Chapter 1 Secretary's review

Secretary Finn Pratt
Secretary Finn Pratt

I am pleased to present the 2010–11 annual report of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), my first as Secretary of the Department. My first few months at FaHCSIA have been both exciting and challenging, and I have been greatly impressed by the hard work and professionalism shown by staff throughout the Department. The many achievements outlined in this annual report are testament to the dedication of the Department’s staff and the outstanding leadership of my predecessor, Dr Jeff Harmer AO.

The Department made a number of substantial contributions to the Government’s agenda in 2010–11. Several initiatives were instrumental in enhancing the wellbeing of Australian individuals and families, including Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme, reform of the Family Support Program, and innovations in family payments and income management.

The Department was involved in important measures to boost economic and social participation, including developing the National Disability Strategy to provide a long-term vision of support for and engagement with people with disability, recognising the vital role of carers through the landmark Carer Recognition Act 2010, and developing and implementing the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

These substantial achievements complement the Department’s continuing work to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, ensure access to affordable housing, and build the capacity of vulnerable individuals, families and communities.

Significant achievements

Paid Parental Leave

The Government’s historic Paid Parental Leave scheme, introduced on 1 January 2011, gives working parents more flexibility in balancing work and family responsibilities. By providing the financial security to spend time at home with a new baby in the critical early months, the Paid Parental Leave scheme will improve the wellbeing of families and assist parents, particularly women, to maintain a connection with the workforce.

It is estimated that around 148,000 families each year will be eligible for the scheme and that it will enable employers to attract and retain valuable staff. Many working parents, particularly the self-employed and those in part-time, casual, seasonal or contract work, will have access to secure, paid parental leave arrangements for the first time. FaHCSIA worked collaboratively with other policy and service delivery agencies to ensure the seamless implementation of this important new measure.

Support for families

The Department has overseen the reform of the Family Support Program, improvements to family payments, and the introduction of a non-discriminatory model of income management across the Northern Territory.

The streamlined Family Support Program ensures more flexible, collaborative and coordinated support for vulnerable and disadvantaged families, while reducing red tape for service providers.

Throughout 2010–11, the Department worked toward implementing the Government’s election commitments to make the family payment system fairer, simpler and more responsive to the needs of families. From 1 July 2011, families have access to more flexible advance payments of Family Tax Benefit Part A, giving them more options to choose the amount and timing of advances. Also from 1 July 2011, receipt of the Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement for families on income support will require early childhood health checks for 4-year-olds, to help identify any health issues before children start school, so that they start school ready to learn. For children born or adopted after 1 July 2011, the first fortnightly payment of Baby Bonus is $500 more than the remaining 12 payments, to help with upfront costs. From 1 January 2012, the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A will be increased for teenagers in recognition of the costs of raising older children and to encourage teenagers to achieve a Year 12 or equivalent qualification.

On 1 July 2010, the Government introduced a new non-discriminatory model of income management across the Northern Territory to replace the previous scheme operating under the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The model applies to targeted categories of disengaged and disadvantaged welfare recipients across the Northern Territory, including families referred by the Northern Territory Department of Children and Families. The introduction of this new model was supported by the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

National Disability Strategy and Carer Recognition Act

On 13 February 2011, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the National Disability Strategy, a long-term road map for improving the lives of Australians with disability and their families and carers. For the first time, all levels of government have committed to a unified, national approach to disability issues. FaHCSIA will continue to play a key role in developing and implementing the strategy.

The strategy establishes a 10-year reform agenda for governments, industry and the community to address the barriers faced by Australians with disability. It aims to create better services, programs and community infrastructure to ensure that people with disability can access quality education, health care and job support, as well as buildings, transport and media, so that people with disability can participate as equal citizens.

The Carer Recognition Act 2010, passed on 28 October 2010, formally acknowledges at a national level the roles of carers. This legislation delivers on the Government’s commitment to increase recognition and awareness of the role carers play in providing daily care and support to people with disability, medical conditions, mental illness and those who are frail aged.

National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children

In February 2011 the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children was announced. The plan is a 12-year initiative of the Council of Australian Governments aimed at reducing violence against women and their children. The national plan sets out a framework for action over the next 12 years and will be implemented through four three-year plans. The First Action Plan—Building Strong Foundations was published in the national plan and covers the 2010–13 period.

For the first time, the plan sets out ways to coordinate action across jurisdictions. It is focused strongly on promoting primary prevention, building respectful relationships, working to increase gender equality to prevent violence from occurring in the first place, and holding perpetrators accountable and encouraging behavioural change.

Our strategic direction

Throughout 2010–11, our work was guided by the 2008–10 FaHCSIA Strategic Framework. The framework is our highest-level planning document and provides the foundation for strategic decision making, business planning and budget allocations. The framework expired on 30 June 2011.

During 2010–11, we developed the 2011–14 FaHCSIA Strategic Framework. The new framework reflects our strategic direction for the next three years, to ensure that we remain a strong and effective agency and an employer of choice. The new framework took effect on 1 July 2011 and is available on our website, www.fahcsia.gov.au.

For further information on our strategic and business planning, see Chapter 12—Corporate governance.

Strong financial management

The Department faced a challenging year that required tight financial discipline. By quickly redeploying staff to high-priority activities and at the same time achieving significant supplier savings, a range of new pressures were managed within a tight budget overall. However, some one-off pressures were not fully offset, including the final cost of Centrelink’s transition to direct appropriations as well as the impact of actuarial assessments on employee leave provisions.

Ongoing policy directions

Problem gambling

The Department is playing a central role in addressing problem gambling and the negative impacts it has on individuals, families and communities. The Problem Gambling Taskforce, established in October 2010, provides policy advice to the Government on implementing its commitment to reduce problem gambling, including the implementation of a full pre-commitment scheme for electronic gaming machines.

Disability Long-term Care and Support Report

The Department has been working to support the Government to consider the report of the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Disability Care and Support. The Productivity Commission’s draft report was released on 28 February 2011, and public hearings were held in April 2011. The final report was provided to Government on 1 August 2011 and was released on 10 August 2011.

Supporting people with disability to participate in work and the community

The Department will continue working with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the Department of Human Services to implement measures announced in the 2011–12 Budget, which aim to assist Disability Support Pension recipients who have some capacity to work to participate in the workforce and to improve the quality of Disability Support Pension assessments.

Closing the Gap

FaHCSIA continues to play a critical role in the Government’s national effort to close the gap in life outcomes and opportunities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Government’s agenda to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage is driven by three important imperatives: to overcome decades of underinvestment in services and infrastructure; to encourage and support personal responsibility as the foundation for healthy, functional families and communities; and to build new understanding and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

FaHCSIA has a lead role in implementing the Council of Australian Governments’ National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, which is now producing new and refurbished housing on an unprecedented scale. FaHCSIA is also the lead agency for the Commonwealth in the Cape York Welfare Reform trial, which is improving school attendance, care and protection of children and community safety.

The Government sees the formation of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples as another important step in strengthening Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations. I am pleased that my Department has played an instrumental role in establishing and funding this body, which aims to be a vehicle to provide a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in national policy making.

FaHCSIA and other departments, through the Council of Australian Governments, are working with jurisdictions to help close the gap and have made historic investments across Australia under a number of national partnership agreements. These landmark agreements are critical to overcoming decades of underinvestment in essential infrastructure and services for Indigenous people, and include:

Indigenous constitutional recognition

In 2011–12, one of the Department’s key tasks will be supporting the Government’s commitment to reform the Constitution, to formally recognise the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the history of Australia.

Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be an important step towards building a nation based on strong relationships and mutual respect, and the Government has announced its intention to hold a national referendum during the current term of government or at the next federal election.

As an important part of this process, the Government announced the membership and terms of reference of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians in November 2010. FaHCSIA is providing secretariat support to the panel as it considers how best to work towards constitutional recognition. The panel will report to government by December 2011.

Housing and homelessness

FaHCSIA continues to work to deliver the Government’s social housing and homelessness reform agenda, ensuring Australians have access to affordable, safe and sustainable housing. Much of this work is done in partnership with states and territories under the National Affordable Housing Agreement and associated national partnership agreements including the National Partnership Agreements on Homelessness and Remote Indigenous Housing.

In 2010–11, the Department continued to implement the Social Housing Initiative, a key component of the Government’s Nation Building—Economic Stimulus Plan. Construction commenced on a further 3,000 new social housing dwellings during the year.

In total the Department has supported the delivery of over 14,000 dwellings in 2010–11. These dwellings are located throughout Australian urban, regional and remote locations.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank all the staff of FaHCSIA for the support and commitment they have provided over the year and without whom many of our achievements would not have been possible.

In particular I would like to thank my predecessor, Dr Jeff Harmer AO, and my deputy secretaries, including Rob Heferen who moved to a new position at Treasury during 2010–11, who have made an enormous contribution to the direction and outcomes of the Department, as well as assisting my transition into the Department as Secretary.

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