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Community Services and Development – Neighbourhood Houses

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Tags: Community

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Chair. Minister, following on cost-of-living issues, you were at the TasCOSS briefing of course and we all agree that the community services sector is doing amazing work. You saw the graph that was presented that showed the enormous increases in things like petrol and fuel and food and a whole range of other things. Neighbourhood Houses Tasmania is quite clear that they're stretched beyond capacity. The current funding which was extended, I think, last year or the year before, is very much appreciated; but in the current situation it definitely falls short of the demand they're experiencing. They've had this massive increase in demand from COVID-19; mental health stress; young people and cost-of-living pressures; social isolation - it's all really getting hard for people. Why didn't they get a boost in funding to recognise that the situation has changed from the last Budget?

Mr STREET - I thank you for the question. I disagree that they haven't received more funding. We've committed $2.8 million over the next two years for the community care advisor model. The reason for that, is to get more resources into the neighbourhood houses to deal with the increased number of people coming through the door.

At the launch of Neighbourhood House Week out at their offices, maybe three weeks ago, I spoke about this community care advisor program and the fact that what we're trying to do with that is take pressure off the managers at Neighbourhood Houses. We would all know, visiting Neighbourhood Houses, in our electorates that the managers have to be a jack of all trades really. They're triaging as people come through the door, so they need to have a range of skills. What we've tried to do with the community care advisor program is to put more resources into the Neighbourhood Houses, so they've got extra people or can call on extra resources to deal with the range of issues that come through the door.

Having spoken to neighbourhood house managers, I know they're incredibly grateful for that support. Michael Bishop, CEO of Neighbourhood Houses Tasmania, pushed very hard for the community care advisor pilot. He is very happy with the results that they're seeing out of it and the engagement that they're getting from the people working in that pilot program. I've met with him on more than three occasions, I think, already as the minister, and each time he's talked about that pilot program and the good work that it's doing. In addition to that, there's $5.2 million in funding for neighbourhood houses.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is that extra funding?

Mr STREET - We've got $400 000 over four years for a program to develop the governance capabilities within the neighbourhood houses, because another problem that we've come across, particularly in a couple of houses, is the disconnect between the boards of those houses and their operational staff within them. We're trying to build the capacity of the people that come in to sit on the boards of those particular facilities as well. Like I said, the $2.8 million for the pilot program and we've also got the capital improvement program for neighbourhood houses for the work that's going on. We committed $300 000 over the next two years for Kentish House. We've committed money for Phoenix House on King Island as well. I am very proud of this Government's support for neighbourhood houses and the network, recognising the important work that they do in the community. They're one of the frontline service providers for us as a Government.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks for raising the community care advisor. As I said, I recognise the $5.4 million that the Government has put into neighbourhood houses but, unless I read the Budget incorrectly, that's not an increase, is it?

Mr STREET - No, that was a commitment that was made at the 2021 election across three years, the $5.2 million.


Mr STREET - Which is far more than neighbourhood houses have ever received.

Dr WOODRUFF - There's good money going there, but I’m just feeding back that there is a much greater level of need that the money isn't meeting. I recognise the pilot program. There's 11 community care advisors, full time equivalent, I think, around the state. It is a pilot program that sounds like it's very successful. Will you commit to making it a permanent program, albeit with some tweaks if some information comes out of it. In principle will you commit to providing security for the work of those people across the forward Estimates?

Mr STREET - Watching these hearings, I've noticed that you often lead with 'Will you commit?' I’m not going to commit to anything in here today, except that we are committed to the two years of the pilot program and to the analysis of the reports that come back at the end of the pilot program. If they are as positive in another 18 months' time, as they have been for the first 6 months of the program, then I think it is inevitable that they're going to have a strong case to put forward that this program be either continued, accelerated or continued in some form. Absolutely.

Dr WOODRUFF - That's a fair point; but I sat in with the Minister for Arts on Monday and asked her why $26 million had been taken out of the arts budget. She said it wasn't taken out, it was just the end of a program. My point is, if you can't give the sector more money, you can give them more security. Then they can understand as that program comes to the end of its life that they can be looking at how they can make some plans for the future. Two years is great but it is not actually going to take them into the work, into the future planning and all that stuff they need to do to support people.

Mr STREET - I completely understand that. One of the things we talked about at the TasCOSS forum was certainty for these organisations in terms of funding as well, so they are not living from 12 months to 12 months, that we can extend the funding.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is a welcome change.

Mr STREET - But I must point out that it was called a pilot program for a reason. It is the first time we have rolled this particular program out across the neighbourhood houses. The reason it was funded for two years was to allow the program to roll out and for us to be able to analyse the outcomes from it.

My commitment is that we will analyse the outcomes of the program and we certainly will not leave it until the last week of the two years before we make a decision on what we are going to do going forward. But I would ask for the opportunity for the pilot program to roll out across the state and allow proper analysis of the program to take place so that we can decide what we do going into the future. That's why it was called a pilot program.

Dr WOODRUFF - I get that. I was asking for the in-principle support for the work that is being done.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I just have one last question about Neighbourhood Houses and the fact that they've identified a number of communities around Tasmania that would benefit from a Neighbourhood House. Have you been in discussions with them about furthering those plans and what can you tell us?

Mr STREET - In terms of the conversation with Neighbourhood Houses Tasmania, I've had at least two conversations with Michael Bishop, the CEO, about expanding the network. I've also met with a couple of different communities in our electorate, Dr Woodruff, that have advocated for having a Neighbourhood House in their area as well. I shouldn't mention them but I will - Cygnet.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, Cygnet's been trying to get one for a very long time.

Mr STREET - I've met with Mez Newman on multiple occasions to talk about the fact that they want a Neighbourhood House in Cygnet. The criteria around whether a community qualifies for a Neighbourhood House is difficult because it sort of looks at an average across the community so areas like Cygnet, which might have a small proportion of very well-off people, they're bringing down some of the social indicators for that particular area that mean that it might fall outside of the criteria.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, it misses the really extreme level of need.

Mr STREET - Yes, it does. I've had a conversation with both Michael and Mez about that and it's something we need to look at.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. It's not just Cygnet, obviously, there's other places -

Mr STREET - No. I'm sure there are other places across the state that would appreciate having a Neighbourhood House in their area. I’m not saying that we are committed to expanding the network but - Ms Kent has just very helpfully put a note in front of me to say that the new Neighbourhood House strategy that's being developed is looking at the criteria for communities in terms of applying for or potentially having access to the Neighbourhood House network as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay, that's really good. The point you made, minister, is a really important one, that just because you have these vastly different socioeconomic groups in a community - and Cygnet is a great example but there are other places - that can mean they miss out when there's a huge need.

Mr STREET - The criteria we've got at the minute simplify the process for assessing but I think that they're probably almost too simple. It needs a deeper dive to be able to get a proper analysis of what is needed in each community as well. I know when I've asked about Cygnet before they've pointed to the fact that there's a Neighbourhood House at Geeveston, which is -

Dr WOODRUFF - Hello?

Mr STREET - Exactly. What it indicates is that -

Dr WOODRUFF - Hello, regional Tasmania.

Ms HADDAD - They actually do amazing work supporting the community.

CHAIR - Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, it's fantastic for the people in Geeveston.

Mr STREET - GeCo is a terrific facility but it sort of ignores the fact that the people who access Neighbourhood Houses aren't always mobile. They're not driving to a Neighbourhood House for assistance, they're walking there or they're getting public transport. I will pass to Ingrid just to add in terms of the work we're doing with the strategy.

Ms KENT - The current Neighbourhood House strategy that's developed in conjunction with the network runs till June 2023, so we've commenced discussions around the consultation with the houses on developing the next five year strategy. The discussion around the criteria of what is a Neighbourhood House and how it is decided when new houses want to come into the network is definitely something we want to work with the network on and is part of that forward planning.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay, thank you, and I'd hope there'd be consultation with communities outside the network to feed into that strategy. I'm sure there would be.