About two years ago or so, I was at the gym and was approached by a lady who wanted some advice on how to get the ACT Government to help this umbrella organisation who had its funding threatened by the introduction of the (then) new National Disability Insurance scheme. That organisation was SHOUT. She was a volunteer with that body.
This problem has been highlighted recently by the withdrawal of $110,000 in funding to that umbrella organisation by the ACT Government and that organisation is facing closing down.
You may not know what SHOUT does, so I’ll give a bit of information on it here. You can get detail from their website at www.shout.org.au.
Essentially, SHOUT is an umbrella organisation which provides support for a group of smaller issue specific self-help organisations to allow the economies of scale such that the smaller organisations can continue to provide direct services to their clients without the drain on their resources for administrative support. They also assist in promotion and provision of information more widely than the smaller organisation can deliver. It is a point of contact for clients and member/affiliate organisations, a referral point for the public and an information resource centre. I have only touched on the services provided by SHOUT but you should be able to get the gist.
Back in 2002, I chaired a Standing Committee in the Assembly which looked at a number of issues pertinent to the ACT Budget. The then Department of Community Services was trying to get smaller self-help groups to combine in one location so that they could take advantage of the economies of scale in the provision of services because there was that move from block funding to program funding which did not allow any money for administrative support. DCS was suggesting the colocation of smaller services in some of our spare school space. Some organisations took advantage of this opportunity and did colocate.
The epitome of this policy was SHOUT. Formed in 1981 in the International Year of the Disabled, it understood that the smaller organizations such as the Down Syndrome Association and organisations of similar size were operating on a shoestring with volunteers doing the administrative work and (no disrespect to them) they suffered in the quality of submissions to Government in the annual begging bowl derby.
In the report of that Standing Committee, there was a recommendation that the Government adequately fund the community sector for its indirect costs and that it fund a development and implementation plan for community services. The Government noted the recommendations and provided some funds for a Community Facilities Needs Assessment Study.
It said the purpose of the study is to assess current and future requirements for the provision of community facility land in the ACT, inform future analysis and assessment of development proposals and maximise the use of existing community facilities. The work will also provide information for Government agencies to use in the future planning of community facilities and service provision.
All this showed me was that they did not get what the Committee was on about. It wanted the community services adequately supported but the Government only saw a need to look at its own community facilities (and physical ones at that). They completely missed the point.
One arm of the Government was saying that the community sector should get its house in order but the other arm was looking at its own facilities and not at the viability of community sector organisations and how they fit into the Government’s own aims for community support. Weird.
This is a list of the community organisations who depend on the support from SHOUT. You can see what a blowout in administrative and promotion and referral costs would occur if they had to go it alone.
- ACT Down Syndrome Association
- ACT ME/CFS Society Inc
- Motor Neurone Disease Association NSW/ACT
- Brain Tumour Alliance Australia
- Bosom Buddies ACT Inc
- Canberra/Queanbeyan ADD Support Group Inc
- Canberra Region Kidney Support Group
- Friends of the Brain Injured Children
- Heart Support Australia (ACT Regional Branch)
- Parkinson’s ACT Inc
- People with Disabilities ACT Inc
- Prostate Cancer Support Group ACT Region
There are another 31 affiliated organisations who support each other.
I would urge you to go to that report of the Standing Committee, look at the comments and the submissions and you will see that the sector did everything the Government wanted but in an amazing about-face, the funding of a measly $110,000 was being ripped out of the sector which would have meant more fundraising by individual groups, less effective advocacy, less effective administration and promotion and a lessening of cross-sector collaboration.
No wonder social media and traditional media, letters to editors are inundated with complaints.
On top of this, it is poor public policy and downright dumb politics.
It is poor policy because for a paltry $110,000 the Government has tried to shift some responsibility for viability in the community support sector onto the very same organisations which reach out to people in distress. It sought to shift this to that sector years ago to reduce costs and now that the sector is half viable, the Government is going back on its own position of minimal support into one of zero support.
The politics are dumb because vulnerable people vote with their hearts and they have supporting mechanisms which are influenced by their suffering and the empathy shown by Government. That a Labor Government would stoop to do this fills me with shame.
And now it seems that the ACT Government has given SHOUT a reprieve. Given it is at the end of a financial year (nearly), the Gumment has found, miraculously, enough readies to give the organisation a lifeline. It said it has found some money in its bucket to help SHOUT over the hump! What? So it has an amount of money in the bank after only three-quarters of a financial year to rescue an organisation which is discharging its own social responsibility, for a “rescue mission”? Hardly! SHOUT needs certainty. It needs at the very least a five year guarantee of continued funding. Putting off the execution cos the executioner needs to sharpen his axe doesn’t cut it with me. They still don’t get it! Do they?
So, hey Mr Barr, et al, how about putting your hand back into the pocket a bit deeper and stumping up the miserable $110,000 for five years? These organisations need our support and it’s your SHOUT!