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Thursday, 26 May 2011
Page: 4910

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Social Inclusion and Minister for Human Services) (11:19): It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate on the government's budget bills for 2011-12. These bills will help ensure that the benefits of a strong economy flow to each and every corner of our nation. New programs in the budget will help get more people into work and train them for more rewarding jobs. Just as the government's focus on protecting Australian jobs during the global recession helped to position our economy as the envy of the world, our focus on jobs when times improve will ensure that we maximise our advantages into the future. Unlike the previous Liberal government, this Labor government is not complacent as the sun begins to shine. As former US President John Kennedy said, 'The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.' Most importantly, the appropriation bills show that the government is on track for a surplus in 2012-13—on time as promised.

The core of the budget includes a plan to build the more productive workforce our economy needs including a $3 billion training package, new ways to get people into work, and critical new investments in economic infrastructure. Our plan for better schools, hospitals and health care includes a total of $2.2 billion for mental health services and $1.8 billion for regional health facilities, and there is cost-of-living relief for families, investments in a sustainable Australia and new assistance for small business and manufacturers, all while making the difficult decisions necessary to get back into the black by 2012-13, years ahead of the major advanced economies.

Through these bills the government is also making significant new investments in my portfolio of human services. The budget backs up the government's agenda to modernise the delivery of public services. In 2011-12 the government is investing $113½ million in service delivery reform. This vital reform program will deliver more one-stop shops, more self-service and more intensive support for people who need it. It will make public services more accessible, more convenient, more efficient and more targeted at the needs of individual Australians and their families. The new budget funding for service delivery reform is the culmination of a process that began when my predecessor, Chris Bowen, announced our plans in this area in December 2009. For customers, service delivery reform will drag the way the government deliver services away from low-tech, inefficient practices into the 21st century. It will provide more one-stop shops, better self-service options and more intensive support, as I said.

For our staff, our plans will create more opportunities to work in new and different areas across the portfolio. Staff will be able to go beyond their traditional roles and provide more hands-on assistance to people in real need in ways that cut across traditional silos and responsibilities. For the government, our plans will allow us to deliver services more efficiently and cost effectively by getting rid of unnecessary paperwork, combining back-office functions and refocusing resources on those people who need the most help.

Our reforms will free up resources to provide tailored support to people who face multiple complex challenges and entrenched disadvantage. The budget includes $19½ million to extend the successful Local Connections to Work program. In the first seven months of this program there has been a 50 per cent higher job placement rate for job seekers who had been through the service. The new funding will continue to support the program at the nine sites where it is already operating and will allow us to open five new sites a year between 2012-13 and 2014-15. There will be a total of 24 sites around Australia by 30 June 2015. Local Connections to Work provides tailored assistance that caters to the specific needs of disadvantaged job seekers in selected deeply disadvantaged locations. The service brings a range of services together under one roof that job seekers can then access more conveniently. At each site, a range of different service providers are rostered on to deliver services from the Centrelink office. The roster arrangement means that during an appointment a customer will have the opportunity to talk with a number of other services right there on site to provide the assistance they need to overcome their employment barriers. Where a particular service is not available on site, job seekers are helped to connect with that service off site.

Job seekers can also have joint meetings with Centrelink and employment service providers. Those meetings can extend to other community partners with the consent of the job seeker to identify their needs and quickly link them to the right support. This closer collaboration between Centrelink and other relevant agencies gives a more holistic view of the job seeker who, in most instances, will only need to tell their story once.

Local Connections to Work programs are already operating at nine locations around Australia. The program has been operating in Frankston in Victoria and Campsie in New South Wales since May 2010; in Ipswich, Queensland, and Elizabeth in South Australia since June 2010; in Burnie in Tasmania and Campbelltown in New South Wales since March 2011; in Morwell in Victoria and Port Adelaide in South Australia since April 2011; and in Maroochydore in Queensland since May 2011. The budget also includes funding for 44 case coordination trial sites around Australia. The first 19 case coordination sites will be rolled out in 2011-12, and 10 of those 19 locations are the same locations where the government is making extra investments through the participation agenda. Case coordination under service delivery reform will identify people in need of more intensive support and connect them to appropriate services. In the future, case coordination has the potential to be a far-reaching program and it is a key part of the government's broader agenda to modernise the delivery of public services to Australians and their families.

Under the case coordination approach, staff will provide tailored support to people who face complex challenges and entrenched disadvantage rather than simply giving them yet another form to fill out or another telephone number to call. The program will assist job seekers, but importantly will go far deeper than that. It will also support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, the recently bereaved, people in legal or financial difficulty, carers, people with mental health concerns, people with gambling dependency, and people with drug and alcohol issues. There will be different levels of service to reflect an individual's different level of need. Services will range from simple referrals, such as a training program or information about available services, to intensive support involving multiple coordinated appointments with non-government and local community services. A designated staff member will help customers, including by assisting them in their dealings with multiple government agencies like Centrelink, Medicare and the Australian tax office and giving them information about local services—for example, Alcoholics Anonymous, welfare rights, literacy programs, legal aid, gambling rehabilitation and financial counselling. They might help make appointments and they may be an advocate of behalf of the client with non-government services where necessary.

The budget includes a new $28 million investment in more one-stop shops—the co-location agenda. The co-location of Centrelink and Medicare offices into one-stop shops will provide much more convenient and accessible services in one location. The program will significantly improve the way public services are delivered throughout the community. By providing more than 500 new one-stop shops for public services across the nation, we can greatly improve access to those services, particularly for Australians living in rural and regional areas. The new offices will provide better access to Centrelink and Medicare services, from applying for Medicare rebates to making inquiries about family payments, all in one convenient location. That is great news for people in regional and rural areas in particular who may never before have had a Medicare office in their community.

Forty-two co-located Centrelink, Medicare and child support offices are already operating successfully, with another 12 to open across Australia by the middle of the year. The budget also includes a $24½ million investment to improve services for Australians in regional and remote areas and for the socially isolated. This new funding will extend the successful mobile office service and will provide many more outreach officers to help people in need. It will make it easier for Australians who live in rural and regional areas, as well as the socially isolated, to access government services and payments. The government's mobile offices made a huge difference during the recent floods, as well as during the drought, and so we are extending this vital service beyond 1 July 2011.

Mobile offices bring all of the services provided by Centrelink and Medicare directly to rural and regional communities, loaded into custom-built tractor trailers. In the past these offices were deployed to areas affected by drought, but more recently they were used in Queensland following last summer's natural disasters. Continued funding for the mobile offices and the introduction of a third office in 2014 will benefit up to half a million Australians who live more than 50 kilometres from a Medicare or Centrelink office.

I am particularly pleased that the budget includes funding for an additional 20 Centrelink community engagement officers. There are already 90 of these officers working at targeted sites across the country and they do a terrific job. They deliver essential outreach services outside the traditional office setting to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. They go to boarding houses, drop in centres and other places where people sleep rough to help them claim and maintain income support payments as well as provide referrals to other support programs.

The budget also includes extra funding for an additional 13 Centrelink social worker positions. Centrelink social workers provide counselling support and referrals to people caught in difficult personal or family circumstances. Social workers were deployed in large numbers to Queensland earlier this year to assist flood victims and were also sent to New Zealand following the Christchurch earthquake, and even to Japan to assist Australians who were there after the tsunami. Through these significant investments in the government's service delivery reform agenda, taxpayers will also save $130 million over four years through improved information and self-service facilities across the Human Services Portfolio. By reducing paperwork, moving forms online and improving the single portfolio website and phone number we are providing more self-service options for people who want to do business with the portfolio in that way. This will make contacting and accessing the services of Human Services agencies simpler for millions of Australians. That is just a quick snapshot of what we will deliver through service delivery reform.

The budget also includes around $280 million for the Human Services Portfolio so that it can play its part in implementing the government's participation agenda. We will be delivering more targeted assistance to help job seekers who are capable of work to find employment. A key component of this package is the $38.2 million investment in a new program, the Community Innovation through Collaboration initiative. The program will encourage local innovation to boost the life skills and work readiness of people with multiple and complex needs. It will be rolled out in the 10 locations around Australia that receive additional assistance through place based programs and support services. The program will ensure that the needs of local communities are addressed with well-resourced, collaborative and effective local solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all program that is controlled from Canberra.

Community Innovation through Collaboration comprises two separate measures: a $25 million Local Solutions Fund to help community groups deliver programs to assist local people to get the services they need, and $13.2 million for local service coordinators and community based facilitators to ensure that local services are delivered effectively in ways that benefit local families and individuals. By investing in local solutions the government can better assist local communities to address disadvantage, through tailored initiatives that draw on local expertise.

The Local Solutions Fund is a concerted effort to engage with community leaders and not-for-profit agencies, who know better than most about what works and what does not work for Australians and their families in disadvantaged locations we are targeting. The program will give locals a say, making sure that groups that help local people are actively involved in developing and delivering local solutions that address the limitations of existing services. By investing and modernising the delivery of public services as well as new programs to boost workforce participation, the government is ensuring that my portfolio will continue to make a positive difference to the lives of millions of Australians.