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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
11/02/2016
Estimates
SOCIAL SERVICES PORTFOLIO
Australian Institute of Family Studies

Australian Institute of Family Studies

[16:04]

CHAIR: Welcome to the table, Minister Fierravanti-Wells. I will go straight to Senator Moore for questions.

Senator MOORE: Ms Hollonds, is this your first estimates as the director?

Ms Hollonds : It is, Senator.

Senator MOORE: Congratulations and welcome.

Ms Hollonds : Thank you.

Senator MOORE: I have just a couple of questions. I am sorry, but they are going to be over different parts of your program.

Ms Hollonds : Of course.

Senator MOORE: That is unfortunately how it has to work. The first question I have is about the Hearing her voice report. My understanding is that that was an AIFS report. Is that correct?

CHAIR: Senator Moore, it is a little difficult to hear you. Is it possible to speak a little closer to the microphone?

Senator MOORE: Sure. I was talking with other members of the committee at the last estimates. I was asking about issues around FGM and working with multicultural women. On record, it said that DSS had commissioned the report Hearing her voice: report from the kitchen table conversations with culturally and linguistically diverse women on violence against women and their children. I could not find it on the DSS website. I found it on the AIFS website. I want to confirm that this was a product of the AIFS.

Ms Hollonds : My understanding is that that is not one of our pieces of work. It may be on our website as a piece of work done by somebody else. I think ANROWS might have been funded to do that.

Senator MOORE: It is not owned. We had a discussion at the last hearing, where there was confusion about whether there was going to be one or two reports. That one has been on the website for a few months. If it is not yours, I will go on. I will try to find it elsewhere. I was advised by people who searched for it that it was on the AIFS website. Anyway, I will follow back with the department on that. Secondly, I wanted to talk with AIFS about issues of adoption in terms of the longstanding interest this committee has in adoption issues. Can you tell me the current status of your work on the issues around adoption?

Ms Hollonds : I will hand over to Associate Professor Higgins on that matter.

Prof. Higgins : I am happy to give you an update on the range of work that we have been doing. As you are aware, we were integrally involved with providing advice to the department in the form of a scoping study about the current needs of those affected by past adoption practices and forced family removal practices. The basis of that report has really turned itself into the current funding model. Where we are now working with the department is to look at, I suppose, what you might call a suite of best practice resources to support the agencies that have been funded under the forced adoption specific services that the department has. That is Relationships Australia in all states and territories, except in Queensland, where it is Jigsaw. So we have been working collaboratively with the department and with each of those funded agencies to explore some of the findings from our research around what the current needs are and the best ways of implementing that. We have developed a range of resources that are summaries of what the research evidence says and formed a discussion paper that is now out for consultation with the sector as we speak.

Senator MOORE: I spoke with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare yesterday. One of many committees in which they are involved concerns issues around adoption, foster care and out of home care. They were telling me about their data needs in this space. Can you confirm, probably again, for me the process of consultation at the moment around the issues of adoption? Are there interdepartmental organisations that include the Institute of Family Studies? Are there ongoing processes? I now know that DSS has picked up the responsibility for all adoptions. If we have time, I want to ask questions of the wider department. Are you involved in ongoing work looking at the issues of adoption? I particularly refer to the historical knowledge that AIFS has in terms of what I see as the current policy focus on looking at making adoptions simpler and more accessible.

Prof. Higgins : I can answer that currently we are not on any committees.

Senator MOORE: Nothing of that nature going on?

Prof. Higgins : No.

Senator MOORE: You are not working with the department in any way about this?

Prof. Higgins : Not regarding current adoptions. Our work has been focussed around past adoption and meeting the needs of those affected by past adoption.

Senator MOORE: Another area in the AIFS is gambling and the Centre for Gambling Research.

Ms Hollonds : The Australian Gambling Research Centre.

Senator MOORE: Is funding secure for that work?

Ms Hollonds : Yes. It is secure. I think it is five years. It is appropriation funding.

Senator MOORE: Five years from when?

Ms Hollonds : No. It is not five years, I am sorry. I will take that back. It is appropriation.

Prof. Higgins : Funding commenced in—

Ms Hollonds : From 2013.

Prof. Higgins : Yes.

Senator MOORE: What does that give you as an appropriation? What does that mean in terms of your funding?

Ms Hollonds : In terms of dollars?

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Dr Alexander : It is about $1.2 million.

Senator MOORE: There is one other space. It is the national conference. Are you moving towards a national conference this year from the AIFS?

Ms Hollonds : Yes. We have our biennial conference coming up in July 2016.

Senator MOORE: In 2016?

Ms Hollonds : Correct.

Senator MOORE: Ms Hollonds, where does the funding for that come from?

Ms Hollonds : We seek funding support from various departments and other interested organisations willing to support the conference.

Senator MOORE: And how is that going?

Ms Hollonds : We are just at the beginning of that process now trying to secure that sponsorship.

Senator MOORE: For July 2016?

Ms Hollonds : Correct. We have had some small amounts come in from various stakeholders, but we are seeking to secure funding from departments as we normally do.

Senator MOORE: I do have some other questions, but I will put them on notice.

CHAIR: Are there any other questions for the Institute of Family Studies?

Senator SIEWERT: The current project looking at the longitudinal study of leaving care in Victoria.

Ms Hollonds : Beyond 18?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, Beyond 18. How is that progressing? I understand it is going to be reporting next year.

Ms Hollonds : I will refer to Associate Professor Higgins again.

Prof. Higgins : Thank you, Senator. The study, which, as you know, is funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, has had a number of modifications both to the methodology and to the timelines as it has progressed for a range of reasons. One of the initial stages was going to be a case file audit that was going to form wave one of the study. For a range of reasons, including getting access to the right data and the availability of it for us, that led to a number of changes. We are happy to say that we have been in further discussions with the department and changed the methodology. We are now well into the two critical components, which are surveys both of carers and obviously young people themselves. We are on track to meeting our target of having around 200 young people respond to that survey by about May.

Senator SIEWERT: So it is still on track to report in 2017?

Prof. Higgins : It may be that we will have discussions about extending that. Of course, it is really only going to be telling us the early outcomes of young people's journey to transitioning beyond care. So that is an ongoing matter for discussion with the department. But at this stage there has been no change to the reporting timelines.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Have you been involved at all in the development of the third action plan under the framework for child protection?

Ms Hollonds : Yes. Thank you, Senator. We have been very involved in the process of the preparatory meetings. In terms of the implementation, we have a number of our personnel involved in the various strategy groups that are looking at how to implement it along with the states.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the third action plan?

Ms Hollonds : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: When did you start that process?

Prof. Higgins : It had been an ongoing process. I suppose we became more critically involved last year when the department asked us to assist on a couple of key meetings. For example, I was asked to assist with chairing a roundtable that was focussed on the needs of people with disability and how their issues will be able to be reflected in the plan. We have been invited to attend a number of the national forum meetings. It is the tripartite mechanism for the Commonwealth, states and territories and the not-for-profit sector, who are the ones that are delivering many of the services that relate to the national framework. We will be part of those discussions and very actively involved in both preparations for those meetings and assisting the department and other members of that forum, including the not-for-profit agencies with options, given our knowledge of the research and what works in that space.

Senator SIEWERT: So which particular working groups under that process are you involved with?

Ms Hollonds : I think we are involved in all of them, actually. There are three main strategies. We have someone on each of those working groups.

Prof. Higgins : We have particular involvement in relation to the research because we are currently being funded by the department to update the research register, which we had developed under the previous action plan. So that work is currently underway and will obviously be of use by not only the department but more broadly the national forum as they progress the third action plan.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you being specifically funded for that? How are you resourcing that?

Ms Hollonds : That is just through our appropriation.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you anticipate ongoing engagement in that?

Ms Hollonds : We have a strong commitment as an organisation to supporting the success of that plan and the framework. So we would be seeking to commit as many resources as we can to support that work.

Prof. Higgins : One way we can give effect to that is that one of the largest ways in which the department funds us is through the Child Family Community Australia information exchange. That is really supporting all of the agencies that work in that space. So that is why we are sitting on each of those three strategy groups—to be able to get close alignment with those other pieces of work. That is one of the main ways in which we are tailoring, I suppose, our support for the national framework.

Ms Hollonds : As well as the research advisory side, as Professor Higgins mentioned. Obviously evaluating the outcomes is very important.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. There is still part of the second action plan that has not been implemented. As part of that process, are you looking at what was not implemented fully out of the previous action plan?

Prof. Higgins : That is not specifically our role. Of course, that is a question for the Commonwealth and the states and territories and the community agencies as well. I should also add that, with the biennial AIFS conference, we make sure that the conference themes are very much focussed on issues that are aligned to the national framework and the national plan for the reduction of violence against women and their children. Of course, there is much overlap there in terms of family violence and the protection of children.

Senator SIEWERT: As you were saying that, a question flitted through my brain, but I was too intent listening and I did not capture it. So when I do, I will put it on notice.

Senator MOORE: I have another question. It is to do with the surveying that DSS and AIFS are doing on formal non-parental carers. You would know that one of the recommendations we made in the grandparents report we did was for a quite detailed study to be done by the AIFS on the issues of grandparent caring and having a longitudinal study arrangement. The Australian government's response said that while a national large-scale or longitudinal study of grandparents was not possible at this time, the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Department of Social Services had been working collaboratively to progress the issue as a priority research topic. What does that mean?

Prof. Higgins : I am happy to elaborate on that. What has been agreed and funded by DSS—it is one of the national initiatives, if you like, that relates to the work that DSS is supporting under the national framework—is to ask us to do a formal survey of non-parent formal carers. It involves those who are in the child protection system in each of the states and territories. So it will include grandparents but only those who are formal carers as opposed to those who might be informally providing care. But it goes well beyond grandparents.

Senator MOORE: What is the difference there?

Senator SIEWERT: What do you count as formal?

Prof. Higgins : Where there is a children's court or a juvenile court order.

Senator SIEWERT: So we are going to miss a whole cohort, are we not?

Prof. Higgins : This survey is not necessarily answering all of the same questions that you might want answered from a survey specifically on the issues of grandparents. It will answer some things. It is answering a lot of other questions, because it will be capturing all of the kinship carers and all of the foster carers as well. The main impetus for it is that there is currently no other way of reporting against the national carer standards, where we do not have data about the levels of support and so forth. So that is really the main focus of this study.

Senator SIEWERT: It will only catch the kinship carers who are formal?

Prof. Higgins : Yes. Kinship carers who are formal. Foster carers. Anyone who has a children's court or a juvenile court order in their state or territory and is receiving support or has been offered support, even if they have declined it, from a state or territory child protection department. So it is using the same definitions that are used by the AIHW in terms of reporting on numbers of carers in the child protection system.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there any process that you are aware of that is capturing, then, the informal carers?

Prof. Higgins : No. That is one of the things that we discussed early on. While that would from many people's perspective be a useful thing, it was obviously going to cost a lot more and be very difficult and perhaps even need a very different methodology. The reason for the focus on this cohort is that it is a known population. We know exactly how many formal carers there are in every state and territory. The overriding aim was to be able to make statements that we could generalise to the population from our survey of formal carers because it is representative.

Senator SIEWERT: So you are not doing it. Do you know of anybody else that is looking in that space of informal care?

Prof. Higgins : I mentioned before the register of research. We know that there are lots of small-scale studies of carers going on that will often include informal carers, but—

Senator SIEWERT: That is not giving us an idea of the size of the cohort?

Prof. Higgins : No. Methodologically, it is incredibly difficult because it is not a known population. That is why in our support of the government's response we were saying that it would be a very, very expensive task. You would have to survey very, very widely in order to get the small number of people who are informal carers, unless you go for a methodology that is not representative. Then it does not allow you to answer the kind of questions you might want to ask about how much of the population is in this category and what their levels of needs are. So you can go for the qualitative, rich, in-depth work, but it does not answer the question about how much.

Senator MOORE: What is the cost and the timeframe of this particular project from the AIFS perspective?

Prof. Higgins : The institute is receiving $600,000 for the survey. That is covering not only the design but also subcontracting out to a field work agency to get on the phone and make the calls, record the surveys, send us the data and provide the report.

Senator MOORE: And the timing?

Ms Hollonds : July 2016.

Prof. Higgins : Yes. I think it is actually by the end of this year.

Senator MOORE: The calendar year?

Prof. Higgins : Yes. The end of the calendar year.

Senator MOORE: So we would have that data in 2017?

Prof. Higgins : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: I have one more question. In terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, this survey will cover the formal care?

Prof. Higgins : Yes. So any type of carer. It does not matter. We have a number of questions that will explore—

Senator SIEWERT: Will you specifically be exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

Prof. Higgins : Yes. There is a range of different subgroups—culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people in same sex relationships, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and grandparents. They are all the ones that we know are out there in the caring population. They might differ in terms of their support needs both from departments and other agencies. We know that, of course, in the various states and territories there are carer support agencies that do some critical work in addressing the needs of carers.

Senator SIEWERT: I will move on in a minute. I want to pick up on something you said. You said court orders in some states. Then you talked about interaction with the department of child protection. Some states do not have as many people going to seek court orders if they do not need to. There is an arrangement through the department of child protection as well, whatever they are called, in various states.

Prof. Higgins : Yes. But they are definite. We have some very strict criteria because we are hoping to have comparability right across the country. Therefore, the data request to each of the child protection departments is exactly the same so that we can say we have used the same methodology. One of those criteria—I just do not have them off the top of my head—is that there is a court order in place.

Senator SIEWERT: So we are actually going to miss a hell of a lot more than I thought we would.

Prof. Higgins : Well, it is the same definition that is used by the AIHW, so it is the same population group that you are seeing reflected in the—

Senator SIEWERT: But we are trying to get more information on that. Our understanding—Senator Moore can correct me if I am wrong—through our inquiry is that a lot of the arrangements have not gone to court.

Prof. Higgins : My understanding is that, therefore, it will vary in the degree to which they are 'registered' as a carer within—

Senator SIEWERT: In some states, exactly.

Prof. Higgins : That is right. For consistency, we have had to go with what is equivalent across all states and territories, and that is where there is a court order.

Senator SIEWERT: So we are going to get an even narrower population than I thought that you were talking about.

Prof. Higgins : It is potentially narrower than what you were thinking of. But it will still be a significant cohort, the same cohort that is reflected in the child protection Australia reports.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I am trying to see how we can get actually beyond that, because we are studying the same cohorts. Each time we have informal carers where the state is not involved. Gran or aunt has taken over the care of the kids. We know there is a cohort there. There is a very significant cohort that, in fact, do not end up in court.

Prof. Higgins : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: And we are not picking them up.

Prof. Higgins : I think that is the same issue as the grandparent carers. It would be informal grandparent carers. It would be very useful to understand their experiences, but that was not able to be incorporated within the methodology and the funding provided.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I am trying to understand what additional information we are going to get through this. There is still a whole lot that we are going to miss for various reasons.

Prof. Higgins : Yes.

Senator LINDGREN: I want to ask about that data. You said it has to be a court order. Is that correct? That is the data that you are capturing?

Prof. Higgins : My understanding is that that is one of the criteria for the states and territories to apply in working out who is within scope for being surveyed.

Senator LINDGREN: I assume those guardians, be they grandparents or otherwise, would be accessing funds to support them. If the grandparent is on a pension or a small superannuation payment, they would be accessing some sort of funds from a government organisation. Could you capture your data from that?

Prof. Higgins : We looked at all of those different options and there was no way of being able to define the population to be able to say what proportion responded to our survey. We had lengthy discussions with both the Commonwealth and all of the states and territories. What was agreed was restricting the survey to formal carers as I have defined it.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you perhaps give us that definition?

Prof. Higgins : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

CHAIR: That is all for the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Thank you very much. We will now break and come back at a quarter to five with the rest of families and communities.

Proceedings suspended from 16:28 to 16:46

CHAIR: We will recommence.

Mr Pratt : I would like to table another one of our comebacks. This is the list of organisations offered service gap funding.

CHAIR: Great. Please do.

Senator MOORE: I have some questions about paid parental leave. They are very straightforward. I want to get the details of the changes made in the 2015 MYEFO to the proposal that was originally on the cards for PPL.

Ms Bennett : Could you repeat that question?

Senator MOORE: I am after the details of the changes proposed to PPL in the 2015 MYEFO.

Ms Bennett : Those changes were listed in the MYEFO, which basically said that women who met the eligibility criteria and had an employer provided parental scheme of less than 18 weeks will receive a top-up of the minimum wage on the difference between what their employer provides and to make the 18 weeks.

Senator MOORE: How does that differ from the original measure? Ms Bennett, exactly what is the difference?

Ms Bennett : The original measure was based on the amount of money that you received that exceeded $11,640. If you received more than that from your employer, you were not entitled to the paid parental leave scheme from the government.

Mr Pratt : So it has gone from a dollar basis to a number of weeks basis.

Senator MOORE: Of the 80,000 people who were expected to have their PPL reduced or cut entirely as a result of the measure contained in the budget, how many will now be not affected by the change?

Ms Bennett : Not affected?

Senator MOORE: How many will be spared any change to their PPL?

Ms Bennett : Our estimation is that four per cent of mothers will not have a PPL entitlement due to their employer schemes being at least 18 weeks. That is about 7,000.

Senator MOORE: So with the original budget measure there were a number of women who would not have their PPL affected. What is that number?

Ms Carapellucci : The number of women who are unaffected by the MYEFO measure is the same as the number of women who were not affected by the budget measure because those not affected are those who do not have employer provided—

Senator MOORE: I am sorry. Can you go through that again? My understanding is that in the proposal that was in the budget there were estimates that we discussed at length in the committee about the three categories of women. Some would be completely unaffected by the budget change. Some would have a minor impact. Some would lose all entitlement. We went through that detail.

Ms Carapellucci : We have the same preliminary analysis on it. Those who were unaffected in the previous arrangements are the same number as this time because they are women whose employer does not provide paid parental leave.

Senator MOORE: That is right. They will be non-affected no matter any change?

Ms Bennett : Yes.

Senator MOORE: In the next two boxes?

Ms Carapellucci : There is about 90,000 women who are not affected.

Senator MOORE: In total?

Ms Carapellucci : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So 90,000 unaffected. How about that middle one, where there would have been some change? I would have expected that perhaps with this amended model from the MYEFO there would be a change in the numbers in that box.

Ms Bennett : There is. There is around 44 per cent, which is about 72,000. These are obviously calculations.

Senator MOORE: Calculations, sure.

Ms Bennett : They will receive a combination of what their employer provided and a partial PPL, which will be made up of how many weeks to equal 18 at the minimum wage. As I said, there will be four per cent, about 7,000, where their employer provides at least 18 weeks and they will not have a PPL entitlement.

Senator MOORE: Will that 7,000 be part of the 72,000?

Ms Bennett : No.

Senator MOORE: That is what I am trying to get my head around—the difference in impact. I was really clear with the first one. I am just not clear how many women would have been affected by the first proposal who will be advantaged by the second proposal. I do not think I have actually heard that answer.

Ms Carapellucci : With the budget measure, our estimate was that 34,000 women would miss out completely on government PPL. With the amended MYEFO measure, 7,000 women will miss out completely on government PPL. So that leaves 27,000 who previously would have missed out will get some government PPL.

Senator MOORE: That is what I wanted to hear. How many people get access to PPL but that previously did not? That would be the 27,000. What are the revised numbers of people that will have their PPL cut or reduced each year?

Dr Baxter : Those who will under the new scheme no longer be eligible for PPL will be 7,000 families. Previously under the budget measure it would have been 34,000 mothers. So the difference is 27,000.

Senator MOORE: So under the proposed scheme, there will be no more women who will lose their PPL because this is a more generous scheme. Is that right?

Dr Baxter : That is right.

Senator MOORE: So there will be no more women or families who will lose PPL, because the previous scheme had greater effect. And of the people who had their PPL reduced, there will be no more of those either, will there?

Dr Baxter : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: Are there any changes being made to the work test around PPL?

Ms Bennett : The minister has announced in some media interviews that the intention is to change the PPL work test for mothers in dangerous positions.

Senator MOORE: I am sorry, Ms Bennett, but I just missed that middle bit. It phased out.

Ms Bennett : In recent media reporting, Minister Porter announced that there will be changes to PPL work test arrangements for mothers in dangerous jobs—for example, jockeys—or those whose positions may require them to take longer breaks, such as casual teachers.

Senator MOORE: Do we know what those changes are going to be?

Ms Bennett : This is the legislation and the changes are still being considered.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the categories of women who would fall under that heading, I have heard the jockey issue described, and that is very real. Are there any others that we know of at this stage that would fit into that particular category?

Ms Carapellucci : It would be women who, for example, work with dangerous substances and who—

Senator MOORE: So mining areas?

Ms Carapellucci : That is right.

Senator MOORE: And they are defined somewhere? Will there be definitions there, or will women have to make their own case?

Dr Baxter : At the moment, it is just being talked about in reasonably general terms, so that would all be part of any conversations about any definitions.

Senator MOORE: Are there any dates around these changes? I know that we are waiting for legislation, but has the minister made any statements that says when he would like this to be operational? I have not seen anything that says that.

Ms Bennett : As set out in MYEFO, it is intended that the new arrangements would apply from 1 July 2016.

Senator MOORE: Can you provide the number of PPL recipients in receipt of income support? You can take these on notice, if you like.

Ms Bennett : I think we will have to take that on notice. We will take it on notice.

Senator MOORE: With income support, can you provide any information on the annual income of these people? Can you outline how much these people are likely to be worse off as a result of the measure and by what average?

Ms Bennett : We could provide it—it would take some time—by income. Would you prefer us to put it on notice?

Senator MOORE: Put them on notice, yes. We have two areas here around settlement and multicultural policies. I do apologise for bringing you up and down at the moment, but there is a time element where I am just going through and crossing things off. Hopefully this is all in the right program. This next one is changes to the newly arrived residents waiting period announced in MYEFO.

Ms Bennett : That is not for our area. It is not this area.

Senator MOORE: I am sorry. My records indicate that it is. I am happy to be advised it is not.

Mr Pratt : Senator, I think that is an outcome 2 question.

Senator MOORE: I thought we were in outcome 2.

Mr Pratt : Sorry, outcome 1 question.

Ms Bennett : A social security question. Would you like to put it on notice?

Senator MOORE: I will put that on notice. I have this under outcome 2, which is a confusion. Settlement services?

Ms Bennett : Yes.

Senator MOORE: This is about the Syrian refugee process. How many people have been resettled so far in this cohort?

Ms Cala : I think you are referring to the government's decision to resettle an additional 12,000 people—

Senator MOORE: I certainly am, yes.

Ms Cala : fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq. Of that 12,000, 26 people have arrived in Australia so far.

Senator MOORE: And they are in the process of being resettled. So they have reached our shores and they are now in the process?

Ms Cala : Correct, yes.

Senator MOORE: Is the process to resettle this group exactly the same as the current humanitarian program?

Ms Cala : Yes. So we are using the same settlement programs and services that are available to any humanitarian entrant. Also note that the government did task the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council, now called the Settlement Services Advisory Council, to provide a report about additional things that might be required in this regard.

Senator MOORE: Have any special measures been put in place? I would imagine any special measures would have come out of that recommendation that was done by the specialist group. Have any special processes already been put in place?

Ms Cala : Not as yet. The recommendations of the council are still under consideration.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Perhaps I could add that the Syrian cohort has afforded us an opportunity to look at some of the things we are doing, obviously with the reestablishment of the advisory committee under Paris Aristotle. The particular nature of this cohort has certainly been helpful for us to look at some of the things that we are doing, and perhaps with a fresh pair of eyes, if I can put it that way as well. Some of the things that have been suggested to us are clearly things that we know in some areas we could do better. But it has really been a very useful opportunity for us to engage very broadly with the council and new members on the council and for them to supply us with the benefit of their suggestions and advice in this area.

Senator MOORE: Minister, are the recommendations of that council going to be made public in terms of the work they have done and the assessments and information they are providing?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Rather than recommendations, if I can put it that way, they have provided us with in some areas simply an analysis of where things are and where we could progress. At this stage, there has been no decision made in relation to that.

Senator MOORE: Can we put on notice, as you well know the system, to let the minister know that we would be interested in seeing any of the work that comes out of that council.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Certainly.

Senator MOORE: Because we have an expectation of 12,000 people coming, I would imagine in a fairly rapid time because of the urgency of the situation, are there processes being put in place to respond to a relatively large intake during 2016? We have had 26 until now, and 11,000 and something will be coming in the next few months. That is a relatively large intake in a quick period of time. Has that been taken on board by the department?

Ms Bennett : There has been evidence given to the committees by the department of immigration. There is evidence that due to the arrangements put in place by immigration before people leave offshore, it is going to take longer than anticipated. We work very closely with them. They have not at this stage exactly worked out the flow and pace.

Mr Pratt : I will add to that. From the original announcement of this, it was never anticipated that all 12,000 would come in in this financial year. It was assumed that this would happen over several years. So it is not going to be 26 now and then suddenly 11,974, if I have my maths right, in the next few months. We have certainly estimated that it will happen over several financial years.

Senator MOORE: Over how many, Mr Pratt? I know you are still working through the process, but is there any expectation of how many? Certainly my belief and the wider community view is that once the announcement was made that we were going to take 12,000, we will see it—

Mr Pratt : I am sure our costings assume that it will be last year, this year and next year at least.

Senator MOORE: So that is 2015-16 and 2016-17?

Ms Bennett : It was confirmed by the secretary of immigration that the program would extend over multiple financial years.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator Moore, there was quite comprehensive evidence given in immigration on 8 February. You may wish to have a look at the evidence that the Director-General of ASIO gave on 9 February as well. There are two distinct components to this. There is the pre-arrival and the post arrival. Certainly from our perspective our post arrival activities are very much conditioned on what happens in the pre-arrival part of it. So I think it would be useful to get a complete picture by looking at the evidence here in immigration and the evidence that was given as part of the ASIO and the Director-General's evidence as well.

Senator MOORE: I am sure the shadow will be doing that. We go into each of our committees and gather it. Has the department taken any feedback from service providers in relation to the provision of settlement support for the new migrants?

Ms Cala : We are in constant contact with our service providers, which is part of our normal processes even without the additional 12,000 people, around their preparations and their readiness. I think it is worth noting that they are used to the need for flexibility. Issues around flow rates with the humanitarian program can always be subject to change, so they are well prepared for this.

Senator MOORE: This is my final question, but not on the exact topic. Did the department see a copy of the submission outlining proposed changes to visa processing linked to the media last week? Was that seen by DSS? I am certainly not asking you whether it leaked from DSS. I am asking you whether you have seen that document.

Ms Bennett : There was also evidence given by the secretary of the department of immigration, who said that the papers that were provided to the media were provided to a number of departments, and our department was one of them.

Senator MOORE: That was handy, wasn't it?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: It was quite comprehensively covered in the immigration estimates.

Senator MOORE: I think we were doing health at that time, Senator Fierravanti-Wells.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Sorry?

Senator MOORE: I think we were doing health at that time.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: That was on 8 February, Senator Moore.

Senator MOORE: There are questions about the current multicultural policy of the government. Does the government have a current multicultural policy? That is directed to you, Minister.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Yes. We are not going to rush this process. We will be taking our time. As you know, the Prime Minister certainly is a strong supporter of cultural diversity, as I certainly am. This has certainly been clear from the tone and the language that has been used by him and certainly by me. As I said, this is a process that we are taking our time with. We want to get it right. We are not going to be rushing it.

Senator MOORE: And in terms of a time frame, is there an expectation that a policy would be developed before the election?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: As I said, it is an important issue. It is a very important area. We do not want to rush the process. It will be a matter for government.

Senator MOORE: A government decision?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: And the logistics of the process will be a matter for government.

Senator MOORE: Have any resources been dedicated to the upcoming procurement processes for settlement programs like the humanitarian settlement services?

Ms Bennett : With the settlement services, the new contractual arrangements are for next year. We are planning what the timing and the pace of that will be.

Senator MOORE: So the current resources dedicated to that would be part of just the internal program?

Ms Bennett : The normal business of the department.

Senator MOORE: So no particular dedicated team or resources for that?

Mr Pratt : There are two, maybe three, parts of the department that will be engaged in this in due course.

Senator MOORE: Which parts?

Mr Pratt : One is the settlement services area.

Senator MOORE: And that is yours, Ms Cala? Mr Kennedy, you are now in settlement services.

Mr Pratt : The program office.

Senator MOORE: Who are?

Mr Pratt : Well, Dr Reddel and his team, who do work on this, and state network.

Senator MOORE: And that is your whole state network?

Mr Pratt : Well, parts of it, yes.

Senator MOORE: There would be elements across the states. So they are in the planning process towards their development of the new humanitarian settlement services.

Ms Bennett : As I said, it is a normal cycle when a selection process is up. We will be obviously planning what the next one should look like, how it should be conducted, consulting appropriately and building that into a work plan.

Senator MOORE: Day by day?

Ms Bennett : Day by day.

Senator MOORE: EY recently completed an evaluation of the HSS and complex case support programs. Can you tell us how much the evaluation cost? When will the government respond to the evaluation?

Ms Cala : The total cost for EY's report was $277,776. I am sorry, but what is the second part of your question?

Senator MOORE: Will the government respond to this evaluation?

Ms Bennett : It is an internal evaluation that we are using. It will help inform our planning for the next arrangements.

Senator MOORE: I have to ask, Minister, whether it is likely to be made public.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: At this stage, I will take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: Absolutely. Thank you very much.

Ms Cala : Senator, can I seek a clarification? Do you mean is the report likely to be?

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Ms Cala : The report was made public on the department's website.

Senator MOORE: I have that. But there were a number of issues raised in that about what should happen.

Ms Cala : So you are talking about the response?

Senator MOORE: Will the response be made public? Basically, you are saying it is an internal process looking at practice into the future. We are just looking to see whether there will be any kind of departmental statement about the response to that.

Ms Bennett : No. Senator, it will be reflected in how we redesign the program guidelines and requirements when we go out for selection.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: It was intended as an internal process to look at what we are doing with the current processes. I think as Ms Bennett said, its intention was very much one to inform us as part of those processes. At some stage we might make a decision to release it, but at this point it was really intended for our internal purposes. But we will certainly take that on board.

Senator MOORE: Chair, Senator Brown has some questions. I know that Senator Siewert does. In the last two areas, just for notice, I would really like to look at financial counselling and women's programs.

CHAIR: Sure.

Senator CAROL BROWN: My first question is about the BasicsCard. I am not sure if you will be able to answer it. I have had a constituent—

Ms Bennett : Sorry, I am getting the right people up. So there is no more for settlement?

Senator MOORE: No.

Ms Bennett : We will just get the right people up.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I have had a constituent inquiry brought to my attention. There is no income management currently in Tasmania, is there?

Dr Baxter : No. There is no income management in Tasmania at the moment.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So if a Centrelink recipient goes from Tasmania up to an area that does have income management and they are placed on income management there and then they return to Tasmania, what happens?

Ms Strapp : That would depend on the measure under which the person was placed on income management in a declared income management area. If they return to Tasmania and they are disengaged youth or a long-term welfare recipient, they will remain on that for 13 weeks and then they will come off if they have permanently relocated to Tasmania. If they have been placed on it by a DHS social worker or child protection authority, it is then up to whoever referred them to decide whether that person would come off the measure.

Senator CAROL BROWN: This is an adult who is 19 years of age. It is a Tasmanian resident who has gone to the Northern Territory to visit her community and has been there for a number of months. During those months, she was placed on income management in the Northern Territory. She has now returned home.

Ms Strapp : It depends on what measure she has been placed on income management under. As I have just said, it would depend on what measure she has been placed under. If she has relocated to the Northern Territory, she has been placed on income management because she has relocated for a reasonable amount of time. But if she has moved back to Tasmania on a permanent basis, as I said, she is either on for 13 weeks and then will come off or if she has been placed on by a child protection authority or she is a parent and she has been placed on under the child protection measure or by a social worker—

Senator SIEWERT: If she is in the NT, she would come under different processes, would she not?

Ms Strapp : Well, there is a number of different measures in the Northern Territory, so it could be—

Senator SIEWERT: It applies to anybody where there are those rules around being unemployed and being on a working age payment et cetera.

Ms Strapp : Yes. So it would be 13 weeks.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Unless some other special measure has been put in place?

Ms Strapp : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Do you keep track of how many Tasmanians have been caught under this measure?

Ms Strapp : I believe DHS do, but I do not have figures. I have figures of where people are located. It is a very small number, so I cannot report it because it is less than five.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It is less than five?

Dr Baxter : Where there is a number that is less than five or, in some cases—

Senator MOORE: So you are saying that Senator Brown's constituent is one of five?

Ms Strapp : My apologies. It is 11, so it is actually less than 20.

Senator MOORE: Less than 20.

Ms Strapp : My apologies.

Senator CAROL BROWN: But there are a number of outlets where the BasicsCard can be used in Tasmania?

Ms Strapp : Yes, absolutely. We have quite a few national providers. DHS would be able to provide you with a more comprehensive answer. In Tasmania, there are 338 approved merchants that are, I guess, Tasmanian specific. There is also Coles, Woolworths, Big W and Kmart. They are all approved on a national basis. A lot of our national merchants would have approval.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Okay. According to the information I have received, she attended the Centrelink office in Tasmania, but they were unable to help her because they really did not know much about the BasicsCard. I will follow it up. Thank you for your information. I want to follow up a question on notice. It was question on notice SQ15-000845 about discretionary grant funding.

Ms Bennett : We are just finding the question. Discretionary grants at cross programs. You asked whether we could provide a breakdown. Is that the question?

Senator CAROL BROWN: The funding breakdown I got was not what I asked for. I also asked on notice for a breakdown on disability, mental health, carers and housing and homelessness programs. I received a very good response. I am just wondering why I could not get what I asked for in question 000845. I was directed to the department's website, which I went to, and that did not give me any information either. I wanted a breakdown of the discretionary grant funding under the families and communities program, including funding by each activity, subactivity and a component identified in the DSS grants.

Ms Bennett : I will suggest that we go back and look to see if additional information can be provided. We will take it on notice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I did receive it under the housing and homelessness program exactly as I asked for.

Ms Bennett : We will reference that and have a look at that. We will take it on notice.

Mr Pratt : It may actually be due to a difference in the types of programs. But we will examine that.

Senator CAROL BROWN: It should be easy enough. Being referred to a website that does not give you any actual information is a little frustrating. I now want to ask some questions about the government response to the grandparents raising grandchildren report. First of all, I wonder how many times the government response to this report by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee was submitted to the minister's office for consideration?

Ms Bennett : We will have to take that on notice because we did have a change of minister in this process.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I understand that. In that case, can you let me know whether it went to Minister Morrison?

Ms Bennett : I also note that the government's response had a number of departments involved. They had elements of it. So we had to work at different points in time on our contribution and other departments' contribution. I think some of it also went to the state government.

Ms Carapellucci : It did not go to the state government, but all ministers whose portfolios contributed to the response had to sign off on it.

Ms Bennett : So that was part of the process.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I just thought some of the responses said you noted those things that were relevant to the states and territories. But that was not my question anyway. My question is whether it was sent to Minister Morrison's office and/or Minister Porter's.

Mr Pratt : We will take that on notice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So with regard to the response, one of the responses was that the Australian government notes this recommendation, acknowledging that the issue is best dealt with by the Commonwealth, state and territory ministers with portfolio responsibility. So my question is: is there a dedicated process where that is indicated in the response alongside the recommendation? Is there a dedicated process of doing this? Will DSS be the lead progressing these recommendations?

Dr Baxter : DSS was providing the lead on the response to this report in the first place. So if there were a lead on that response, it would be us. But there is not a single dedicated place across the Commonwealth government that looks at grandparent issues. It is dealt with under a number of portfolios, as Ms Bennett indicated.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I might have not put that as well as I could have. Some of the responses have been that the Australian government has noted the recommendation and acknowledges that the issue is best dealt with across Commonwealth, state and territory ministers with the relevant portfolio responsibilities. Is there anywhere in the department that is dedicated to processing this?

Dr Baxter : To follow this with the states and territories? No, there is not an area that is dedicated to that. We will track what happens with the responses to the report through our various mechanisms for talking about children in care, including children who are looked after by grandparents, such as through our national forum. We will continue to track what is being done, but we do not have responsibility for following those up with the individual state and territory governments, no.

Senator CAROL BROWN: That national forum is departmental?

Dr Baxter : The national forum is a tripartite arrangement between the Commonwealth government, the state and territory governments and the nongovernment sector. It is the primary vehicle for the national framework for protecting Australia's children.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So are the government people departmental people?

Dr Baxter : DSS is the body that pulls that group together and helps to manage that group. The people who are on it are Commonwealth government DSS people and people from the relevant state and territory departments.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So departmental people?

Dr Baxter : Yes. That is right.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So there is no indication, then, that some of the issues may be raised at COAG or anything like that?

Dr Baxter : Yes. Ms Carapellucci has just noted that we also work through the relevant secretaries group on this issue as well to track what the states and territories are doing in relation to these issues. The acronym for that is the CAFS group, which is the secretaries who are Mr Pratt's counterpart in the states and territories.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When did they last meet?

Dr Baxter : The last meeting was November. I am sorry that I do not have the date to hand of the last meeting, but I understand it was November.

Ms Carapellucci : They generally meet about twice a year.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Twice a year. Is there another meeting scheduled?

Dr Baxter : There is. I can get that date for you. We will just have to follow that up. We can get that while we are in session.

Senator CAROL BROWN: When they meet, is there some communique put out? Do we know what the agenda is?

Ms Bennett : New South Wales at the moment currently chairs. The New South Wales government chairs that. We receive an agenda when they send it to us.

Mr Pratt : We do not publish a communique, though. We keep records of what we have agreed we are doing and we inform ministers. But it is not a—

Senator CAROL BROWN: How do we get to know what you are doing?

Mr Pratt : I guess through asking us here and in equivalents in the states.

Senator CAROL BROWN: How does the community get to know what you are doing? Some of the work—

Mr Pratt : Good bureaucrats try not to be too much in the limelight. We advise ministers and then ministers take decisions with that great advice.

Senator CAROL BROWN: The New South Wales jurisdiction is chairing at the moment. Is that always the case?

Mr Pratt : It rotates.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So do you have input into the agenda?

Mr Pratt : Yes.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Are these recommendations from the committee likely to find their way on to the agenda any time soon?

Mr Pratt : I think that is quite likely.

Dr Baxter : I mentioned that I would let you know the date of the next meeting. It has not actually been set yet, I have just been advised. So we do not have a meeting date set. When we do, generally there is a call for agenda items, and that is when we look at what we have included on the agenda.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I will follow it up at the next hearing. I think that is as far as I can go.

Senator MOORE: When we got the response on this one, the grant one came out on the same date. It came out on the same day as the government response to the committee. In both of them, there were a number of recommendations, quite rightly, where the government responded and said, 'This is a COAG issue.' We understood that. In fact, I think most of the recommendations in both of them were phrased in that way. What we were hoping for in the government response was a clear statement that it is a COAG response and the Commonwealth government will take it to COAG. That is what we wanted.

Senator CAROL BROWN: That is what I was asking.

Senator MOORE: Yes. We want to know about the response.

Senator CAROL BROWN: But that is not the point. That does not seem to be happening.

Senator MOORE: No. It does not. It is in terms of the frustration. I know we have heard at length how COAG operates and all that kind of stuff. Particularly in the grandparent one, we were looking for Commonwealth leadership in this area and in the government response. Rightly or wrongly, it did not come across as the leadership element.

Senator CAROL BROWN: But the government response did include a reference to a new initiative to provide national information, resources and support for the target group. The department will consult with key stakeholders in the development of this initiative and identify opportunities to build on existing and planned activities and resources.

Dr Baxter : Yes. That is correct.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What is the new initiative? What can you tell me?

Dr Baxter : I can tell you that that new initiative is focussed on exactly the issues you have described—providing national information, resources and support to grandparent carers. We are in the planning phases at the moment, so we are ensuring we properly understand the nature of the problem and consulting with the right people about what the service should look like. We are in the phase of planning. But certainly it has been identified that that is a need. The government is preparing the implementation plan for it currently.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Okay. So you have not yet got a list of who you will be consulting with, or have you?

Dr Baxter : No. I do not have a list here with me today, I am sorry. But we have been speaking to the relevant organisations, which include some of the people who made representations to us previously about grandparent carers. We have also been looking at relevant research through the national framework and the research that has been commissioned at various points through that as well.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I will not be long.

CHAIR: Senator Siewert is patiently waiting, so I will get you to wrap up this line of questioning.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Okay. Is this envisaged to be an online resource?

Dr Baxter : I do not think the exact parameters of how it will look have been worked through yet. That is one option. It may be that there is some capacity to provide support to existing volunteer support groups and see how we might be able to help them. I know that is one of the options that is being explored.

Senator CAROL BROWN: What funding allocation do you have for this initiative?

Dr Baxter : The initiative has been allocated $350,000 over two years, 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So what is the time line? Do you have a timeline for the delivery of the initiative?

Dr Baxter : No, I do not. I can let you know that the funding is allocated over those years. But at the moment we are in an intensive planning phase, so we anticipate being able to provide an update shortly on exactly how those funds will be expended and what the nature of the service will look like.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I will probably leave it there.

Senator SIEWERT: I have two areas I want to explore here. One is the royal commission and the redress issue and the other one is the cashless welfare card. What level of engagement did you have with the royal commission? I did ask a series of questions in A-G's, but I was particularly keen to see what role DSS had and where you are up to.

Ms Bennett : Our department and a number of other departments across the Commonwealth works with Attorney-General's. They have an interdepartmental committee set up on royal commission issues.

Senator SIEWERT: I am particularly interested in the redress area. I know I am going to run out of time.

Ms Bennett : We are talking to Attorney-General's. As you know from the questions you ask, they are leading this.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Ms Bennett : We are talking to them about how they are going to enter into discussions with the jurisdictions. We are working closely together.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you set up with a committee with them?

Ms Bennett : It is a senior officer engagement.

Senator SIEWERT: That is all I need to know on that, because I did ask a series in A-G's. Thank you. I want to go to the cashless welfare card and healthy welfare card. What are we calling it?

Mr Pratt : The cashless debit card now.

Ms Bennett : The cashless debit card.

Senator SIEWERT: I have a whole series. I will need to put some on notice; I am aware of that. During the debate on the legislation, as I am sure you are aware, I asked a series of questions. I asked about the comparison between a community getting lots of services and the cashless debit card and a community just getting services. I asked how we know that the welfare card itself is having an impact. Minister Fifield said:

There are other communities that would be receiving some equivalent forms of community support and that is what the evaluation will look at.

Have you made any progress in identifying those communities? What is the process?

Dr Baxter : I can tell you that at the moment we are in the process of negotiating with a provider for the evaluation of services under the cashless debit card. So we have approached through one of our relevant evaluation panels and there has been a request for quotation put out. We are having discussions with a potentially successful provider under that. The exact detail of which communities will be chosen and how that will take place will be finalised once we have that provider on board. We have plans to do a baseline evaluation. We are looking at the moment to have that undertaken in around mid-March.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that by the same provider?

Dr Baxter : That will be by that provider; yes, that is right. So we are looking at a mid-March date for the baseline. That is likely to be based on administrative data. We have been working with relevant state and territory counterparts about how we might be able to access that administrative data and what might be the right pieces of data to look at for the community harm measures that we are interested in measuring.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. So you approached only one provider?

Dr Baxter : No. A number of providers were approached by our evaluation panel. One of our evaluation panels is a spread panel. A request for quotation was put to a number of providers. We are now in the process of negotiating with the one who is the preferred provider.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you for that information. You have pre-empted another question, but it does not in fact answer the question I asked. During the debate, we were talking about which community is going to receive the additional services so that you are comparing like with like. That is surely not up to the evaluation team. It is surely up to the government to choose which community you are going to be investing in in terms of those additional resources.

Dr Baxter : The additional resources are going into the communities that have volunteered to participate in the trial. At this point, that is Ceduna in South Australia and surrounding communities and Kununurra in the East Kimberley. They are communities that will be undertaking the baseline. The baseline will be undertaken in mid-March before those services have fully rolled out in the community. There will be a baseline before the services have rolled out.

Senator SIEWERT: Minister Fifield said during the debate there would be other communities that receive services that you will compare to. I was really clear during this debate about comparing like with like.

Dr Baxter : No. Those communities have not been selected yet.

Senator SIEWERT: So when is that going to happen if the trial does start in the middle of March?

Dr Baxter : So we are envisaging that when we have the provider on board, it will be very, very soon. We are in the very final stages of finalising that process. We will speak to them about how we would run an effective baseline both in the trial communities and in comparable communities that do not have the services and will not be having the services in place.

Senator SIEWERT: So the whole point of this is trying to define whether it is the services itself that has the impact or the services and the cashless welfare card. The discussion we were having is that you cannot define what benefits the cashless debit card has if you are pumping in a million dollars worth of services in that community that they never had in the past. That was the nature of the debate, and it was a very clear debate.

Ms Bennett : But the benchmarking will identify communities where there are comparable services already in place and where the injection of the new services—

Senator SIEWERT: Which communities would these be?

Ms Bennett : Pardon?

Senator SIEWERT: Which communities would these be?

Ms Bennett : This is part of what the benchmarking is.

Senator SIEWERT: Comparable services to what you are going to inject into this?

Dr Baxter : We are envisaging that we will look at communities where there is a comparable service footprint but no cashless debit card. We will also be looking at the communities that the trial is going into before the services and the debit card are rolled out. We are envisaging that we will look at both, but we do not have the detail of what those benchmark communities will be yet.

Senator SIEWERT: All that by March?

Dr Baxter : Yes. That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: Identifying those communities and getting the baseline surveys in the other communities by March?

Dr Baxter : That is right. Well, we are looking to have the benchmark done in mid-March. So given that we will be finalising the provider very shortly, we will have a month to get those things ready. We have been preparing by talking to the states and territories about their administrative data in preparation for that.

Senator SIEWERT: I will keep watching that process. I am going to skip forward a bit. I might come back to those questions if I get a chance. In terms of the East Kimberley trial, where are we up to in the finalisation of the agreement with those communities?

Dr Baxter : Yes. The Kununurra-Wyndham trial is expected to commence in late April. Conversations are ongoing in that community about the nature of the trial there. So, as you know, some of the aspects of the trial, such as the formation of the community panel, take place in intensive negotiation with the community. So we have agreed that a trial will take place and that it will take place in Kununurra-Wyndham. We are looking to commence in late April 2016. In Kununurra and Wyndham, there are a number of activities that are taking place across February and March to talk to people in the community about the trial, including flyer drops, mail-outs and radio advertising. There are ongoing consultations with the leadership and the identified service groups in the community about a number of features of the trial, such as the community panel arrangement.

Senator SIEWERT: So Halls Creek is not going to—

Dr Baxter : Out of scope at this time; that is right.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. In terms of the third community?

Dr Baxter : Assistant Minister Tudge had some preliminary conversations at the end of December with the potential third community. At the moment, we are just staying in conversation was those communities and continuing the consultation process. But nothing has been confirmed.

Senator SIEWERT: Does that community happen to be in my home state?

Dr Baxter : Yes. I think Assistant minister Tudge has been very clear that he has had conversations with Geraldton and Laverton and Leonora.

Senator SIEWERT: So either one of those?

Dr Baxter : He is having conversations with all of those communities, but they are in the very early days of those discussions.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. What is the anticipated date for the finalisation of that?

Dr Baxter : There is no date at the moment. It is very early stages. The approach has been from those communities, so it is really working to their timeframe about continuing the conversations. We are continuing to provide information as we are asked for it, and we anticipate the consultations will continue. We are also working closely with our state and territory office network colleagues on the ground and they are in touch.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I want to ask about comments that have been made about the potential for rollout across regional Australia. Has the department been involved in any costings of the possible national or region wide rollout of the cashless debit card? I can ask it.

Mr Pratt : Do you mind repeating the question before I give my stock standard answer on that?

Senator SIEWERT: Have you been involved in preparing any costings or advice on the possible rollout or national application of the cashless debit card either regionally across Australia or across Australia?

Mr Pratt : Over the last couple of years we have looked at a whole range of issues around income management and, separately, what is now known as the cashless debit card. We have provided advice to government in lots of areas. Beyond that, I cannot say.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the issues about the selection of Indue as the bank. I will have a lot of questions on notice as well. Some particular ones I would like to ask here. Has Indue Ltd become a subscriber to the ePayments Code, which is the voluntary code regulating electronic payment facilities?

Dr Baxter : I am sorry, Senator, but we would have to take that one on notice. I do not know the answer.

Senator SIEWERT: This is the major provider of the service. You do not know whether they are subscribers to that voluntary code?

Ms Bennett : We do not have the information with us at the moment.

Dr Baxter : I am sure that it has featured in the discussions we have had at a departmental level with Indue, but I just do not have it here, I am sorry.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take it on notice as to whether they are or are not?

Dr Baxter : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand that they were not. I do not know if subsequently they have been. If I am wrong, I would really like to know. If they are not, will you be requiring them to sign up as part of that process?

Ms Bennett : We will take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Do you know if they are subscribers to the codes of conduct covering authorised deposit taking institutions, particularly the code of banking practice and the customer owned code of banking practice?

Ms Bennett : We do not have that information with us. If you give us a list of those questions, we can take them on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Take them on notice. Secondly, will you require them to do that? Indue is a member of the credit industry ombudsman. Will the ombudsman be able to consider disputes about the cashless debit card?

Ms Bennett : We will take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Does the department consider that Indue as an authorised deposit taking institution, or ADI, meets the requirements of a bank account under the cashless welfare legislation? Is that classed as a bank account?

Dr Baxter : Yes. Our understanding is that it does, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: And on what basis does it meet that requirement of a bank account?

Dr Baxter : We would have to take on notice to provide you with the criteria and the assessment of Indue against that. But our understanding is that it does.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could, because it clearly says bank account. But Indue is not a bank.

Dr Baxter : As you have highlighted, it is an authorised deposit taking institution. We understand that it does meet those requirements. I cannot talk today to the criteria and how it meets it. I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take it on notice? Did you seek advice on that?

Dr Baxter : Yes. I can take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: So you cannot tell me whether you sought—

Dr Baxter : The nature of the advice we sought? Yes, I can take that on notice along with the criteria.

Ms Strapp : I can confirm that our complaints trial participants can take complaints against Indue to the credit investigations ombudsman.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Can you add to the list you are taking on notice whether the department has liaised with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority on this issue?

Dr Baxter : Yes. We can take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Given that you are going to have to take a whole lot of these on notice, I am not going to go through them any further. Why did you decide to go out to limited tender on this issue?

Dr Baxter : We had had some consultations early with the major banks that indicated there was a lack of interest in delivering a small-scale trial of this nature at the time. Following that, we undertook a comprehensive desktop analysis of 18 potential commercial providers. It was on the basis of those two exercises that the limited tender followed.

Senator SIEWERT: Did they meet the requirements, going to that process, where limited tenders are used?

Dr Baxter : Yes. They did, yes. We had independent advice confirming that the process we had followed was the appropriate one.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I have a series of questions there I will put on notice as well. Some of the other matters in terms of the trial were unanswered. For example, there are issues around the shopfront. Have issues around the shopfront been resolved?

Dr Baxter : Yes. I am very happy to answer them. As you know, the negotiations with Indue have been proceeding. Some of the matters you asked us about last time have reached more of a conclusion. Indue in Ceduna, which is the trial that is most advanced at this stage in the planning stages, is seeking to engage local partners who will provide services on the ground prior to, on and around the time of the rollout of the card. So Indue has issued a request for a quote to a number of organisations in Ceduna. That includes local Aboriginal corporations, Australia Post and not-for-profit organisations. It is currently evaluating those quotes. It is looking very likely at this stage that local partners will be engaged, particularly in Ceduna, Oak Valley, Koonibba, Yalata and Sodexo. We will also have Indue staff on the ground for the four weeks following and around the rollout of the trial. We will also have DSS staff on the ground as well, so if there are any queries that community members or participants have, we will be able to take them at that time.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. What about in the Kimberley?

Dr Baxter : East Kimberley will follow a very similar pattern, but our negotiations in relation to the East Kimberley are not as advanced at this stage.

Senator SIEWERT: So will those organisations be able to deal with issues around lost cards?

Dr Baxter : There are a number of ways that participants who have a lost card can deal with them. The local providers will be able to issue an emergency replacement card and funds will be available immediately on that card. So they will be able to be a point of contact if someone has lost a card.

Senator SIEWERT: The local partner?

Dr Baxter : The local partner will. But there will be very akin to standard banking practices. People will also be able to report lost and stolen cards via online and phone. We just wanted to make sure there was also a local presence and someone that they could go to to get a card.

Senator SIEWERT: I do not want to traverse the issues that we traversed last time. There is the issue about getting ready access to cash before you get a card. It is all very well to be able to report online. The point is: how do I get access to cash?

Dr Baxter : Well, if you are in the community and you have lost your card, you can visit one of the local partners and receive an emergency replacement card immediately. So you will be able to get it on the spot. There will be cash available on that. There will be the provision to avail of goods from that card immediately. You will also have a permanent replacement card come in the mail to you. In the meantime, you will have this interim card that you will able to use immediately.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. And when I am outside community?

Dr Baxter : If you are outside community, you will be able to request a permanent replacement card. You will continue to have access to online banking while you are waiting for that new card. You obviously will not have access to the local partners, depending on which community it is that you are going to be in. But if you are in one of the communities surrounding the trial location—one of the outer lying areas of Ceduna—you will be able to access those local partners.

Senator SIEWERT: So if I am in Broome, I am in the East Kimberley. I have gone to the West Kimberley. How do I get access to cash if I need it?

Dr Baxter : You would report your card as missing via the information line or the online service. You would have a new card sent to you. In the meantime, you would be able to access your online banking function. So you could, for example, transfer funds to a family member or friend that you are travelling with and you would be able to have them access goods for you from the card that way.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you take me through that again?

Dr Baxter : You could still use the online banking function.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I understand that. What do I do transferring it to somebody else?

Ms Strapp : That is transferring it to, say, somebody else who also has a cashless debit card—another family member that has a cashless debit card and who has not lost their card. You can transfer money to their cashless debit card.

Senator SIEWERT: Only if they have a cashless card?

Ms Strapp : Yes.

Dr Baxter : You can also make transfers to non-restricted cards, but the amount that you can transfer is limited in any given month. So if you were travelling with someone who did not have one, you could also make a transfer.

Senator SIEWERT: So how much can they transfer? How much can they transfer?

Dr Baxter : At the moment, there are two limits. We recognise that these may be things that evolve as we roll the trial out. But these have been set in consultation with the community leaders. One is in relation to a housing payment of up to $1,000 a month. There is another expenses payment of $240 a month. So if you were out of community, you could potentially transfer up to $1,240 to a non-restricted account and you could transfer as much as you wanted of your restricted funds to another restricted account if you were out of community.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the housing money for? For housing? I cannot spend it on something else?

Dr Baxter : It asks you. The system will ask you what the payment is for. It is really to identify situations that the community has been concerned about, where the pattern of online payment may look different than a housing payment. That is why they have set the amount of $1,000. There is no checking that the money is spent on that, but you are required to indicate that it is a housing payment. Once you get to $1,000 in any given month, you will not be able to transfer more than that to an unrestricted account. But you could transfer more to someone else who is also on the cashless debit card.

Senator SIEWERT: Interesting. So I can transfer $1,000 to any account?

Dr Baxter : There are accounts of other people who are on the cashless debit card and there are accounts of people who are not on the cashless debit card. If someone else is on the same card as you, you can transfer as much money as you want to their restricted account. It has the same restrictions.

Ms Bennett : Up to the point if it is lost.

Dr Baxter : No. Generally they are able to do that. This is not related to being lost.

Senator SIEWERT: To anybody?

Dr Baxter : So to an open account. Community leaders have indicated that they do not want that to be an open transfer. They are very worried about the capacity in community to get around some of the parameters of the trial through that function. So they have suggested that situations which might arise are housing. They have suggested a limit in any given month of $1,000. This is to cover the situation we talked about last time of people who might be paying informal rent. There is another category, which is simply called other expenses. That is $240 a month.

Senator SIEWERT: That is on top of my 20 per cent?

Dr Baxter : On top of your 20 per cent; that is right.

Senator SIEWERT: Thanks. And merchant charges?

Dr Baxter : Last time we discussed merchant surcharging, I indicated that we thought around six merchants in the Ceduna trial area were charging surcharges. That is correct. There are six merchants, and there are three merchants in the Kununurra-Wyndham area that levy surcharges on transactions. To date, none of those merchants has agreed to remove the surcharges. I mentioned to you last time that we are in consultations with them. While DSS will continue to work with these merchants, clearly this is an issue for them. What we are doing is that information will be placed on the Indue website and in the terms and conditions to ensure that trial participants are aware that there may be surcharges for particular transactions. We are also envisaging that where there are local partners in place, they will be able to provide information to participants about where they might expect to receive a surcharge.

Senator SIEWERT: What about the major centres that people from these regions will travel to? Broome has a large number of merchants.

Dr Baxter : Yes. So there has been no work with merchants outside the trial areas.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of—

CHAIR: Just before you go on, I want to get a sense of timing from people. We have 35 minutes before we are due to finish both of these outcomes—outcome 2 and outcome 4. I want to get a sense from people where they are up to, because I know there are some people who will come down for housing. It will delay them.

Senator SIEWERT: I have a lot that I will put on notice. I was literally just about to ask my last one in this particular area.

Senator MOORE: I have questions on financial counselling, and I will put the rest on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Will hire purchase agreements and Centrepay accounts still operate the same as they are currently operating? There are two issues. There is the current process but also the new process that is limiting which hire purchase—

Dr Baxter : What can go where?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Dr Baxter : Centrepay deductions will still perform in the same way that they do currently under a cashless debit card. In terms of hire purchase arrangements, that will very much depend on the provider. So if it is a BPAY provider that the hire purchase payments have been set up through, BPAY is still permissible under the cashless debit card.

Senator SIEWERT: It is still permissible?

Dr Baxter : Yes. That is right. BPAY is still permissible. Again, some of the hire purchase arrangements, on my understanding, relate to particular online shopping retailers. A list of admissible online retailers will appear on the Indue and relevant DSS websites. People will be able to see who they can still make payments to.

Senator SIEWERT: So what happens where people already have arrangements with companies that might not, therefore, be on that? Would there be a circumstance where that arises?

Dr Baxter : It is not something that has been canvassed with us by community leaders and participants in our discussions with them. I imagine there would be a few facilities where you could still do the online transfers that we discussed before to non-restricted accounts from the other expenses account of up to $240 a month or from your 20 per cent unrestricted portion of the account. In terms of—

Senator SIEWERT: Which reduces the amount of money you can spend with cash, though.

Dr Baxter : In terms of individual hire purchase, we would probably have to look case by case at what they were. Some of them would still be permissible under online shopping and online payments. The only things that are actually prohibited are the withdrawal of cash or where there is a provider who is distributing alcohol or gambling services. So there is no technical reason why you could not pay for a hire purchase agreement with your restricted debit card, but the mechanics would depend on whether it is set up as a BPAY or through online shopping. I am just thinking through some online shopping examples. Some of those which you might be purchasing some goods from are also providers of alcohol, for example. It is one of the reasons that there is a limited list of online providers for the trial. It is case by case.

Senator SIEWERT: This is a supplementary question to the same question. Is that part of the information that will be made available to the people who are going to be impacted by the card?

Dr Baxter : Yes. It absolutely is. When and how you can use the card, and the different online utilities that we have. It is available in written form. We also recognise that people need to work through some of that face to face as well. So sessions are being provided—larger group information sessions as well as small group information sessions—reasonably intensively over the next couple of months in Ceduna, because that is where it is about to start. It will work through all those kinds of questions and answers that people have about how this works. In addition, those community partners who will be on the ground will be available to talk to people and answer questions they might have about the card.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: I will put a lot of these on notice. I have a particular question about financial counselling and the use of interpreters in financial counselling services. I know there has been a range of correspondence between the department and various providers, particularly in Victoria. I saw the letter that the department sent back to one of the providers. It said that the provision of TIS services to financial counsellors, particularly in the financial management program under the financial wellbeing capable activity, was a pilot that was funded until 30 June and then extended to 30 November 2015. Can you tell me what the terms of the pilot were?

Ms Bennett : I would prefer to take the terms of the pilot on notice and provide that to you. I would like to very quickly make the point that free translating and interpreting services are intended not for services funded and provided by government. We have requirements that all government departments make accessible themselves the services they fund, support and deliver. It is under our access plans. This was a pilot to see if this had been a blocker to accessing these particular services. The finding at the end of the pilot was that it not a reason why CALD clients were not accessing it.

Senator MOORE: Has the pilot been published?

Ms Bennett : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: We have information from providers that in some parts of Victoria a significant percentage of their clients need access to TIS services. What was the cost to government of the pilot in terms of the use of this TIS program? If it has been cut, how much money was expended under the pilot up until the time it was phased out? The translation of that may give us some indication about what the costings are currently. The providers with whom I have been speaking say that they are going to have process costs of up to $37,000, which they just do not have.

Ms Bennett : We will take that on notice. We will set out their funding agreements in the question on notice. We will have information. It was a small number of organisations that made up 76 per cent of the usage of this program. In fact, this has been raised with me. I have been informed that the current contract arrangements made it clear that they would have to provide that when they were putting in their grant application. It was accommodated for in their grant application.

Senator MOORE: Ms Bennett, it has been raised with me that certainly the confusion and concern around the grant process was one of the reasons they were unaware of it. It concerns me that they were unaware. Can you tell me whether, in the frequently asked questions and information provided during the grant process, the particular issue of TIS is mentioned? I could not go back and find it because it is no longer on the website. I am interested in whether this was a frequently asked question. These issues were not raised during our inquiry process into the grants issues. I have been told that people did not understand and that by the time they realised it was important, it was way too late to ask any questions.

Ms Bennett : I can confirm that the grant guidelines were absolutely explicit. It is detailed under 2.8 of special requirements. It said that grant applicants should consider whether services, projects, activities or events may require the use of professional translating or interpreting services in order to communicate with non-English speakers. If required, based on an assessment of the target group, costs for translating and interpreting services should be factored into grant applications.

Senator MOORE: Was it part of the consultation process, Ms Bennett, at the time when you went into Victoria to talk with providers?

Ms Bennett : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: It would be good if you could take that on notice. You can also take on notice whether it was one of the frequently asked questions.

Ms Bennett : I will.

Senator MOORE: Another issue with financial services concerns a series of correspondence that came through many people about the hub and spoke model. That was the process for the last round of grants that went out for people who were receiving financial counselling in areas subject to income management. A number of organisations have contacted their parliamentarians, and several have contacted me, about their concerns about the geographic coverage area of the new process and the client numbers involved, particularly in the Northern Territory, central Queensland, around Rockhampton and one other area, which I cannot remember.

Dr Baxter : Senator, do you have a question about it?

Senator MOORE: What in fact is going to be the monitoring process now? There is great concern in communities—I know that you have had that information—about whether the current services under this new provision will meet the needs of financial counselling in these areas. What will be the monitoring process now? I took down copious notes this morning in answers about where there could be gaps in service delivery and how people bring that to the attention of the government. I feel sure that is one that we will be following up on. What is going to be the process now? For instance, the Alice Springs decision has changed the geographic area surrounding Alice Springs. It has taken funding away from an organisation that had been receiving funding for financial counselling for over 20 years and given it to another provider who does not have an Aboriginal base. What is the justification for that? I will put that on notice so you know that I particularly wanted to raise that. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: I think that concludes this outcome.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask one more question on notice. Is the cashless debit card protected under the Banking Act?

Ms Bennett : We will take that on notice.

Dr Baxter : I will take that on notice. There are a number of different provisions. The ones that you have raised, we can give you—

Senator SIEWERT: My understanding is that it is a purchased banking facility. What is the proper term for it, sorry?

Dr Baxter : You mean authorised deposit taking institution?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Dr Baxter : Yes. We can take on notice to get back to you about the various codes they have signed up to and which apply.

Senator SIEWERT: This is about the fact that it is a purchased payment facility. That is my understanding of what it is.

Dr Baxter : Right.

Senator SIEWERT: And that that is not protected under the act.

Dr Baxter : We can take it on notice to get back to you on that one.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take that on notice, please? Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you.

[18:05]

CHAIR: We will now move to outcome 4, housing.

Senator GALLAGHER: I will begin by asking what has happened to housing as part of the federation white paper process. It was one of the key areas, along with health, tax and education, was it not, that was part of that work? Has that work been ceased?

Ms Hand : No. As you probably know, Prime Minister and Cabinet have carriage of that. What I can say in general terms is that at the last COAG meeting, where there was discussion about housing in the context of the reform of federation, COAG agreed that there would be a state and Commonwealth working group to look at the availability and supply of affordable housing. That group is being led by assistant minister Alex Hawke in Treasury and Minister Porter, with our portfolio have huge input. The three states represented are Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales. The terms of reference have been released.

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes. I have all of those.

Ms Hand : And the issues paper.

Senator GALLAGHER: I am just trying to work out how that aligns. There has been essentially a year and a half of work done through the reform of the federation process.

Ms Hand : That process is ongoing, but you would have to talk to Prime Minister and Cabinet about it, because they lead the reform of federation.

Senator GALLAGHER: Okay. So in terms of DSS, Treasury are leading the working group. Is that right?

Ms Hand : That is right. And obviously other departments. The Department of the Environment is involved with the cities agenda. Prime Minister and Cabinet. Are there any others, Mr Scott?

Mr Scott : We have a working group at the Commonwealth level that includes the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury, ourselves and the Department of the Environment. They are the main agencies with housing related work going on. That feeds back up into the affordable housing working group and the work that we are doing coming out of the COAG decision. With regard to the decision around the reform of the federation and COAG, COAG asked for a report back by relevant ministers by the end of 2016.

Senator GALLAGHER: I think I saw that in the working paper. So that is due to report to the Treasurers?

Mr Scott : The Heads of Treasuries, yes, Senator.

Senator GALLAGHER: So through HoTs?

Mr Scott : Through HoTs. Initially through HoTs by June 2016.

Senator GALLAGHER: And then it carries on its merry way to the end of the year?

Mr Scott : It will then feed up into the report back to COAG; that is correct.

Senator GALLAGHER: Is it different? I guess it has a broader remit than the reform of the federation. Is that the difference here?

Ms Hand : The original objective of reform of federation was to look at roles and responsibilities in housing between the states and the Commonwealth. This is a much broader remit to say that we all know that we want collectively to increase the supply and availability of affordable housing, so it is how we can do that collectively. You would have seen the terms of reference.

Senator GALLAGHER: I know this probably has to go to PM&C, but roles and responsibilities would feed into supply, availability and tax policy.

Ms Hand : They will have to be taken into account. I guess what we are doing, which I think is an exceptionally positive thing, is saying collectively we need to work through the very complex tricky issue of how we increase supply and availability. Out of that, obviously, there may be discussion about roles and responsibilities, but it is a bit too early to say because, as you know, we are in the consultation process at the moment. People have been invited for submissions. So until that process finishes in around March, we really cannot comment much any further.

Senator GALLAGHER: You might direct me to Treasury. Is there a budget associated with this working group?

Ms Hand : Not that I am aware of, but I do not know.

Mr Scott : No. It will be funded through our departmental appropriations. But we obviously—

Senator GALLAGHER: There will be various departmental appropriations coming together?

Mr Scott : Yes. Both DSS and Treasury have departmental appropriations including under housing.

Senator GALLAGHER: I do not know if other people have questions on that working paper.

CHAIR: I was going to broadly split the time. I think it is just yourself and Senator Ludlam unless there is anyone else.

Senator GALLAGHER: No. That is it.

CHAIR: I was going to broadly split the time. You have another eight minutes.

Senator GALLAGHER: Eight.

CHAIR: Seven actually, now. It just ticked over.

Senator GALLAGHER: Fair enough, Chair. Can you bring me up to speed with numbers of dwellings constructed under NRAS and ongoing costs?

Mr Scott : In terms of the number of dwellings that have been allocated into the scheme to date, as of the end of December 2015, we had just ticked over 30,000 dwellings. At the moment, the annual expenditure under the scheme is in the ballpark of $250 million. That will obviously grow over time as more dwellings come into the scheme. At the moment, I think it is just over 7,000 further dwellings.

Senator GALLAGHER: Until that—

Mr Scott : To come into the scheme.

Senator GALLAGHER: And then it ends, because at around five—

Mr Scott : At that point—

Senator GALLAGHER: It did not go out?

Mr Scott : At that point, all the provisional allocations will have come into the scheme.

Senator GALLAGHER: So by the time NRAS finishes, you are expecting 37,000 dwellings?

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: Can that figure, the 30,000, be broken down on a jurisdictional basis? I do not know if you want to do that on notice.

Ms Hand : We will take that on notice. We can.

Senator GALLAGHER: I have had a couple of letters in the last couple of weeks around delays to payments under the NRAS scheme.

Ms Hand : I will ask Mr Coburn to comment at length.

Senator GALLAGHER: Not for too long, because I have only six minutes to go.

Ms Hand : I do not know why I said that, Senator.

Senator GALLAGHER: Not for six minutes.

Ms Hand : I am delighted to say that the team, compared to a very tricky situation last year where we had many delays, has processed every application for an incentive that is compliant with the regulations for last year, 2014-15. That is pretty much a record, so we are delighted to say that. There are some that are outstanding because we are waiting on compliant paperwork. We have gone back to—

Senator LUDLAM: Ms Hand, could we just ask you to speak into the mic. Sorry, but I am having real trouble hearing you.

Ms Hand : Some have not been processed yet because we have gone back to the relevant providers for compliant paperwork. They have not provided everything we need.

Senator GALLAGHER: So everyone is up to date who has been assessed as compliant. And the outstanding ones are more complicated and have follow-up action being taken?

Mr Coburn : Generally speaking, that is correct. We had 29,099 allocations which were potentially eligible for an incentive in 2014-15.

Senator GALLAGHER: So 20,099?

Mr Coburn : It was 29,099.

Senator GALLAGHER: I was going to say that that is a lot of noncompliance.

Mr Coburn : We have assessed all of them. There are still a few hundred that are able to be paid, but we are just in the process of putting it through the system to get the money transferred. There is 4,443 which are either noncompliant or we need additional information. We are going to give the approved participants the opportunity to provide further information if it is available.

Senator GALLAGHER: Can you give me an idea of the noncompliance? What is it? Is it paperwork based?

Mr Coburn : The key areas are not having correct information in market rent valuations or that market rent valuations have been provided late or are not in respect of a relevant period. The other major item would be overcharging of rent.

Mr Scott : The market rent valuation is a critical part of the scheme, yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes. There are concerns you have around whether that information is correct?

Mr Coburn : Yes. Those kind of issues generally, particularly the market rent valuations, can be dealt with relatively quickly. We have focussed on making payments to those to whom we can in the first instance.

Mr Scott : I guess the other relevant aspect is that we have been receiving statements of compliance since May. A number of approved participants applied for and received extensions. So we are still receiving statements of compliance up until September. There are still a few participants we need to go back to to confirm whether or not they are going to lodge. Part of the timing issue in terms of getting payments out also comes to participants getting the statements of compliance in to us.

Senator GALLAGHER: I probably have only a minute and a half left. I have some other questions that I will put on notice. I know there was some work—it was done, I think, under the federation reform process—looking at potentially extending Commonwealth rental assistance to occupants of public housing as part of the roles and responsibilities. What has happened to that work? Is it continuing?

Ms Hand : That is sort of in the background while the working group focuses on the other work that I referred to earlier. It is not saying it is not going to happen, but it is not being considered actively at the moment.

Senator GALLAGHER: So it is paused?

Ms Hand : Yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: You have taken a pause on that. You got to the point where someone worked out that that was not going to be something that could be easily pursued?

Mr Scott : I think we might have discussed this briefly during the previous estimates.

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes. We did.

Mr Scott : As we anticipated, there was a range of differing views from jurisdictions about whether it was worth pursuing. At the end of the day—

Senator GALLAGHER: It is paused?

Mr Scott : Yes. It was decided that doing this sort of joint Commonwealth-state work was going to be more productive in getting better outcomes than looking at putting CRA into public housing.

CHAIR: Senator Gallagher, unfortunately, I am going to have to cut you off there and go to Senator Ludlam.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks, Chair. I am going to struggle to do this justice as well, unfortunately, in the time we have. Can I check that we are doing 4.1 and 4.2 in this bracket, or are you breaking them out separately?

CHAIR: Yes, 4.1 and 4.2.

Senator LUDLAM: At the same time?

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: Wow, okay. Let us start with homelessness. I have asked a number of times about the government's homelessness targets. The answers that come back on notice do not really identify whether there is a target. I think I will just ask this in black and white. Senator Fierravanti-Wells, this might end up coming to you if the officials are not keen to take them on. Does this government have any targets to reduce homelessness? If you do, what are those targets? I am happy for anyone to take that on.

Ms Hand : The key objective of the government is to reduce homelessness. There are no specific targets. The government's absolute objective is to reduce homelessness as much as possible.

Senator LUDLAM: So that is as much as possible?

Ms Hand : The government is working very closely, as you know, with the states through the national partnership agreement on homelessness.

Senator LUDLAM: I am sorry. You do not get to set this. I am seriously not having a go at you. It is actually the politics that I am more interested in. The department does not set the target. I just want to keep this to targets. There is no target? There are no benchmarks? There is not a certain number by a certain date, as there was under the previous government?

Ms Hand : No. No, there is not.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks. That is all I am trying to establish. What are the current turn-away rates for specialist homelessness services?

Mr Thomas : According to the specialist homelessness services collection, which is conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, from the period July 2014 to 30 June 2015, there were 329 instances per day where requests for services made were not assisted.

Senator LUDLAM: That is 329 per day. That is right across the whole country. Maybe in the interests of time, which is very short, could you possibly table us the document that you are quoting from or else point to where we might find it?

Mr Thomas : It is in the specialist homelessness services survey that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare conducts. That is online.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. Is that up or down from last year?

Mr Thomas : The previous year was 423 instances.

Senator LUDLAM: Per day?

Mr Thomas : Per day.

Mr Scott : The other thing to note is that that relates to the 2014-15 year. The new partnership agreement came into force on 1 July. You may recall in previous estimates we discussed that states and territories have under the new two-year agreement also taken the opportunity to adjust the mix of their services. We have also prioritised services to people at risk of homelessness fleeing domestic and family violence and youth homelessness. So part of what we will need to see as the reporting for the new agreement comes through is the impact that is having on the turn-away rate.

Senator LUDLAM: How long do you reckon it will take before we know what impact?

Mr Scott : I would expect that we will start seeing some impacts through the next AIHW specialist homelessness collection report. But we also will not be getting information in from the states until, I expect, late 2016 or early 2017.

Senator LUDLAM: There may be a full year before we will know. I believe it is still very much the case that the greatest single cause of homelessness is domestic violence as women, often with children, are fleeing homes that have become unsafe.

Mr Scott : It has remained stable at around 25 per cent of the clients presenting to homelessness providers. The principal cause of them seeking services is family and domestic violence.

Senator LUDLAM: Under Prime Minister Abbott, who did not appear to have much interest in the portfolio, $44 million was cut from new shelters. Is there any plan to reverse those cuts?

Ms Hand : When you say $44 million was cut, I am not sure what you mean.

Senator LUDLAM: This government's first budget was a capital budget so services stayed static, but there is no new supply.

Ms Hand : That is right. The capital money was not included. As you know, there was no provision for any funding for homelessness under the agreement. When this government came in, they reinstated the agreement for two years. It includes money for services. Obviously, homelessness rests with the states in terms of supplying services. If they choose to put money into capital, that is their decision.

Mr Scott : It is also worth noting that under the national affordable housing agreement there is also an allocation of around $260 million for homelessness. That is available to be used for capital purposes.

Senator LUDLAM: But, overall, is funding up or down since this current government took office?

Mr Thomas : Funding under the national partnership agreement on homelessness was $115 million. That has been the amount for each year for the next two years of the agreement. The latest report on the Australian government services, though, Senator, sets out how expenditure on homelessness services has been delivered. In 2014-15, there was $690 million spent by governments on homelessness, which was a 14 per cent increase on the 2013-14 expenditure, which was $617 million.

Senator LUDLAM: Do you have any information on the current turn-away rates specifically of domestic violence services?

Ms Hand : We will take that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: If you could, I would appreciate that. In Rosie Batty's last speech as Australian of the Year, she pointed out that it can be actually quite risky to raise—I am paraphrasing—awareness. There is a strategy at the moment around awareness raising. Obviously, that has been occurring over the last 12 months at least. It is dangerous because it lifts demand on already stretched services and shelters. Is your experience consistent with that? If you raise awareness about the issue, is it actually lifting demand? The turn-away rate you just told us runs at 329 per day.

Ms Hand : I am not aware of anything specifically, unless Mr Scott or Mr Coburn are. As you said, obviously there is huge demand for services but nothing specific in that space.

Senator LUDLAM: Has anybody in the department been tasked with working on ways to increase housing or accommodation for women and families escaping domestic violence?

Ms Hand : Sorry, Senator, I missed the question.

Senator LUDLAM: Has anyone in the department been tasked with looking at ways to increasing housing or accommodation, either emergency or longer term, for women and families escaping domestic violence?

Ms Hand : The first thing I would say is you are probably aware that, under the national partnership agreement on homelessness, former minister for social services Morrison, in reaching agreement with the states to the two-year extension, made clear that 50 per cent of that money—so 25 per cent from the Commonwealth and 25 per cent from the states—had to go to three priority areas. One of those was women and children who were suffering from domestic violence. So that is the first thing. In terms of the other question, I do not know whether you have anything further.

Mr Scott : No. Other than there was a housing element to the family safety package that was announced last year.

Senator LUDLAM: How much was that?

Mr Scott : It is around $17 million.

Senator LUDLAM: Seventeen?

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: So quite a bit less than half of what was cut from the capital budget of the providers. So helpful, but not super helpful. We are going backwards. I would like to bring you, because time is unfortunately so short, to the recommendations of the Senate inquiry into housing affordability, which canvassed homelessness, obviously, and affordability more broadly. Government senators supported nine of 40 of the recommendations. I think Senator Seselja, who is chairing, actually, was a member of that committee. So we have unanimous agreement on nine of the 40 recommendations. I have a list of the nine here. One of them I think you could say has been taken up, because we have this new government working group focussing on innovative, transformative and implementable financing models. That is consistent with one of the Senate inquiry's recommendations. I am interested in the other eight. Of all of those remaining eight recommendations that were unanimous—I can spell them out, if you like, but time is a bit short—is there any progress or any movement or sign of life at all?

Ms Hand : The government has not yet responded to that inquiry. Having said that, there is an enormous amount of work underway through the cities agenda for housing, through obviously the working group that we have been talking about, reform of federation and a number of things. The government is considering its response in the context of all that work because it wants to make sure that everything is aligned and integrated, so I cannot really comment on anything more than that.

Senator LUDLAM: When will we see some outputs? We are two years in to what is effectively a scorched earth policy, where a lot of good stuff that was going on was just wiped out. Now we are starting to maybe see some green shoots. For example, when will we see some outputs for this new working group and what comes out?

Ms Hand : Mr Scott talked to that earlier. We will see a report go to Heads of Treasury at the end of this financial year and a report go to COAG at the end of this calendar year. In the meantime, obviously we are progressing a lot of initiatives behind the scenes.

Senator LUDLAM: Behind the scenes?

Ms Hand : Behind the scenes. We are doing a lot of work on initiatives, I should say. That is the wrong phrase.

Senator LUDLAM: We are finding it more difficult to work in this space, I guess, because the government eliminated some of the really valuable peak bodies who were formerly the voice of the sector and who would go back and aggregate feedback from community housing organisations and crisis centres, for example. Is the government finding it more difficult to get a grip on what is going on with those peak bodies taken out of the picture?

Ms Hand : The first thing I would say, Senator, is that the government did not eliminate those bodies.

Senator LUDLAM: Well, you cut their funding and then they ceased to exist. Not you personally, Ms Hand, but decision-makers.

Ms Hand : We continue to have very, very close and productive working relationships with all those organisations. We engage them, including the intention to engage them through the working group process.

Senator LUDLAM: How are you doing that? Their money is gone. Are they working for you in a voluntary capacity?

Ms Hand : No. Like any organisations, I cannot comment on how they get their other funding sources, but we are having very productive discussions with them.

Senator LUDLAM: I will just pass this one through on notice, if you like, rather than open up a debate. Through you, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, I have been aware that behind the scenes presumably preparations are furiously underway for the forthcoming budget. If the funding could be restored to those housing affordability and homelessness peak bodies, I think everybody in this room would find that of benefit.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I will certainly pass that on, Senator Ludlam. I am sure that the minister's office is watching.

CHAIR: Unfortunately, we have to leave it there. I thank you, Minister. I thank you, Mr Pratt, and all of your officials. Ms Hand, thank you in particular for pushing through with your voice. Thank you very much. We have completed DSS. We will now break for one hour and come back with the Department of Human Services.

Proceedings suspended from 18:31 to 19:33