Champion community sector potential

You are reading Chapter 5 of 'Delivering Fairness', 2019 VCOSS Budget Submission

At its heart, Victoria’s community services industry is motivated by social outcomes: forging strong, cohesive and inclusive communities, where everyone is supported to live good lives and fulfil their potential.

But this social good also creates economic opportunities. The community services industry is experiencing phenomenal growth and can fuel an expanding Victorian economy. The social assistance and health industry is already the biggest employer in Victoria, and is projected to grow faster than any other, generating one in four new Victorian jobs over the next five years.[1] In this time, the nation will need nearly 70,000 extra aged and disability carers alone.[2]

In delivering the 10-year Community Services Industry Plan, the Victorian Government can begin realising the potential of the community services industry, generating abundant new secure, well-paid jobs, and building a strong, modern sector to amplify the social and economic benefits for Victoria.


 Deliver the 10-year Community Services Industry Plan

Develop community services by funding full implementation of the first and second year actions

Victoria’s community services industry is strong, vibrant and mature, with a proud history of supporting people facing poverty and disadvantage. It is undergoing rapid change caused by a growing and ageing population and reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and the roll out of universal three-year kindergarten. The repercussions of the Royal Commission into Mental Health and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will likely intensify this pressure.

The Victorian Government can support the rapid expansion of the community services industry by fully funding implementation of the first two years of the Community Services Industry Plan.

The Plan was jointly developed by the Victorian Government and the community services industry, and presents a unified industry vision and actions to achieve it. Early plan actions include developing the workforce, building the evidence base, and investing in sector transitions. Peak bodies will need resources to support the industry as it builds capacity to expand, change and reinvigorate.


 Boost quality and innovation with indexation certainty

Make community service funding keep pace with wage increases and cost pressures

When community service organisations are financially healthy they can attract skilled staff, invest in innovation and build stronger partnerships to maximise their impact. But funding that does not grow to match costs saps organisations of their dynamism and threatens the viability of high-quality services.

When wages outpace funding, organisations are forced to contemplate shedding staff and restraining wages. The community services industry needs a responsive funding indexation formula, to match funding increases with minimum wage decisions and inflation, so service quality is not eroded.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced the Victorian Government would link community services funding to the Minimum Wage Case, and provided $13.8 million towards wage shortfalls for the 2018–19 financial year. He also promised to continue to fund rising wage costs over the current term of government.[3]

A sound indexation formula accounts for the real costs of wage increases, including those determined by the minimum wage decisions of the Fair Work Commission. It also includes provision for rising administrative expenses, like rents, electricity and fuel, and costs imposed by legislative and policy changes, including portable long service leave, incident management and investigations. Other cost increases include WorkCover premiums and the unfunded increases in the Superannuation Guarantee Levy.




 Augment funding for rural services

Provide a rural funding loading for services delivered in rural Victoria

The Victorian Government can boost rural service funding with a ‘rural loading’, giving organisations the resources to properly service rural communities.

People living in rural areas benefit from high community connectedness and high rates of volunteering. But they share many problems and need access to the same diversity of services as other Victorians. Community organisations are often funded to provide services across regions that might be hundreds of kilometres wide, with no additional funding to cover the added difficulty and expense of rural service delivery.

VCOSS regional members report many challenges in serving rural communities. Not everyone in rural Victoria can simply drive to a regional city to seek assistance, and it may take hours out of a worker’s day to drive to someone’s home or community. Small and variable numbers of clients can make it challenging and expensive to find space for service delivery in rural areas. It can also impede recruiting and retaining qualified staff. These challenges impose extra costs.[4]

Rural Victorians require the same recognition and respect as people living in Melbourne, and they should not be denied access because they live far from the corridors of power.



 Simplify community sector service agreements

Revise and improve the standard service agreement for community organisations to reduce complexity

The Victorian Government can enable more effective, better quality community services by reducing red tape and duplicative reporting.

Streamlined reporting and compliance requirements will free up community services to do what they do best – provide services to people in need. The role of government in the community services industry is evolving, moving away from service provision to system stewardship, enabling new arrangements.[5] The standard Service Agreement is a central tool in managing the relationship between government and community organisations.

In 2018, the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office made numerous recommendations to improve service agreements, and stated that they should “contain clearly defined performance standards, deliverables and review mechanisms”, and “impose requirements on funded organisations that are proportionate to their risk profiles”.[6]

Negotiations in 2019 are an opportunity to create a more balanced agreement, reflecting a mutual respect between organisations and the Government. In particular, the Victorian Government can introduce tiered agreements that reduce reporting and regulatory burden and better reflect the varied size and different complexity of services delivered.



 Guarantee long-term funding for more effective services

Ensure long-term funding of community organisations

An enduring funding base means community organisations can keep and develop stable, skilled workforces, and deliver continuously improving quality services. Core service funding is usually secured by a three or four year service agreement, providing reasonable funding certainty for organisations. Indeed, the Productivity Commission has recommended they be extended to seven years. But presently, there is a plethora of short-term grants, time-limited project funds and last-minute funding extensions, often for only a year or two.

For instance, the Victorian Government’s response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence released a welcome funding boost to meet demand; but much of it was short-term contract funds. VCOSS members observe this trend in many different community service programs.

Short-term funding impedes sustainable future planning. Workers can find themselves on a short-term contract ‘merry-go-round,’ moving from one contract to another, trying to secure sustainable work. This undermines both organisational capacity and worker morale. It can also disturb trusting therapeutic relationships built with vulnerable people – the foundation of quality, person-centred services.

Case Study: Short-term family violence funding

A family violence organisation in Melbourne had 78 per cent of funding revenue secured in long-term contracts during the 2015–16 financial year. Two years later, only 44 per cent was long-term. This funding insecurity has accelerated staff turnover and increased recruitment, training and development costs. It also means an organisation dedicated to gender equality cannot provide secure jobs for the women it employs.



 Fund Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and grow the Aboriginal workforce

Fund and support strong ACCOs and resource the implementation and roll-out of an Aboriginal Workforce Strategy

Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) are independent, not-for-profit organisations that are initiated, controlled and operated by Aboriginal people, acknowledging the right of Aboriginal peoples to self-determination. They are governed by an elected Aboriginal Board, which is directly accountable to the Aboriginal communities served.[7]

ACCOs build strength and empowerment in Aboriginal communities and people, creating enduring relationships free from unintentional racism. This includes empowering Aboriginal people to participate directly in the design and delivery of services within their communities, and defining priorities, outcomes and approaches from an Aboriginal community perspective. Collectively, they can reach and engage Aboriginal people, unmatched by the mainstream sector.[8]

ACCOs require sustainable long-term funding for the total cost of providing holistic, comprehensive and culturally appropriate services in community. For example, this includes building up Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to accept transfer of guardianship of Aboriginal children (see page 73). They can also be resourced to reach out to Aboriginal people to participate in Treaty negotiations.

Investing in ACCOs grows the Aboriginal workforce, and supports Aboriginal leadership in governance and management. Victoria can help build the Aboriginal community services workforce by working with both the Aboriginal community controlled sector and the mainstream community services industry to fully fund and implement the sector-wide Aboriginal Workforce Strategy.



 Back community organisations to face climate change and emergencies

Fund capacity building for community organisations on the frontline

The effects of climate change – including extreme weather and natural disasters – are profoundly discriminatory. Climate change can exacerbate problems related to health, mental health, safety, financial and general wellbeing for people facing disadvantage, particularly those living on low incomes.

Community sector organisations are frequently among the first responders to an emergency, and are often on the frontline, providing resources, support and triage services to people in the immediate aftermath. They also support long-term community development, cohesion, rebuilding and resilience, and environmental recovery.

The Victorian Government can develop a community services framework for emergencies and climate change. It can outline the roles and responsibilities of organisations, identify the skills and competencies required, and document the activities for developing and maintaining these capabilities. Flowing from this, the Government can fund a capacity building program for organisations to engage in emergency and climate change planning, assist people facing vulnerability, and continue operating during emergency events.


 Further strategies

Develop a multi-lingual community services workforce

Having staff able to communicate in community languages is one important way of improving access for people from diverse language backgrounds. For instance, traineeships and scholarships can encourage people with English as a second language to work in community services.

Embed culturally appropriate practice and strengthen language services

People from culturally diverse communities are more likely to access services if staff have been trained in cultural safety and trauma-focused responses. The Victorian Government can fund affordable training opportunities, improve assistance to organisations to provide materials in community languages (including Auslan), and expand access to interpreter and translation services, to improve service access.

Embed co-design and participatory approaches

Involving service users in program design and delivery is critical to developing person-centred services. Consumer participation needs to be resourced and fully integrated into services, not something that is ad-hoc or added-on. It should include participation at all levels, including service design, organisational governance and the integration of peer and other practical supports.

Match services to local population and need

Victoria can better plan for local services and infrastructure, responding to divergent community growth and change in different places. Tools like the VCOSS Poverty Maps[9] provide a sophisticated picture of who experiences poverty and where they live, which can inform planning to deliver targeted services to areas in need.

Roll out disability worker accreditation as a model for a qualified, professional community service workforce

VCOSS encourages a gradual, resourced and supported transition to the new disability worker accreditation scheme. The scheme should avoid stifling workforce growth,[10] incur minimal costs to workers, and be supplemented with free training, and recognition of prior experience. The scheme can be enhanced in future to strengthen minimum qualification requirements, and can provide a model for the future professional enhancement of the community service workforce, in consultation with community sector peak bodies.


[1] Australian Government Department of Jobs and Small Business, Employment Projections: Regional Projections – five years to May 2023.

[2] Australian Government Department of Jobs and Small Business, Employment Projections: Occupation Projections – five year to May 2023.

[3] Victorian Council of Social Service, ‘Big political announcements at the Good Life Summit, 2018.

[4] Victorian Council of Social Service, The Voices of Regional Victoria: VCOSS Regional Roundtables Report November 2018.

[5] Deloitte Access Economics, Forecasting the future Community Services in Queensland 2025, 2016.

[6] Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, Contract Management Capability in DHHS: Service Agreements, September 2018.

[7] NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs), Policy Brief.

[8] NACCHO submission, Productivity Commission Inquiry into Human Services: Identifying sectors for reform, 2016.

[9] R Tanton, D Peel and Y Vidyattama, Every Suburb, Every Town: Poverty in Victoria, Victorian Council of Social Service, November 2018.

[10] Victorian Council of Social Service, A high quality disability workforce: VCOSS submission to registration and accreditation consultation paper, October 2017.



Artwork by artist Jacob Komesaroff. Follow on Instagram @jkomments