Minister for Human Services
STATE OF THE STATE 2017
14th March, 2017


 

[4.02 p.m.]

Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the Premier’s Address. As the Premier stated, we have come a long way in the last three years. Our economy is growing, our budget is back in balance and the dividends of that is we are now able to invest more in essential services such as child protection, affordable housing, family violence and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Every day we are taking action in these areas and making decisions in the best interests of Tasmanians in need but more importantly, we are delivering on what we promised.

Today I want to talk about the next stage of our long-term plans in my portfolios of Human Services and Women which builds on the gains we have made over the last three years so as to build an even stronger future for all Tasmanians. From day one we have been systematic and disciplined in delivering the plan we took to the election. While we have achieved much in the Human Services and Women portfolios over the last three years of which we can be proud, we know there are no quick fixes and of course we have faced some challenges as we endeavour to assist Tasmanians in need.

These challenges are only too evident. How do we create loving environments for children who have never been loved? How do we offer safe havens for the one in three women physically or emotionally abused each year? How do we provide enough houses for those who have nowhere to call home and how do we provide enough support for those living with disability for them to live fulfilling lives? While others talk politics, these are the questions that motivate me every day to do the job I do as minister. These are the issues that since we first came to government three years ago I have pursued relentlessly. Our efforts are starting to bear results and there will be many more achievements over the next year as we focus on building Tasmania’s future.

As part of our long-term plan the Hodgman Liberal Government is investing an extra $20.6 million in ensuring Tasmania’s children and young people are kept safe and better protected. This is tangible evidence of how this Government is giving families the extra support they need to improve their lives and build a better future. Strong Families, Safe Kids is a contemporary public health primary prevention approach to redesigning Child Safety Services to provide greater support to families in Tasmania.

For the first time in Tasmania we now have a plan in place to create sustainable, long-term improvements in the lives of many Tasmanian families. This includes $3.6 million to refocus the current child protection intake service into an advice and referral service that will create a one-door state-wide service. The one-door service will have a broadened focus to provide advice and other services and responses that will support the wellbeing of the child. This service will contribute significantly towards refocusing the system away from statutory interventions of last resort to a system that is more focused and providing early access and integrated support to vulnerable children and their families.

There is also $7.5 million as part of our whole-of-government commitment to provide services to children at risk, including $5 million in the Department of Education to provide services and support for children in government schools and child and family centres. Additional intensive family support services will be available for the families of children on the brink of entering the statutory care system.

There is $8.6 million to build a contemporary, innovative child protection system through the establishment of child safety teams focused on one of three areas – court tasks, short-term reunification case management and long-term permanency case management.

In regard to court tasks, addressing the complex, often time-consuming and labour-intensive process to obtain short-term legal care order is of key importance to me. Child Safety Services staff have indicated that the increasing need to seek legal orders arising from more complex family situations impacts greatly on the transferring of cases from response to case management. It is perhaps a reflection of the increasing complexities families are presenting with, with comorbidities of health, mental health, drug and alcohol and family violence, which means increased levels of statutory intervention through the courts is now deemed the only way to secure conditional safety. That is why Strong Families, Safe Kids is establishing specific court legal-based coordinated roles to ensure our service response is matched to the increased demands and challenges facing children and their families, particularly in the court system. This is another practical tool to support our Child Safety Services as they empower Tasmanian families to support themselves.

There is an extra $550 000 to improve information technology to support frontline child safety staff. This will include further expansion of the current kids’ data warehouse to support professional decision-making and improvements to the current child safety information system so we have the best information available on each child under the care of the state and we can better assist vulnerable children, young people and their families.

The Hodgman Liberal Government is supporting our Child Safety Services staff by employing more staff. In three years we have added nearly 40 more FTEs to the frontline workforce. These 40 FTEs includes more child safety officers, support workers, team leaders, liaison officers and clinical practice consultants. In 2013 CSS-paid FTEs were 146.8. In December 2016, CSS-paid FTEs were 186.5. This includes 12 of the 31 extra FTEs this Government is investing in as part of Strong Families, Safe Kids. As part of our $26 million redesign of Child Safety Services, another 19 FTEs will be added to the state-wide Child Safety Services workforce over the next 15 months. In total, there are 30 actions in the Strong Families, Safe Kids implementation plan which have been divided across four streams and are progressing very well.

In respect of our out-of-home care system, this Government cannot be any clearer that we want to improve the lives and long-term outcomes of children and young people under the care of the state. This Government has welcomed the report into out-of-home care released in late January by the Commissioner for Children and Young People. This Government accepted all seven of the commissioner’s recommendations and immediately began implementing them. The strengthening of the out-of-home care system is being done alongside and in tandem with the redesign of our Child Safety Services system. Seeking an order and removing a child from their family should always be a last resort. Therefore in order to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care we must better support parents and families before they reach the statutory child care system, which is where our redesign of child protection plays a key role.

We see assisting at-risk youth as equally important. As a Government and as a community, we need to make sure we prevent our young people from entering the youth justice system. At the same time, help, support and guidance for parents and extended family is also particularly important and can be provided from many parts of our community – from neighbours, schools, medical practitioners and community service providers as well as from across many government agencies. We need to keep young people engaged in life and not only engage with them at the point in time when they are interacting with the youth justice system, but much earlier as part of a public health primary prevention approach. This approach is exactly the focus of both Strong Families, Safe Kids and the Youth At Risk strategy. The development of our Youth At Risk strategy will place greater emphasis on education, health and safety for young people at risk to support their development as important members of their own communities. This strategy will outline how future government services will be delivered for at risk young people, not just those young people interacting with the Youth Justice system, but those who are struggling with homelessness, mental health, drug and alcohol issues or generally engaging in risk-taking behaviour.

Young people, particularly those aged over 15 years, often self-select their own accommodation and make their own choices about their care environments, irrespective of advice. To provide them with stable, appropriate safe accommodation requires a unique approach, which will be identified in the strategy.

The Youth At Risk strategy and Strong Families Safe Kids also aligns with a number of reforms occurring across government, such as Safe Homes Safe Families, Joined Up Human Services, Tasmania’s Affordable Housing strategy, our review of the out of home care system and the Youth Suicide Prevention Plan. In terms of better protecting at risk youth we are also the first government willing to address the issues of culture at Ashley Youth Detention Centre. We want to create positive change at Ashley and we want to create a better environment, both for residents and as importantly, for the hardworking staff at Ashley.

I have visited Ashley and spoken to a number of staff. I have seen firsthand their commitment to support the rehabilitation of the young residents. The interactions between staff and residents is positive and there is a genuine interest and desire to help support these young people to get engaged in education and learning to improve their health and wellbeing, as well as their relationships with their family and extended community. I have also spoken with the young residents and gained a better appreciation for the challenges they have faced in their short lives.

The improvements have been taking place at Ashley Youth Detention Centre for some time. A new centre manager has been appointed. We have also created a position of Director of Services to Young People so as to consider governance, culture, risk, safety, trauma informed care, training, staffing structures, leadership and the need for a therapeutic model. The Government has also allocated $300 000 to assist that process, including the appointment of a new senior change manager to assist both staff and residents.

Since then ongoing training on risk management and non-violent crisis intervention has been provided, as well as training for youth workers and a leadership team across a range of areas, trauma informed care, resilience through change and safety, as well as enhancing skills in de-escalation. In addition, an update of the practice manual continues, more active communication has been provided to staff regarding continuous improvement opportunities, and resident complaint processes have been strengthened, along with work on better communication of resident’s rights and responsibilities.

We know that the behaviour of some of the residents of Ashley can be very challenging. For many of these residents uncontrolled emotions can run high as they struggle with the situation they now find themselves in, especially after years of abuse that many of the residents have experienced. It has long been recognised that juvenile detention facilities need to run on a more therapeutic, curative model rather than on a punitive basis, which makes it more conducive to turning around young people’s lives. The focus of the Hodgman Liberal Government is to do just that. Turn the lives of at risk youth towards a more positive outcome.

Other initiatives in the Children and Youth Services portfolio include establishing the state’s first independent process to review child death and serious injury, bringing Tasmania into line with the other states. Until last year Tasmania had been the only Australian jurisdiction without an independent statute-based mechanism for reviewing deaths of children or cases of serious injury where death did not occur. We have also put in place the state’s first Vulnerable Babies and Infant strategy to improve outcomes and provide earlier oversight of unborn and young babies.

We are the first government willing to identify appropriate support for young people aged over 12 years with problem sexualised behaviours – PSB.  A $94 000 pilot is underway to support young people with PSB. The Government is very aware of the growing evidence that the greatest risk factor of children developing PSB is witnessing family violence between parents. To ensure appropriate linkage with the other reforms taking place across the Human Services portfolio, particularly Strong Families Safe Kids, as well as under our Family Violence Action Plan, additional funding has been allocated to Sexual Assault Support Services to conduct a year-long pilot program to support young people aged 12 to 17 years. Therapeutic counselling will be provided to 15 young people who have displayed serious PSB. This intensive counselling also includes support to immediate family members.

The Hodgman Liberal Government is also committed to helping Tasmanians in need through improving accessibility to affordable and social housing. Tasmania is now progressing 27 different initiatives to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole housing system. As part of the reforms, the Hodgman Liberal Government has invested in the development of an affordable housing strategy with a further $73.5 million being invested into our Affordable Housing Action Plan that will deliver over 900 new homes and affordable housing options for 1600 Tasmanian households in need, by June 2019.

Importantly, our new housing initiatives and actions will inject $235 million into the Tasmanian economy and create up to 550 full-time equivalent jobs over the four-year life of the action plan. As well, our assistance to over 1600 new households through the action plan is on top of the around 1000 households we house each year through Housing Connect, and on top of those also assisted by the private rental assistance, which was 3544 people last year.

At the end of the December quarter, specifically under the Affordable Housing Action Plan itself, we have assisted 212 new households to access safe and affordable housing, including 158 households assisted into affordable home ownership through the Home Share scheme and the Streets Ahead incentive program, 46 people assisted into our new supported accommodation, six households assisted into our new Dads and Kids crisis accommodation, two young people assisted into our new Youth Castle accommodation initiative.

Significant progress has also been made on a range of other initiatives, including our innovative new community housing stock leverage program, which will see 203 new or substantially upgraded homes being delivered over the next two-and-a-quarter years. That is 172 new social housing properties to be built, and 31 rundown homes upgraded, as well as 230 jobs created in the construction sector, with a direct injection into the Tasmanian economy of $34 million and an overall economic benefit of more than $90 million.

To build these new homes would have cost the state government and the Tasmanian taxpayer, around $45 million. That is money we can now invest into other areas such as health and education. Construction of the first homes will occur this financial year, with the aim of all these new and upgraded homes being delivered by 30 June 2019. Most importantly, all homes will remain social housing for at least the next 30 years and be allocated to priority applicants on our social housing waitlist. Nothing will change for tenants in terms of their rent or tenancy conditions.

The 172 brand new homes will be seven-star energy efficient accessible homes, which makes them suitable for older people and people living with a disability. It will result in large savings on their heating bills. The difference in heating costs between a three-star energy efficient home and seven-star energy efficient home, is around $1000 a year. In addition, under our Affordable Housing Action Plan, we also have the construction of 27 new homes under stage 1 of our private developers’ shovel-ready initiative that will be retained as social housing for applicants on the housing register, with all units to be delivered before the end of May 2017. Stage 2 of this program will also see further construction of 32 homes commence in the next few months.

We also have announced the Somerset land release, which will deliver 17 serviced lots and six units of accommodation suitable for elderly people, and the Devonport land release, which includes the adjacent 25-unit youth supported accommodation facility which will deliver 23 serviced lots, including a disability-specific unit complex. The remaining lots will bemade available for purchase, including under our Home Share scheme. In fact, there is a total commitment by this Government of more than $16 million in new housing supply for the north-west coast that will see more than 120 jobs created in the building and construction sector.

In the first half of 2017, we will also commence the construction of the Youth at Risk response centre and the new Hobart Women’s Shelter, both of which will be completed in early 2018. Furthermore, we are establishing a pool of private rental homes under our Rapid Rehousing head lease program, which will continue to be expanded this year from the 35 houses we have so far, to enable victims of family violence to access safe and affordable homes with wrap around support in line with our Family Violence Action Plan.

All this is in addition to our Private Rental Access Program which will provide landlords with incentives to house people on low incomes in affordable private rentals, with consultation and planning with key stakeholders on this program well under way. I am also delighted to report that all of our 27 initiatives are on track to be delivered by June 2019 which will all help to address service gaps and improve our responses to people affected by family violence, homelessness and housing affordability.

The Hodgman Liberal Government is also passionate about supporting Tasmanians living with disability to be able to achieve their goals and make the most of all the opportunities life presents them. This is why the Tasmanian Liberal Government is providing $572 million over four years to the NDIS. On 1 July this year we will commence the next phase of the rollout of the scheme, with children aged between 4 and 11 joining the 12- to 28-year-olds who are already transitioning into this scheme. As a result of our hard work we have also now secured significant funding of $3.23 million under the Commonwealth Sector Development Fund to further support service providers and individuals living with disability to transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We have also provided additional funding to individuals living with disability who are currently outside of the NDIS cohort and since coming to government the supported accommodation wait list has dropped by a significant 39.8 per cent. Our focus and commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and to supporting people living with disability continues to ensure successful transition to the full rollout. This is evidenced by the fact that satisfaction ratings in Tasmania continue to exceed the national average.

This Government also continues its commitment to work closely with community sector organisations, which is why in the Human Services portfolio we are providing record funding of approximately $260 million in 2016-17 to organisations delivering services to Tasmanians in need. In addition to providing record funding, this Government is committed to help improve services for the benefit of both Tasmanians in need and community sector organisations. One major element of this work has been undertaken through the Joined Up Human Services Project which is being delivered in close collaboration with the sector and will provide a more integrated system of service delivery. Throughout 2017 we will see this work further progress with the commencement of the Lead Support Coordination Service which will provide focused support and complex case coordination for those individuals and families with multiple and complex needs who may encounter service provision barriers.

As well, under the Joined Up Human Services Place-Based Project last year Swinburne University worked with organisations providing services in the Huon Valley to undertake a service system network analysis. This analysis has helped to identify both the strengths and weaknesses of the service system in the Huon Valley and is providing opportunities for organisations to implement strategies to improve the level of communication, coordination and collaboration. A second comparative network analysis will be completed towards the end of 2017. This work is also being supported by work undertaken to reduce red tape and to make reporting and contract arrangements easier so that community sector organisations can focus on what they enjoy doing the most and that is delivering services to our Tasmanians in need. As a Government we are working hard to achieve real change on the issues faced by Tasmanians in need and we believe that through our actions more Tasmanians will be able to break the cycle of disadvantage.

My responsibilities as the first dedicated Minister for Women since 2006 are extremely important to me. The Hodgman Liberal Government is passionately committed to making a difference in the lives of all women and girls in Tasmania as we recognise that women and girls experience significant inequities based on their gender. The Tasmanian Liberal Government is therefore committed to the Tasmanian Women’s Plan 2013-18 which strives to break down the barriers that produce inequities for women and girls. Over the last 12 months the plan has had a specific focus on economic security for women as well as to ensure that all women and girls can fully participate in the economic, social, political and community life of Tasmania.

During 2017 work will come to fruition with the launch of a new dedicated website and Facebook page which will feature information about policies, services and events for women and girls in Tasmania. It will also promote opportunities for women and girls to participate in all the economic, social and political aspects of life by having all this information in one central place. This will be a living website and will continue to grow, evolve, adapt and change as time goes on. All organisations that provide support to women and girls are invited, if they are not already listed on the website, to let the Department of Premier and Cabinet know and they too will be listed on the website.

Recognising gender inequity is also important when developing policies and programs. Therefore gender mainstreaming, as it is sometimes referred to, is another key action under the Tasmanian Women’s Plan 2013-18. One way we are implementing this is through the Valuing Gender Inclusion resource, which is now available on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s website. This resource links to practical tools and resources that offer gender-inclusive models to assist policy makers and program planners to identify how a particular policy or program will affect women and men, and provides a guide for Tasmanian government agencies, businesses and the community on how to achieve gender-equitable outcomes when developing, implementing and evaluating policies, programs and services.

The Tasmanian Government’s gender equality agenda is also strongly focused on economic security for women and encourages everyone to consider the economic impacts of decision-making on women and girls. We also have numerous frameworks in place to trigger and guide consideration of gender impacts in our decision-making that will have positive economic implications.

Another important initiative to tackle gender inequality is our Women on Boards Strategy 2015-20. Since 2015 there has been a remarkable increase in the percentage of board positions held by women. I am proud to report that of 7 March 2017 40 per cent of positions are now held by women, an increase from the starting base of 33.8 per cent of 6.2 percentage points or 18.5 per cent since the strategy was launched. In addition, as at 7 March 2017 50 per cent of all government business enterprise board positions are held by women, while 41 per cent of state-owned company board members are women. The increase in the overall numbers demonstrates that change can happen when there is greater awareness of gender equity issues and where there is a concerted effort to identify suitably qualified and experienced women for appointment.

To help women to be well placed for board positions we are continuing to provide a scholarship of $50 000 per annum in partnership with the Australian Institute of Company Directors to provide scholarships for women to undertake Australian Institute of Company Director courses under the Government’s Board Diversity Scholarship Program.

I am extremely proud of the commitment that the Tasmanian Liberal Government has made to addressing family violence. This Government recognises that family violence is a complex issue that requires short, medium and long-term actions. Through Safe Homes, Safe Families the Government has allocated nearly $26 million over four years to new and direct actions that address family violence. We are continuing to progress actions in our plan and are now moving to the next phase of implementation, with a new plan to be released in the first half of this year.

One initiative I want to highlight today is the success of our extra $3 million that we allocated to counselling services for children and young people. For the first time ever in Tasmania we now have a zero wait list for family violence counselling services for children and young people. No child or young person is currently waiting for counselling to assist them to recover from the trauma of family violence in Tasmania. When we came to Government in March 2014 there were 117 children and young people waiting for counselling. Let me make it quite clear that we are the first government to show any willingness to tackle the longstanding issue of historically high waiting lists for family violence counselling support, especially for children and young people.

Ms O’Connor – That is completely untrue, as the records in your agency will show. That is a lie.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER – Order.

Mrs PETRUSMA – We funded our commitment with an extra $3 million and the fact that no child –

Ms O’Connor – I tried to bring them into line in the last term of government and you know it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER – Order, Ms O’Connor.

Mrs PETRUSMA – The fact that no child or young person is now waiting for family violence counselling shows that our plan and our financial commitment is working. As can be seen, the Hodgman Liberal Government is committed to building safer, stronger communities as well as supporting Tasmanians who are doing it tough. Our plans and actions to date speak louder than words and the Tasmanian community can now see that through our hard work that Tasmania is in much better shape now than it was prior to March 2014.