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Losing community links for social services, your thoughts?

By Steve Whan

IT’S TIME FOR a rethink about the way government contracts out social services in country communities. Over the last two decades many social and community services have been contracted out to non-government not-for-profit groups for delivery.

These services include dementia packages, homeless services through to early intervention programs for pre-schoolers.

The winning tenders for those services in recent times have tended to move to large regional or state-wide not-for-profit organisations with the resources to write submissions and (to be fair) offer economies of scale with management.

Fair enough you might say, better value for money? And yes to an extent that is true.

But the changeover means that a locally-based not-for-profit service provider is losing the contract. Often it is a group with well-established local community connections, a locally-based volunteer board and, critically, a community volunteer base that extends the value of the funded services.

Recent examples in our region include Monaro crisis accommodation in Cooma which lost the tender for homelessness services in the Cooma region. They had a local board run by volunteers and had provided crisis accommodation and short term programs for decades with great links with the community.

In Queanbeyan the fantastic St Benedicts service has lost one of its contracts; this is a service that engages a large number of local people who volunteer to help people in need of shelter and a meal.

Bigger not-for-profit groups won both contracts. No doubt the people who work for the new service providers will also be very committed to their clients and the community – but they won’t have the same community network and volunteer base to call on.

We need to redesign the process for competitive tenders for social and community services to provide a weighting for organisations that have a long local history of providing a service with strong local community support. Regional Development Australia should be involved in the tender process with a brief of actively looking for opportunities to group contracts and maximise locally based employment.

These are my thoughts and not official Labor Party policy but I would be very interested in feedback from people who have a view on this area.

Locked below decks, refugee treatment shames Australia

As a State Member of Parliament I usually steer well clear of commentary on exclusively Federal issues, however as a citizen I can’t not comment on the shame and embarrassment I feel as an Australian over our federal government’s treatment of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers held for a long period of time on a customs vessel in the Indian Ocean.

Hearing stories of people locked below decks against their will in spartan and crowded conditions is something we probably think belongs with stories of the convict ships in the 18 and 19 century – it’s certainly not something any of us thought our country would be doing in the 21 century.

Australia has been a proud advocate of international human rights and justice under many successive governments. We quite rightly protest to other nations when they detain their citizens or ours without charge or in unreasonable conditions.  Next time we do that our protests will look very hollow.

I don’t know if the people who were held on that boat had a legitimate claim to be refugees, but they do under international law have the right to have a claim assessed.  None of these people have broken the law, it is not illegal to seek asylum and to have detained them so long in locked cabins on a ship is nothing short of barbaric.

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