brought in a number of their social workers from the Northern Territory for a workshop to talk through how they are making referrals, what kinds of situations they are facing, whether the policy advice and guidance are appropriate and targeting the right kinds of people.
Senator SIEWERT: We will probably explore this under the Stronger Futures process—I am sure the chair will tell me when I have gone over the line. I am a bit confused about the new measure that is in the Stronger Futures legislation. I do not want to discuss that in detail, but I do want to know how that is going to interact with the process that you have underway now.
Ms Hefren-Webb : The current vulnerable process is a Centrelink decision, essentially. Centrelink makes an assessment of a person based on some criteria, and is the final decision-maker about whether that person is placed on income management. Regarding the alcohol referral measure which I think you are alluding to in the Stronger Futures legislation, essentially the minister can declare a state statutory authority as a referrer to income management, much as child protection departments can be declared. In that case, the state statutory body or territory statutory body would be the decision-maker. That is how the two interact.
Senator SIEWERT: In that case, laying over this process a state authority in each of the trial sites could then say that alcoholism is a vulnerability factor as well.
Ms Hefren-Webb : With the way the legislation is constructed, that is possible. That is not the announced policy. The only funding that has been announced is for us to accept referrals from the NT Alcohol Tribunal. The current parameters of the place-based measures did not include any funding to take referrals from bodies other than the ones specified in the budget announcement.
Senator SIEWERT: I think there are various interpretations of that. I will explore that with you when we do the inquiry in a couple of weeks time. Thank you. In terms of the referral bodies for the vulnerability indicators, we have had the discussion about who would refer, housing stress, for example. Has further consideration been given to how that is going to be operating?
Ms Hefren-Webb : We have been having ongoing discussions with the state and territory housing authorities. We have done a lot of detailed work on how our referral model can work. Each jurisdiction is quite different in the types of cases they are considering referring and what kinds of processes they already go through. We have been talking with them about ensuring that, where they have a tenant who is in arrears or some sort of crisis like that, they have gone through all the steps first in their housing system to assist that tenant before contacting us about the possibility of income management. That is how they all intend to use it as well.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
Senator RHIANNON: In response to a question on notice, I received information from you that the total cost of the establishment and operation of income management across the five new sites is $117.5 million over five years. Could you indicate the breakdown of what proportion of that money is shared establishment costs and what costs are being incurred in those five locations?
Ms Hefren-Webb : I would not have that breakdown here with me, but I could undertake to provide that to you to on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Within that information, are you able to indicate what amounts of money are being allocated to specific sites?
Mr Lye : We have indicated that that is difficult for us to do, given that some of the infrastructure in the trial are platforms that are shared across all the sites.
Senator RHIANNON: That is why I am asking the question now. It has proceeded a number of months and planning would have been further advanced. As well as the shared establishment costs, you are able to identify some specific costs. Are we at that stage yet?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Just to give you an example of why it is difficult, DHS operates a call centre for income managed clients. It is operated centrally, out of Hobart. That is available for all income managed clients across the country when they need assistance to call. So we would not be attributing particular elements of those costs to a particular site because it is really dependent upon the volume of clients and the call traffic and so forth. Some elements we will be able to attribute specifically to Bankstown but—
Senator RHIANNON: That is what I was after.
Ms Hefren-Webb : It probably would not be indicative of all the support that is going to be provided to people in Bankstown.
Senator RHIANNON: I was just after what was indicative for certain sites and what those amounts were—if you could take that on notice. Could you indicate what meetings you have had in Bankstown, what groups you met with, and when those meetings were held?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Would you like me to indicate that now? I would probably have to take it on notice to get a completely comprehensive list, because our New South Wales state office has had quite a number of meetings. I can indicate some of the meetings I have been present at.
Senator RHIANNON: Because my time is limited we do not need to go into it. Can those details include the meetings that you had with businesses?
Ms Hefren-Webb : DHS would have had the meetings with businesses. You are talking about businesses around sign-up to the BasicsCard?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Ms Hefren-Webb : Human services do all the relationship with business and sign-up of merchants, so it is probably a question better directed to them.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for explaining that. Do you inform the people who are put on income management how they can get off income management?
Ms Hefren-Webb : People placed on income management are advised of their appeal rights and all processes related to it.
Senator RHIANNON: Appeal rights are the only way they can get off it? Or do you set out clearly what their requirements are?
Ms Hefren-Webb : It depends which way they have come onto income management. If a person volunteers, obviously once they have done 13 weeks they are free to leave the program. If a person comes on through a social worker referral, there is a regular series of reviews, and at each review the option of income management ceasing would be discussed with the individual. If a person comes on through the child protection system, likewise there is a series of periodic reviews and the option of ending income management will be something the child protection worker would discuss with the client. That would all be explained to a person when they came onto income management—what are the opportunities. In the Northern Territory people on income management can also apply for exemption. It is explained to people up there what exemption categories are available and how they need to go about getting evidence.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Just a more general question: has there been any budget allocation or forward planning for expanding to other trial sites in New South Wales?
Ms Hefren-Webb : I think Mr Lye said earlier that the government have indicated they are interested in looking at options for further extension of income management. They stated so when they announced the new scheme in the Northern Territory in late 2009. We do ongoing work advising government about policy development for that policy goal.
Senator RHIANNON: What advice have you given to government?
Ms Hefren-Webb : I am not at liberty to advise about policy advice we have given.
Senator RHIANNON: I was not after your policy advice, but rather the advice you have given on where this trial can be expanded within New South Wales.
Ms Hefren-Webb : That is policy advice to government.
Senator RHIANNON: I would like to go back to an earlier question that was taken on notice. In the answer to that question, could you give me an idea of some of the groups you have met with and the details around that?
Ms Hefren-Webb : Yes. I have met with Arab Council Australia. They hosted a meeting for us where we met with a number of the community organisations in Bankstown. I think it included community services in Villawood—some of the migrant services et cetera. We have also met with the Bankstown City Council Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee. We have met with the Benevolent Society. We have met with a group of Aboriginal elders from the Bankstown area.
Senator RHIANNON: Businesses? You told me; I forgot.
Mr Lye : Those meetings all came after a general community meeting that was held, which DEEWR, DHS and we attended; DHS would have the details of the attendees. That was a broad meeting with local community service providers and other interested people.
Senator RHIANNON: I will leave it at that but, in answer to the question on notice, could you also give me the dates of those meetings? Thank you very much.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to chase up the exemptions. We were going through the numbers and we did not get to the exemptions.
Ms Hefren-Webb : I am sorry.
Mr Lye : I think granted exemptions are 2,454.
Senator SIEWERT: How many of those were Aboriginal?
Mr Lye : It was 22.9 per cent.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
CHAIR: Mr Lye, is it you or Human Services that I would ask about the percentage of overall welfare recipients in the Northern Territory who are Aboriginal? I will ask Human Services.
Ms Hefren-Webb : Technically the data is jointly owned by FaHCSIA and DEEWR, so it is probably best to ask Human Services.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Following up on a question that Senator Fifield asked about successful recipients under the volunteer grants program, question No. 234: it breaks it down by electorate and then there is the list of successful applicants and it gives a whole range of details on them. Do you collect data on the nature of the entity itself—for example, an organisation that deals with mental health issues? Is that the sort of data you would collect to get a snapshot of the sorts of organisations that are applying in terms of subject matter?
Ms Calder : When applicants complete their application form, we ask for a range of information about the organisation in terms of the key personnel in their organisation, details about their financial and other status and the broad nature of the services that they support and the number of volunteers who work in the organisation.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: So it is really trawling through that information that then finds its way into the operation description.
Ms Calder : Yes.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: You trawl through all that and that is how you will find organisations that deal with different subject matters?
Ms Calder : Yes. Those organisations apply, so we go through each application.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: You do not have lists with categories of organisations?
Ms Calder : No, we do not.
CHAIR: Thank you to the officers. We now move on to issues around gambling.
Senator BERNARDI: I refer to the comments of Mr Ross Ferrar, chief executive of the pokie manufacturers peak body, Gaming Technologies Association, who said that the ACT pokie trial start date is unrealistic and that it takes at least a year to develop, test, accredit and install new technology and games on pokies. Has the department consulted manufacturers in respect of the time line for starting the precommitment trial?
Ms Carroll : I might hand over for further detail in a moment but, yes, we have had consultations and we have had a range of technical advice about the possibility of that start date and the doability of it.
Senator BERNARDI: You said that you have taken some advice. My question was specifically: has the department consulted manufacturers?
Mr Agnew : Yes, we have consulted manufacturers on the trial for the ACT and the time frame.
Senator BERNARDI: Have they agreed that it is realistic? Do they have a different suggestion than does the chief executive of the pokie manufacturers peak body?
Mr Agnew : There are a number of solutions that can deliver a precommitment for the trial; some of them are machine based and some of them are systems based. We would do a market assessment to determine the best solution for the trial, but we believe the time frame is achievable and we have independent technical advice to support that.
Senator BERNARDI: You have had independent technical advice to support that the time line is achievable, notwithstanding that the poker machine manufacturers peak body have said that it is not.
Ms Carroll : As Mr Agnew has said, there is a range of different solutions that come in different forms and it depends on what is taken up in terms of the solutions. But, as I said to begin with, we have had different advice. I am sure that you would be aware that there are different organisations, manufacturers of different kinds of products, which obviously work differently.
Senator BERNARDI: What are the solutions you are currently assessing?
Mr Agnew : In regard to solutions, we need to undergo full market analysis, so we are in the process of developing functional specifications to undertake that process. Functional specifications are around how the system would work, not necessarily what it would do. So it is developing a framework to go to market to come back with solutions to implement a technology.
Senator BERNARDI: How long is that process going to take to develop your framework before you can even talk to a potential solution provider? That is essentially what you have just told me, is it not?
Mr Agnew : The functional specifications?
Senator BERNARDI: Yes.
Mr Agnew : They are developed now.
Senator BERNARDI: So you are developing the functional specifications now. Then, once you have developed the specifications, you will go and talk to potential solution providers. Is that correct?
Mr Agnew : Go to the market for a solution.
Senator BERNARDI: Who are you consulting in regard to drawing up the functional specifications?
Mr Agnew : The department has an independent technical adviser on board and we are also liaising with state and territory governments around their understanding of precommitment and how it works and functional specifications in that regard.
Senator BERNARDI: Have you spoken with the machine manufacturers about this?
Mr Agnew : We have spoken to the machine manufacturers on a number of occasions in regard to a number of solutions to the precommitment.
Senator BERNARDI: In regard to the functional specifications? I just get the sense—I do not want to be trapped on wordplay—that you have spoken to them about something completely unrelated some time ago. Specifically I want to know: have you consulted with the machine manufacturers in respect of the implementation of mandatory precommitment and their contribution to the functional specifications that you are currently setting down?
Mr Agnew : We have spoken to manufacturers in regard to the mandatory precommitment trial in the ACT. We have discussed a number of solutions that are available to deliver mandatory precommitment in the ACT. Not all of those solutions require a change to the machine itself; so it is a systems based solution, and we have spoken to them about that.
Senator BERNARDI: Have the machine manufacturers indicated to you that it would take at least one year to develop, test, accredit and install new technology and games on their poker machines?
Mr Agnew : The industry, GTA, has advised that it takes one year to develop a new game through the approvals cycle; that is correct.
Senator BERNARDI: One year to develop new games through the approval cycle? That is a new game. There are system changes as well, and I mean system changes not in the graphics on the screen but mandatory precommitment controls. Have they indicated that that would take time and that the government's agenda or time line is unrealistic in the circumstances?
Ms Carroll : What Mr Agnew is describing is that there is a range of technical solutions and it depends on who you speak to. When you speak to different manufacturers or different business owners of those different technical solutions, they give you differing time lines on what is possible to deliver. So the purpose of developing the functional specifications and going to market is then to get bids from those people about delivering on mandatory precommitment in the ACT.
Senator BERNARDI: You are speaking to, as you have said, various manufacturers who have different perspectives. But there is a peak body, called the Gaming Technologies Association, with a chief executive who says that it will take at least a year. They have said that the government's time line is unrealistic and made other suggestions. There may be individual manufacturers within that who may be able to do it earlier, but that means that you are excluding all the other manufacturers. You have to listen to their peak body—and they have said that it is unrealistic. I have asked whether that is correct. Mr Agnew is not willing to utter the words, 'Yes, Senator, you are correct,' and they are the words that I love most.
CHAIR: Senator Bernardi, the officer has answered. You might not like the answer, but he has answered.
Senator BERNARDI: No, he has not. Is that what the manufacturers peak body has indicated—that the time line that is being set down is unrealistic?
Mr Agnew : They have come out in the media and stated that, yes.
Senator BERNARDI: Have they told you? Not you specifically, but have they communicated that to the department?
Mr Agnew : Not in those discussions, no.
Senator BERNARDI: So they have never said it to the department?
Mr Agnew : Not in those discussions, no.
Senator BERNARDI: Not in those discussions? Which discussions?
Senator ABETZ: Have they said it in correspondence?
Ms Carroll : We would have to check the correspondence.
Senator BERNARDI: Mr Ferrar said that the group have told families minister Jenny Macklin's department this week that the time line was unachievable. That is what it says in the Canberra Times. So the Canberra Times knows, but no-one in the department does.
Ms Carroll : What Mr Agnew said was that we were quite aware of the statements in the press and that we have been having ongoing discussions with the industry at the various different parts of the industry, of which the machine manufacturers is one component. As Mr Agnew has described, there are various different points of view, depending on which part of the industry you speak to.
Senator BERNARDI: Ms Carroll, with respect, when I asked, Mr Agnew said that, no, there had not been discussions and that the Gaming Technologies Association had not said that to the department. I am merely quoting a media report where the chief executive says that they told families minister Jenny Macklin's department this week that the time line was unachievable. That is all I have said. You have repeated what you said earlier and I do not think you have represented what Mr Agnew said quite accurately.
Senator McLucas: That is your view. I think what we are describing is the difference between what is reported in the newspaper and the evidence that you have received from the officers.
Senator BERNARDI: I want to know whether it is true.
Senator McLucas: I think you can take what our officers have said as being true.
Senator BERNARDI: Which bit?
Senator McLucas: What our officers have said.
Senator ABETZ: Have they been told or not? That is what the media story says.
Senator McLucas: I think our officers have been very clear and have answered your question.
Senator BERNARDI: They do not know.
Mr Pratt : No. Mr Agnew's advice was that they have not told him that. He said, 'They have not told us that.'
Senator BERNARDI: That is fine. Mr Ferrar is wrong.
Senator McLucas: We have taken a number of questions on notice in terms of correspondence, so we will come back to you with the answers.
Senator BERNARDI: I refer you to another media item, this time quoting the member for Dobell in the Daily Telegraph on 23 January, noting that the government's backflip on mandatory precommitment was 'something I have been calling for and a big win for New South Wales Labor MPs'. Has the member for Dobell been involved in any discussions with the department about poker machines or gambling reform?
Senator ABETZ: I think the answer is no; is it?
Ms Cattermole : Perhaps I will answer for us. As far as we are aware, the answer to that question is no.
Senator McLucas: And that is not unusual. A discussion with a member of the government would not be directly with a departmental officer; it would be via the minister.
Senator BERNARDI: Have any members of the parliament made direct communications to the department in respect of mandatory precommitment and poker machine reform?
Ms Carroll : We can just check our correspondence.
Senator BERNARDI: I am sorry; I know that Mr Wilkie has and the Greens—
Senator ABETZ: The Greens have with Minister Macklin.
Ms Carroll : Yes. So obviously there has been communication with the department. The department has been at discussions with Mr Wilkie and I think we took on notice last time to look at the correspondence.
Senator BERNARDI: Yes, you did. Could you take it on notice perhaps to provide me with a list of those that have communicated with the department.
Ms Carroll : Yes.
Mr Pratt : Just to clarify: are you talking about correspondence which has gone to the minister and has subsequently come to us or correspondence directly to the department, because it is highly unusual for us to communicate directly—
Senator BERNARDI: I agree. I understand that you are trying to be very helpful, Mr Pratt.
Mr Pratt : Yes, Senator, you are correct.
Senator BERNARDI: Did Hansard pick that up? I think it is any communications that have gone to the minister and then flowed on to the department in respect of this.
Mr Pratt : Yes, we will do so.
Senator BERNARDI: In respect of the government's mandatory precommitment trial in the ACT, was the department involved in the choice of the ACT as a trial site?
Mr Pratt : No, that was a political decision. Certainly we provided advice on possible trial sites.
Senator BERNARDI: How many trial sites did you recommend?
Mr Pratt : That goes to the nature of our advice to the government.
Senator BERNARDI: When did the department become aware of the trial site being determined?
Ms Carroll : We probably have to take on notice the exact timing, but certainly there have been discussions over the last few months about the possibility of a trial in the ACT.
Senator BERNARDI: Can I just go back to the poker machine manufacturers for a moment? Are you able to tell me which of the manufacturers that you spoke to provided you with technical advice that differed from that of Mr Ferrar, the chief executive the Gaming Technologies Association, that the time line for the trial is unrealistic?
Mr Agnew : We did not seek advice from the manufacturers; it was independent technical advice. So it was a person engaged by the department who has a long-term history in the gaming environment of 20-plus years who provided us independent advice.
Senator BERNARDI: Mr Agnew, I thought—and I will stand corrected—you told me that you had consulted with the gaming machine manufacturers and had had discussions with them.
Mr Pratt : Yes, that is correct. But the distinction is that we did not seek specific technical advice from them. They give us their views on things, but we seek specific technical advice from our independent adviser.
Senator BERNARDI: How many of the gaming machine manufacturers that you spoke with said that the time line was unrealistic?
Mr Pratt : I think we would probably have to go and look at our notes on that.
Senator BERNARDI: Please take that on notice then. Did you have any discussions with Aristocrat, for example, the largest of the gaming machine manufacturers?
Mr Agnew : Aristocrat are a member of GTA and were part of the meetings that we had.
Senator BERNARDI: So you have had discussions with Aristocrat in respect of mandatory precommitment?
Mr Agnew : As a member of the GTA technical committee, that is correct.
Senator BERNARDI: Did Aristocrat ever suggest to you that the time line was unrealistic?
Mr Agnew : No.
Senator BERNARDI: Never?
Mr Agnew : No.
Senator BERNARDI: And the GTA never suggested to you that the time line was unrealistic?
Mr Agnew : Not in those discussions, no.
Senator BERNARDI: Not in those discussions; in any other discussions, in any correspondence, in any communications?
Mr Pratt : We are going to check the correspondence.
Ms Carroll : In the discussions, as has been described, that was not raised—and I think we are back to the same point we were before.
Senator BERNARDI: Yes, I know that we are dealing with the same point as before. But the issue I have is that you refer to those discussions, which are very specific. There are ways and means of misinterpreting the question and perhaps I am not being as clear as I need to be. I think the intent is very, very clear—that I am interested in whether any gaming machine manufacturers or the Gaming Technologies Association have made any representations whatsoever to FaHCSIA or the minister or any other officer that the time line chosen as set down by the government is unrealistic, because I have been told that the gaming machine manufacturers have indeed made those representations both via the press and—
Mr Pratt : Let me have a go at summarising what I think we have advised: (1) we will go and check our correspondence to see whether or not we have any advice of that sort in written form; (2) in the discussions that we have had, we do not believe that there has been that sort of communication with us; and (3) yes, we are aware of the comments in the media as identified by you.
Senator BERNARDI: When will the exposure draft for the proposed gambling reform legislation relating to poker machines be released?
Ms Carroll : We believe that it will be very shortly—in the next few days to a week.
Senator BERNARDI: So within a week—that is your expectation?
Ms Carroll : We believe that it is imminent. Obviously it is a decision for government when it actually releases it, but we believe that it will be very shortly.
Senator BERNARDI: Have the Greens been consulted on the legislation?
Ms Carroll : As departmental officials, we are not aware of any consultations between politicians. We have not been party to any.
Senator BERNARDI: I cannot ask Senator Di Natale. I will not get an answer.
Senator ABETZ: Situation normal.
Senator BERNARDI: Has the industry been consulted about the exposure draft?
Mr Pratt : Certainly we have been doing lots of consulting with industry about things which will go into the draft legislation.
Senator BERNARDI: But not specifically about the exposure draft before it has been released?
Ms Carroll : Certainly what we have been consulting with industry on is, as Mr Pratt said, the components that would be going into the draft legislation and the ways that they would be expressed in the draft legislation. But the actual exposure draft of the legislation itself is a process that is still to occur.
Senator McLucas: I can assist here. I am advised that the exposure draft will be released tomorrow.
Senator BERNARDI: Thank you.
Senator ABETZ: Conveniently after estimates.
Senator BERNARDI: Has Mr Wilkie been consulted in the time since the government ripped up their written agreement with him?
Senator McLucas: I will have to take that on notice.
Senator DI NATALE: I want to address the question of costings for the $1 bet limit proposal. The minister stated that that advice had come from the department. I would like to know the basis on which that $1.5 billion cost estimate was made.
Ms Cattermole : That advice was, again, provided by the independent technical adviser that we have on board to assist. Basically we have been having a look at all of the elements of how that would be achieved. One of the key elements is that every game that currently exists would need to be replaced, and that is obviously quite a significant cost and is the key basis for that particular figure.
Senator DI NATALE: What time line was used to estimate that proposal? Given, of course, that the usual sort of operating life of a machine is seven years, on what time line was that $1.5 billion costing made?
Mr Agnew : It was a point in time. There was not an implementation time, so we did not share the costs across a depreciated schedule. So noting that you raise—
Senator DI NATALE: Sorry: you did not?
Mr Agnew : Did not; that was just at a hard point in time.
Senator DI NATALE: I am sorry; I just want to clarify that point. That was for the immediate replacement at one point in time of all machines?
Mr Agnew : That is correct. I note that you have raised that seven years is the life of a machine. The fact is that there are machines in the market that are 14-plus years. There is no natural replacement cycle for gaming machines in the industry. No state or territory has a natural replacement cycle for gaming machines in the industry.
Senator DI NATALE: But, to be clear, those costings are based on the immediate replacement of all machines.
Mr Agnew : That is correct.
Ms Cattermole : Of the games.
Mr Agnew : Of the games; not the machines but the games. That is very distinct.
Senator DI NATALE: But there has been no consideration of a gradual implementation over time, which was the policy of the Productivity Commission on which the $1 bet limit policy is based. Is that correct?
Ms Carroll : The advice that we received was about looking at the replacement of games to achieve a $1 bet limit and that was done at a point in time.
Senator DI NATALE: But, again, just to be clear: that does not take into account the fact that over time some machines will be depreciation factored in and some machines will be turned over naturally. That has not been taken into account at all through that costing?
Mr Agnew : That costing does not include any machine replacement.
Senator DI NATALE: Game replacement.
Mr Agnew : Yes, game replacement.
Senator DI NATALE: Okay, good. But it is at one point in time?
Mr Agnew : Correct.
Senator DI NATALE: Thank you. I understand that advice was provided by the independent adviser. Were any other third parties consulted in the provision of that advice?
Mr Agnew : We have consulted with a range of state and territory governments and industry bodies in regard to the implementation of a $1 maximum bet limit. So we have looked at the evidence from the Productivity Commission inquiry report and we have reviewed the ministerial expert advisory group comments. We have got independent industry technical advice. We have reviewed information provided by state and territory governments and we have held discussions with state and territory governments and the gaming regulators on their understanding. We have reviewed submissions to the parliamentary joint select committee. We have also held two workshops—one with the manufacturers on 14 December and one with the Australasian Casino Association on 12 January—and we have looked at the submissions to the Tasmanian parliamentary inquiry into $1 maximum bets. So we have looked at a number of avenues and we have come to a position where we have taken all of that into consideration.
Senator DI NATALE: But the Productivity Commission had a very clear time line about how that policy would be brought in to minimise costs. Why wasn't that taken into account in the costings of the policy? The cost is directly proportional to the time taken to implement the policy, so I am not sure why you are costing a policy that no-one was proposing. You have not costed the Productivity Commission proposal if you have ignored the time line. I am just not clear as to why that would have been done.
Ms Carroll : What was done was to look at if we needed to get $1 bet limits happening on all machines at a particular point in time. We recognise that is not what was in the Productivity Commission report. But, based on the range of advice that Mr Agnew has described and the time frame available, a costing was done and then workshops were held with the industry to look at what was possible and how you could do these things. Obviously, we have held two of those workshops to date.
Senator DI NATALE: But I have a transcript here of an interview with the minister where the case was put that the $1 bet policy was put to her on the basis of the Productivity Commission findings and her response is that would cost $1.5 billion. But what has been costed here has not been the Productivity Commission $1 bet policy; it appears to be a policy that no-one is recommending.
Ms Carroll : All I can say is what the costing was based on and that it was based on looking at $1 bet limits at that particular point in time.
Senator DI NATALE: But, with respect, why would you cost a policy that is not even up for public discussion? The critical issue with the policy that has been on the table, which has been proposed by various participants in this debate and obviously by the Productivity Commission, is the time line for implementation because that is the basis on which the costing was made. Why would you cost a completely different policy?
Ms Cattermole : I think the critical issue in relation to the costing is that all games would need to be replaced. I take your point that they might be staged differently. But the reality is that you have to replace each and every game, because there is not a game of that nature available; therefore, there is a cost associated with that, which is in the order of what we have estimated.
Senator DI NATALE: I completely understand that, but no-one is proposing that all machines or all games be replaced immediately. The proposal by the Productivity Commission was clearly for a phased approach over time with some latitude given to smaller clubs. You yourself have said you based your policy costings on the basis of the Productivity Commission report. You have costed a policy that has nothing to do with what the Productivity Commission is recommending or, in fact, what any of the other people who have been involved in this debate have been proposing. I am just not sure why you would do that.
Ms Cattermole : If you can imagine the sort of time line—
Senator DI NATALE: If I just finish that point. The cost—and I cannot reinforce this strongly enough—of the policy is directly proportionate to the time scale for the implementation of the changeover. That is really critical in this question, so to actually ignore that is in fact to provide a costing that bears no relevance at all to any proposal that has been put before the parliament or in fact by the Productivity Commission.
Ms Cattermole : I think it is possible, Senator—I am taking your point about time and cost—that some games could have been brought on obviously within that timetable, but I think it is absolutely fair to say that there is no way that changes to all of the games could have been made in that timetable in any event.
Senator DI NATALE: What timetable are we talking about?
Ms Cattermole : The proposal in relation to the Productivity Commission. Obviously there is a time-cost balance but, in any event, there is a significant cost associated with making changes to every single game in Australia, of which there are over 5,000.
Senator DI NATALE: But why would you base your policy costings on an immediate—
Mr Pratt : Senator, I am not sure that we can answer the question any further. We have costed the policy—
Senator DI NATALE: I appreciate the frank advice and the frank response. It is most gratefully received.
Senator McLucas: Senator, it is based on replacing every game.
Senator DI NATALE: Every game at one point in time?
Senator McLucas: No. Whether it is phased in or all at once, the costing is based on replacing every game.
Senator DI NATALE: We will have to agree to disagree on that point, because there is a big difference between replacing every game tomorrow or in a week or in two weeks and replacing every game by 2020 or 2017 or 2018. That has an enormous impact on the costings. Clearly, what has been costed here is a policy that no-one has been proposing.
CHAIR: Senator, you have to wind up soon.
Senator DI NATALE: Sure. I have just a few questions about the trial.
CHAIR: You have two minutes.
Senator DI NATALE: Okay. The question of compensation—on what basis was that decision made? What were the parameters on which the compensation offered to ACT clubs was decided?
Ms Carroll : One of the primary factors that we looked at in thinking about any payments associated with the trial for people to participate in the trial was what the revenue in the ACT was and we then looked at what might be a reasonable participation payment for different venues.
Senator DI NATALE: On what basis? What was the sort of criteria you used to determine the level of compensation?
Ms Cattermole : There are a range of views about how you might make that kind of assessment.
Senator DI NATALE: What was your view?
Ms Cattermole : The industry have raised, obviously, a range of views about the way in which that might be done. Most importantly, we have had a look at, for example, what the shorter and perhaps more medium term impacts might be and, in particular, the fact that this is quite a significant change to the environment in the ACT. We want to encourage the maximum participation of venues in the ACT. We are recognising that this is quite a significant change for them that potentially has some impost which needs to be recognised, and we want to get as much support as possible for that.
Senator DI NATALE: With respect, you have not answered my question, apart from saying you want to encourage as much participation as possible. What is the basis for the compensation? Did you just pick a number out of the air or did you actually have some sort of framework for making that decision?
Ms Carroll : We looked at the game machine revenue in the ACT.
Senator DI NATALE: How did that allow you to make that decision about compensation?
Ms Carroll : We then looked at what might be a reasonable estimate if you took a portion of that gaming machine revenue and converted it and thought about it as a participation component.
Ms Cattermole : That is in the context of quite a significant range of views about what it might be. We had a look across those views and made an assessment of what we thought might be reasonable in the circumstances, given that there will be quite a significant change in the environment. We also, as you might know, built in opportunities for that to be reviewed throughout the course of the trial, acknowledging that there are such a range of views and that in a sense how that comes through over the course of that trial will not be known until the trial is well underway.
CHAIR: Senator, you will have to put the rest on notice.
Senator DI NATALE: I will put the rest on notice. Thank you.
CHAIR: Senator Abetz, you have got five minutes.
Senator ABETZ: I will be as quick as I can. How many meetings have there been between the department and Mr Wilkie over the issue of poker machines? If you could take that on notice for me, and similarly how many meetings between the minister and Mr Wilkie in relation to poker machines? Specifically, can you confirm that the minister and departmental officials met with Mr Wilkie on both 11 April last year and 9 November last year? Can we have that confirmed, please?
Ms Carroll : I am just checking—
Senator ABETZ: On 11 April and 9 November.
Ms Carroll : They were certainly in attendance on 9 November. We need to check the date of the earlier meeting.
Senator ABETZ: Thank you. Can you confirm to me that at the 9 November meeting cabinet-in-confidence papers were made available to Mr Wilkie?
Ms Carroll : What was made available to Mr Wilkie—yes, there were papers that were marked cabinet in confidence. They were not cabinet documents for cabinet decisions.
Senator ABETZ: But they were marked cabinet in confidence?
Ms Carroll : They were marked cabinet in confidence.
Senator ABETZ: Did those papers confirm a starting date of 31 December 2014?
Ms Carroll : Senator, those papers were based on issues for consideration of draft legislation and the starting time frame was 2014.
Senator ABETZ: Thank you. Minister Macklin has said that technical advice was received that the government could not do this by the 2014 start date. That is correct?
Ms Carroll : Yes, Senator.
Senator ABETZ: When was that advice received?
Ms Carroll : The department provided formal technical advice in early April.
Senator ABETZ: In early April. When was that formal technical advice shared with the Prime Minister's office, Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Ms Carroll : I could not tell you when anything was shared with the Prime Minister's office. What I can speak to you about is—
Senator ABETZ: Sorry, if I may interrupt: who could share that with me?
CHAIR: It would only be the minister.
Ms Carroll : It would only be the minister or Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Senator ABETZ: Was there a working group with Prime Minister and Cabinet and your department?
Ms Carroll : There was. There was an interdepartmental committee.
Senator ABETZ: Was that technical advice given to the representatives of Prime Minister and Cabinet?
Ms Carroll : The advice about the difficulty of the implementation time frame was discussed at the interdepartmental committee.
Senator ABETZ: When was that?
Ms Carroll : There were a series of meetings. I would have to—
Senator ABETZ: Shortly after April?
Ms Carroll : There were a series of meetings during 2011. I would have to take on notice the dates.
Senator ABETZ: But after April?
Ms Carroll : Yes.
Senator ABETZ: And before 9 November?
Ms Carroll : Yes, Senator.
Senator ABETZ: If you can take on notice when it was shared with the Prime Minister's office, when it was shared—
Mr Pratt : I am sorry, Senator; we can take on notice when it was shared with the Prime Minister's department.
Senator ABETZ: That is what I meant. Thank you very much for that correction. And when it was shared with Mr Wilkie—can you tell me that?
Ms Carroll : The departmental advice that went to the minister in early April was based on two primary pieces of advice. There was our in-house technical adviser who had done a piece of technical advice for us. But there was also the expert advisory group that was chaired by Professor Shergold that was meeting over that period of time. It included advice from the expert advisory group. Professor Shergold—
Senator ABETZ: When did Professor Shergold report?
Ms Carroll : Professor Shergold reported—I will have to check when the last meeting was—but he also met with Mr Wilkie.
Senator ABETZ: On what date?
Ms Carroll : I would have to take the dates on notice, but normally after each expert advisory group meeting to report—
Senator ABETZ: Was it before or after the 9 November meeting?
Ms Carroll : It was well before that. It would have been in the early part of 2011. During those meetings obviously the difficulties with the implementation time line was one of the things that was raised in the expert advisory group. In feeding back from the expert advisory group the issues that were raised were shared by Professor Shergold with Mr Wilkie.
Senator ABETZ: Mr Wilkie has said publicly on numerous occasions that the first time he had any knowledge of this technical advice that the 31 December 2014 timetable could not be met was when he met with the Prime Minister in his office in Hobart, or in Hobart—I am not sure of the exact location in Hobart—in January 2012. So does the department, or do you, Parliamentary Secretary, have any explanation as to why Mr Wilkie was not told about that detailed technical advice that the government had to hand in April—eight, nine months earlier? Can anybody provide an explanation for that?
Senator McLucas: I cannot. I cannot speak on behalf of Mr Wilkie. I am very happy to ask if the minister has anything to add.
Senator ABETZ: If you can take that on notice, and also take on notice why that technical advice was not disclosed at the meeting on 9 November at Treasury offices in Melbourne, and the Commonwealth parliamentary offices, where Mr Wilkie met with officials and he was given, as we were told, cabinet-in-confidence documents that were still talking about a starting date of 31 December when the government had technical advice telling it it was impossible. This was a stringing along of Mr Wilkie in a most cynical fashion by the government, Parliamentary Secretary, and Mr Wilkie is entitled to be upset, as he clearly is, because he has ripped up the deal with the government. Can I tell you: I think the Australian people are entitled to feel quite upset by the behaviour of the government as well. Thanks, Chair.
Ms Carroll : On notice, Senator—can I just respond? The technical advice said that it was very difficult.
Senator ABETZ: Yes, but not impossible. The technical advice came to government in April that it could not be done. Why was that not shared? Because the government wanted Mr Wilkie's vote until they got Mr Slipper over the line, so he could wear his gown and wig.
CHAIR: That is a statement and you have got it in Hansard so that is fine.
Senator McLucas: I would not mind just responding as I do not know that we can just let that hang. Minister Macklin has previously publicly said that Mr Wilkie was briefed on this issue. We have worked for 18 months in good faith to deliver on our agreement with the member for Denison. We released legal advice, commissioned technical advice, sought agreement from the states and territories and drafted Commonwealth legislation for mandatory precommitment. As the Prime Minister has said a number of times, it is now clear that legislation to deliver that agreement would not be supported in the House of Representatives.
Senator ABETZ: That is not technical advice, Parliamentary Secretary.
Senator McLucas: So faced with the reality—
Senator ABETZ: The 9 November meeting documents said 31 December.
CHAIR: Excuse me, Senator Abetz. The Parliamentary Secretary had the call and you know you cannot interrupt. Parliamentary Secretary, finish your statement and we can move from this area.
Senator McLucas: So faced with the reality of achieving no reform, this government chose not to walk away from problem gamblers and their families. In this session the government will introduce Australia's first national legislation to tackle problem gambling, including a staged evidence-based approach on precommitment. The votes in the parliament are not there, as we know, because the Liberals and the National Party would not support mandatory precommitment. I note that the party sitting over there still does not have a policy on gambling.
Senator ABETZ: At least Mr Wilkie now knows how Mr Rudd feels, betrayed—
CHAIR: Senator Furner has a question and we will go with that before we finish this area.
Senator FURNER: Thank you, Chair. There are a number of smaller venues, such as surf life saving clubs, football clubs, bowls clubs and also those in regional centres. What sorts of safeguards would the government be putting in place as a result of these reforms?
Ms Carroll : The government has announced that the small venues will have until 2020 to implement the voluntary precommitment system. The larger venues will start from 2016, so they have an extra period of time. Also, consideration is being made for very, very small venues that might only have a handful of machines. But for venues with up to 20 machines, they will have until 2020—so a significant amount of extra time.
Senator FURNER: Thank you.
CHAIR: No follow-up?
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Just on this point, if I may, and eating into my time.
CHAIR: Eating into your own time; that is fine, Senator.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am not sure, Ms Carroll, if this has been asked, but in another hearing the question arose in Prime Minister and Cabinet as to whether there had been consideration of conflict of interest issues, given that these funds were going from government to clubs in the ACT, many of which have associations, or some of which have associations, with the Labor Party. Those figures are on the public record and I will not go there. The issue that was traversed was about the conflict of interest. The implication from the answers given at Prime Minister and Cabinet was that this department was doing the nuts and bolts of it and it was basically flicked to here. If it has not been asked already, have you done some work in relation to that conflict of interest? The Australian Labor Party federal government is giving, in effect, to itself because those donations are coming back to the Labor Party.
Ms Carroll : Certainly, we have been looking at that issue and looking at ways to quite explicitly ensure that there is not a direct funding flow, as you have described. The department sought independent financial advice on the measures that could be implemented to manage the funds proposed for clubs in the ACT.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That was from, what, a KPMG type organisation?
Ms Carroll : That is correct. The independent advice—
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Can you tell me what organisation you got the advice from?
Mr Agnew : Oakton consultancy services.
Ms Carroll : They have given us a range of measures that are recommended to be put in place—looking at things like representatives of clubs to sign a statutory declaration and the possibility of setting up separate bank accounts. There is a series of recommendations in that report that obviously we will be providing to the government and looking at how we implement those as part of the ACT trial.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: When will that be? When was that report received?
Ms Carroll : I will have to check the exact date.
Ms Cattermole : We might need to take the date on notice.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Has that advice been given to the government yet? I am not asking what the advice is. I am asking whether the advice has been given to the government.
Ms Carroll : Minister Macklin has been very anxious to ensure that we find ways to look at how that funding flow—it has been made quite explicit that that funding flow would not happen. We have sought this financial advice and we will be providing it. I can check the exact dates and put those on notice.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Do you intend to release that report?
Ms Carroll : That would be a matter for the minister.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Do I discern from your answer that the advice is that there is a potential conflict of interest and that the options that have been put to you are to avoid those conflicts of interest?
Ms Carroll : There is certainly potential for a perceived conflict of interest and we are working through the mechanisms to see what would be possible to help mitigate against those risks.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Any further questions? There are a lot on notice. Thank you very much to the officers from outcome 3. We now move to outcome 4, Seniors.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Has the department been asked to provide the government or the minister with any proposals or briefs on pension eligibility or changes to eligibility to the pension?
Ms Carroll : Again, we are kind of into a space of policy advice to the government.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am not asking you what the advice is. I am just asking you whether you have been asked to provide it. Let me re-ask the question. Have you done any work in relation to changes to pension eligibility?
Ms Carroll : Senator, I think the difficulty here is that whether we have or have not done anything very specific about pension eligibility comes into a broad scope of policy advice to government and we are always doing a range of advice to government.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I have asked a question of a similar nature in the past and I was given an answer. I am surprised, Ms Carroll, that on this occasion you cannot tell me if you have been asked to provide any proposals or briefs on pension eligibility or changes thereto. I am happy to go back and find the previous evidence where it has been given.
Ms Carroll : We will take it on notice, Senator. We can go and look at previous answers.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: What is the percentage of age pension recipients who are also working?
Ms Foster : We have a population of about 2.24 million age pensioners. Of that broader population, approximately 3.3 per cent of age pensioners have employment income. If you look at people who have come onto the age pension in the last 12 months, that percentage is about 10 per cent of age pensioners.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Some of these are about staff, so you will probably take them on notice, I would say. Could you tell me the current staffing levels working within seniors in your department? Are you expecting staffing levels to remain or is there an expectation to increase or decrease staffing levels in this financial year? Will you take that on notice?
Mr Pratt : I can answer that second part. We can take on notice the first one. In terms of current staffing levels, I expect they will remain at about the same level.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Has the senior section of the department provided ministerial briefs to either the minister for FaHCSIA or the minister for ageing specifically on seniors since the commencement of the 2011-12 budget?
Mr Pratt : I am sorry; can you repeat that question, Senator? It is rather specific.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Has the senior section of the department provided ministerial briefs to either the minister for FaHCSIA or the minister for ageing specifically on seniors since the commencement of the 2011-12 budget?
Mr Pratt : We would not provide briefs directly to the minister for ageing, but we certainly would have provided a briefing to our minister.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes. Could you take on notice how many briefs you have provided to the minister, please?
Mr Pratt : Yes.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Has your section been asked to provide the Prime Minister, including through her departments, with any briefings on seniors issues? Could you take on notice how many since the last election?
Mr Pratt : We do not provide briefs to the Prime Minister. We provide briefs to our minister.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. If you could take on notice staff from seniors attending conferences, workshops, seminars, planning days outside of Canberra. Where were these located and what were the titles and objectives? What was the cost to the department for attendance at these, including travel?
Mr Pratt : We will take that on notice.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. In relation to the commonwealth seniors health card, can you update me on how many card holders there currently are?
Ms Stawyskyj : Currently there are 282,186 commonwealth seniors health card holders.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am sorry?
Ms Stawyskyj : 282,186, as of 30 June 2011.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. As you are aware, there were previous attempts by the government to restrict access to the commonwealth seniors health card by changing eligibility for card holders in the previous budget, which we strongly opposed. Are you aware of any future proposals which would see the eligibility criteria change?
Mr Pratt : That goes back to the issue of policy advice to government. We are not in the business of confirming or denying any sort of advice that we might be providing to the minister or that the minister might be considering.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As you are aware, the coalition took a policy to the last election which would see the income threshold for eligibility to access the commonwealth seniors health card indexed. Has the department done any work on such an initiative?
Mr Pratt : Once again, that goes to the issue of policy advice to government. I cannot confirm or deny.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Surely it would have been done as part of the red and blue book procedure, would it not?
Mr Pratt : We provide advice to government on its policies. We canvas many, many things in that advice. I do not want to go into exactly what that might be. I do not want you to take from my answer that I am saying that it is being considered or it is not being considered.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Can I just ask about internet kiosks. Senator Moore, I will be finished within my 15 minutes.
CHAIR: I know Senator Carol Brown has something on the same subject, so we will see how we go.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: What is the current number of free internet kiosks Australia-wide?
Ms Calder : There is a commitment to have 2,000 broadband kiosks, but at any one time there is a small number that for one reason or another are not operational.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: About 2,000. Have you had any feedback particularly from regional, rural and remote locations that seniors have not been able to access these kiosks?
Ms Calder : From time to time we do have an inquiry via our service provider that they may not be able to get access. We liaise with NEC, who are our provider in that respect, and they engage with the host of that kiosk and quickly sort out the issue.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That is how you respond?
Ms Calder : That is correct.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Could you outline the ongoing internet kiosk running and maintenance costs and who meets the costs?
Ms Calder : The government has a subcontractor or a service provider in NEC. They work as part of a consortium to install and maintain the kiosks around Australia in the locations with host organisations. We meet a range of the costs via NEC for internet access, maintenance, hardware and software.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: What happens in the kiosks where the computers do not work or have not worked for extended periods of time? Is that interaction through the kiosk host?
Ms Calder : Yes, there is a relationship between the kiosk host and NEC. That relationship means that they are able to contact NEC for support and get their assistance to ensure that those issues are resolved.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Senator CAROL BROWN: With the provision of the kiosk, obviously some people would be going in, the seniors would be going in, and they may not have had as much to do with computers. There must be a training program associated with the establishment of senior kiosks; is that right?
Ms Calder : Yes, there is. The kiosks have been very successful. We have heard of lots of stories where people have not had any involvement with the internet but, after a period of time, they have actually been very comfortable to use it for things such as Skype and keeping in contact with family. We have a consortium with NEC and a couple of other providers who provide tutoring, and we support volunteers who come in and work with those seniors when they come to access the kiosks.
Senator CAROL BROWN: What form does that tutoring take? You have volunteers. Is it some sort of computer program that can take you through?
Ms Calder : It can take a range of forms depending on the organisation who is the host. In some cases it might be teaching them how to start from first base with a mouse and then we might move on, depending on the needs of the particular individual, to using some of the programs they can access online. The volunteers who are supported through the host, as you can imagine, have a range of different skill sets, so part of our arrangement with NEC is that our consortium organisations support those volunteers to get more knowledge about helping people come and use those kiosks.
Senator CAROL BROWN: That has worked really well?
Ms Calder : Yes. It has been very successful. The feedback we get is very positive and over the course of the first period we have been looking at what works well and the sorts of things that we can do to make that even stronger for people coming to use those kiosks. We are looking at a small evaluation at the moment, independently, to get some further feedback on what have been some of the successes.
Senator CAROL BROWN: You have not commissioned that evaluation yet?
Ms Calder : It is underway at the moment.
Senator CAROL BROWN: When will we be looking to—
Ms Calder : About midway through this year, we expect.
Senator CAROL BROWN: Thank you.
CHAIR: Are there any further questions in seniors? There not being any, thank you to the officers from seniors.
CHAIR: We now move to outcome 5.
Senator WRIGHT: I thank the officers for their time today. I have some questions about employment and the PHaMS program. We know that the government committed $50 million in the 2011-12 budget via the Personal Helpers and Mentors program and Building Australia's Future Workforce, which was aimed at supporting people with severe mental illness to access employment opportunities by offering appropriate support to employers. I have received good feedback about this program and I would just like to ask you a few questions about it. We do not have long so I would ask you to briefly give me a little more detail about the program itself and then I have some specific questions of you. If you could just briefly indicate what the programs are designed to do?
Ms Farrelly : Yes, certainly. The PHaMS program aims to support people whose lives are severely affected by mental illness, and their families. It helps them in their life domains to support their recovery process. You do not need a diagnosis to have a PHaMS worker, you only need to be made eligible by using an eligibility screening tool. That goes across nine life areas. That means that people who may be alienated from the service system are able to be picked up and are able to be supported in whatever area they need. It might be employment, it might be in seeking more clinical support, it might be about their relationships.
Senator WRIGHT: I am particularly going to ask you some questions about the employment aspect of PHaMS today. I do not know whether that is appropriate or not. Is it specific or is the PHaMS program administered generally?
Ms Farrelly : The PHaMS program is administered generally, and once people have eligibility assessed and have a worker appointed they are then able to work out their own individual recovery plan. That may have on it that they will seek employment or seek to support their employment efforts. In the new budget, $50 million of FaHCSIA's implementation over the five years is specifically targeted at supporting people's employment.
Senator WRIGHT: That is the particular area I would like to ask you about now. Sorry to cut you off. I am conscious that I do not have very long. Can you detail then, please, the progress of the rollout of those particular employment initiatives?
Ms Farrelly : What we have been doing in the first instance is looking at where some of the gaps are in our service delivery and looking at where people with high unemployment are. We have been doing quite a lot of mapping work. Over the next few months we aim to do quite a lot of consultation with key employment agencies. We have already spoken to our colleagues in DEEWR who are providing the DES services and other supportive employment. We wanted to make sure that the PHaMS expansion really supports people specifically in their employment journey. So that happens already as part of the broader work but this is really specifically targeted. Some of our PHaMS services are also run by JSA, who actually have quite a lot of expertise. We want to mine that expertise and knowledge to make sure that the expansion really cherry-picks, if you like, the best of what is happening at the moment.
Senator WRIGHT: At what locations are these initiatives then being delivered?
Ms Farrelly : That has not been determined yet.
Senator WRIGHT: When is that likely to be determined?
Ms Farrelly : Over the next few months we will be, as I said, consulting. We will also be testing out some of the data work we have done and looking at some of the areas where people who are on the disability support pension are located and looking at people who are high on the Kessler score. We are basically looking at people who are already, if you like, supported or on income support so that we target them in the areas where they will be most prevalent.
Senator WRIGHT: What organisations are you working with to deliver these services? You mentioned JSA. I am also interested in the other organisations, including, obviously, non-government organisations.
Ms Farrelly : That has not been determined yet. There are a number of organisations already working with this client group. They really do range across the not-for-profit sector—across the employment sector. So it has not been determined yet which particular services will deliver the new ones.
Senator WRIGHT: When would that be likely to be determined, then?
Ms Farrelly : Over the next few months we will have a clearer idea of what the shape and size of the service delivery will be and how those services will be procured.
Senator WRIGHT: Would it be possible for you to take it on notice and give some information about the organisations that are currently providing those services?
Ms Farrelly : Yes, I could do that.
Senator WRIGHT: Is it possible to foreshadow those that may be in the running? Would it be new services or would it be existing services and decisions about increasing funding or resources to some of those?
Ms Farrelly : It would be a little early to take the second part. We could do some work on the PHaMS services that already have significant employment links.
Senator WRIGHT: What are the proposed outcome measures for this program?
Ms Farrelly : They are yet to be determined. That is a very good question.
Ms Carroll : Obviously, one of the key things we will be looking at is employment outcomes and what the key pathways are to those employment outcomes.
Senator WRIGHT: How would the measurement of that be carried out?
Ms Carroll : During the process of developing the tender for those service providers we will work through what the best measurement tool would be and who would be best to provide that measurement.
Senator WRIGHT: What planning is there for evaluation to occur further down the track so that these measurements can be assessed realistically?
Ms Farrelly : We are in the process of developing an evaluation framework that will support the whole measurement over the coming new measures.
Senator WRIGHT: When is that likely to be provided or ready?
Ms Farrelly : It will be during this year—probably the second half of this year.
Senator WRIGHT: Are there systems in place to monitor and assess performance indicators for this program, and what are the performance indicators?
Ms Farrelly : We ask our service providers to report six monthly on their progress. For PHaMS in particular, we have a portal where data is entered on characteristics of clients so that we have an ability to monitor certainly how many clients. The outcomes are also measured through the reports from providers.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Wright. Senator Fifield, you are going to kick off on NDIS?
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you, Chair. I might very quickly go through and seek confirmation as to where we are with NDIS. I think we established this morning and at previous estimates that the $10 million announced by the government in August last year, which is in MYEFO as being from existing departmental resources, is not new money—despite the initial announcement. It was to deliver an immediate additional $10 million, which made it sound awfully like new money. That is $10 million from existing departmental resources. Is that correct?
Mr Pratt : Reallocation.
Senator FIFIELD: I think we again confirmed this morning that the second amount of $10 million, which was announced by the Prime Minister in December for the establishment of the agency, was money which was not in the MYEFO released at the end of last year and we will know from whence that comes in the next budget?
Mr Pratt : Correct.
Senator FIFIELD: There is no money allocated there as yet. Something else that I want to confirm is that Minister Macklin, after a ministerial council meeting in October last year, said:
The Gillard Government and all state and territory governments today agreed to lay the foundations for a National Disability Insurance Scheme by mid-2013 - a year ahead of the timetable set out by the Productivity Commission.
I want to check my understanding of that. I think some people have read that as the government saying that the timetable for the full rollout of the Productivity Commission time line would be implemented a year ahead of the Productivity Commission time line, but my understanding or reading of what the minister said is that it is merely that some of the foundational work will be done a year ahead of the Productivity Commission time line. Is that correct?
Ms S Wilson : The way I would explain it is that the select council considered a work plan that identified a range of foundation reforms and building blocks for a National Disability Insurance Scheme, with the end date for those deliverables under that work plan being June 2013. That is the foundation for a NDIS.
Senator FIFIELD: That is right. It is not committing to the 2018-19 final year rollout happening in 2017-18, is it?
Mr Pratt : There has been no decision by governments, plural, to that effect.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you.
Senator McLucas: If you go to the Productivity Commission's timetable, the commitment we made last December was to bring forward by 12 months the launch date. You will recall that the Productivity Commission recommended that there be launch sites—
Senator FIFIELD: In 2014-15?
Senator McLucas: That is right. The commitment that we made at the end of last year was to bring that forward by 12 months.
Senator FIFIELD: The launch is in 2013-14 rather than 2014-15. Was that the commitment, that they would be launched by 2013-14?
Senator McLucas: No, not the launch sites but to have the building blocks in place.
Senator FIFIELD: I just wanted to confirm that. I think the statement by Minister Macklin in October last year and by the Prime Minister in her speech at the National Disability Awards has been read by some people in two ways. I think it has been read by some that the full rollout through to 2018-19 will be brought forward by a year. By others, I think it has been read that the launch sites will happen in 2013-14 rather than 2014-15, whereas I think we have just confirmed that what it is saying is that some of the foundational work will happen a year ahead of schedule but that there has been no commitment to the balance of the Productivity Commission time line or to bring that forward. Is that a correct statement?
Senator McLucas: You have to take the steps one and a time.
Senator FIFIELD: I appreciate that.
Senator McLucas: The big step is getting the foundation reforms in place.
Senator FIFIELD: I appreciate that.
Senator McLucas: That work is progressing at speed.
Senator FIFIELD: I wanted to confirm that. There is an impression in the sector, and amongst those who are very interested in this, that the Productivity Commission time line has been committed to, whereas it has not. There is an impression, I think as well, that not only has it been committed to but that launch sites will also happen a year ahead of what is the Productivity Commission time line and it will not. There is also an impression that there has been new money committed to a NDIS, and I think we have confirmed that as yet there has not been. I am just wanting to get those facts confirmed.
Mr Pratt : There are some nuances there. I think we need to wait until the budget to—
Senator FIFIELD: I am not pre-empting the budget. I am talking about what we know at the moment. We know there was no new money in MYEFO. There was the re-allocated departmental funding for the first $10 million. On the basis of evidence here we know that for the second $10 million there was no money in MYEFO, not even in decisions taken but not yet announced. The budget is a different thing. We have to wait and see. I just wanted you to confirm that is the state of play as we stand today.
Mr Pratt : In relation to the timetable around launches, I think we need to be quite careful about what governments have actually said. They have agreed to a work plan to deliver foundation reforms for a National Disability Insurance Scheme by mid-2013. This will put governments, plural, again, in a strong position to launch a National Disability Insurance Scheme in selected regions in 2013.
Senator FIFIELD: I am confused now. I thought what was said before was that the foundational work to enable launch sites was being brought forward a year, but that the launch sites were not being brought forward a year from 2014-15 to 2013-14. Did I misunderstand that?
Mr Pratt : What Senator McLucas said was quite clear about the foundation reforms being agreed to be ready for an NDIS by mid-2013, which then places the governments, plural—I am sorry to keep doing that because it is not just the Commonwealth government—
Senator FIFIELD: It is a collected effort by all the governments.
Mr Pratt : in a strong position to launch an NDIS in 2013, presumably from mid-2013.
Senator FIFIELD: Parliamentary Secretary, is it your understanding that Minister Macklin's announcement was meaning that launch sites would happen in 2013-14 rather than 2014-15?
Senator McLucas: We have to put one step in front of the other. As the secretary has indicated, we are working with our state and territory counterparts to ensure that we bring forward the development of the foundational reforms to mid-2013.
Senator FIFIELD: Correct.
Senator McLucas: It brings forward the program as described by the Productivity Commission 12 months earlier. That would then facilitate consideration of launch sites, as the secretary has indicated, in 2013.
Senator FIFIELD: It seems to be saying something different to where we started. Are you saying that, where the Productivity Commission time line says that in 2014-15 the scheme begins with regional rollouts, that is now 2013-14?
Mr Pratt : The way you are expressing it could be interpreted as saying that launches will not happen in 2013-14. It is possible that they will happen as a result of the bringing forward of the work on the foundation of the reforms. That is all we are trying to say.
Senator FIFIELD: They may happen in 2013-14, they may happen in 2014-15. A decision not yet been made.
Mr Pratt : That is going to be a decision for governments.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. I will not pursue that further. I just wanted to get some clarity on that. I note the Prime Minister in her speech in December at the National Disability Awards said:
The decision I announced in August is a not just a preliminary hint or an aspiration. It is the green light for a National Disability Insurance Scheme in this country. The time for words is over. The time for action has come. We will get this thing done.
Senator McLucas: I am particularly pleased you put that back into the Hansard again.
Senator FIFIELD: It seems to be a stronger statement than has been committed to in relation to the Productivity Commission time line.
Mr Pratt : I disagree, with respect. They are not incompatible.
Senator FIFIELD: We shall see. I want to move on to the COAG Select Council on Disability Reform. I will be looking at the Prime Minister's words again on budget night. I hasten to add that we all will be looking very closely at the words in the context of the budget. The COAG Select Council on Disability Reform has met twice now, in October and in February—last week. I may have missed it, but I do not think I saw a communique issued from the 20 October council meeting. Was there one?
Ms S Wilson : No, there was not.
Senator FIFIELD: Is there a reason why there was not? It is a significant gathering. Usually these council communiques are issued to update on progress.
Ms S Wilson : They were working meetings.
Senator FIFIELD: I would hope they always are. Was a draft communique prepared before?
Mr Pratt : It is a matter for ministers whether they choose to put a communique out.
Senator FIFIELD: Of course it is. I just wondered whether officers from jurisdictions did a draft beforehand.
Mr Pratt : At a previous estimates you might actually have stated that we always prepared draft communiques just in case.
Senator FIFIELD: I might have hazarded a guess. What about the meeting of 9 February? Was there a communique issued after that meeting?
Mr Pratt : No.
Senator FIFIELD: Some people could infer from that that it was a result of a lack of agreement as to what might go into a communique. Parliamentary Secretary, would that be an incorrect inference?
Senator McLucas: I think it would be. I think what you would find is, as Ms Wilson has said, that this was a very productive working meeting. There are significant issues to be addressed. The recommendation from the Productivity Commission is a huge change to the way we deliver support for people with disability in the country. My take of the meeting, without going into the detail—which would be inappropriate—is that there is goodwill around the table to do what the Productivity Commission has described, and that is to provide a better outcome for people with disability in our country.
Senator FIFIELD: I might put a question to you, Parliamentary Secretary, in relation to that select council meeting, which you attended of course.
Senator McLucas: That is right.
Senator FIFIELD: There was a report in the Australian on 13 February in which a state government source said, and I will ask for your response to this:
The federal government is just trying to use us to play for time, making it appear they are getting on with all the endless, detailed planning work that is supposedly required for the introduction of an NDIS, when, in fact, it now seems they have no intention of putting any actual money on the table in May.
What is your response to that, Senator McLucas?
Senator McLucas: I think it is unfortunate.
Senator FIFIELD: I would agree that that sounds very unfortunate. But is it incorrect?
Senator McLucas: It is unfortunate that whomever is described as a state government source is taking this tack.
CHAIR: Why would you expect a minister at the table to respond to a media comment?
Senator FIFIELD: Because ministers do all the time.
CHAIR: If the minister wishes to do so, but it is not really a Senate estimates question.
Senator FIFIELD: It relates to funding of this scheme and I thought this may provide an opportunity for the parliamentary secretary to respond to that.
Senator McLucas: Our government has shown its bona fides in this matter. We have produced the Productivity Commission's report. Within weeks of receiving it, we published it. We have allocated $20 million to start that work, to develop the building blocks, to engage with our state and territory counterparts and to establish the advisory group of representatives from people with disability, their carers and the service sector. We intend to deliver this reform to the Australian people. This sits besides Medicare. This sits beside compulsory superannuation. This will be a reform that is in the true Labor tradition, and one that we will be extraordinarily proud of.
You can harangue from the edges or you can join us, Senator Fifield. You can be part of a dream and of achieving that dream. You have heard the stories as loudly as I have from people with disability. What they get now is not what they need. If we pull together we might get there. Sorry, I just had to make a speech.
Senator FIFIELD: That is fine. I like many of the things that you say. Not all Labor traditions are good traditions but we will put that aside. I think we all want to see an NDIS happen. We, as a constructive opposition, would not be doing our job if we did not seek to ascertain the state of play as it currently stands and seek to provide support and encouragement to the NDIS champions within the government for a good outcome in the budget. That is what the opposition is doing. We would not be doing our job if we were not seeking to determine exactly where the dollars are, as it currently stands and where the time line is in relation to government commitments, as it currently stands, which is what we are seeking to do. I might continue with the ministerial council.
Senator FIFIELD: We canvassed briefly this morning the Fair Work Australia pay decision in relation to community sector workers. There are, I guess, possible implications for the costings of an NDIS, and I was wondering whether work had been commissioned by, for instance, the Australian Government Actuary as to what the cost implications of that decision might be for an NDIS?
Mr Pratt : I believe this morning—I am not sure whether you were here—I did actually mention that yes, the Commonwealth actuary was doing work in this area. Of course that is a matter for the Treasury portfolio.
Senator FIFIELD: That is right. You said we would visit it here.
Mr Pratt : Yes, and we would confirm whether or not we had been consulted on that. I think that was the follow-up question.
Senator FIFIELD: For instance, would such advice be provided to the Ministerial Council on Disability Reform if it had been completed?
Ms S Wilson : I do not believe we are in a position to discuss the content of advice that went or the papers that went to the select council, because it is a ministers-in-confidence meeting unless they choose to issue a communique. I can advise that there is a work plan for officials and there is a subgroup of officials working on costing issues. It is comprised of Treasury officials. That work is led by the Commonwealth Treasury but more detailed questions about that work would need to go to Treasury.
Senator FIFIELD: If such work was commissioned, who would own that work? Would it be Treasury or would it be that part of government which commissioned it?
Ms S Wilson : The work that is being done for the select council is work that goes back to the select council and then will get reported to COAG. If your question is who will have access to that work, then members of the select council will have access to that work.
Senator FIFIELD: But who owns that? I you want to avoid the situation where if I go to Treasury and they say yes, work has been done but it was commissioned by the select council, therefore you have to go to FaHCSIA, and then FaHCSIA will say that it will go ultimately to COAG, so you have to ask PM&C.
Ms S Wilson : Senator, there are joint chairs of the select council, the Treasurer and Minister Macklin. The group of officials working to the select council comprise disability officials, Treasury officials and first ministers, and department officials across the states, territories and the Commonwealth, so we are working together to support, in a whole-of-government and governance way, the work of the select council. The select council has been established to report back to COAG on taking this issue forward and providing advice. But as treasuries and Commonwealth Treasury have led this work, I am not in a position to talk more about the detail of it. Also, it is advice that is going to the select council—it is ministers plural, Commonwealth and state—in confidence. At this point they have chosen not to release it.
Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the detail around the NDIS. Without wanting to traverse where the launch sites are starting in 2013, as part of the foundation process that is ongoing between now and 2013, does that include doing some selection of potential launch sites?
Ms S Wilson : It could. Should ministers agree to progress to a launch then clearly being able to provide advice to them on launch sites would be required. The foundation reforms are about getting ready, and then there is a second step, as the parliamentary secretary indicated, that would require governments to agree that, yes, we want to go to launch. They might ask for advice about sites to discuss, theoretically, in order to be ready for that.
Senator SIEWERT: What discussions would that then entail? Surely that would then entail some pretty intense discussions with the providers in that particular potential launch site?
Senator McLucas: I do not think we are there yet. We are not ready to have that conversation yet. I understand the point you are making but the work that we are having to do on the foundation reforms is very significant. To imagine that we can jump over that work and then start talking about what we might need to do to develop locations and supports within a certain geographical area is a long way away.
Senator SIEWERT: I hear what you are saying and I heard what you said earlier. You will be aware that there is at least one community I know that has been up here lobbying.
Senator McLucas: Only one?
Senator SIEWERT: There have been other specific organisations and there have been other regions that have been around expressing some concern that they do not know what is going on. I can understand the dilemma. If you are looking at moving to potential relaunching in 2013—we have had that discussion—it seems to me that unless you are at some stage in the not too distant future talking to some of the providers in potential launch sites, there is no way that there will be launch sites available in 2013.
Mr Pratt : Normally we do not like to get into hypotheticals. As Senator McLucas has pointed out, we cannot get ahead of ourselves, but your point is a reasonable one. Eventually, when we start looking at sites, we will need to consult in those possible areas ahead of time.
Senator SIEWERT: With one of the scenario planning exercises that I am sure is being undertaken, does one of the scenarios include potentially building in a consultation process to enable a site to be launched in 2013?
Ms S Wilson : I think I could say that all officials in the Commonwealth and the states and territories are cognisant that, should ministers agree to proceed to launch, there would be a significant piece of work to be done, working back from the date of that launch to prepare providers and people with disability in the broader community and mainstream services in a location where a site had been identified for launch. I hope I can give you confidence that we are fully cognisant of the need that, should you be launching on a certain date, there is a significant period ahead of that where you would need to start working in locations. Does that help?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, it does, as far as I think we would be able to go. I will not go any further there. In terms of the foundation requirements, I understand there are a whole lot of processes being undertaken and some consultation. At what time do you go out to the broader community of service providers for consultation? I am not talking about just launch sites; I am talking about the general design.
Ms S Wilson : You are talking about design?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Ms S Wilson : Certainly there is an intention to engage with stakeholders and the broader community. That is one of the roles of the advisory group. All officials, and I believe all ministers, are cognisant of the importance of doing that as their work on design and the NDIS progresses. It is not quite at that stage yet where there are specific propositions to put, it would be fair to say. But the ongoing engagement about how stakeholders and consumers would like to see things change is certainly occurring.
Senator SIEWERT: That is obviously going to occur this year?
Ms S Wilson : Yes, Senator. That would make sense.
Senator SIEWERT: Can I just follow up on the updating process. In that process around engaging some of the service providers, is there a process of actually keeping them updated? I am separating that out from consultation and the processes you just went through. If in nine months time or whatever—I am choosing that randomly—you come out and say, 'We're now doing consultation,' is there an updating process?
Mr Pratt : Is this in relation to the foundation reforms? Is that what you are asking about?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Ms S Wilson : The minister and the parliamentary secretary have had electronic communication with stakeholders who have registered their interest in the NDIS. That is the mechanism by which they are being kept informed. That is, if you like, from the Commonwealth. At the state and territory level, some of the jurisdictions have their own stakeholder groups or task forces. Victoria has one and Queensland has one. The advisory group on the NDIS which is advising, through the chairs, the select council, also is developing an engagement and communication plan.
Senator SIEWERT: Okay.
Ms S Wilson : I beg your pardon; there is also the www.ndis.gov.au website.
Senator SIEWERT: Through those mechanisms, if people want to engage, they can actually choose to get engaged and then get regular updates?
Ms S Wilson : That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT: The other matter is engaging with Victoria and WA—and in particular WA—who have chosen to be part of NDIS but they have not chosen to be part of the whole reform of HACC, the dividing up between aged care and disabilities. Is that affecting these negotiations and how would they participate?
Ms S Wilson : No, it is not, Senator. I can assure you that those jurisdictions and their officials have been actively engaged in all of the processes to date. Whilst they might have a different approach in relation to home and community care, which will need to be considered in the context of a full design, it is not limiting their participation.
Senator SIEWERT: That is why I am asking, because they are taking a different tack and these sorts of services are going to have to be included as part of it. That is not preventing any full and open discussions about those issues?
Mr Pratt : No.
Senator FIFIELD: With the NDIS website, do we have a number for what that cost to produce? It might not have been a big exercise.
Ms Moses : The website cost $15,300.
Senator FIFIELD: Were there any external contractors involved?
Ms Moses : I might have to take that on notice.
Senator FIFIELD: If you could. Also, briefly this morning we touched on an AusTender contract. Ms Hambling was engaged to provide strategic advice on disability reform. Are we able to slightly expand upon what the role of that contract is?
Ms S Wilson : It is to develop a stakeholder engagement strategy with a particular focus on the work of the advisory group.
Dr Hartland : Senator, I have a summary. It is for the provision of services in relation to strategic advice on community and stakeholder engagement on disability care and support reforms. It is to scan and map roles and strategies for engaging with stakeholders, suggest approaches for working with the community and stakeholders, and for the foundation building blocks, and to provide advice on the formation of expert groups to inform the work of the advisory group.
Senator FIFIELD: That is not a capacity that the department has already?
Ms S Wilson : We have some capacity. Ms Hambling has a lot of expertise in the disability field. She has previously been an employee of the department as a senior executive and has very longstanding knowledge of these issues. It is, if you like, a discrete piece of work that we thought it would be extremely useful to get from someone with her sort of expertise.
Senator FIFIELD: That comes from the initial $10 million?
Ms S Wilson : That is correct.
Senator FIFIELD: I want to ask about the KPMG report into early intervention for children—Better Start. The parliamentary secretary said in her release that that would be important in helping to build the NDIS. Has that report been formally provided to the NDIS advisory group or the COAG select council?
Ms S Wilson : Not at this stage but there is no difficulty in doing so. The advisory groups have a range of meetings happening and this is something that has not yet been provided to them.
Senator FIFIELD: I have lots of questions on Better Start. I had better pop those on notice.
Mr Pratt : It actually is on our website. They have access—everyone has access to it.
Senator FIFIELD: It is a free country. I wanted to make sure that it gets fed in to where it should. We will follow that up later.
Ms S Wilson : It will, Senator. It just has not come up as yet in this stage of work.
Senator McLucas: Early intervention was a huge focus of the Productivity Commission's document, as you would recall.
Senator FIFIELD: Indeed. Just shifting slightly to the Helping Children with Autism package, a constituent of Mr Fletcher, the member for Bradfield, stated—and I just want to check if this is the case; I may well have missed it—that the ability to access allied health services or visits, which was at 12, has been changed to 10; is that correct?
Mr Riley : No, that is not correct. It remains at $12,000.
Senator FIFIELD: No, I thought there was a limit on the number of visits?
Mr Riley : That is the Medicare component of the measure. It is a matter for—
Senator FIFIELD: Okay. If that has changed, I go to them, not you.
Mr Riley : Yes.
Senator FIFIELD: Finally, on the National Carer Awareness Campaign and Young Carers Festivals, on 9 December last year the government announced a new round. How does that differ from the round that I think was opened a few months before?
Ms Angus : With the original financial requirements, after the process had commenced we felt that they were restricting potentially good candidates too significantly, so we halted that process and recommenced a separate process.
Senator FIFIELD: Could you say that again?
Ms Angus : We felt that the initial financial requirements we had were constraining potentially good candidates from providing the services for us.
Senator FIFIELD: What do you mean by financial requirements?
Ms Angus : The level of requirement that we had in relation to what would make someone eligible or not to be considered for the tender.
Senator FIFIELD: What was the bit that you changed?
Ms Angus : In terms of financial capacity we reduced the requirement around full audited financial statements.
Senator FIFIELD: What does that mean in layman's language?
Ms Angus : That means that some organisations were unable to apply because they did not have full audited financial statements, even though they would have had capacity to provide the service we required. On that basis we felt that that was restricting the possible pool of potentially good candidates.
Senator FIFIELD: Were there any other changes?
Ms Angus : No. That was the significant change.
Senator FIFIELD: Had you received a large number of responses from organisations saying, 'This isn't going to fly for us'?
Ms Angus : We did receive some feedback saying that people felt they would be able to provide the service but not to that level of compliance.
Senator FIFIELD: Were you concerned that you would not receive sufficient applications that were compliant?
Ms Angus : We were concerned that we were restricting the range of candidates who might best be able to provide the service.
Senator FIFIELD: In a nutshell, the decision was taken to scrap and start again?
Ms Angus : That is correct.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I would like to ask some questions in relation to the roadmap for national mental health reform. I asked questions about this in health and ageing yesterday. I just wanted to know from FaHCSIA's perspective what your input was into this.
Ms S Wilson : I will have to get one of my colleagues who deals with mental health to come to the table.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Without going into the specifics—I might come to one example—tell me what FaHCSIA's role has been in terms of input into this draft.
Ms McKenzie : In terms of the roadmap, and in terms of all the mental health initiatives that were announced in the recent budget, we work closely with the Department of Health and Ageing. There are a range of processes that are set up for us to be able to input into the work that they are developing and also to engage with them when they engage with the states and territories.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Are you part of an interdepartmental committee that was established in relation to this roadmap?
Ms McKenzie : Yes.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: When did you first start participating in the work of that interdepartmental committee?
Ms McKenzie : I would have to take that on notice.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. One of the key directions talks about supporting people to participate in society. Is this how it is working: you have provided to health potential ways that that can be achieved? Rather than the objective, what is the actual concrete aspect of how you are going to get to the end of that particular road?
Ms McKenzie : FaHCSIA has responsibility for a range of measures in the mental health area—PHaMS, which we were discussing before, respite and also the family mental health support services. We also have a broader remit in terms of our broader range of community services and family support services. So we bring information from that range of areas to the table when we talk to the department of health.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I guess what I am getting at, Ms McKenzie, is that this is basically being driven out of DoHA and you provide the input as required or other departments provide it as required.
Ms McKenzie : The department of health is certainly the lead.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Are you aware of some of the criticisms that have been in the press and in other areas about the roadmap and its lack of detail?
Ms McKenzie : I have certainly seen the newspaper comments, yes.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: This was the gist of my comments and questions yesterday to DoHA as to lack of actual programs and how these good intentions are going to be achieved. As part of that process, other than the programs that you have currently on foot in FaHCSIA, are there other programs that you have proposed or are proposing in relation to achieving the objectives here?
Ms McKenzie : In terms of the roadmap, the issue really was: was it a high-level document which was going to set the directions over the next 10 years or was it a document that was really going to be very specific about the programmatic responses that could be achieved?
The draft that went out really pointed more to the overarching and overall general directions rather than particular program responses. That is something on which, as you have said, there has been a fair amount of commentary. As I understand it, the Department of Health and Ageing is now considering the comments that have come in, and certainly we have been talking with the Department of Health and Ageing about the kinds of comments that have been received.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I will take you to one of those programs. I am not sure if you are aware of an article that appeared in the Australian on 31 January, entitled 'Mental health policy fails to show results'. The article makes reference to a paper that was written by Sebastian Rosenberg and Professor John Mendoza, who, you would know, is a former chair of the National Mental Health Advisory Council, and Leslie Russell, a former adviser to the then shadow minister for health, Julia Gillard. Are you aware of both the article and the paper?
Ms McKenzie : I certainly have seen the article.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Have you read the paper that was referred to in that article?
Ms McKenzie : I think I have been briefed on it in general terms.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It is being distributed now, with the article attached. There is a comment in there that makes reference to the PHaMS program and flexible packages of care. It makes a comment there and is critical of it as being largely untested. It refers to government's extensive investment in largely untested semi- or non-professional coordination of services. Given that PHaMS is a program within FaHCSIA, what is your general response to criticism of that nature, that it is largely untested semi- or non-professional coordination of services?
Ms Carroll : One of the key things that we have had generally in response from the sector is how valuable the PHaMS program is and the fact that it operates outside but connected to the clinical system is seen as one of its high advantages. We have done an evaluation of the PHaMS program which demonstrated—I think that was released last year—its effectiveness. The key here obviously is that the PHaMS program has been demonstrated to have good results and has had very good stakeholder and individual feedback from clients.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am conscious of the time. I would appreciate it if you could take it on notice and have a look at that article. There are other aspects there that have relevance to FaHCSIA. Insofar as there is criticism there, I would appreciate it if you could give me your response in relation to that.
Senator McLucas: If you go back to the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health and the sort of recommendations that Senator Moore and Senator Siewert would recall, there was a very strong recommendation that our response to the needs of people with mental health problems is that it be both in a clinical sense and in the sense that we are describing here.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am not criticising one way or the other. These are high-level people who have made these criticisms. In fairness, I would like the department to be able to respond to those criticisms. That is why I am making sure—
Senator McLucas: You might have to look a bit further into who wrote the document.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am. I am interested in the author of the document. Professor Mendoza was hand-picked by your government, Senator McLucas, and Ms Russell has more than one or two connections, given that her husband is about to work or has started working with the Prime Minister. There is an interesting connection there.
Ms McKenzie : In terms of the analysis of participant satisfaction surveys for 2010-11 on PHaMS, 99 per cent of clients reported they were satisfied that the service they received was appropriate to their needs and 98 per cent of clients, families and carers are maintaining progress against individual goals. They suggest a very high level of satisfaction and that in fact PHaMS is meeting the needs of this very disadvantaged group.
CHAIR: Your time has run out.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: My time has run out. I shall put my questions on notice.
CHAIR: Senator Boyce, you have 10 minutes.
Senator BOYCE: My first question is to the parliamentary secretary. In terms of the Supported Accommodation Innovation Fund, I understand that you have developed some best-practice guidelines for that, specifically relating to service providers and the ownership of the homes that people with disabilities live in. Could you outline what those guidelines are, please?
Senator McLucas: I might ask Ms Angus to take us through that.
Ms Angus : In relation to the supported accommodation and innovation fund, there were particular aims that the program had, which included delivering up to 150 new places—all of those sorts of things. In addition to that, in the program guidelines which were on the website and informed people's applications, we encouraged the separation of support and ownership of the housing in line with best practice.
Senator BOYCE: What you are requiring for people applying for this grant was that ideally the ownership of the home and the service provider would not be the same organisation; is that correct?
Ms Angus : That is correct, but not exclusively. That was our preferred model. It did not exclude others from that if they could demonstrate innovation and other things that we were seeking.
Senator BOYCE: Thank you, Ms Angus. I might need to go back to the minister for the next one. In terms of the NDIS, whilst that will be funding to individuals, or organisations that individuals choose, would you be intending to follow through with this guideline as a best practice guideline?
Senator McLucas: That is a very hypothetical question. As you would recall, the Productivity Commission talked strongly about individualised funding packages. It talked a lot about options and choice. All of those principles would indicate that to give the person with disability power in a relationship with an entity that owned a building and a service provider providing a service within that building, you would probably move towards that model. But to say that we are contemplating that level of detail at this point—it is not there.
Senator BOYCE: The problem is that there is a perception of conflict of interest and perhaps the fact that the organisation had become far too powerful in controlling the individual's life.
Ms S Wilson : I might be able to add to that. I guess a cornerstone, as the parliamentary secretary identified, of the PC model for an NDIS was this individualised funding approach which enabled more choice of control and, for some who wished to, a cashing out of their support package so that they are able to exercise more control about the agency from whom they receive their support. So whilst we have not yet got to that level of design, clearly, holding that as an important objective in terms of the individualised approach in developing an NDIS would be something we would approach.
Senator BOYCE: I have two areas, one of which is the community attitudes to people with disability scoping project and the other one is the Outside School Hours Care for Teenagers with Disability. Where should I go first?
Senator McLucas: Outside school hours first.
Senator BOYCE: Thank you very much for the answers to the questions on notice from last estimates. At the time I quoted from material that had been supplied, saying that there was a very high unmet need in this area. I think the figures demonstrate this in that for all of Queensland there are 50 before and after school care packages available for teenagers with disability between 12 and 18. In all of Australia, there are 301. One other figure I asked you for was the market size in Brisbane. The figure you gave me from ABS statistics was that there were 3,192 12 18-year-olds with severe or profound disabilities living in the Brisbane area. We have a grand total of six before and after school care packages being offered in the Brisbane area.
There has been an evaluation done of this program, I understand. Has that been completed? Is it able to be made public? Where is it at?
Ms Angus : There is an evaluation. It is under consideration at the moment.
Senator BOYCE: I understood from answers I got at the last estimates that it would have been completed by now. The answer I received on notice to 122 was that the program has been evaluated and the final report is under consideration. Is it still under consideration?
Ms Angus : That remains the case.
Senator BOYCE: Can I ask whom it is under consideration by?
Mr Lewis : By the government, by us.
Senator BOYCE: By the department, by the minister?
Ms Angus : It is—
Senator BOYCE: By FaHCSIA? What would be your intention in terms of this consideration? Are you able to share any details from the report with us?
Ms Angus : Not at this point in time.
Senator BOYCE: What would be your intention? Where would those considerations go, and when would they be made public?
Ms S Wilson : All of this evaluation work is taken into consideration in looking at future policy development opportunities. It would be in that context that this and other evaluations would be considered, including in the development of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. What is the range of support that teenagers with severe and profound disability require, and their families require?
Senator BOYCE: My concern here is that if you are unable to get outside school hours care for a teenager with a severe or profound disability, the options for the parents to work—which I thought was something that certainly had bipartisan support—are very limited. If we are looking at 3,192 people with severe and complex disabilities in the Brisbane area alone, that suggests that conservatively there are about 5,000 people who have potentially the ability to work and who may be constrained, as I know several are, by their inability to source outside school hours care for their teenage child with a disability.
Ms S Wilson : I do not know whether you are asking me a question or reflecting on the circumstances.
Senator BOYCE: I am making the point that it would be lovely. Yes, the NDIS will be great when it arrives, and it is good that this is being evaluated. Would you agree that there is a continuing very high unmet need? And what is to be done about it?
Senator McLucas: Of course we do. That need also existed before 2008 when this program began. I am pleased to hear that it is now bipartisan.
Senator BOYCE: I am not disputing the need for that. It had been evaluated and considered before that.
Senator McLucas: The program started in—
Senator BOYCE: We can see that whilst there is bipartisan support for encouraging into the workforce people who care for an adult or a teenager with a disability, it becomes impossible for them to do so if we do not support them in doing so, and we keep the poverty cycle going. I will leave that question there at the present time.
In relation to the community attitudes to people with disability scoping project, I asked the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Innes, for his views on this paper earlier this week, and he told me he was unaware of this paper. I find it a bit odd that the Disability Discrimination Commissioner was not somehow advised of or involved in the development of a scoping project on community attitudes to people with disability.
Ms K Wilson : This particular project was actually commissioned under FaHCSIA's social policy research services back in 2010. It is probably something we would have to take on notice and ask our social policy group, who actually look after that research program, to answer.
Senator BOYCE: Could you tell me how much the project cost?
Ms K Wilson : FaHCSIA funded the project for $94,330, excluding GST.
Senator BOYCE: What is the intention for using this material now?
Ms K Wilson : It is argued that this is a useful piece of research because there is not a lot of quantitative information out there about community attitudes. In fact one of the findings of the research was that there was little information. When the researchers did an examination of relevant data sets, they found very little reliable evidence about community attitudes. There was a lot of qualitative and anecdotal information. Nevertheless we see this as a very useful first understanding of what is out there and what the gaps are in our knowledge. I guess what the research does highlight is that there are gaps in our understanding. Nevertheless it will be a useful first starting base, I guess, in helping inform some of our ongoing work.
Senator BOYCE: But how will it work? I am aware that about 10 years ago the Queensland government undertook a qualitative survey on exactly the same topic, which produced all sorts of wonderful results about the percentage of people who felt comfortable about sitting next to someone with an intellectual disability on a bus and whatever. Apart from a couple of stories in the local papers, nothing else happened. How will this be used to actually improve community attitudes to people with disability?
Ms S Wilson : There were two components to the work, as I understand it. One was actually looking at the existing evidence base, scoping what was available, finding some shortfalls and making some recommendations about improvements to the evidence base. So we will take them on board for those things for which we are responsible or where we influence. For example, in our work with the ABS on how we might address some gaps there in looking at our own data sets, like the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia data sets, as funds and time on a survey permits. Is there something more that we could do to fill some data gaps?
The other component of the work was really looking at the range of interventions, as I understand it, that can make a difference to change attitudes positively towards people with disability. So we will take that on board as we go forward in our policy work.
Senator BOYCE: I have one last question. It is a question I have also asked of DoHA. In view of the fact that the pension age is going up and that older people are being encouraged to stay in the workforce, some of the statistics around the people who are considered vulnerable, the under-14s and the over-65s, would suggest that perhaps we should be reviewing that use of 65. Has there been any discussion around that issue?
Ms S Wilson : I am not quite sure I understand your question.
Senator BOYCE: Most of the ABS statistics used by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and by other bodies would see the under-14s as a vulnerable, dependent group who need services and assistance, and the other group they categorise that way is the 65-plus group. Clearly, if we are trying to say that at least some of those 65-pluses should be in the workforce, that people will not be receiving the pension because they do not require it until they are 67 et cetera, is it not time to review whether 65 is the place to start considering people as vulnerable? Are we yet distorting our statistics by continuing to think 65 is old?
Ms S Wilson : I think that is a really good question. I guess I would note that the age pension age will go up gradually and does not start until we have got alignment between men and women. So it will take a number of years to fully reach the new age. But certainly getting more disaggregation of age ranges in ABS data so that we can look at the differences between, say, those who are what you might call the 'old old'—80 and over—and those who are perhaps 70 and over, is something that, as a user of ABS data, we would be extremely interested in. Of course the challenge that the ABS would communicate about that to us is a cost challenge, and what cost would it add to some of their collections and the trade-off between things like sample size and the range of questions that could be asked versus the cross-tabulations and the different way they could disaggregate it.
CHAIR: That ends the questioning for outcome 5. We will now take a 10-minute break, then we will come back with outcome 6.
Proceedings suspended from 16:43 to 16:57