Social Services: Investing in Regional Growth—2016-17

The Social Services portfolio is as broad as it is big, representing around one third of the total Commonwealth budget. The Department of Social Services' policies and programmes support people throughout their lives to encourage wellbeing, independence and participation in work and community. These initiatives provide a safety net for those who cannot fully support themselves, enhance the wellbeing of people with high needs, assist individuals who need help with care and support a diverse and harmonious society.

In 2015-16, more than 2.1 million regional Australians received assistance from income support, pension and family payments. In the same period, about $487.0 million in grants was invested in regional community services to assist individuals and families to get the support they needed. Those services include emergency relief for people experiencing financial hardship, playgroups for children with special needs and help for job seekers with disability to prepare for, find and keep a job.

Last year, the Australian Government committed $20.7 million to implement a new Investment Approach to Welfare, with a further $13.0 million to continue related longitudinal studies. Since then, the Department of Social Services has introduced a new front line data collection tool called the Data Exchange, or DEX. Information gathered through these initiatives will allow the Department of Social Services to continue tailoring its social services policies to ensure the welfare system looks after those who need it most, including vulnerable groups in regional Australia. It will also help ensure the system remains sustainable well into the future.

Over the last 12 months, the Department of Social Services and other Commonwealth agencies have worked closely with communities in Ceduna, South Australia and the East Kimberley in Western Australia to co-design a trial of Cashless Debit Cards, aimed at reducing welfare fuelled alcohol, drug and gambling abuse. The Australian Government has invested over $2.5 million in additional community services to support the trial, including more drug and alcohol services, a 24/7 mobile outreach, and financial counselling. Telecommunications infrastructure is also being enhanced; for the first time the communities of Koonibba, Yalata, Oak Valley and Scotdesco will have access to ongoing internet connectivity. Further investment through the 2016-17 Budget will enable the trial to be expanded to a third high-priority location in regional Australia.

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New Initiatives

Investment Approach: Creation of a Try, Test and Learn Fund

The $96.1 million (over four years from 2016-17) Try, Test and Learn Fund is part of the Australian Investment Approach to Welfare. Its name is an explanation of its function: it will test policy interventions, try new approaches and the Department of Social Services will learn what works well and what is ineffective. In this way, policies for priority groups will be designed which are more targeted and effective; some members of these groups will be regional Australians. It will also encourage a whole-of-system view, rather than a fragmented approach.

Under the Try, Test and Learn Fund evidence-based policy proposals will be tested for effectiveness using actuarial valuations. As a result, ineffective approaches will cease and funding will be re-directed. This actuarial analysis will also identify groups with a high risk of long-term welfare dependency. The aim would be to implement policy interventions that promote independence and employment thus breaking the welfare cycle.

Domestic and Family Violence—Third Action Plan

Women living in regional Australia are more likely to experience domestic violence than those living in capital cities (Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, 2014; Personal Safety Survey, 2013).

The Australian Government recognises particular vulnerabilities of women and their children in regional Australia to domestic and family violence, including issues in accessing services, a lack of privacy due to services often knowing both the victims and perpetrators, and issues around isolation and social and cultural characteristics of living in small communities.

$100.0 million will be invested in initiatives under the Third Action Plan 2016-19 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22. The initiatives will provide targeted support to priority groups, including women and children in rural, regional and remote locations, focused on:

  • enhancing primary prevention (stopping violence happening in the first place);
  • holding perpetrators to account and preventing them from re-offending;
  • keeping women safe in their homes;
  • addressing gender inequality and women's economic participation;
  • responding to children exposed to domestic and family violence; and
  • addressing violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.

The Third Action Plan marks the half-way point for the National Plan, and will continue Commonwealth and State and Territory efforts to break the cycle of violence, informed by recommendations of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Advisory Panel.

Trial of a Third Site for the Cashless Debit Card

The Australian Government will build upon and further test the efficacy of the Cashless Debit Card by expanding the trial to a third location in late 2016. This proposal mirrors the parameters of the current trial in Ceduna and the East Kimberley, but would test the card in a regional community with different demographics. The trial will impact people receiving working age income support payments however this impact is expected to be largely positive due to the anticipated improvement in community function.

Expanding the trial will provide further evidence of the ability of the Cashless Debit Card to disrupt behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence that contribute to high unemployment, low participation, long-term welfare dependency and intergenerational disadvantage among vulnerable Australians.

In preparation for the trial, community services will be enhanced in place, supporting people to address their addictions.

Supporting the Financially Vulnerable

The Centre for Social Impact (2014) identified people in regional Australia are most likely to experience financial exclusion as a result of a range of factors related to locational disadvantage.

In 2015-16, $6.1 million was provided to support Financial Counselling for Problem Gamblers, with around $3.0 million allocated in regional locations. Through the 2016-17 Budget, the Australian Government will extend funding for Commonwealth Financial Counsellors for Problem Gamblers for 12 months, until 30 June 2017. This $7.1 million extension means specialist services will continue to be available to 28 priority areas in regional Australia.

Financial Counsellors for Problem Gamblers are trained to identify and support problem gamblers and their families. This includes counselling, addressing harm minimisation and safety issues as well as working with therapeutic counsellors to address the addictive behaviours. They work with the whole family to restrict the problem gambler's access to finances, as well as protecting joint assets.

Third Action Plan—Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-20

In response to the increasing number of Australian children exposed to child abuse and neglect, the Australian Government is working with States, Territories and the non-government sector to implement a national approach to protecting our children.

The Third Action Plan 2015-18 under the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-20 outlines strategies and actions to keep Australia's children and young people safe, including those living in regional areas.

As part of the Commonwealth's commitment to the Third Action Plan, two trials will be funded to improve the wellbeing of children and young people that will:

  • help parents understand the importance of child development and parenting in their child's first 1,000 days and make it normal for families to ask for help; and
  • improve support for young people leaving out-of-home care, including case management, to assist them to gain skills for social and economic participation.

Building Social Cohesion for Recently Arrived Migrants

In 2015, more than 8,000 migrants and refugees settled in regional Australia.

This initiative focuses on building social cohesion and improving employment pathways in settlement locations, including regional areas, for newly arrived migrants.

The initiative increases the likelihood of early and sustained engagement with communities to reduce the risk of long term welfare dependency and marginalisation through two elements:

  • increased Australian Government funding for the National Community Hubs Programme to support the establishment of new hubs in settlement locations, including regional Australia. Community hubs bring together vulnerable people, including recently arrived migrants, women and children in local facilities such as schools, to build community connectedness and equip participants with knowledge and skills to be active members of the community; and
  • a pilot project to assist newly arrived humanitarian migrants of working age and with vocational English proficiency to find work that reflects the skills and experience they have gained in their home countries.

This $10.9 million investment (over three years from 2016-17) recognises the important contribution that migrants make to Australian society, including regional communities, while seeking to strengthen their sense of belonging and increase opportunities for social and economic participation; both key components of successful settlement and strong social cohesion.

At the time of the 2011 Census, 79,520 migrants were in the labour force in rural and regional Australia.

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Current Initiatives

Domestic and Family Violence—Women's safety package

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey 2012 (ABS, 2013, cat. No. 4906.0) found 21 per cent of women living outside of capital cities have experienced domestic violence, compared to 15 per cent of women living in capital cities.

In September 2015, the Prime Minister announced the $100.0 million women's safety package. The package includes practical actions to achieve a significant and sustained reduction in domestic, family and sexual violence. It recognises the diverse experiences of women and their children, and the need to ensure responses meet their specific circumstances, including those living in regional Australia.

Work already underway to prevent and respond to violence in regional and metropolitan communities includes:

  • $5.0 million to expand 1800RESPECT, the national telephone and online counselling and information service, to ensure more women can get support;
  • $6.0 million for safer technology including the distribution of safe mobile phones and working with the Children's eSafety Commissioner to develop online resource material;
  • $12.0 million to trial innovative technology to keep women safe, such as domestic violence alerts and global positioning system (GPS) trackers for perpetrators, with funding matched by States and Territories;
  • the delivery of domestic violence-alert training to health and allied health workers, which has a focus on training for workers in regional and remote communities;
  • $5.0 million for local women's caseworkers, to coordinate support for women affected by domestic violence, including housing, safety and budgeting services; and
  • $2.0 million additional funding for MensLine to develop tools and resources to support perpetrators not to reoffend.

Family Mental Health Support Services

Family Mental Health Support Services are community-based mental health services that provide early intervention support for children and young people with early symptoms of mental ill-health, or who are at particular risk of developing mental illness later in life.

Through an increased investment since early 2015, support is now delivered in 100 locations across the country. $21.35 million was provided in 2015-16 to 56 services across regional Australia to support families living in these locations.

The increased investment in Family Mental Health Support Services in regional Australia allows more vulnerable children and young people to access support and achieve better mental health outcomes later in life.

Families and Children

The Australian Government will allocate over $256 million in 2016-17 to enable Family and Children's services to continue to be delivered across Australia, with an extensive footprint in regional areas. The Family and Children's activity aims to help families improve the wellbeing of children and young people by strengthening relationships, building parenting and financial management skills, providing parenting support, and delivering school readiness programmes and home visits.

Communities for Children Facilitating Partners services operate in 29 regional areas to support early childhood development and wellbeing. Under this model, a funded Facilitating Partner works with each community to identify local needs and tailor services accordingly. Services may include parenting support, home visitation, supported play groups and life skills programmes.

Other Family and Children's services include:

  • Family and Relationship Services;
  • Children and Parenting Support Services;
  • Intensive Family Support Services; and
  • Family Law Services.

Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters

The Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters is a two-year, home-based parenting and early childhood learning initiative that currently operates in 65 regional communities of high disadvantage.

Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters builds the confidence and skills of parents and carers to create a positive learning environment to prepare their child for school. At each Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters site, a not-for-profit organisation delivers the programme in collaboration with the local community.

National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-20

The National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-20 is a collaborative commitment between the Australian Government, State and Territory governments and the non-government sector to address the significant issue of child abuse and neglect within Australia.

The National Framework has supported children and families in regional areas by building community awareness of the issues affecting children's wellbeing through the Child Aware Local Initiative and assisting community workers to respond to at-risk children and families through the Building Capacity, Building Bridges programme.

Activities in the Third Action Plan 2015-18 emphasise prevention and early intervention, and supporting children and young people exposed to risk factors for abuse and neglect, including children and families in regional Australia.

The Third Action Plan 2015-18 focuses on three strategies:

  • early intervention with a focus on the early years, particularly the first 1,000 days for a child;
  • helping young people in out-of-home care to thrive in adulthood; and
  • organisations responding better to children and young people to keep them safe.

Third Action Plan 2015-18 also includes a focus on the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families to address their overrepresentation in the child protection system.

The National Framework and the Third Action Plan 2015-18 are part of a range of activities that address issues of concern for Australian children. There are close links between Third Action Plan 2015-18 and the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22.

Financial Wellbeing and Capability

Services funded under the Financial Wellbeing and Capability activity operate across 1,300 outlets in regional Australia, assisting the most financially vulnerable and disadvantaged people and families.

This includes support through the provision of emergency relief and material aid, financial counselling and capability including literacy and budgeting support, as well as access to microfinance schemes. Funding is also provided to support a national financial counselling helpline, providing access to financial counselling for people who are unable to attend a face to face service.

The 2016-17 Budget will allocate over $96 million to continue services under the Financial Wellbeing and Capability activity.

Around 52 per cent of people accessing a Commonwealth Financial Counselling services are in regional Australia.

Settlement Services

In 2016-17, $205.0 million will be provided for settlement services, which assist eligible people who have recently arrived in Australia to establish their new lives. Funding for services in regional areas helps new arrivals to become active and contributing members of their local communities.

Settlement services are currently being delivered in regional areas that include: Geelong, Mildura, Shepparton, Wodonga (Victoria); Hobart, Launceston (Tasmania); Albury, Wagga Wagga, Newcastle, Wollongong, Coffs Harbour (New South Wales); Toowoomba, Townsville, Logan, Cairns (Queensland); and Mount Gambier (South Australia).

On 9 September 2015, the Australian Government announced that an additional 12,000 humanitarian entrant places would be made available for people displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq (in addition to the 13,750 places in Australia's 2015-16 Humanitarian Programme). People who come to Australia as part of this intake are being settled in a number of Australian communities, in both metropolitan and regional areas.

As at 11 April 2016, 2,515 humanitarian entrants have been referred for settlement services in these regional locations across Australia in 2015-16.

Strong and Resilient Communities

This activity aims to build strong, resilient, cohesive and harmonious Australian communities with opportunity to thrive, capacity to respond to local needs and challenges, and free from intolerance and discrimination.

Resilient and inclusive communities are characterised by a strong sense of community belonging, high levels of community participation and volunteering, strong leadership and community engagement, well-integrated and well-used support services, and opportunities for social mobility. Funding will be provided to regional and metropolitan communities, to help build these attributes, to ensure improved individual, family and community outcomes.

In 2016-17, the Australian Government will allocate around $30.0 million to organisations under the current activity. This is expected to benefit regional communities at similar levels to 2015-16, which resulted in around 49 per cent of grants and 41 per cent of funding allocated to regional Australia.

Transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme

From 1 July 2016, the National Disability Insurance Scheme will commence full rollout across Australia, following bilateral agreements with New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. In addition, all existing clients in the Australian Capital Territory will transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme by 1 October 2016. By 2019-20, the scheme will support an estimated 460,000 people with significant and permanent disability, regardless of where they live, including around 250,000 people in regional and remote areas.

Current National Disability Insurance Scheme trial and early transition sites across Australia cover a mix of regional and metropolitan areas. 25,000 participants in regional Australia are expected to receive support by the end of the trial period, representing around 70 per cent of trial participants. Trial and early transition sites are currently operating in the:

  • Hunter region and, for children aged 0-17, the Nepean-Blue Mountains region of New South Wales;
  • Barwon region, Victoria;
  • Townsville region of Queensland for children aged 0-17;
  • Perth Hills, Cockburn/Kwinana and Lower South West regions of Western Australia;
  • South Australia for children aged 0-14;
  • Tasmania for young adults aged 15-24;
  • Australian Capital Territory; and
  • Barkly region of the Northern Territory.

As the National Disability Insurance Scheme rolls out across Australia, around 70,000 people in regional and remote areas are expected to receive support in 2016-17, rising to 155,000 in 2017-18.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme will create new employment opportunities in regional Australia, in response to additional demand for services from National Disability Insurance Scheme participants.

Disability Employment Services

The Disability Employment Services programme provides specialist employment assistance to people who have disability as their main barrier to employment in the open labour market. Over $800 million was provided by the Australian Government in 2015-16 to support this important initiative.

In regional Australia, Disability Employment Services is delivered by 79 organisations from 953 locations. Currently, there are 134,000 active participants in the programme, including over 45,560 regional Australians.

Since March 2010, almost 100,000 Disability Employment Services participants in regional Australia have been placed in a job.

In August 2015, a 12-month trial commenced to test a participant-driven employment assistance model for young job seekers in DES with a mental health condition. The outcomes of the trial will inform future approaches to employment services for people with disability from 2018.

A youth mental health training and support package for delivery to all DES providers will be developed in 2016-17.

National Respite for Carers Programme

The National Respite for Carers Programme assists carers in their caring role.

The National Respite for Carers Programme funds 34 regional Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres to assist carers with short-term and emergency respite options, based on assessed need, and provide advice and coordinate access to respite services in a carer's local area.

National Respite for Carers Programme also supports the National Carer Counselling Programme, Carer Information Support Service and Consumer Directed Respite Care.

Carer Gateway

The Australian Government is progressing work on an Integrated Plan for Carer Support Services, as announced in the 2015-16 Budget. The Integrated Plan for Carer Support Services outlines practical actions to recognise, support and sustain the vital work of unpaid carers.

From December 2015, the Carer Gateway has allowed carers in regional areas to obtain practical information and resources to support them in their caring role with access to a specific phone line and website that features an interactive service finder that helps carers connect to local support services. This includes information on services delivered by phone or online, like counselling.

Throughout 2016, the future service delivery model for integrated carer support will be co-designed to ensure supports are maintained for all carers regardless of the age of the person being cared for or where they live.

The National Carer Gateway is budgeted to cost $33.7 million by 2018-19.

Young Carer Bursary Programme

The Young Carer Bursary Programme was a 2013 election commitment to assist young carers aged 25 years and under to continue to study, and to relieve the financial pressure for them to undertake part-time work in addition to their educational and caring responsibilities.

The first bursary payments were made in February 2015 to 150 young carers to support them as they began the 2015 academic year. On 30 March 2015, the Australian Government announced further funding of $500,000 to deliver an additional 150 bursaries for the 2015 calendar year.

On 5 August 2015, the Australian Government announced 333 annual bursaries valued at $3,000 each will be provided in both 2016 and 2017.

National Disability Advocacy Programme

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring people with disability have access to effective disability advocacy that promotes, protects and ensures their full and equal enjoyment of all human rights, enabling full community participation.

In 2015-16, 58 advocacy agencies across Australia, including 10 in regional Australia, were funded around $16.0 million under the National Disability Advocacy Programme. Approximately 12,000 people received individual support, and a broader group benefitted from agency support. In 2015, a search tool was launched on the Department of Social Services website to enable people to identify their nearest National Disability Advocacy Programme agency.

People with disability, advocacy agencies, the National Disability Insurance Agency, State and Territory governments and key stakeholders such as public guardians will be consulted in the development of a way forward for advocacy support. This review will provide a direction and model for the provision of services funded under the programme from 1 July 2017.

Counselling Support Information and Advocacy—Carer Support

In 2015-16, approximately $3.4 million was provided to 17 Counselling Support Information and Advocacy—carer support services in regional Australia to provide specific information, education and training for carers to assist them to understand and manage situations, behaviours and relationships associated with care needs of the person they are caring for. The type of activity and support provided varies depending on the needs of the carer.

Dementia Education and Training for Carers

The Dementia Education and Training for Carers initiative aims to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia. The Dementia Education and Training for Carers initiative provides training and education for carers of people with dementia, with 22 services in regional Australia. There is an emphasis on increasing the competence and confidence of carers by providing courses that aim to enhance their skills or processes that connect a carer to information.

The Australian Government has allocated $1.07 million to the Dementia Education and Training for Carers initiative in 2016-17.

Cashless Debit Card

The Australian Government is looking at the best ways to support communities where a lot of people are on welfare, and alcohol, gambling and drug use are causing harm and social dysfunction. The Cashless Debit Card trial commenced in Ceduna (South Australia) in March 2016, and in the East Kimberley towns of Wyndham and Kununurra (Western Australia) in April 2016. The trial was designed and implemented in full consultation with the community. As at 19 April 2016, there were 703 people on the Cashless Debit Card, with which the quarantined amount cannot be used for alcohol or gambling.

The Government has also invested over $2.5 million in these locations toward improving and increasing support services for the community, including:

  • community safety initiatives;
  • drug and alcohol services;
  • additional capacity for existing mental health services;
  • enhancing existing financial management services; and
  • extra funding for family violence services.

Strengthening Immunisation for Children

The Australian Government has strengthened immunisation requirements for child care payments and the Family Tax Benefit Part A end of year supplement. Since 1 January 2016, vaccination objection is no longer a valid exemption category for the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate and the Family Tax Benefit Part A end of year supplement. This measure reinforces the importance of immunisation to protect children against harmful diseases and aims to increase immunity in communities across Australia, including regional areas. Vaccination objections on the basis of personal or philosophical beliefs are not supported by public health policy or medical research.

More Generous Means Testing Arrangements for Youth Payments

Over 33,000 Australian families are better off after the Australian Government introduced more generous youth payment means testing arrangements on 1 January 2016.

Complex parental means tests have been simplified and more closely aligned with the Family Tax Benefit Part A family income test. The arrangements apply to eligible families with dependent children receiving Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY Living Allowance and Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme.

The changes provide additional assistance for working families to support their children to make the transition from school to further study. These changes mean, for example, families will no longer have their farm assets counted toward the means test.

Regional families often face higher study costs because students have to move away from home to pursue their course of choice.

Assistance for Isolated Children

Families in isolated areas incur additional costs to educate their children. In 2015-16, the Assistance for Isolated Children scheme provided $71.5 million to the families of 9,391 primary, secondary, and tertiary students unable to attend an appropriate state school on a daily basis because of geographical isolation. Depending on the student's circumstances, the Assistance for Isolated Children scheme provides:

  • basic boarding allowance;
  • additional boarding allowance;
  • second home allowance; and
  • distance education allowance.

Relocation Scholarship

The relocation scholarship is an annual payment to help eligible ABSTUDY or Youth Allowance students with their higher education if they have relocated to or from a regional or remote area to study. This recognises that students from regional Australia often face higher costs of further study or training. In 2015-16, over 19,000 students from regional Australia received a relocation scholarship.

Payment rates for the relocation scholarship are different depending on where the student lives and their year of study.

If the student's family home is in a regional area, the scholarship amount is:

  • $4,333 in the first year the student needs to live away from home to study in an approved scholarship course;
  • $2,167 in the second or third year; and
  • $1,083 in the fourth or subsequent year.

If the student's family home is not in a regional area but their place of study is, their payment is $4,333 in the first year they need to live away from home to study in an approved scholarship course, and $1,083 for all subsequent years.


ABSTUDY helps eligible students and apprentices, mainly from remote areas, with living, study and travel expenses if they need to study away from home. ABSTUDY supported 19,083 regional Indigenous students with a means-tested living allowance, assistance with school fees or fares to attend a boarding school in 2015-16.

ABSTUDY is an ongoing special measure to help address particular educational disadvantages faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Income Management

Income management helps 26,508 people (as at 25 March 2016) budget their welfare payments to ensure they are getting basic essentials, as part of the Australian Government's commitment to reforming the welfare system. Improved control of finances helps people to stabilise their lives so they can better care for themselves and their children. It can also support them to join or return to the workforce.

Income management is operating in different forms across regional and metropolitan Australia, with a total investment of $146.7 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Under income management, part of a person's welfare payments is income managed and directed towards meeting basic needs such as food, clothing, housing, utilities and education. People can spend their income managed funds by organising direct payments to people or businesses such as stores, landlords, or utility providers, and by using the BasicsCard.

National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness—Extension

The Australian Government recognises that homelessness is a complex issue. Under the 2015-17 National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the Australian Government will provide $115.0 million in 2016-17, to be matched by the States and Territories, to ensure that critical homelessness initiatives continue to support some of Australia's most vulnerable people.

States and Territories retain responsibility for determining services locations, providers and funding.

The 2015-17 National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness Project Plans require each state and territory to identify areas of significant need for services assisting women and children experiencing domestic and family violence, and homeless youth. In total, 14 of the geographic areas identified are in regional or remote Australia.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare collects and reports information on the specialist homelessness services funded under the 2015-17 National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and the National Affordable Housing Agreement through the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection.

In 2014-15, the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection reported that (of a total of 255, 657):

  • 52,061 (20 per cent) of clients presented to agencies in inner regional areas;
  • 28,257 (11 per cent) of clients presented to agencies in outer regional areas;
  • 13,053 (5 per cent) of clients presented to agencies in remote or very remote areas; and
  • 162,286 (63 per cent) presented to major city agencies.

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