COTA Victoria and Seniors Rights Victoria welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the Department of Social Services issues paper on the way in which the Commonwealth Government supports the community sector through grant-based funding. This is an important and timely discussion given the mounting pressures experienced by Community Service Organisations (CSOs) and the significant changes to funding models associated with national reform in areas such as disability and aged care.
In responding to the issues paper, we draw on our experience:
- as a CSO in direct receipt of Commonwealth funding (including as a current provider in the Care Finders, Commonwealth Home Support Program Sector Support and Development, and DSS’s Women Working Together programs)
- as a statewide peak body, membership organisation and advocate for CSOs working in the Ageing Well, Elder Abuse and associated areas across Victoria
- as an advocacy voice for the needs and interests of older Victorians, including in their capacity as consumers and beneficiaries of the work of Commonwealth-funded CSOs.
We are keen to see improvements in the operation of Commonwealth grants to enable CSOs to avoid unreasonable uncertainty, sustain core activities and to operate with adequate flexibility to respond to community need. This is critical to enable CSOs to realise their primary strength as not-for-profit organisations reflecting and advancing stakeholder interests, rather than being seen simply as competitors with commercial enterprises.
A key aspect of the value proposition of CSOs such as COTA Victoria is the engagement of people with lived experience in program design and development, and in ongoing delivery. Commonwealth funding needs to more explicitly and routinely resource this, both as discrete activities and for associated ongoing coordination and management functions.
In relation to the design and management of grants processes, we urge the Commonwealth to consider enhancements that:
- Clarify definition of the geographical basis for services/activities to be funded so that CSOs can develop their capacities at local, regional, statewide or national level as appropriate, and tailor administrative requirements to the relevant scale of operation
- Review the use of third party or intermediary commissioning bodies to avoid inconsistencies and concerns surrounding the transparency of grant selection processes
- Fund a diversity of CSOs where this promises genuine consumer choice and capacity to reach different parts of the community, but not simply to achieve a greater number and smaller scale of organisationsStructure grants for core service delivery as rolling four-year standard contracts, with a requirement to provide at least 18 months warning of intention to cease or re-tender funding, and allow for annual variation within contracts to respond to agreed trends in demand (where block funding remains the basis of grants)
- Establish clear and consistent standards of transparent, early communication with CSOs to avoid critical decisions on year-to-year funding adjustments being made too late and without adequate consideration of the real impact on organisations, their staff, and the communities they serve.
Peak bodies such as COTA Victoria can play a stronger role in representing the interests of CSOs providing or seeking to provide Commonwealth funded services, identifying needs and evidence-based responses, and in the actual management of grant processes. Importantly, we can also provide crucial advice to governments on what aspects of CSO activity matter most to the consumers and communities we represent.
While not widely recognised as a discrete sector, the Ageing Well field comprises a diversity of CSOs facing common challenges that are distinct from Aged Care, notwithstanding overlap in the interests of many agencies. Similarly, CSOs delivering Elder Abuse related services (both legal and non-legal) are not well recognised and poorly resourced in comparison with the broader family violence sector. We encourage the Commonwealth to invest in strengthening this sub-sector, including through support for peak bodies and more specific targeting of funding opportunities.
Many of the issues raised in the discussion paper have been subject to extended discussion within Victoria. We urge the Commonwealth to mirror some of the positive developments taken by the Victorian Government in relation to its partnership approach to peak body discussion of community sector development and funding issues, the move towards standard three or four-year funding agreements, and ensuring quality and safety across the sector through social services regulation reforms.