Jesuit Social Services was pleased to contribute a submission in response to the Department of Social Services’ Issues Paper on the Federal Government’s election commitment for “a stronger, more diverse and independent community sector”. Our submission argues reform is needed to change the way Government works with and funds community services organisations.

The recommendations in our submission are grounded in the knowledge, expertise and experiences of Jesuit Social Services’ staff, as well as research and evidence. This submission’s recommendations provide a framework for reform, and are informed by consistent advocacy led by organisations in the community sector.

In this submission, we discuss the value contributed by community service organisations and the unique role they play in maintaining a strong civil society. The submission emphasises the critical need for greater flexibility and stability in funding arrangements, ideally through the implementation of longer contracts and greater notice periods regarding funding renewal or cessation.

Jesuit Social Services also advocates for a dedicated commitment from Government to fund the full cost of quality service delivery in future, including adequate consideration of administrative costs and indexation. This submission also highlights the need for greater investment in place-based initiatives in order to effectively address entrenched and systemic disadvantage. Finally, this submission discusses the role of private service providers, and stresses the importance of valuing and preferencing the community sector’s expertise regarding service delivery to individuals and communities experiencing vulnerability.

Summary of our recommendations:

Jesuit Social Services recommends that the Federal Government implement the following changes:

  1. Create an ongoing commitment from Government acknowledging that research and development, service innovation and advocacy are important elements of core business, and ensure that all funding agreements reflect this.
  2. Amend grant rules so that service providers are given at least six months’ notice of any renewal or cessation of funding.
  3. Fund the full cost of quality service delivery, including infrastructure, management and administration costs (overheads), and adopt adequate indexation that is consistent across funded organisations, published annually and that reflects the actual increase in costs incurred by funded organisations, as called for by the Australian Council of Social Service.
  4. Increase the default length of contracts for the community sector to at least five and preferably seven years, and 10 years for service delivery in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  5. As recommended by the Australian Council of Social Service, apply further flexibility to funding arrangements, including:
    a) By specifying outputs, outcomes and activities in contracts rather than inputs;
    b) By permitting organisations that deliver services more efficiently to ‘keep’ surpluses and
    redirect them to service delivery rather than return them to consolidated revenue; and
    c) By including contract provisions such that organisations faced with serious impacts from
    natural disasters (including pandemics) can redirect funding to meet agreed alternative
  6. Instigate a national commitment from Government to prioritise support for place-based
    approaches, and to maximise positive outcomes from such initiatives by:
    a) Providing long-term, sustainable and flexible funding
    b) Working closely with CSOs and communities, in particular with Aboriginal and Torres Strait
    Islander communities, and prioritising community self-determination and local
    understandings of place in decision-making and policy design.
    c) Building the capacity, strength and adaptability of communities.
  7. Ensure Government decision-making is guided by the expertise and knowledge of CSOs that work with communities experiencing entrenched and place-based disadvantage.
  8. Use existing research and initiatives already being led by the community sector, such as Jesuit Social Services’ Dropping Off the Edge Report (DOTE), in shaping policy and determining investments to support the community sector.
  9. Commit to preferencing the expertise of community sector organisations and not-for-profits for delivery of essential frontline services in areas such as homelessness, domestic violence and emergency relief and for provision of expertise and advice on social policy development and service design.
  10. Where services are provided in response to the statutory intervention of the State where people’s liberties are infringed such as imprisonment or child protection, these should not be provided by for-profit entities.