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Social Services

The Social Services Portfolio comprises four non-corporate Commonwealth entities and two corporate entities. For the purposes of this statement, this includes the Department of Social Services, the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the National Disability Insurance Agency, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and Services Australia. Hearing Australia is not reported in this statement, as it is a Public Non‑financial Corporation (Trading) entity.

The Department of Social Services achieves its mission of improving the wellbeing of individuals and families in Australian communities through the effective development, management and delivery of payments, policies, programs, and services. To do so, the Department of Social Services works in partnership with government and non‑government organisations, including through a delivery network located within state, territory and regional offices.

The Department of Social Services administers around one quarter of the total Australian Government Budget, with effort particularly focused on vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals, families and communities, including those in regional and remote areas.

The Department of Social Services is assisting the Australian Government in supporting and delivering essential social services to Australians, including those in regional and remote areas, through economic recovery and financial independence following the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2021-22 Budget, the Australian Government is providing $9.5 billion over five years from 2020-21 to ensure people have the best opportunity to get into the workforce. From 1 April 2021, working age income support recipients received an increase of $50 per fortnight to their payments and the income free area for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (other) and Parenting Payment (partnered) and related payments has been permanently increased to $150 per fortnight.

The Australian Government is providing a series of new funding commitments for women’s safety that will build upon the work of the Fourth Action Plan (2019-2022) of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 and provide a boost to services during the transition to a new National Plan, which is due to commence in 2022.

The new measures work towards ensuring women and their children are safe at home, safe at work, and safe in their community. The measures include a focus on prevention, financial support, creating a safe online space for women and children, improving responses with support to frontline services, working with perpetrators, support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children experiencing violence, and building a strong evidence base.

Additionally, an economic and employment support package will be delivered across Cashless Debit Card sites including the regional areas of Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberley and Goldfields regions in Western Australia and the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region in Queensland.

As at 31 December 2020, the Social Services Portfolio employed 37,824 staff under the Public Service Act 1999. Of this total, 8,337 staff (22 per cent) are employed in Canberra, central Melbourne and central Sydney, 17,508 staff (46 per cent) in other capital cities and 11,979 staff (32 per cent) in regional areas. These figures include staff employed by the Digital Transformation Agency, which was part of the Social Services Portfolio on 31 December 2020.

In addition to staff located in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, the Department of Social Services has staff located in other capital cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Hobart and in regional areas such as Townsville, Cairns and Mount Isa in Queensland and Newcastle, Orange, Dubbo, Wyong and Batemans Bay in New South Wales.

The National Disability Insurance Agency is spread across 142 different towns or suburbs; 33 across New South Wales, 32 across Victoria, 28 across Queensland, 16 across South Australia, 21 across Western Australia, five across the Northern Territory, four across the Australian Capital Territory, and three across Tasmania.

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has staff located in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney and in other capital cities such as Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin and Hobart.

Services Australia works closely with Australian Government agencies, state and territory jurisdictions, providers and businesses to deliver high quality, accessible services and payments to individuals, families and communities. Services are delivered through digital, telephony and face‑to‑face channels, and include payments and services for social welfare, Medicare, aged care, child support and crisis recovery programs. These services are delivered to nearly all Australians, including those in regional and remote Australia.

Services Australia is committed to making government services simple so people can get on with their lives. To achieve this vision, Services Australia is making changes across every aspect of its business, to deliver a simple, helpful, respectful and transparent experience for customers.

As part of this, Services Australia is focusing on improving its digital service offering, so that Australians can engage with government services at a time and place that suits them. Improvements to digital services particularly benefit regional and remote Australians, as helpful digital services reduce the need for customers to travel to visit a service centre.

For those who have more complex needs and require face-to-face services, Services Australia has a significant presence across Australia with many regional and remote service centres, a network of agents and access points, remote servicing teams and Mobile Service Centres. The Mobile Service Centres travel to rural and regional communities to ensure that those communities have access to the same range of services that are available at other service centres in Australia.

Services Australia also delivers payments and services on behalf of the Australian Government across regional and remote Australia during natural disasters, such as cyclones, floods and bushfires. Services Australia rapidly responded to the March 2021 flood event in New South Wales to deliver emergency payments to flood‑affected communities. Services Australia mobilised a broad range of resources to deliver the flood emergency response, including redeploying staff from across the agency, redeploying mobile teams into evacuation centres and across communities, and diverting its Mobile Service Centres to key locations to support the recovery operation.

Services Australia’s service delivery responsibilities require a flexible, capable and connected workforce across Australia, including in rural, regional and remote areas. Services Australia has maintained its commitment to jobs and a physical presence in regional Australia.

As at 15 April 2021, Services Australia has a total of 321 service centres across Australia:

  • 5 in the Australian Capital Territory
  • 103 in New South Wales
  • 16 in the Northern Territory
  • 69 in Queensland
  • 24 in South Australia
  • 10 in Tasmania
  • 61 in Victoria
  • 33 in Western Australia.

A significant number of these service centres are located in regional locations.

New Initiatives

Increased support for unemployed Australians

On 23 February 2021, the Australian Government committed $9.5 billion over five years from 2020‑21 for a series of permanent changes to ensure job seekers have the best opportunity to secure employment. Working age income support recipients received an increase of $50 per fortnight to their payments from 1 April 2021. The increase to working age payments will support Australians while they look for employment.

From 1 April 2021, the income free area for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (other) and Parenting Payment (partnered) and related payments permanently increased to $150 per fortnight. This change allows payment recipients to keep more of what they earn while receiving income support.

In addition, some temporary measures that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic have been extended until 30 June 2021. This includes waiving the Ordinary Waiting Period, allowing people who are required to self-isolate or care for someone self-isolating to access payments, and extending temporary portability arrangements for certain payments.

Approximately 600,000 recipients of Jobseeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance (including Youth Disability Support Pension), Austudy, ABSTUDY (Living Allowance), Special Benefit, Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance, Farm Household Allowance and Department of Veterans’ Affairs Education Scheme living in a regional or remote area will benefit from the $50 increase to their working age payments. They will also benefit from the $150 income free area, allowing them to keep more of what they earn while receiving income support.

Women’s Safety

In the 2021-22 Budget, the Australian Government is investing in a range of initiatives to support women and women’s safety as the Fourth Action Plan concludes, and prior to the new National Plan commencing.

Improving Frontline Responses

Providing frontline services to respond to violence is primarily the responsibility of the states and territories. The Australian Government is providing up to $260 million over two years from 2021-22 to states and territories under a new National Partnership Agreement to bolster frontline family, domestic and sexual violence supports to ensure women and children can access support when they need it. This is building on the $130 million provided from 2019-2020 to 2020-21 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, recognising the ongoing demand for services and the continuing impacts of the pandemic on women’s safety.

States and territories will be required to contribute to the National Partnership, reflecting their primary role and responsibilities in the delivery of frontline services.

New Escaping Violence Payments and Streamlined Pathways and Financial Support for Women Experiencing Family and Domestic Violence

The Australian Government is providing $164.8 million over three years from 2021-22 to streamline pathways and provide financial support. This will include a two-year pilot program through to 30 June 2023 to provide financial support to assist women to leave a relationship because they have experienced family or domestic violence (which encompasses physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse).

Women leaving a violent relationship will have access to financial assistance packages of up to $5,000. The package will include up to $1,500 in cash and up to $3,500 in goods and services and will support women with costs such as rent, and purchasing furniture and whitegoods. The pilot program will be delivered by a community service provider.

The pilot will consider the geographic spread of the Australian population, including those in rural, remote and regional Australia, and the needs of specific cohorts, such as women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Providing financial support will reduce barriers for highly vulnerable women with limited financial means to leave a violent relationship.

A pilot program in Services Australia to provide a streamlined, holistic, ‘Tell Us Once’ approach for Child Support customers affected by family and domestic violence will also be extended. The No Interest Loans Scheme for family and domestic violence will also be promoted to ensure that everybody who would benefit from the scheme, which provides loans of up to $2,000 to help people get back on their feet, is aware that it is available.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Personal Safety Survey

The Australian Government is investing $31.7 million over five years from 2021-22 to establish a new dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Personal Safety Survey to be conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Improved data will help to identify and inform improved initiatives that address family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children, and work towards Closing the Gap targets. The survey will include a national representative sample of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including those in regional and remote areas.

National Research and Surveys

The Australian Government is providing $30 million over four years from 2021-22 as part of ongoing funding for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), the Personal Safety Survey (PSS) and National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS).

ANROWS will continue their work on producing evidence to support the reduction of violence against women and their children, including for women living in rural and remote communities.

The PSS conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics will continue to collect information from men and women aged 18 years and over about the nature and extent of violence experienced since the age of 15. The PSS sample includes respondents in urban and rural areas across all states and territories.

The NCAS will continue to inform the Australian Government on how people understand violence against women, their attitudes towards it, what influences their attitudes, and if there has been a change over time. It collects data from across Australia, including in regional areas, on knowledge of, and attitudes towards, gender equality and violence against women.

Broadening the Commonwealth’s Role in Primary Prevention through National Advertising Campaigns

The Australian Government is providing $35.1 million over two years from 2021-22 to target young people and key influencers in their lives about issues that are relevant and important to them.

The Stop it at the Start campaign aims to contribute to a reduction in violence against women by changing people’s attitudes towards violence and disrupting attitudes that condone it. It encourages adults – such as parents, family members, teachers, coaches, employers and other community leaders – to reflect on their attitudes and have conversations about respect with children and young people aged 10–17 years. It aims to drive a positive change in young people’s attitudes towards respectful relationships and gender equality. It is important to reach young people before violence-supportive views become entrenched, and such behaviours are normalised.

Development of a fourth phase of the campaign will continue to consider effective targeting of cultural and community groups, including for regional Australia.

This funding commitment also includes a national campaign, targeting young people across the entire population, supporting materials on a website, research for age‑appropriate ways to engage in consent education for children under 12 years of age, as well as evidence based professional development and learning on consent and sexual violence prevention. There is a clear need to ensure that messaging about safe and respectful relationships starts at an early age. The campaign will be informed by developmental research including to assess what parents value in supporting their children to understand consent and respectful relationships. 

Safe Places Emergency Accommodation – expansion

The Australian Government is investing $12.6 million ($10.8 million in new investment grants) over three years from 2021-22 to fund a further five Safe Places projects that were unable to be funded within the initial Safe Places $60 million investment in 2020‑21. Safe Places is a capital works grant program funding the renovation, building or purchase of dwellings for women and children experiencing family and domestic violence. Once established, it is estimated these projects will assist around 450 women and children each year. These projects will provide additional safe places for women and children in priority locations in regional and remote areas.

Increasing the number of emergency accommodation places will provide women and children in regional communities with secure and safe housing while they receive specialist support to improve their financial security and locate longer-term housing. These projects will importantly be designed to support women from priority cohorts, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

National Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Integrated Data System and Data, Monitoring and Evaluation for the New National Plan

The Australian Government has committed $19 million over four years from 2021-22 to establish a comprehensive data and reporting system on family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV). The data and reporting system will fill gaps in the evidence base to better support policy makers and service delivery partners. This initiative will increase visibility and understanding of FDSV in regional areas. It includes an enhanced ‘state of play’ report that will compile and synthesise all available FDSV data, with an online presence and interactive data and scoping for a national FDSV integrated data asset.

This work will complement the development of a performance monitoring and reporting framework for the new National Plan, including commencing of work on tracking progress against this framework and establishing a prototype national family, domestic and sexual violence specialist services data collection. This initiative will have positive impacts for regional areas as improved data collection and reporting would enable better visibility and understanding of regional issues.

Temporary Visa Holders Payment Pilot – extension

The Australian Government is providing $10.3 million over two years from 2021-22 to extend the Temporary Visa holders payment pilot to support women experiencing family and domestic violence who may be unable to access social services and welfare payments due to their visa status. The Australian Red Cross provides up to $3,000 to eligible temporary visa holders to help them cover expenses such as food, accommodation, utilities and other essentials and medical care when leaving a violent relationship. Funding of $3.5 million will be allocated to nine Community and Women’s Legal Centres nationally to help women in these challenging situations access legal assistance and migration support. The pilot is delivered nationally, including in regional areas. The pilot will support an increased understanding of the support needs of women on temporary visas experiencing violence.

Preventing and Responding to Violence against Women and Girls with Disability

The Australian Government is providing $9.3 million over three years from 2021-22 to develop resources that will help drive a reduction in violence against women and girls with disability and improve responses when violence occurs. Women and girls in regional areas will benefit from these resources, including a new evidence based framework and web based education resources. Information and training will be delivered to marginalised women with disability, including culturally diverse women and members of the LGBTIQA+ community. Existing resources, such as the Disability Support Toolkit will be promoted and community champions will raise local sector awareness about preventing violence.

Supporting Better Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Responses for Diverse Communities

The Australian Government is committing $6.8 million over three years from 2021-22 to extend targeted grants for violence prevention programs in culturally and linguistically diverse communities, including support to identify opportunities to scale-up the learnings from these grants. The grants include organisations in regional Australia. Consultation on the new National Plan will be supported, including through a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council. All Australians are invited to contribute to the consultations and representation from across Australia will be considered in forming the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council.

Responding to Key Recommendations of the Respect@Work Report

The Australian Government is providing $5.3 million over three years from 2021-22 to build the evidence base and develop primary prevention initiatives to respond to sexual harassment, building and acting on key recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2020 report Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. Regional areas will benefit from access to resources and research developed by this initiative. This initiative responds to four key recommendations of the Respect@Work report.

In response to implementing a National Sexual Harassment Research Agenda (Recommendation 4), Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety will deliver research projects into sexual harassment. Our Watch will develop and deliver primary prevention initiatives into sexual harassment and review and update its existing national guidelines for reporting violence against women to include a specific focus on sexual harassment (in line with Recommendations 8 and 13). 1800RESPECT’s confidential information, counselling and support services will be promoted with a focus on sexual violence to help support the response to workplace sexual harassment (Recommendation 54).

Working with Perpetrators to Address Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence and Trial of the Coordinated Enforcement and Support to Eliminate Domestic Violence Program

The Australian Government is providing $9 million over three years from 2021-22 to extend perpetrator-focused services and establish the trial of focused deterrence approach to known perpetrators.

People living in regional communities can find it more difficult to access supports. This can include a lack of appropriate and accessible face-to-face services, including for men seeking to change their use of violent behaviours.

No to Violence operates the Men’s Referral Service, a confidential telephone counselling and referral service for men who use violent or controlling behaviour. The Men’s Referral Service operates 24 hours per day, and provides men with information about services available to them such as a men’s behaviour change program.

Changing for Good helps to increase the safety and wellbeing of women and children who are experiencing domestic and family violence. The program is designed to help men identify and work towards their individual goals, as well as support them to access any additional services if, and when, required.

The establishment of the Coordinated Enforcement and Support to Eliminate (CEASE) Domestic Violence Program trial will use a focused deterrence approach. The CEASE program targets prolific, serious and recidivist offenders who account for a large proportion of domestic violence offending. The trial will be delivered across four sites and considers the needs of regional communities.

Strengthening Disaster Recovery Responses for Women Experiencing Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence

The Australian Government is providing $3.7 million over four years from 2021-22 to improve the safety of women and children experiencing and recovering from disasters by creating and delivering a training package for frontline responders. This initiative will have a positive impact on regional areas affected by disasters and was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

Addressing Technology-facilitated Abuse of Women and Children

The Australian Government is providing $3 million over four years from 2021-22 to deliver targeted support for children experiencing technology-facilitated abuse. This initiative will benefit women and children, including those in regional areas. This will include developing and implementing a new program delivering resources, training and technology-based tools to support children and young people experiencing technology-facilitated abuse.

eSafety research has found that 27 per cent of children in domestic and family violence situations have experienced technology-facilitated abuse. However, there are currently no comprehensive resources supporting children in their own right. Delivering targeted resources will enable improved responses to children’s experiences of technology-facilitated abuse, including a greater number of intervention orders that explicitly address communication through children’s devices and accounts. This initiative will help those engaging with children, such as frontline workers, school welfare officers, or educators to identify early warning signs that children may be impacted by technology-facilitated abuse, and enable them to work with children to seek help.

National Redress Scheme – further support

The Australian Government will implement a number of improvements to the National Redress Scheme (the Scheme) in response to the Second Anniversary Review of the Scheme and to address the scale, scope and complexity in delivering redress for survivors, including those in rural and regional Australia.

The investment will improve Scheme processes, engagement with survivors and increase transparency for survivors, including in decision-making. The measure includes funding to improve communication of the Scheme, including to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people with disability.

The measure also includes funding for a specialist team working in the recently established Batemans Bay, New South Wales office, who are responsible for preparing complex institution inquiries to meet legislated requirements of the Scheme.

The measure aligns with the Australian Government’s commitment to improve the operation of the Scheme, improve the survivor experience with the Scheme and address public concerns and expectations.

The 2021-22 Budget measure builds on the 2020-21 Budget measure Future National Redress Funding which provided $104.6 million over four years to 2023-24, including $73.1 million over four years to 2023-24, to deliver Redress Support Services across Australia.

National Housing and Homelessness Agreement – Social and Community Services Supplementation Funding

The Australian Government will provide states and territories with an additional
$124.7 million over two years from 2021-22 under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement over two years to boost local frontline services prior to the negotiations around the next phase of the agreement that will begin in July 2023.

This money will be available to use on capital works to bolster public housing stocks or to ensure states and territories to meet their responsibilities under the 2011 Fair Work Australian decision on social and community services wages.

Provision of Remote Services - continuation

The Australian Government will continue to provide people living in remote areas with access to Government payments and services via telephony services, dedicated remote servicing teams, and the Agent and Access Point network.

The Australian Government’s ongoing investment of $99.3 million over four years from 2021‑22 will support the continued delivery of tailored support to Australians with limited or no access to service centres due to geographical, connectivity, or other barriers.

During times of emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government maintains its tailored and ongoing support to individuals and community third party organisations via a dedicated telephony service staffed by remote servicing specialist staff.

Cashless Debit Card – Jobs Fund and Income Management extension

The Cashless Debit Card (CDC) will continue to support communities in the regional areas of Ceduna in South Australia; the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia; Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Cape York in Queensland; and the Northern Territory. 

The CDC is a useful budgeting tool that supports income support payment recipients to direct their funds to essential items. The CDC also supports efforts to reduce social harm in communities by restricting access to alcohol, drugs and gambling products.

The passage of the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Act 2020 meant that the 25,000 existing Income Management participants in the Northern Territory have the choice to remain on Income Management or to transition to the CDC. This measure ensures that those who choose to remain on Income Management will continue to be supported. The measure will also ensure potential participants have the information they need to choose between Income Management and the CDC. 

Through this measure, consultation will be undertaken with stakeholders in other locations that are interested in using the CDC as a tool to address the social harm caused by alcohol, drugs and problem gambling.  

This measure will also support additional investment in CDC technologies that will improve the experience for participants and businesses where the CDC is used, including in regional areas.

Additionally, an economic and employment support package will be delivered across CDC sites including the regional areas of Ceduna in South Australia, the East Kimberley and Goldfields regions in Western Australia; and the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region in Queensland. 

This package will support regional CDC sites by investing in services to uplift and upskill people to be job ready, and where the community is sufficiently economically advanced, create and provide employment opportunities. In addition, a data collection strategy will inform regional engagement and decision-making and measure the impact of the CDC.

This package will also support regional communities in reducing social harm caused by alcohol and drug use, complementing the support provided by the CDC in reducing access to products that can cause social harm. To support CDC participants, funding will be invested over four years in drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities in these regional CDC sites.

The Australian Government will also work with the Far West Aboriginal Community Leaders Group to develop a best practice implementation guide for working with remote communities, building on the lessons learnt in the consultation, design, implementation, operation and evaluation of the CDC in Ceduna.

Place Based Income Management

The Australian Government will extend Place Based Income Management in existing locations to 31 December 2023. This ensures around 2,500 financially vulnerable welfare recipients will continue to be supported in meeting essential needs across the regional and remote locations of: Greater Shepparton (Victoria); Rockhampton and Logan (Queensland); Playford and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands (South Australia); Ngaanyatjarra lands, Kiwirrkurra community, Peel and Kimberley regions (Western Australia); as well as metropolitan Bankstown (New South Wales), Adelaide and Perth.

Through this measure, Income Management participants will have access to budgeting support and income support payments.

Increasing the Flexibility of the Pension Loans Scheme

The Australian Government will provide $21.2 million over four years from 2021‑22 to increase the flexibility and attractiveness of the Pension Loans Scheme (PLS). This measure will:

  • introduce a No Negative Equity Guarantee, to assure PLS customers they will not have to repay more than the market equity of their secured property.
  • allow for capped advance PLS payments, up to a total value of 50 per cent of the maximum annual rate of the Age Pension, to give recipients greater flexibility in how they draw on the equity in their Australian real estate assets through the PLS.
  • increase awareness of the PLS, so senior Australians who may benefit from a PLS loan, know it is available and understand how to access it.

This measure will ensure senior Australians, including those in regional Australia, are aware of the PLS and the benefits of drawing on the equity in their real estate assets to fund a higher standard of living in retirement, and provide greater flexibility in how they can draw on their equity through the PLS.

The 2021-22 Budget measure builds on the 2020-21 Budget measure Social Services Portfolio – additional resourcing, which provided $9.6 million over four years from 2020‑21 to enhance the PLS and improve customer experience, making it easier for senior Australians to draw on their real estate assets to maximise their retirement incomes, if they want to.

Supporting the delivery of the Volunteer Management Activity

In 2021-22, the Australian Government will provide $6.6 million for the continuation of the Volunteer Management Activity with a further $6.6 million one-off funding for the Supporting the delivery of the Volunteer Management Activity measure, to be distributed through the state and territory volunteering peak bodies.

The Volunteer Management Activity focuses on building the capacity of Volunteering Involving Organisations (VIOs), primarily through online management services, and breaking down barriers to volunteering for identified priority groups including people with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and newly arrived migrants.

The online services delivered to VIOs focus on implementing best practice in recruiting, training and retaining volunteers, volunteer management and understanding regulator risk. It also provides access to online resources. To support the delivery of online services, the Australian Government is also providing a one-off investment of $3.4 million to develop and improve volunteer management IT infrastructure.

Increasing the accessibility of volunteering opportunities for people in priority groups includes working with VIOs to engage volunteers from these groups and providing volunteers from these groups with face-to-face and other support services.

The Supporting the delivery of the Volunteer Management Activity measure provides additional funding to support the implementation of a new Volunteer Management Activity in its first year. It leverages the experience and resources of previously funded Volunteering Support Services to build the capacity of VIOs and increase and support diversity in Australia’s volunteers. Approximately 40 per cent of previously funded Volunteering Support Services deliver services in regional areas.

Volunteers are accessing volunteering opportunities via online channels, including those in regional areas, and the additional $6.6 million will ensure existing Volunteering Support Services in regional areas are well supported to inform the roll‑out of the online system.

Volunteering peak bodies are required to give particular consideration to regional and rural areas when developing and implementing state/territory based strategies to support VIOs.

A National Early Childhood Program for Children with Disability or Developmental Concerns

The Australian Government will provide $17.9 million over four years from 2021-22 to establish a new national children’s program for young children with disability or developmental concerns outside the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The program will provide a range of disability specific information and community supports for all Australian children, regardless of where they live.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers estimates there are around 115,000 children aged 0-6 years living in Australia with some level of disability. Of these children, approximately 34,000, or 30 per cent, reside outside the major cities.

The new program builds on the Australian Government’s investments in the Helping Children with Autism and Better Start for Children with Disability programs, and recent lessons from service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program seeks to improve national access by delivering information and supports in more flexible and responsive ways. These formats include:

  • face-to-face, in community settings
  • in a variety of online environments and formats
  • over the telephone.

The program will also be open to children before a formal diagnosis is attained, which can be a particularly protracted process in regional areas. The program strengthens connections to existing supports and services, including those delivered by the NDIS.

Disability Employment Services

The Disability Employment Services (DES) program provides specialist employment assistance to people whose primary impediment to employment in the open labour market is disability, injury or a health condition. The Australian Government will provide around $1.4 billion in 2021-22 to support this important initiative.

In 2019-20, through DES, the Australian Government invested more than $420 million (34 per cent of the program’s expenditure of $1.2 billion) assisting people with disability in regional Australia seeking employment in the open labour market. Subject to labour market conditions, a similar amount is expected to be spent in regional areas in 2020-21.

In regional Australia, 81 organisations are currently delivering the DES program from 1,568 locations. As at the end of March 2021, regional Australians comprised 32 per cent (or about 98,000 out of 310,000) of those receiving support through the DES program.

From the commencement of DES in March 2010 until March 2021, almost 280,000 participants in regional Australia have been placed in a job.

In the 2021-22 Budget, the Australian Government has announced changes to Disability Employment Services, to empower DES participants to have greater say over their employment. The proposed changes will enable job seekers with disability to choose digital services, and will link education outcomes to skills shortages in the Australian labour market. Digital services are currently only available to job seekers in mainstream employment programs through the Online Employment Services Trial. As digital connectivity and inclusion increases in regional areas, digital access to employment services will better connect regionally situated job seekers to information regarding their job search and employment support, and will reduce the need to travel to attend in‑person.  

Current Initiatives

Families and Children Activity

The Department of Social Services delivers a range of programs under the Families and Children Activity that seek to support families, improve the wellbeing of children and young people, strengthen relationships, and enhance family and community functioning, as well as increase the participation of vulnerable people in community life.

The Australian Government is investing more than $290 million per year from 2021‑22 under the Families and Children Activity for programs and services across Australia, with an extensive footprint in regional areas.

In 2019-20, of the total 3,145 outlets delivering Family and Children Activities nationally, 1,391 were located in regional and rural Australia, and supported 99,640 clients (41 per cent of total national clients). Those regions providing the largest number of services to clients included Rockhampton (3,541 clients), Dubbo (3,141 clients), Townsville (3,140 clients) and Albany (2,234 clients).

In an effort to provide certainty and build capability within the service sector, and ensure continuity of high quality services to families, the Australian Government is extending a large proportion of grants under the Families and Children Activity for a further five years until 30 June 2026.

This significant investment of more than $1.2 billion over five years from 2021-22 will support children, families and local community organisations right across Australia, including many in regional areas. Services receiving funding extensions include:

  • Family and Relationship Services
  • Communities for Children Facilitating Partners
  • Budget Based Funded Services
  • Family Mental Health Support Services
  • Children and Parenting Support Services.

Family Mental Health Support Services

The Australian Government is investing more than $250 million over five years to continue Family Mental Health Support Services (FMHSS) to 30 June 2026, including funding $51.8 million in 2021-22.

FMHSS 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, FMHSS are now delivered through 227 outlets across Australia.

FMHSS can be accessed by participants either on an individual basis or as part of a group session. Of the 15,935 participants accessing FMHSS on an individual basis in 2019-20, 8,819 or 55 per cent were located in regional and remote Australia.

The regional locations delivering FMHSS to the largest number clients included Alice Springs (353), Tamworth – Gunnedah (345), Broken Hill and Far West (318), Goldfields (318) and Townsville (268).

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

Fourth Action Plan (2019-2022) of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022

Women living in rural and remote areas are more likely to experience family and domestic violence than those living in metropolitan areas. Women may also face greater difficulty seeking assistance, leaving a violent relationship or obtaining access to justice.

The Australian Government has invested $340 million in funding for the Fourth Action Plan (2019-2022) of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, to prevent violence before it happens and provide support to women and children. The Fourth Action Plan provides support to women and children in rural, regional and remote locations by helping prevent and respond to family, domestic and sexual violence.

These include the following initiatives within the Social Services Portfolio:

  • a national prevention strategy, including tailored outreach initiatives for regional Australians, such as community-led projects to change the societal attitudes and behaviours which can lead to or endorse violence
  • expanding the number of Specialised Family Violence Services to improve access to specialised supports for people affected by family violence, including children.

The Australian Government’s investment under the Fourth Action Plan was informed by national consultations in metropolitan and regional areas in every jurisdiction, including in regional centres such as Cairns, Kalgoorlie, Alice Springs and Port Augusta.

In the 2021-22 Budget, the Australian Government is investing in a range of initiatives to support women and women’s safety as the Fourth Action Plan concludes, and prior to the new National Plan commencing.

1800RESPECT

The Australian Government has committed to ongoing funding for 1800RESPECT, Australia’s counselling, support and information service for people in communities across Australia, including those in regional Australia, affected by domestic, family and sexual violence.

Services delivered by 1800RESPECT include:

  • Telephone and online counselling support services, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • A website with information, resources and referrals for those affected by domestic, family and sexual violence, the community and frontline workers
  • Mobile phone applications, which provide information on local domestic and family violence and sexual assault services, and ways for women with a disability to assess their safety with respect to domestic and family violence
  • Sector support through a range of online resources, such as a digital frontline workers toolkit.

No Interest Loans for Women at Risk of Family and Domestic Violence

The Australian Government has provided $20.1 million over four years from 1 July 2020, including $4.9 million in 2021-22 to expand No Interest Loans for women experiencing family and domestic violence.

No Interest Loans of up to $1,500 are offered to people on low incomes (women experiencing domestic and family violence can access up to $2,000 for household items) as an alternative to other high-risk, high-interest products such as payday loans. No Interest Loans are provided in conjunction with financial literacy education to improve capacity and greater self-reliance.

The likelihood of family or domestic violence is higher in regional areas. Helping women regain control of their finances is important, given it is harder to gain employment and the challenges with mobility due to lack of public transport infrastructure in regional areas.

Good Shepherd Microfinance administers the No Interest Loans program nationally in partnership with the National Australia Bank.

This initiative will fund loans and associated support for women to re-establish their lives after leaving a violent partner. In addition to basic household items, loans can be used for rental bonds, rental payments, relocation expenses and loan consolidation where appropriate.

Women accessing these loans have access to a specialist loan caseworker to help them regain control of their finances. Loans will be delivered via an expanded network including refuges and domestic violence specialists.

No Interest Loans are available at over 600 locations including in regional areas such as Shepparton, Wagga Wagga, Bathurst and Port Macquarie and are delivered by around 170 local community organisations. Further information on No Interest Loans, including how to apply can be found on the Good Shepherd Microfinance website.

Emergency Relief and Food Relief

The Australian Government is continuing to provide emergency and food relief under the Community Support Package (CSP). The CSP provides funding to more than 300 charities and community organisations to support Australians, including individuals and families in regional areas, in the wake of the COVID‑19 pandemic economic downturn. Around $125 million of funding has already been allocated, with the remaining funding of $75 million to be allocated based on emerging need. Under the CSP, additional funding has been provided to:

  • Around 200 Australian Government-funded Emergency Relief providers, to provide financial or material aid to people in immediate financial crisis, including temporary migrants. Of these, around 140 providers have received around $28 million to deliver services in regional areas.
  • The three Australian Government-funded Food Relief providers, Foodbank Australia, SecondBite and OzHarvest, to increase Australian Government-funded Emergency Relief providers’ access to a cost-effective supply of food items.
  • Financial counselling providers, including the National Debt Helpline, to increase service capacity, as well as build the capability of the sector through funding to Financial Counselling Australia.
  • Good Shepherd, to increase access to their No Interest Loan Scheme as an alternative to high interest products.

The Australian Government has established the sector-led National Coordination Group to monitor the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic and provide advice to Government on the allocation of further funding to where it is most needed.

Volunteer Grants

In 2021-22, the Australian Government will provide $20 million for Volunteer Grants. Volunteer Grants provides small grants of between $1,000 and $5,000 to help not‑for‑profit organisations to support their volunteers through the purchase of small equipment items, the reimbursement of fuel costs or to assist with the cost of volunteer training. The funding will be equally distributed, with each of the 151 electorates in Australia receiving $132,450 (GST exclusive).

Financial Wellbeing and Capability Measures

The Australian Government is supporting people under financial stress by providing ongoing funding for Microfinance services (such as no and low interest loans, matched savings and small microenterprises), Money Support Hubs and Problem Gambling Financial Counselling by providing ongoing funding at a cost of $44.4 million from 2021‑22 to 2023‑24.

This commitment is ensuring the ongoing delivery of frontline social services to vulnerable people across Australia, including individuals and families in regional areas.

In addition to existing clients, these services are supporting a new cohort of vulnerable Australians facing financial hardship and loss of income as a result of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

The continuation of these measures will have positive impacts on regional Australia, through:

  • Supporting people who are unable to pay their bills or are at imminent risk of not being able to pay their bills, to identify options to address their financial situation.
  • Improving financial capability by helping people gain basic budgeting skills and financial education.
  • Assisting clients to navigate life transitions and/or financial stress or crises, which may negatively impact their wellbeing.
  • Improving financial resilience and pathways to mainstream financial services by providing access to savings products and affordable credit products.

Ongoing Funding for Frontline Social Services Impacted by the Cessation of the Social and Community Services (SACS) Special Account

The Department of Social Services programs play a key role in regional communities by supporting families, improving children’s wellbeing and increasing social and economic participation of vulnerable people in community life to enhance family and community functioning.

The Australian Government has provided $132.6 million over four years from 2020-21 for eligible Department of Social Services grant programs. The ongoing funding replaces SACS supplementation following the cessation of the SACS Pay Equity Special Account on 30 June 2021. The funding will enable organisations that provide services in regional, rural and remote locations to continue to deliver critical services for vulnerable Australians.

Digital Skills for Older Australians (Be Connected)

The Australian Government has invested a further $28.3 million from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2024, including funding of $9.4 million in 2021-22, to make sure older Australians can continue to access the successful Be Connected program through the established network and online resources. 

The Be Connected program helps older Australians aged over 50 keep safe online and navigate evolving technology, resulting in improved capacity to use online government platforms and other online services. It also helps isolated older Australians remain connected with family, friends and their communities.

The Be Connected program has exceeded its aim to establish a national network of 2,000 local organisations, and reach 300,000 learners, in the first three years. Since October 2017, Be Connected has engaged 880,000 learners, established a network of some 3,500 local organisations and 14,000 digital mentors. Managed by the Good Things Foundation, approximately 54 per cent of the network of local organisations delivering Be Connected services in the community are in regional and remote locations.

ABSTUDY – Extending Family Tax Benefit to ABSTUDY Recipients Aged 16 and over who Study Away from Home

ABSTUDY is an ongoing program to help address educational disadvantages faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. ABSTUDY helps eligible Indigenous students and apprentices, many from remote areas, with study, living, and travel expenses, including if they need to study away from home. ABSTUDY supports around 20,000 Indigenous secondary students and 10,000 Indigenous tertiary students. ABSTUDY expenditure in 2021-22 is estimated to be around $283 million.

In the 2019-20 Budget, the Australian Government also invested $36.4 million to extend Family Tax Benefit (FTB) eligibility to the families of ABSTUDY (secondary) student recipients aged 16 years and over and are required to live away from home to attend school.

Indigenous boarding students were dropping out of boarding school around the age of 16. In part, this was because families could lose up to $7,000 in FTB Part A each year when their child turns 16. A small number of families also lost FTB Part B, which was an additional loss of around $3,000 each year.

This measure ensures Indigenous families who need to send their child to boarding school can continue to access FTB payments until the student finishes Year 12. This is an important step to reducing the dropout rate. This will particularly benefit families in regional and remote areas, who do not have ready access to a local school.

The families of more than 2,000 Indigenous secondary students from regional and remote areas who need to study at a secondary school away from home are expected to benefit from this proposal each year. On average, each family will receive an extra $5,900 per year.

This will contribute to the Closing the Gap target that by 2031 the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (aged 20-24) attaining year 12 or equivalent qualification will have increased to 96 per cent. It also addresses the recommendation from the 2014 report Creating Parity – the Forrest Review, that families with children at boarding school have access to FTB payments during school vacation periods until students finish Year 12. The measure extends FTB to the families of ABSTUDY (secondary) student recipients throughout their study period, in recognition of the costs parents incur during the school year.

Regional and Remote Student Access to Education

The Australian Government is addressing barriers to education for regional and remote students. Tertiary students from regional areas who need to move away from home to study benefit from ‘concessional’ workforce independence criteria designed to increase the participation rates of regional students in higher education. Provided their parental income is under a certain threshold, these students can be considered independent if they have:

  • worked at least 15 hours each week for at least two years; or
  • over a 14 month period, earned 75 per cent or more of Wage Level A of the National Training Wage Schedule.

While many regional students meet the 14-month criterion by working during their gap year, there is no requirement that the student must be employed full time for the entire 14 month period. Instead, the student must demonstrate that they have earned the required amount.

Prior to 1 January 2018, young people from regional areas had to be self‑supporting for 18 months in order to satisfy the concessional workforce independence criteria. This meant that students were often taking two gap years in order to meet the criteria. 

From 1 January 2019, changes to the parental income cut-off for the Youth Allowance workforce participation independence criteria made it easier for regional students to qualify:

  • the $150,000 threshold increased to $160,000
  • the new $160,000 cut-off is increased by $10,000 for each additional child in the family to take into account the extra costs of raising larger families
  • students have additional certainty about whether they will meet the parental income cut-off, as the year in which the parental income is assessed is now the financial year preceding the beginning of the student’s ‘14 month self-supporting period’ (which forms part of the independence criterion). This way students will know before they decide to take a gap year whether their parental income will be under the cut-off.

The Australian Government has provided $25 million from 2020‑21 to 2023-24 to support young people whose gap year employment was affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic. From 1 January 2021, the six-month period between 25 March 2020 and 24 September 2020, will automatically be recognised as contributing to existing workforce independence criteria for Youth Allowance (student and apprentice) and ABSTUDY. This means young people will automatically be assumed to have earned the qualifying amount for this six month period, unless their actual earnings were higher in which case the higher amount will be assessed. Young people will be able to use the initial six month period as part of their claim up to 24 September 2022.

Assistance for Isolated Children

Families in isolated areas incur additional costs to educate their children. In 2019-20, the Assistance for Isolated Children scheme assisted more than 12,000 students unable to attend an appropriate state school on a daily basis because of geographical isolation. In 2021-22, expenditure under this program is estimated to be $81.9 million.

In 2021, depending on the student’s circumstances, the Assistance for Isolated Children scheme provides:

  • Basic Boarding Allowance $8,557 (per annum)
  • Additional Boarding Allowance $2,454 (per annum)
  • Second Home Allowance $249.28 (per fortnight, limited to a maximum of three students in a family)
  • Distance Education Allowance $4,278 (per annum).

Improved Fares Allowance for Regional Students

The Australian Government has provided $0.7 million over four years from 2020-21, including funding of $0.2 million in 2021-22, to support students receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy or the Pensioner Education Supplement to access Fares Allowance so they can visit their homes and families more often.

The National Regional, Rural and Remote Tertiary Education Strategy report (Napthine Review) found that transport costs can be a major issue for students who relocate to study (Recommendation 2, Action 11).

Improving Fares Allowance arrangements means that students who receive Youth Allowance, Austudy or Pensioner Education Supplement will be able to access Fare Allowance for the mid-year break in their first year of study. This will also keep students connected with family and community supports to reduce regional student drop-out rates.

Incentives to Encourage Young Australians to Undertake Seasonal Work

The Australian Government has invested $16.3 million over three years from 2020-21, including $4.9 million in 2021-22, to create temporary incentives in the income support system to encourage recent school leavers to undertake seasonal agricultural work and help address the expected critical workforce shortages across the industry for the upcoming harvest season.

A person who earns $15,000 through employment in the agricultural industry between 30 November 2020 and 31 December 2021 will be considered as independent for the purpose of Youth Allowance (student) or ABSTUDY, subject to the Parental Income Threshold, which is $160,000, plus $10,000 for each additional child.

Young people, including those who live in regional or remote areas, will benefit significantly from this proposal if they are seeking to meet the independence test through work before furthering their education to improve their future employment prospects. Agricultural farms, which are predominantly located in regional and remote areas, will also benefit from this initiative.

Young Carer Bursary Program

In 2021, the Australian Government will continue to support young carers in regional Australia through the Young Carer Bursary Program. Bursaries are currently valued at $3,000 each.

The Young Carer Bursary Program assists young carers, aged 12 to 25 years, in greatest need across Australia, including in regional areas, to continue to study and to relieve the financial pressure on them to undertake part-time work in addition to their educational and caring responsibilities.

In 2021, a total of 167 Young Carer Bursary Program recipients were from regional Australia.

Hobart City Deal – Improving Social Housing Outcomes

The Australian Government has provided a total of $30 million to three providers to increase the supply of new social and affordable housing and supported accommodation in Greater Hobart. This includes funding to house people on the Tasmanian social housing priority waitlist and people with disability.

By 30 June 2022, this initiative will support building more than 100 new social housing dwellings that provide people with access to stable, safe and affordable housing in Greater Hobart.

All new dwellings will be managed as social housing or supported accommodation for a minimum of 30 years, and social housing tenants will be supported to maintain their tenancy.

The project is progressing well with 52 properties already tenanted and by 30 June 2021, it is expected up to 10 more dwellings will be delivered, totalling 62 dwellings. The remaining dwellings will be delivered in 2021‑22.

Support Services during the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability

The Australian Government has established free and independent supports for people engaging with or affected by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Disability Royal Commission), including:

  • a trauma-informed national telephone counselling and referral service, delivered by Blue Knot Foundation (the National Counselling and Referral Service)
  • in-person counselling services for people who have more complex needs and require more in-depth support
  • Indigenous-specific counselling services, advocacy support and sector development
  • individual advocacy support for people with disability who need significant support to tell their story and assistance in drafting submissions
  • systemic advocacy support.

Counselling Services

The Australian Government has allocated around $23 million in 2021-22 for counselling supports for people engaging with or affected by the Disability Royal Commission.

Supports are available across Australia, including outreach support to regional and remote areas. Counselling providers under this program have a total 18 outlets located in inner regional, outer regional and remote Australia.

As at 4 April 2021, the National Counselling and Referral Service has received 5,745 calls, delivered 3,214 counselling sessions and made 2,678 referrals. 

As at 31 December 2020, in-person counselling services have been accessed by 879 individual clients across 9,820 sessions, and 112 group clients across 148 sessions, this includes 262 people who live in regional and remote areas.

Advocacy Services

The Australian Government has allocated over $11 million in 2021-22 for advocacy supports for people engaging with the Disability Royal Commission.

Over 1,100 people have received individual advocacy support to date under the Disability Royal Commission advocacy program. This includes 290 people from regional areas. Advocacy providers under this program have a total of 35 outlets located in inner regional, outer regional, and remote and very remote Australia.

National Disability Advocacy Program

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. Through the commitment to the National Disability Strategy, all levels of government are responsible for supporting disability advocacy.

Funding of $20.8 million in 2021-22 is committed to 59 advocacy agencies across Australia, including in most regional locations, under the National Disability Advocacy Program. Approximately 12,500 people receive individual support each year including around 5,000 from regional areas. A search option available on the Department of Social Services website enables people to identify their nearest National Disability Advocacy Program agency.

Ensuring a strong future for supported employment

In 2019, the Australian Government committed $67 million over five years from 2018-19 to support the Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) sector once the Fair Work Commission finalises its review of the Supported Employment Services Award 2020 (the Award).

The majority of supported employees working at ADEs are employed under the Award. Approximately one third of ADEs are located in regional, remote or rural area, providing important employment opportunities and support for people with disability in areas where other opportunities may be limited.

Integrated Carer Support Service

In 2020, under the Integrated Carer Support Service, a national network of ten Carer Gateway service providers commenced delivering carer support services across 16 Carer Gateway service areas. The 16 Carer Gateway service areas are aligned to existing Primary Health Network regions to ensure the servicing of carers in regional and remote Australia as well as metropolitan areas. The total grant funding provided to Carer Gateway service providers is approximately $539 million over five years to 30 June 2024.

The Integrated Carer Support Service delivers a consistent approach to carer support services with tailored and targeted early intervention, preventative and skill building supports available at the national, regional and remote levels. There are approximately 243,500 carers living in outer regional and remote areas who could benefit from this initiative.

Boosting the Local Care Workforce

The Australian Government is committed to supporting jobs in regional and remote Australia. By 2024, around 45 per cent of the additional 83,000 jobs in the
NDIS sector by 2024 are expected to be in regional and remote areas.

As part of the 2020-21 Budget measure Australia’s Care and Support Workforce Package, the Australian Government provided an additional $16.8 million over three years from 2020‑21 to expand the Boosting the Local Care Workforce program to include Aged Care and Veterans’ Care sectors. This measure continues to provide supports to the care and support sector by employing regional coordinators to assist organisations to address workforce challenges, ensuring market growth to meet the needs of people with disability, older Australians and veterans.

The program has a particular focus on boosting local job opportunities in rural, regional and outer suburban areas and includes the expertise of rural and remote subject matter specialists who provide detailed policy advice to the program. In addition, the program deploys up to 25 Regional Coordinators to work with existing local service providers to assist them in preparing their organisation to deliver services in the care and support sector.

Coordinators support providers in the care and support sector to connect with employment service providers and educational institutions. Regional Coordinators provide localised support, gather intelligence on local issues, facilitate workshops and connect stakeholders with complementary programs and initiatives in the care and support sector. 

The Australia’s Care and Support Workforce Package also included communication activities that would improve the perception and understanding of work in the care and support sector, including in regional Australia. Funding of $2.4 million over two years from 2021‑22 was also provided to expand the existing NDIS Demand Map to incorporate aged and veteran’s care information, by service type and geographic location.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

From 1 July 2020, the NDIS has been available everywhere in Australia, including in the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It is estimated the NDIS will support more than 500,000 people with significant and permanent disability, regardless of where they live in Australia. A third of NDIS participants currently reside outside the major cities.

The NDIS workforce is expected to grow to 353,000 workers by 2024 (an increase of 83,000 workers). Of the total workforce, around one-third will be in regional and remote areas.

The NDIS is operating under full scheme agreements in all jurisdictions other than
Western Australia, which is still under a transition agreement. Full scheme in Western Australia is scheduled to commence in 2023.

On 28 August 2020, the Australian Government announced a substantial package of reforms to the NDIS. This included the implementation of the Australian Government’s response to the 2019 Independent Review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 and the new NDIS Participant Service Guarantee setting new service standards and clear timeframes for decision making by the National Disability Insurance Agency. The reforms will make it easier for participants and their families to navigate the NDIS, including people living in remote communities.

National Disability Insurance Scheme Appeals Program

The Australian Government has committed $9.0 million in 2021-22 to the NDIS Appeals program. NDIS Appeals was set up in 2013 to ensure that all people with disability affected by reviewable decisions of the National Disability Insurance Agency, have access to support when they are seeking a review of those decisions in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. While the focus of NDIS Appeals is the provision of advocacy support, funding for legal assistance is available where there is wider community benefit and/or a disadvantage that would substantially benefit from legal representation. NDIS Appeals support is available across Australia including in most regional areas with offices in towns such as Broome, Albany, Kalgoorlie, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Broken Hill, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga, Mildura, Shepparton, Mt Isa, Cairns and Rockhampton.

National Disability Insurance Scheme – continuity of support

The Australian Government has committed to provide Continuity of Support to people with disability currently receiving Australian Government services, but who are ineligible for the NDIS, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in the transition to the NDIS. Existing clients of transitioning Government programs who are ineligible for assistance under the NDIS will have access to a level of support that is consistent with that which they currently receive through five Continuity of Support packages including Mental Health, Carers, a Continuity of Support Fund, and the National Auslan Interpreter Booking and Payment Service. Existing Government clients in regional and remote Australia who are ineligible for the NDIS may receive Continuity of Support.

The Continuity of Support Fund provides support to existing clients of the following programs:

  • Better Start for Children with Disability
  • Disability Employment Assistance
  • Helping Children with Autism
  • Outside School Hours Care for Teenagers with Disability
  • Remote Hearing and Vision Services for Children
  • Work Based Personal Assistance
  • Younger Onset Dementia Key Worker Program.

Continuity of Support arrangements for clients of these programs who are ineligible for the NDIS, including clients in regional and remote Australia, commenced on 1 April 2021. Mobility Allowance was scheduled to cease in June 2020, however, the program is still open to new clients. Continuity of Support arrangements for existing and new clients of the National Auslan Interpreter Booking and Payment Service who are aged 65 or over, including in regional and remote Australia, commenced from 1 April 2021.

The Australian Government has implemented funding agreements and/or variations with relevant service providers in 2020-21 to ensure seamless delivery of Continuity of Support for Government clients, including in regional and remote Australia.

National Disability Insurance Scheme – Jobs and Market Fund

In 2018-19, the Australian Government committed $45.6 million to the Jobs and Market Fund to support the growth of the NDIS market and workforce in capacity and capability to meet the needs of NDIS participants. In 2021, the Jobs and Market Fund was extended to 2023‑24 and will additionally fund the implementation of initiatives outlined in the NDIS National Workforce Plan 2021‑2025.

An open grant round, hosted in 2019, funded a number of organisations to deliver projects across the disability sector relating to workforce attraction, education and training and the provision of services in thin markets. Grantees provide support across Australia, including in regional and remote locations.

In 2020, the Australian Government provided $5.9 million over two years to the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation to strengthen culturally safe NDIS services in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including those in regional and remote areas. This project will help build the capacity of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to transition to and operate as NDIS providers, in turn growing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander NDIS market and workforce.

From 2021 onwards, remaining funds will be used to commission projects that enable market and workforce development, including in regional and remote Australia. This includes projects that support the delivery of planned initiatives under the NDIS National Workforce Plan 2021-2025.

Individual Placement and Support

In the 2020-21 Budget, the Australian Government provided $45.7 million over four years from 2020-21 as part of the Prioritising Mental Health – continued support measure, to expand the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) program. 

The IPS program targets vulnerable young people with mental illness up to the age of 25, who are at risk of disengaging from education and employment and who are at risk of long-term welfare dependency.

The IPS model integrates employment and vocational support with clinical mental health and non-vocational support, and focuses on the needs of people with mental illness seeking to remain in employment and/or education.

Professional employment specialists located in headspace sites will provide vocational and employment assistance, in tandem with clinical support.

An additional 26 sites are commencing service delivery in 2021 as part of the expansion. 12 of the 26 new sites are located in regional areas of Australia. This will mean a total of 28 of the 50 sites are delivering services in regional or remote Australia.

The regional sites are located in:

  • New South Wales: Bega, Dubbo, Grafton, Nowra, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga.
  • Victoria: Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and Warrnambool.
  • Queensland: Cairns, Hervey Bay, Mackay, Mount Isa, Rockhampton and Townsville.
  • Western Australia: Albany, Broome, Bunbury, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie.
  • South Australia: Mount Barker, Port Augusta and Whyalla (remote).
  • Tasmania: Hobart and Launceston.
  • Northern Territory: Darwin and Alice Springs (remote).

Following a successful trial at 24 sites, this additional funding will expand the IPS program on an ongoing basis and establish another 26 locations taking the total to 50 sites nationally supporting about 2,500 young people each year. The new sites will be co‑located with headspace offices, including in disadvantaged, regional and remote areas. The funding will support an additional 1,000 young people who require mental health support to get into employment or further education each year.

The IPS program is complemented by headspace National’s Digital Work and Study Service. The Digital Work and Study Service provides work and study services to young people with mental illness up to the age of 25 years via a digital platform and is integrated with clinical mental health services. The service complements the intent of the IPS program by providing work and study services nationally. It prioritises regional locations, as well as Indigenous young people and early school leavers. 

Farm Household Allowance

Services Australia delivers the Farm Household Allowance payment (FHA) on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. FHA is a time-limited payment that can be paid for up to four cumulative years (1,460 days). FHA customers are required to complete a Farm Financial Assessment and enter into a Financial Improvement Agreement that aims to improve their financial self-reliance and the viability of their farming business.

From the commencement of the program in 2014 up until 18 March 2021, more than 16,000 customers have been granted FHA. Changes to eligibility were introduced in 2018 to support farmers in financial hardship, including drought-affected customers, extending the length of time customers can receive the payment (from three to four years), relaxation of the asset test and simplifying the claim form to make it easier for people to use.

From 1 September 2018, eligible FHA customers received the FHA Supplement, which provided customers receiving FHA up to two supplement payments, up to $12,000 per household. From December 2019, the Relief payment of up to $7,500 for customers was paid to FHA customers who had exhausted their 1,460 days on payment by September 2020. From December 2019, the Farm Business Loss measure became available to allow farming families to earn off-farm income that can be offset by their farm business losses up to $100,000. Further changes from June 2020 include a standard maximum rate of payment to all customers entitled to receive FHA; a simplified asset test with a total asset threshold of $5.5 million; and the increase in the Activity Supplement, a voucher used to pay for training and education activities, from $4,000 to $10,000.

A strengthened case management framework has been developed by Services Australia to improve the support provided by Farm Household Case Officers to FHA customers during their time on FHA.

National Agent and Access Points Program  

Australians in regional locations benefit from the Services Australia National Agent and Access Point Program. Agents and Access Points provide essential services to customers in locations where accessing service centres is difficult. As at 28 February 2021, Services Australia has 349 Agents and 230 Access Points across regional and remote locations. Access Points provide free self-help facilities for customers to access government services through a digitally focused self-service offer. This includes internet enabled computers, upload document functions (for scanning to customer records), free customer Wi-Fi, telephone, photocopying and fax facilities. At Access Points, customers can also have identity documents certified.

Agents provide the same digital self-service facilities as the Access Points as well as face‑to-face customer support and assistance in digitally engaging with government.  Specified Personnel at an Agent site can respond to customer enquiries, provide assistance, guidance and referrals as appropriate.

Services Australia has invested in improved infrastructure and connectivity across the Agent and Access Point service delivery footprint ensuring regional and remote customers receive a consistent service offer to those in metropolitan areas.

Mobile Service Centres

Services Australia operates three mobile service centres that travel to regional communities, providing information and access to Australian Government services.

These fully equipped mobile offices travel across regional Australia to communities located more than 50 kilometres from a service centre. 

Mobile Service Centres are also an important part of Services Australia’s emergency response service delivery capability, including for January/February 2020 bushfire response efforts in New South Wales and Victoria and during the 2021 bushfires in Western Australia. All three Mobile Service Centres were deployed in March 2021 to deliver services to affected communities during the New South Wales floods. 

Regional Citizenship Testing

Services Australia delivers citizenship tests in regional locations on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs. Each week, about 450 tests take place in 36 service centres in regional areas across Australia, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Mackay in Queensland. Previously, the Department of Home Affairs staff visited regional centres to conduct tests, usually on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

National Indigenous Coalition

The National Indigenous Coalition (NIC) is Services Australia’s peak strategic and advisory forum on the effective delivery of payments and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Where payments and services have a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers or staff the NIC is consulted to provide Indigenous insight and perspectives to improve and support better outcomes, including in regional and remote areas.

Online Servicing

Services Australia‘s website (servicesaustralia.gov.au) is a convenient way for regional and remote Australians to access information and conduct their government business online. In 2019-20, the website received 324 million web page views. The Payment and Service Finder tool, available on the Services Australia‘s website, helps people discover payments and services relevant to them.

In 2020-21, it is expected that over a billion transactions will be completed online or via the Express Plus mobile apps. This is particularly valuable for Australians in regional and remote Australia, as they can conduct many of their transactions with Services Australia online at a time and place convenient to them. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Services Australia saw an unprecedented surge in demand for online, contactless support. To help keep our customers and staff safe, Services Australia rapidly increased its online capacity and the range of transactions customers could complete without having to queue at Service centres.

A range of Centrelink payments can be claimed online, with customers able to take advantage of a streamlined process that uses dynamic questioning to ensure that only necessary questions are asked. Over 95 per cent of Youth Allowance claims for students are now lodged online. The online claim process has been further simplified for existing customers, with some online claims pre-populating with existing information from the customer’s record.

Services Australia also assists regional and remote Child Support customers to undertake several self-service activities online. The enhanced Child Support Online system enables customers to view payment details, securely provide documents via the Upload documents service, and advise or update their details and those of their authorised representatives.

A range of Medicare Services are also available online allowing customers to view and update information without having to visit a Service centre including submitting claims, updating personal information including bank account details, view their immunisation history statements and view digital copies of their Medicare card.

myGov

myGov is the Australian Government’s largest government digital platform, allowing users to securely access government services online through a central portal. myGov supports over 19.8 million accounts to connect to 14 government services and is the primary entry point to government services for many people, including people in regional and remote areas. For these people the ability to access multiple government services online is a convenient way to do business and update their details, minimising the need to travel to regional service centres to deal with multiple government agencies.

myGov also offers a digital inbox allowing connected services to send electronic mail to users, which is a convenient way for regional and remote users to receive information securely from Government.

myGov Code Generator App

The myGov Code Generator App (formally called the myGov Access App) is a smart device App (offered via the App Store and Google Play) that was originally released in December 2017. The myGov Code Generator App is an option for myGov users who choose to apply two-factor authentication for signing into myGov. This feature provides an alternative to SMS-based two-factor authentication, which is particularly useful for customers travelling overseas or in regional or remote areas where mobile phone access or mobile coverage is limited.

Express Plus Apps

Services Australia’s free Express Plus mobile apps for Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support services, which can be downloaded onto mobile phones and tablets, continue to be a popular and convenient way for people to engage with Services Australia’s online services without the need to travel to a Service Centre or telephone Services Australia particularly benefiting those in regional and remote areas. Using mobile apps, customers can upload documents, report employment income to Centrelink, claim Medicare benefits, view Child Support account balances and access a range of other services.

Over the years, changes have been introduced into the Express Plus Centrelink mobile app to enable users to report their income in four languages other than English – in Arabic, Chinese Simplified, Persian (Farsi), and Vietnamese.

Digital Assistants

Finding clear, relevant and easily located online help is particularly important to Australians in rural and remote locations. Services Australia currently offers Digital Assistants to help customers to find information and to use our online services at any time of the day or night:

  • ‘Sam’ is available from the Services Australia’s website and allows people to ask general questions about a range of payments and services.
  • ‘Oliver’ is available within the Centrelink online account, and helps customers with a range of online claims and services specific to their circumstances.
  • ‘Cassius’ the Express Plus Centrelink mobile app Assistant provides help ‘on the go’.

Together, the Services Australia’s Digital Assistants provide help to students, job seekers, families, parents, carers, people with a disability and older Australians. Sam and Oliver, have answered more than six million customer questions since March 2017. Cassius was released in late 2018 and has since responded to 5.4 million questions.

The questions and answers provided by these Digital Assistants are regularly reviewed and refined to align with customer needs and any peaks in customer demand. This ongoing refresh of content ensures we continue to improve a customer’s digital experience.

Additionally, the myGov Digital Assistant was released in October 2018, providing targeted assistance to citizens using myGov. The service is available 24/7, improving access for all Australians, including in regional and remote areas. Since its release, it has answered 6.82 million questions. This will enables staff to assist customers who need greater support with more complex queries.

Electronic Claiming of Medicare Benefits

Electronic claiming from point-of-service is the most convenient way for people to lodge claims for Medicare benefits. The Australian Government is actively working with medical practitioners, software vendors, financial institutions, health insurers and members of the public to increase the availability and use of electronic of Medicare claims, including in regional and remote areas. In the period from 1 July 2020 to 31 March 2021, 99.5 per cent of Medicare services were lodged digitally at the point of service. This rate increases to over 99.7 per cent in remote and very remote Australia.

Health Delivery Modernisation – Phase Two

In the 2020-21 Budget, the Australian Government invested a further $116.3 million over four years, including $64.9 million in 2021-22, for Phase Two of the Health Delivery Modernisation Program. This measure will continue to secure health payments and services and make it easier for customers, including those in rural and regional Australia, when interacting with Services Australia.

Customer improvements to be delivered during Phase Two include new event based digital services in the Medicare Online Account and Medicare Express Plus App. The new digital services will enable Medicare customers to move between or to their own Medicare card, manage their Medicare Family Safety net and lodge a Medicare claim with a private health component, removing the need for face to face or telephone transactions.