Passport to a Positive Future – a roadmap to re-engage early school leavers

1 July 2015  |  

Deborah Fewster is the Head of Policy, Advocacy and Government Relations at Melbourne City Mission. In this guest post she outlines the work being done at Melbourne City Mission’s Melbourne Academy to support students to remain engaged in education.

While mainstream secondary school education and Vocational Education and Training (VET) prepares the majority of Victorian students well for social inclusion and labour market participation, there is a group of younge people with multiple and complex needs who require  different and more intensive models of support.

Every year 10,000 young people are leaving secondary school without completing Year 12, according to Victorian Department of Education and Training data.  Of the 7,000 who move into the VET system immediately after disengaging from secondary education, a staggering 6,000 go on to disengage from VET after just one year.

At a time when the general unemployment rate is at its highest in 13 years – and there are areas with rates of youth unemployment as high as 17 per cent – it’s clear, as Mark Wooden from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research told The Australian recently, that the era when you left school at 15 is well and truly gone. You’ve got to finish school…”

But what does that look like for Victoria’s highest needs learners – say, a young person who is experiencing homelessness, has a two to three year gap in their attendance history, and has complex trauma?

Since 2001, a range of policy measures have been implemented to minimise educational disengagement, optimise school completion and promote effective post-school pathways for young Victorians.  Whilst a primary focus has been on retaining students within the mainstream school system, education policy has recognised that issues such as homelessness, family breakdown, poverty, mental health issues, low self-esteem, previous low attainment, or behavioural issues can compromise a student’s ability to learn within school settings.

Community VCAL programs delivered by non-school Senior Secondary Providers, such as Melbourne City Mission’s Melbourne Academy, provide options – and open new pathways – for students who are at risk of disengaging from education, or who have already disengaged.

Over the past five years, the Melbourne Academy has grown from a pilot program with a single classroom for 20 students, to nine classrooms across seven sites and around 250 enrolments in 2015. Melbourne City Mission is now one of the largest community providers of VCAL in the State.

In 2014, in the context of this growth trajectory – and in light of the complex educational, social and health issues that students present with – Melbourne City Mission wanted to independently test whether (and how) students are ‘better off’ as a consequence of attending the Melbourne Academy.

Researchers from The Victoria Institute at Victoria University were commissioned to evaluate the Melbourne Academy during the 2014 school year, when the program comprised six classrooms across six sites (one each in North Fitzroy, Melbourne CBD, South Melbourne, Sunshine, Braybrook and Maribyrnong) and had 98 formal student enrolments.

The research, led by Associate Professor Kitty Te Riele and launched by the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, The Hon. James Merlino MP, found the vast majority of Melbourne Academy students were ‘better off’ across a range of academic, social and community indicators:

  • Academic achievement – Despite significant educational barriers, 65 per cent of the cohort completed all or part of their VCAL certificate in 2014, and many worked towards VET certificates. Staff, students and parents agree that most students would not have achieved these qualifications without the opportunity to attend the Melbourne Academy.
  • Attendance and participation – 83 per cent of Melbourne Academy students agreed they were more likely to come to school. Over the course of the year, the proportion of students who were ‘engaged’ increased from 44 per cent to 76 per cent in terms of class participation and from 59 per cent to 78 per cent in terms of satisfaction in their own work.
  • Aspiration and motivation – aspiration is pivotal for enhancing young people’s access to post-school pathways. In the student survey, 86 per cent listed working in a job that interests them as their future aspiration and 83 per cent indicated that they were attending the Melbourne Academy to gain their VCAL in order to achieve their goals.
  • Connections with peers and community – a key component of connection to the Melbourne Academy is having family, friends and other significant people supporting and encouraging the young person to do well. In the student survey, 93 per cent indicated they got on better with teachers at the Melbourne Academy; 75 per cent indicated they are with friends at the Melbourne Academy; and 90 per cent indicated their family encouraged them to do well.
  • Social and personal wellbeing – The Engagement Matrix used in the research found significant increases in student confidence (an increase from 54 per cent to 85 per cent) and resilience (from 41 per cent to 68 per cent). Students’ wellbeing is enhanced through increased feelings of pride, self-belief and ownership, and reduced anxiety and depression. 

Features of the Melbourne Academy model that the researchers identified as contributing to positive student outcomes include:

  • Keeping classes small (the student:staff ratio was 14:1 in the largest class in 2014). This lays the foundations for strong staff-student relationships.
  • The teacher-youth worker pairs at each site are the “greatest asset” of the Melbourne Academy. Their complementary expertise enables the provision of holistic support to young people.
  • Combining high expectations with flexible, individualised support is hard work for staff, but pays off as it facilitates success for students.
  • Co-location of Melbourne Academy sites with a range of other youth and community services extends the range of professional expertise available to support young people at short notice and close proximity.
  • The duration of the Melbourne Academy (one to three years, longer than many other flexible learning programs) offers students the stability and time to achieve valuable credentials.
  • Young people are warmly welcomed at the Melbourne Academy without exception: regardless of their circumstances and regardless of their formal enrolment status. New students can join a classroom immediately, rather than waiting until all paperwork has been processed and funding is received for their enrolment.

At a time when youth unemployment is high and demand for flexible learning programs is on the rise, The Victoria Institute evaluation of the Melbourne Academy contributes to the broader public policy conversation about the social and economic cost of early school leaving and the role of community sector providers in the education system, and contributes to the developing evidence base about education re-engagement.

Both the full report and research summary of “Passport to a Positive Future – an evaluation of The Melbourne Academy” by Kitty Te Riele, Merryn Davies, Alison Baker and Luke Swain can be accessed online.

Hard copies of the report – and further information about Melbourne City Mission and the Melbourne Academy – can be obtained from Steve Maillet, Director, Early Years, Education and Employment, Melbourne City Mission via email

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SUB_150624_Charter Human Rights ICON

Chance to strengthen the protection and promotion of Victorians’ human rights

24 June 2015  |  

The review of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights is a chance to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights.

With the Victorian Government currently looking at ways to improve the Charter’s effectiveness and operation as part of a long-term review, an important opportunity exists to improve the promotion, protection and fulfilment of people’s human rights. VCOSS advocates that the Charter should continue to evolve, and be further strengthened to enhance human rights protections, and provide a stronger and more enduring human rights culture in Victoria.

The VCOSS submission to the review recommends strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights in Victoria by fostering a cultural change across government and the community that more deeply embeds human rights. Ultimately, human rights can only be protected if everyone recognises the need to treat all people with respect.

Because developing this type of culture requires ongoing community and government support and leadership, broader access to training and education about human rights, and  mechanisms available to monitor, implement and enforce them are needed

The Charter can be further strengthened by the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to self-determination. These rights are often the most meaningful for vulnerable people, because they relate to the basic necessities of community life and participation, including health, housing, social security and adequate food.

The right to self-determination is particularly important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because of historical and current experiences of dispossession and marginalisation. The Charter can further support overcoming this historical and current disadvantage by including an explicit right to self-determination for Aboriginal people in regard to their lands and waters, the protection of their culture, and early engagement with government policies and procedures that affect their future.

The Charter can also be improved by reducing uncertainty about its application, including clarifying the definition of ‘public authorities’ to give clearer guidance to community organisations about the extent of their obligations under the Charter.

VCOSS presents a number of options for the consideration under the review including:

  • including a mechanism enabling organisations to opt-in to coverage by the Charter
  • expanding the existing regulation-making power to include specific functions of a public nature
  • including a duty to inform non-government agencies of obligations under the Charter.

VCOSS also makes several recommendations to strengthen the human rights dialogue between the Victorian government, parliament, courts and the community and to improve the ability for people to enforce their Charter rights where a public authority has acted inconsistently with human rights or failed to consider human rights in making a decision. As a last resort, where other methods to protect or enforce human rights have failed, access to an effective remedy through the legal system is needed.

The eight-year review of the Charter is being led by independent reviewer Michael Brett Young and is required to provide its final report to government by 1 September 2015.

VCOSS has been engaged in the development and implementation of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) over many years, and continues to advocate for the human rights of Victorians experiencing poverty and disadvantage. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community are also those most likely to have their human rights violated, and since its inception the Charter has provided an important mechanism to help safeguard those rights.

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By under Human rights, Human Rights Charter, Justice
VET Review sub

Strengthening the VET system to support disadvantaged Victorians

16 June 2015  |  

Victoria’s vocational education and training system has undergone significant changes over recent years which are having drastic effects on how well the system works for disadvantaged groups of people. Declining enrolments among disadvantaged groups, poor quality control, and significant funding shortfalls risk undermining the credibility of the system as a whole. The state government is conducting the VET Funding Review to determine the impact of these changes on the capacity of the system ability to meet the needs of industries and communities.

Vocational education provides an important pathway to employment and is an essential tool for tackling a range of barriers to workforce participation, including long-term unemployment, early school leaving, low literacy or numeracy skills, and the need to retrain or up-skill. VET has also provided a very important education pathway for Aboriginal students, students from rural and regional areas, and students from culturally diverse backgrounds. However, current VET funding levels, the recent decline in funding for TAFEs, the inadequate quality control of training and consumer protection of students, risks undermining  the credibility of the VET system and the capacity of the system to engage learners from population groups who face barriers to education, training and employment.

The VCOSS submission to the VET Funding Review outlines recommendations to ensure the VET system is accessible to those in our community who may face barriers to accessing vocational education, and for the VET system to provide a pathway to meaningful employment. The submission also discusses the specific future requirements of the community services and health sectors that will need to be served by the vocational education and training system.

Declining VET and TAFE enrolments

Current data reveals some declines in VET enrolments since 2012, particularly in relation to young people aged 15 to19 (including early school leavers), Aboriginal students and students in rural areas.[1] During this period there has also been a reduction in course enrolments for other vulnerable groups including students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and students with disability, particularly in relation to Certificate I and II levels which are important pathways into higher level courses.[2]

These reductions are influenced by a range of factors, however, the 2012 reforms to the VET funding system are likely to be a significant contributor due to: reducing the capacity of TAFEs to offer student support services, increasing course costs as a result of tightening eligibility requires for access to subsidies and the impact of cuts on VET delivery in rural and regional areas. These changes were compounded by state government funding cuts to the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) Coordinators in 2012 and the closure of a number of programs to support vulnerable young people’s education engagement and pathways to employment, including the federally funded Youth Connection program and a number of Victorian ‘work-ready’ programs.

VCOSS recommends that VET funding models are modified to reflect the additional costs of providing education to higher-needs students, including disengaged young people, young people who are not employed, students in rural and regional areas, students with disabilities, Aboriginal students and students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This should be supported by targeted initiatives which improve enrolments and engagement of people who face barriers to accessing vocational education.

Pathway to employment

Unemployment and underemployment are growing issues for the Victorian community. The unemployment rate in Victoria increased from 4.9 per cent in June 2011 to 6.3 per cent as of February 2015.[3] Young people in Victoria are particularly affected and as of June 2014 the youth unemployment rate was at 13.9 per cent, up from 9.1 per cent in 2011.[4] Given the important role of VET in providing a pathway to meaningful employment, it is recommended that the VET funding review considers options for matching training opportunities to job opportunities and high growth industries. Consideration should be given to the needs of regional and rural learners where there may not be critical mass to offer financially viable training, however, there is a local demand for skilled employees in that area. Additional support for early school leavers and at-risk young people would further help to address this gap. For example, investing in a state wide re-engagement program to provide intensive case-managed support and funding Local Learning and Employment Networks above the $32m already committed to help develop innovative models to reengage young people and provide pathways into the VET system.

Importance of TAFE

The move to a market driven funding model has led to a substantial shift in the proportion of tax-payer funded, government subsidized enrolments away from TAFEs to private RTOs. This has resulted in a significant decline in the financial sustainability of the TAFE sector [5], some campus closures and a sizeable drop in staff numbers.[6] TAFEs play a key role in servicing ‘thin’ markets, engaging members of the community who face barriers to inclusion, providing a broad range of community supports such as library facilities, disability liaison officers, interpreters and counselling support, and improving core literary, language and numeracy skills of students. The important role and value of TAFEs should be recognised through reinstating loading that adequately reflect the greater costs of delivering training in the TAFE sector, such as infrastructure maintenance, IT and library resources, and to enable rural and regional students to access local TAFEs.

There have been concerns highlighted in the media and broader community about the provision of quality training from some for-profit RTOs, including subcontracting delivery, providing 100 per cent online delivery, and allowing students to complete qualifications in less than a quarter of the nominal duration. [7] Other issues include avoiding offering courses in skill shortage areas like the trades which are often expensive to provide and may be subject to more rigorous quality assurance. There have also been reports of unscrupulous practices for enrolling students, including signing up students to VET FEE Help loans they have little realistic prospect of repaying.  It is therefore important that the quality control and auditing process for the VET system is strengthened across all VET providers by placing strong emphasis on the accountability to stakeholders. Other options to strengthen the system include eliminating the use of subcontracting, restricting the role of ‘enrolment brokers’ and requiring RTOs to attract students to their courses through transparent provision of information. Placing a cap of 30 per cent on contestable funding would help to reserve funding for TAFEs and would help to stabilise the sector, while still providing sufficient competition in the sector.[8] This could be supported by a complaints mechanism to help report and deal with poor provider performance in the VET system. The system also needs to provide students with access to information and advice to make informed decisions about appropriate courses and providers.

Support the development of the community services workforce

The Community Services and Health Industry workforce is one of the fastest growing sectors in Australia. It plays a critical role not only in providing employment to Victorians and contributing to the economy but also creating a fairer society. However, there are a range of challenges faced by the community services sector in relation to workforce development, recruitment, funding and service provision which need to be met. Some of these challenges include: uncertainty about whether Australia will have the capacity to meet the increasing demand for health and community services workers, a need to ensure that the community services and health workforce has the right mix of skills and qualifications to meet demand and clients’ complex needs, and a continued need for qualifications and pathways that recognise common skills across similar sectors in community services and health. The restrictive nature of the current funding system, which promotes a linear qualification process has also been identified by the Victorian TAFE Association as posing particular problems for the community service workforce.

The review of the VET system can help to address some of these challenges by ensuring that VET funding models give adequate consideration to the community services workforce to enable it to meet increasing demand into the future and identifying opportunities for recognising common skills across similar sectors in the Community Services and Health Industry. Exemptions to subsided training could be introduced where there are clear benefits to a student in enrolling in a course at the same or lower qualification level, or where the exemption will strengthen the workforce and increase enrolments, including in the community services industry. To help the sector obtain quality graduates, community services and health courses should also be assisted to provide meaningful opportunities for student placement.

[1] Department of Education and Training Victoria, Victorian Training Market Report 2014. Melbourne, 2015.

[2] Department of Education and Training Victoria, Victorian Training Market Report 2014. Melbourne, 2015.

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Australia, Cat. No. 6202.0, February 2015.

[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Australia, Cat. No. 6202.0, October 2014.

[5] Technical and Further Education Institutes: Results of the 2013 Audits. Victorian Auditor Generals Report. August 2014. 2014-15:1 p.vii

[6] The Victorian Public Sector Commission, The State of the Public Sector in Victoria 2013-14. Melbourne, 2015, p. 90.

[7] Yu, S & Oliver, D. The capture of Public Wealth by the for-profit VET sector: A report prepared for the Australian Education Union. The University of Sydney, Sydney, 2015, pp. 4-5.

[8] Yu, S & Oliver, D. op.cit. p. 43.

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Ochre Ribbon campaign to end Aboriginal family violence

11 June 2015  |  

The Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service (FVPLS Victoria) recently launched the inaugural Ochre Ribbon Campaign. The Ochre Ribbon campaign is about raising awareness of the devastating impacts of family violence in Aboriginal communities.

OchreRibbonIt has been designed to symbolise unity within the Australian community, confront the significant issue of family violence against Aboriginal women and children through greater national awareness, and send a strong message that violence against women, children or men will not be tolerated.

A deliberate and considered approach was taken in designing the Ochre Ribbon, with the earthy colour representing land, and the brown lettering of the strong statement, ‘don’t silence the violence’, symbolising Aboriginal people.

Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of FVPLS Victoria said the launch, at Charcoal Lane in Fitzroy was an opportunity for the Aboriginal community, politicians, leaders and supporters to unite and spread the word: “family violence is not part of our culture; it is time to break the cycle of family violence in Aboriginal communities.’

Nationally, Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and 10 times more likely to be killed in a violent assault when compared with other Australian women.  In Victoria alone, police reports of family violence against Aboriginal people have tripled in recent years. Family violence services, like FVPLS Victoria, are stretched to capacity and demand is only increasing.

Family violence is also the leading cause of child protection interventions in Aboriginal communities.  The work of the Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People recently revealed that men’s violence against women is a driving force in up to 95 per cent of Aboriginal children being removed from their families.

The Commissioner, Andrew Jackomos, said recently “If we can address family violence we’ll make improvements on decreasing the numbers of kids in out-of-home care and the numbers of kids who grow up in youth justice and the adult prison system.”

The Ochre Ribbon Campaign is an initiative of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum (NFVPLS) comprising 13 member organisations. FVPLSs provide critical frontline legal and non-legal support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims/survivors of family violence, as well as culturally safe early intervention and prevention to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia. 

Members of the public and organisations are encouraged to share the electronic Ochre Ribbon on social media and make it their Facebook/twitter profile picture. The image can be downloaded from or FVPLS Victoria’s Facebook or Twitter page.  

For further information about the campaign or accessing the Ochre Ribbons please contact Arti Chetty at FVPLS Victoria on 9244 3333.

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VCOSS Submission to DET Review_ICON

Vulnerable children and youth need more education support

10 June 2015  |  

Educational attainment is an important predictor of an individual’s future social and economic wellbeing.[1] Children are likely to achieve better life outcomes if they have access to a high quality education from early childhood through to schooling and on to further education and training. However, many children and young people experiencing disadvantage face barriers that prevent them from obtaining a quality education and developing the skills they need to set them on a positive trajectory.

VCOSS Submission to DET Review_COVERVCOSS’ submission to the Department of Education and Training (DET) review on strengthening regional relationships and supports highlights the issues faced by vulnerable children and young people and the important role the community sector and families play in supporting learning and school engagement.

A significant proportion of children and young people have varied and complex social, health, emotional, developmental and family circumstances that may place them at risk of poor educational outcomes. These children can benefit enormously from access to additional supports, particularly when provided early before problems escalate and knowledge and skills gaps widen. The VCOSS submission makes a number of recommendations to DET to better assist education institutions and communities to support disadvantaged students. These include:

  •  Creating an accessible and inclusive education system for all young people: Universal services such as early childhood services and schools are uniquely placed to support the wellbeing of children and their families, and to link vulnerable families into additional, targeted supports and the broader service system as required. VCOSS recommends DET provide education institutions with greater resources and assistance to better support the wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people, and support inclusive practices that help children and young people thrive.
  • Promoting a holistic and integrated approach: Children and young people’s outcomes are shaped by their home environments, their peers, the community supports and services they and their families access, along with high quality, early childhood services, schools, and Vocational Education and Training. Families and the community services play a key role in students educational outcomes and their overall wellbeing, particularly for vulnerable students who need additional support. VCOSS recommends that DET structures and supports take a more holistic approach to supporting children’s wellbeing and better reflect the interrelated nature of individual students, families, community services and all education institutions.
DET regional structures could also facilitate effective prevention and early intervention approaches by helping communities develop more integrated service delivery models. Evidence suggests that vulnerable children and families have difficulty finding out about and accessing the services they need. As a result, many vulnerable children and young people do not receive the help they need and risk ‘falling through the cracks’ or only getting support once a problem has escalated.[2] Integrated models have been shown to result in a range of positive outcomes for children and young people, including improved school readiness, increased engagement in learning and enhanced education and employment pathways for young people. [3]
A key theme emerging from the research and stakeholder feedback is that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not address the complex needs of communities. There is growing evidence of the benefit that place-based approaches bring to preventing and responding to vulnerability and disadvantage for children, young people and families.[4] DET could help facilitate a progressive expansion of place-based responses across Victoria.

  • Encouraging lifelong learning and engagement: Evidence suggests supporting a young person throughout their whole life, rather than targeting support at particular stages, such as early childhood or adolescence, leads to better outcomes.[5] VCOSS recommends DET structures and functions support a lifelong approach to learning, helping children and young people successfully transition through each stage of education, from early childhood, through to the middle years, adolescence, and on to further education and training. DET could also help children and young people remain engaged in education, by funding programs that provide intensive case-managed support for young people at risk of disengaging, and by expanding flexible learning options across the state.
  • Promoting evidence-based policy and approaches: Place-based initiatives and integrated service models are informed directly by the communities themselves. However, community level data is also valuable in informing stakeholders of the community’s key issues and strengths during the planning stages. Because children and young people’s outcomes are determined by a range of factors spanning individual and family factors, community environments and the learning and school environments, community level data is needed to measure the outcomes of any initiatives, to help drive continuous improvement and achieve the best possible outcomes for children, young people and their families. VCOSS recommends DET’s structure be amended to better facilitate a two-way exchange of information, providing more support to regions to implement policy directions, as well as enabling community level data to be fed back to the central office to inform future policy development.

Further information about the DET review on strengthening regional relationships and supports is available on the department’s website.



[1] Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Addressing entrenched disadvantage in Australia, CEDA, April 2015.

[2] T Moore and A Skinner, An integrated approach to early childhood development: Background Paper, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health, Melbourne, 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] T.G Moore, H McHugh-Dillon, K Bull, R Fry, B Laidlaw and S West, The evidence: what we know about place-based approaches to support children’s wellbeing, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health, Parkville, Victoria, 2014.

[5] Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Op. Cit.

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By under Advocacy, Children, Children and families, Community sector, Community sector strengthening, Education, EMA, Rural and regional, Uncategorized, Young people, Young People and Families
SUB_150511_VEET review_ICON

Setting Victorian Energy Efficiency Targets

9 June 2015  |  

Energy is an essential service for all Victorian households. Its consumption is also a cause of greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change and its adverse effects.

The Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) scheme is designed to make energy efficiency improvements more affordable, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage investment, employment and innovation in industries that supply energy-efficient goods and services.

VCOSS supports this scheme as a measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help prevent the adverse effects of climate change on all Victorians, particularly low-income Victorians.

On coming to office, the Andrews Government committed to guarantee the VEET scheme’s immediate future and to review its target.

SUB_150511_VEET review_COVERVCOSS’ submission to the VEET review recognised the VEET scheme’s primary objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, and that this will assist disadvantaged people in Victoria. Extreme weather events (such as heatwaves) have a disproportionate impact on low-income households. Modelling suggests that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Climate change will affect low-income households, which are least able to adapt their homes to increased temperatures and weather variability.

Our submission also recognised that energy efficiency has other benefits for low-income households. These include helping them adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, as well as helping reduce the fuel poverty and energy affordability pressures they face.

A low-income energy efficiency program of sufficient scale that complements and works with the VEET scheme is needed in addition to other measures that could be taken within VEET to help low-income households improve their energy efficiency. These are outlined in our submission, along with other additional activities that could be included in VEET to improve its operation.

The Victorian government can support low-income households to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, mitigate its causes, and ease the fuel poverty and energy affordability pressures they face, through both the VEET scheme and other measures. As well as being outlined in the VCOSS submission to the VEET review, these are also outlined in VCOSS’ submission to the Inquiry into the Hardship Programs of Energy Retailers. This submission also puts forward what we believe is the optimal energy efficiency policy for Victoria: a substantial publicly funded program that would complement VEET and assist low-income households improve their energy efficiency.

VCOSS looks forward to further discussions through the VEET review and the Inquiry into the Hardship Programs of Energy Retailers, as great opportunities to achieve positive outcomes for people facing disadvantage in Victoria.

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Vale Joan Kirner, a tireless advocate for disadvantaged Victorians

2 June 2015  |  

Today, VCOSS joins with the whole community to mourn the passing of Joan Kirner, former Premier of Victoria and powerful advocate for disadvantaged people.

Joan Kirner was perhaps best known as Victoria’s first female Premier from 1990-1992. Joan was elected to parliament in 1982. Her ministries included Conservation, Forest and Lands, and Education. She was Deputy Premier and during her time as Premier held the position as Minister for Women’s Affairs. Ms Kirner was opposition leader from October 1992 to March 1993 and retired from Parliament in 1994.

Joan Kirner had a long history of political activism, community advocacy and the empowerment of disadvantaged Victorians, for which she was recognised throughout her life. In 2012 Joan was awarded the Companion (AC) of the Order of Australia for her eminent service to the Parliament of Victoria and to the community through contributions to conservation initiatives, gender equality, the pursuit of civic rights and the advancement of social inclusion in Victoria.

Joan Kirner made significant contributions to the recognition, empowerment and mentoring of women throughout her political and community life in Victoria. She co-wrote the bestselling book The Women’s Power Handbook with Moira Rayner. Published in 1999, the book was designed to give women the tools and strategies to get keep and use their power.  In 1996 Joan Kirner co-founded EMILYS’s List Australia, a political network to support the election of more progressive Labour women to Parliament.

Joan was the chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee in Victorian Communities (MACVIC) during 2005-08. In this time she visited over 200 communities and as the honorary Ambassador for Victorian Communities took an enormous personal interest in the success of numerous community groups, in particular those in disadvantaged locations (such as the outer western suburbs of Melbourne, and rural and regional Victoria), and those run by and within the Aboriginal community.

VCOSS was privileged to have worked with Joan Kirner over many years to advance the cause of disadvantaged Victorians. Despite serious health constraints, Joan made herself available for numerous events for VCOSS over the years, generously sharing her wisdom and experiences.

Joan Kirner leaves a powerful legacy as an advocate and pioneer who made Victoria a better, fairer and more socially just community.

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DSS tender process hinders innovation and outcomes, parliamentary report says

2 June 2015  |  

Innovative service delivery and improved outcomes for people facing disadvantage have been hindered as a result of the Department of Social Services (DSS) tendering process, a federal parliamentary inquiry interim report has stated.

The interim findings reflect VCOSS’ belief that federal government budget cuts and other policy measures have caused unprecedented upheaval and widespread uncertainty of services for those facing poverty and disadvantage.

In February 2015, the Senate referred an inquiry into the impact on service quality, efficiency and sustainability of the 2014 community service tendering process by the DSS to the Community Affairs Committee.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) made a submission to the inquiry, discussing the impacts of the tender process and the related budget cuts on community organisations.

In May, the Committee released its interim report, recommending the Commonwealth Auditor-General consider reviewing the DSS tender process, with a view to updating the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines. It stated the review should include an assessment of how the process fared against each of the seven key principles of the guidelines:

  • robust planning and design
  • collaboration and partnership
  • proportionality
  • an outcomes orientation
  • achieving value with relevant money
  • governance and accountability
  • probity and transparency.

In the interim report, the Committee noted that a number of key questions remain unanswered by the department. It will now recall the DSS to the inquiry. The final report into the DSS tendering process is due by 19 August 2015 and will include answers to these remaining questions, along with further recommendations.

The Committee expressed concerns in its interim report that:

“The government’s express goals of innovative service delivery and improved outcomes for service users have actually been hindered as a result of the way that the tendering process was designed and executed.” (p. 6)

The Commonwealth Grant Guidelines state that a sound grants process is marked by the building of productive relationships and a two-way flow of information and views. However, the interim report said that DSS did not properly engage with community sector organisations, and the outcomes of the tender process would have been better if they had done so.

In relation to timeframes, the Committee said

“The timeframes for explaining the new system, applying for funding, requiring successful tenderers to sign contracts and providing feedback to unsuccessful applicants were poorly thought out. It was conducted too quickly, with too many rounds and was undermined by the initial budgetary cut of $240 million and the further cut of $30 million. The timeframes seemed to compound an inherently divisive process…” (p. 15)

The interim report details issues raised by stakeholders during the hearing and submission processes. Some of the issues heard by the Committee include:

  • There was a lack of consultation with stakeholders prior to the tender process
  • The information that was provided by DSS to organisations was piecemeal, inconsistent and convoluted
  • DSS failed to identify and communicate service gaps and a funding strategy to identify priorities
  • The short timeframe limited the capacity for organisations to develop partnerships and collaborative relationships and to submit considered and innovative grant applications
  • The short timeframe to agree to grant offers compromised organisations’ ability to plan and made some organisations feel pressured to sign contracts while unsure about the impacts of funding cuts, or reductions on their ability to deliver the agreed services.

Community sector organisations play a unique role in supporting people to overcome disadvantage and poverty and in responding effectively to short and long-term community needs. They have strong knowledge of the communities they work with and of their specialist program areas. They can offer practical solutions to complex problems and contribute valuable program and policy advice for helping people overcome disadvantage and poverty. VCOSS believes government policy, consultation processes and funding for services can be strengthened by recognising this unique value community sector organisations bring.

* The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee inquiry into the Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering process also remains ongoing. The VCOSS submission to this inquiry can be read on our website.


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By under Advocacy, Community sector, Welfare

Tackling family violence requires long-term, whole-of-community responses

1 June 2015  |  

Preventing family violence, and responding holistically to the people who experience it is complex and multi-dimensional, and beyond the capability of any single sector or organisation to achieve. Tackling family violence requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach, including intensive collaboration with the community sector.

The VCOSS submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence draws on the knowledge and experience of our members to highlight the importance of prevention, early intervention and government and community responses to family violence when it occurs.

The VCOSS submission recognises that the community sector has a significant role to play in addressing one of Victoria’s most profound social challenges. The community sector is an essential partner in developing innovative solutions to address the causes of family violence, in building strong and resilient communities that reduce the risk of family violence and in providing support to victims and their families to address the ongoing impacts of experiencing family violence. Community organisations that have built up relationships with marginalised groups are well placed to promote and deliver programs that tackle entrenched attitudes, behaviours and practices that support or condone violence among people facing disadvantage.

Many people experiencing or perpetrating family violence will first come to the attention of universal or secondary services, including schools, health services and community organisations. Because these services have high levels of participation across the community, they provide a great opportunity to engage families at risk of or experiencing violence, and link them to support. The VCOSS submission recommends the Royal Commission investigate integrated early childhood services, ‘schools as community hub’ models, and other place-based approaches to improving integration between universal and specialist services.

To maximise the likelihood of people receiving the support they need as soon as possible, a coordinated approach is required, where workers and volunteers across the whole service system are able to identify, safely respond and refer people to specialist family violence support. Common risk assessment tools have been developed and designed to ensure workers across all sectors are guided by a consistent framework, with a shared understanding of family violence and risks. Unfortunately, knowledge about the Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF) in the broader community and health services is inconsistent and participation in training has been limited.

Some organisations and workers in the community sector consulted in the preparation of the VCOSS submission were unaware of their ability to access training around the CRAF or thought it was not relevant to them. Some people also thought CRAF training was only appropriate for specialist family violence workers.

However, improving identification and referral of families into the specialist family violence system will not help these families if specialist services are unable to respond and assist them. Family violence services within the community sector are facing overwhelming demand for crisis accommodation, counselling, referral and legal assistance. The publicity around the Royal Commission, as well as improved system responses will only add to the pressure specialist family violence services are experiencing.

The VCOSS submission recommends expansion of specialist family violence services including counselling, crisis accommodation, referrals and legal assistance.

The chronic shortages of public and social housing in Victoria and a scarcity of affordable housing, mean many women and children are unable to secure long-term housing, leading them to stay longer in refuges and crisis accommodation, or face homelessness. Growth in the social housing system is urgently needed, as well as investment in rapid rehousing programs that assist women quickly into secure tenancies.

Initiatives such as ‘safe at home’ programs, which support women and children to remain safely in their homes if they choose to do so, can significantly reduce the trauma and disruption experienced by women and children made homeless by family violence.

Men’s behaviour change programs hold men accountable for their choice to use violence however waiting lists can be anything from several months to up to a year long.

Children are present at about one third of family violence incidents attended by police. Experiencing family violence can have serious and often long-term negative effects for children, including psychological and behavioral impacts, health and socioeconomic impacts, and sometimes, intergenerational violence. Yet there are insufficient therapeutic services to address the trauma experienced by children who are victims of violence.

Adolescent violence in the home is also a growing problem. Many adolescent perpetrators have themselves witnessed or experienced violence or abuse in childhood. Standard police and system responses are often inappropriate when the perpetrator is a young person, and fail to address the specific needs of both the victims and the adolescent perpetrators.

Family violence is a factor in the majority of cases where children are removed from their families. Closer collaboration, more resourcing for child protection workers and shared understanding between family violence and child protection systems would improve support for vulnerable families and strengthen relationships between children and non-abusing parents.

As well as providing specialist support services, community organisations also play an important general role in building connected and resilient communities, which can help reduce risk factors for family violence such as social isolation, poor mental health and drug and alcohol misuse.

However, despite the importance placed on preventing and responding to family violence, and the important role the community sector has to play in this, community organisations across the board are struggling with insufficient funding to meet surging requests for assistance, and respond to the increasingly complex difficulties people are facing. At the base of this funding issue is the need to apply a sustainable and appropriate funding indexation model across the community sector.

More information about the Royal Commission into Family Violence is available on their website. The Royal Commission’s final report is due February 2016.

Support is available for anyone by calling the National Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Helpline 1800 737 732, or the safe steps Family Violence Response 1800 015 188, or Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491.

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By under Family violence
SUB_150407_IAS tendering process ICON

Federal funding cuts hurting Aboriginal people and services

25 May 2015  |  

The severe adverse effects of 2014-15 Federal Budget cuts on Aboriginal people and services have been highlighted by the federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) tender process, VCOSS says in a federal parliamentary submission.SUB_150407_IAS tendering process COVER

VCOSS’ submission to the inquiry into the IAS tender process highlights the adverse effects of these budget cuts on Aboriginal people and services and recommends that the most vulnerable people should be protected from budget savings measures.

It also reports some of the problems with the IAS tender process experienced by VCOSS members and Victorian Aboriginal Community-controlled organisations (ACCOs). These include:

  • Lack of meaningful engagement about the program design and development of an agreed set of outcomes of the reform.
  • Short timeframes that made it difficult to develop collaborative initiatives, especially between mainstream organisations and ACCOs.
  • Competitive tendering creating an environment of competition that discourages collaboration and information sharing.
  • Impact of funding uncertainty on the workforce, including increased staff turnover.
  • Lack of priority given to community control and cultural safety, demonstrated by the fact only 233 of the 964 organisations offered funding through the IAS were Aboriginal community controlled.
  • Large number of organisations offered short-term, one year contracts, meaning they continue to experience workforce instability, are unable to engage in long-term planning and must repeat the tender and negotiation process in a few months’ time.
  • The complexity and timeframes for the tender application resulted in high levels of non-compliance.
  • The new regulatory burden requiring ACCOs to register under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 to receive funding was a substantial financial and administrative burden that discouraged organisations and means resources must be diverted from service delivery.

VCOSS advocates that self-determination should be the basis of policy and system design on Aboriginal issues, empowering communities to take control of their future and decide how to progress. The government could have better embedded self-determination in the IAS tendering process through meaningful engagement with Aboriginal communities and better supporting the growth of the Aboriginal community controlled sector.

The submission is made in response to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into the Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) tendering processes, which opened in March this year.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are broad but include examination of the extent of consultation with the sector, analysis of the organisations that were successful and the potential impacts on service users.

Background to the VCOSS IAS submission

The IAS process streamlined 150 separate funding programs into five. Through the process $860 million will be invested in organisations providing services to Aboriginal people across Australia. Organisations were offered funding in March this year, to commence new contracts on 1 July 2015.

The tendering process came amid a range of 2014-15 Federal Budget measures that will adversely affect Aboriginal people, including:

  • $534 million cut to Aboriginal programs over the forward estimates
  • $160 million of that funding cut from Aboriginal health programs
  • expiration of National Partnership Agreements in Closing the Gap and Indigenous Childhood Development
  • discontinuation of funding for Aboriginal peak and representative bodies including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
  • changes to Medicare and income support and funding uncertainty of mainstream organisations that support Aboriginal people.


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By under Advocacy, Federal Budget, Indigenous