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Build the community sector and social cohesion

Build the community sector and social cohesion

Community and public services form the community’s social safety net. When well-funded and staffed with talented, skilled workers, they can collaborate in service design, delivery and evaluation to help build strong, resilient communities.

Community sector organisations support people to overcome challenges and help prevent them becoming isolated, vulnerable and impoverished. They help tackle the causes of poverty and disadvantage by delivering services and policy advocacy. Victoria’s community sector helps create strong, cohesive and inclusive communities, where everyone is supported to overcome barriers and fulfil their potential.

The social economy, which puts people before profits, is now a major component of our economy and society. Victoria’s community sector charities form an $11 billion industry employing more than 135,000 people. In regional centres, community sector charities are often major employers.[1]

The Victorian government can support this industry through steady funding streams and sensible regulation. Community sector organisations need sustainable and appropriately indexed funding to maintain and develop their services, and to account for the full cost of service delivery, including planning, infrastructure and administrative support. They need streamlined reporting and compliance requirements.

Public funding comprises 53 per cent of community sector charity income,[2] meaning public funding variability is its biggest financial risk. With clear, sensible and certain funding, organisations can maintain their focus on designing and delivering effective services, rather than spending significant time managing financial uncertainty, and endlessly reapplying for funding. Short-term funding, unnecessarily complex procurement, and excessive competitive tendering weakens community organisations and inhibits collaboration.

Similarly, community organisations are only as strong as their people. The more skilled, engaged and innovative the community sector workforce is, the more effectively it can work with people. With community services growing rapidly, strategically finding and training new workers can not only help empower marginalised people, but provide new employment opportunities and economic growth for Victoria.

Budget investments

Empower communities to deliver local solutions with a social innovation fund

The Victorian government can empower communities by creating a social innovation fund to back place-based approaches to delivering local solutions to poverty and disadvantage. Place-based approaches facilitate government, non-government, private sector and community collaboration, to design and deliver services that build on local strengths and tackle local issues.

When resourced adequately, community organisations are well-placed to facilitate place-based approaches, without diverting resources from existing programs and services.

When resourced adequately, community organisations are well-placed to facilitate place-based approaches, without diverting resources from existing programs and services. With their local knowledge and networks, they can foster relationships between a diverse range of people, organisations, businesses and services. Such collaboration can deliver cooperatively designed initiatives, and develop agreed outcome and evaluation measures.

Strong organisations can engage in place-based approaches to develop local solutions to social problems. Effective place-based approaches bring together community members, community organisations, businesses, governments and public services to solve problems by building on local strengths.[3] They empower people to develop and drive their own innovative community solutions, and integrate them successfully over the long term. They help build stronger communities that are better equipped to help families overcome entrenched poverty and disadvantage.

Community organisations have significant experience and expertise to facilitate place-based approaches. They draw on their local knowledge and networks to make them work. However, they often lack the funds and flexibility to participate effectively while still delivering existing programs and services.

A social innovation fund can overcome this and enable communities to drive local solutions that empower all Victorians to connect, fulfil their potential, and share the benefits of social and economic growth.

Figure 1: Place-based approaches for local solutions… a recipe for success


Source: Victorian Council of Social Service, Communities taking power, October 2016, p. 21.


Develop a community sector workforce plan

The Victorian government can invest in a community sector workforce plan to facilitate rapid projected workforce growth and substantial service delivery changes.

This would help facilitate the projected rapid growth in demand for community sector workers, and substantial service delivery changes, with an industry plan led by the sector, developed in partnership with government. This can include collecting baseline data on the skills and capabilities of the sector’s existing workforce, and identifying skills gaps and employer needs.

These data can track changes over time, and prioritise workforce development, attraction and retention so Victoria can lead the way in supporting the jobs of the future.

The community sector is growing rapidly, fuelled by the NDIS rollout, Family Violence Royal Commission investments, and aged care growth. Nationally, the health and social assistance industry will produce the most jobs over the next five years.[4] The Victorian community sector already employs 135,000 workers.[5] Community sector workforce growth will be a major source of new jobs in Victoria, but skills and worker shortages are likely to occur without careful planning.

The current lack of community sector data collection and workforce planning could hamper job creation. Organisations may not be able to attract qualified, skilled staff in the locations where jobs are expanding. Whilst workforce issues are being considered as part of the Family Violence Royal Commission recommendations, a holistic industry plan for the entire social service sector is required. Other states have been working with their Councils of Social Service to develop broad industry plans covering the entire service spectrum.

A workforce plan could also help grow Aboriginal representation in Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, and in non-Aboriginal community organisations to improve the cultural fit of non-Aboriginal services for Aboriginal clients. This can include developing education and training pathways for Aboriginal people, helping organisations develop workplace policies supporting Aboriginal employees, and gathering data that tracks Aboriginal employment growth.


Introduce a fair indexation method

The Victorian government can annually index community sector funding using a formula that accounts for the rising real costs of service provision. This will help maintain the quality and availability of services for people experiencing disadvantage.

Government community service funding does not keep pace with rising service delivery costs. Indexation is 2 per cent per annum, while community sector minimum wage increases have been 2.4–3 per cent, [6] on top of mandated Superannuation Guarantee Levy increases, and recent inflation rates increasing by between 1.1 and 3.2 per cent.[7] Indexation of only 2 per cent is a real funding cut (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Differences between indexation and estimated costs


Resource Aboriginal community-
controlled organisations to facilitate
treaty discussions

The Victorian government can support the Aboriginal community’s treaty and self-determination discussions by resourcing Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) to participate.

Aboriginal Victorians have called on the Victorian government to resource a treaty-negotiation process. Advocates believe a treaty could help:

  • recognise past wrongs and apologise for them
  • recognise Aboriginal land rights and sovereignty
  • recognise Aboriginal self-government within Victoria
  • exchange land rights for financial and other benefits
  • create a new relationship for future dialogue.[8]

VCOSS strongly supports empowered Aboriginal communities directing their own self-determination.

“At the moment, our definition of leadership is giving Aboriginal Victorians a seat at the table. But real leadership is about making it their table too. Our effort must have heart, and it must have ears. It must be for Aboriginal people and by Aboriginal people.”[9]

– Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria

ACCOs hold community positions of trust, legitimacy and leadership, so they can facilitate community engagement in these conversations. However, ACCOs need dedicated funding to engage in self-determination and treaty discussions, to avoid diverting resources from frontline service delivery.

Strengthen neighbourhood houses

The Victorian government can help people facing disadvantage engage and connect with their communities by supporting neighbourhood houses in growth corridors and other priority locations.

Neighbourhood houses help improve community health and wellbeing by enabling people of any ability, background or age to connect, learn and share in an inclusive environment. They are a cost-effective way of strengthening communities and improving people’s wellbeing, reducing reliance on acute health and other interventions.

Victoria’s Neighbourhood House Coordination Program funds about 370 neighbourhood houses. There are more than 30 unfunded neighbourhood houses in fast growing areas such as Carrum, Geelong West and St Andrews. The regional Neighbourhood House Networks funding formula leaves rural and remote neighbourhood house committees under-resourced to meet complex governance requirements and remain sustainable.

Every year, a neighbourhood house can:

  • Support more than 20,000 community engagements
  • Support 1,400 programmed opportunities for social, community and economic participation
  • Leverage a 6:1 value from every dollar invested
  • Provide 5,800 hours of employment
  • Provide 2,600 hours of volunteering opportunities.[10]

Further strategies

Develop an overarching social policy strategy

The Victorian government can improve the lives of people experiencing disadvantage by developing a cohesive whole-of-government social policy strategy. Victoria has many specific plans and strategies seeking to address particular barriers to successful economic and social participation. However when developed in isolation, objectives and strategies can fail to align, meaning they can contradict one another or pull in separate directions. A whole-of-government social plan, and political leadership to bring all the relevant plans and strategies together, could deliver a flagship direction for Victorian social policy.

Cut red tape

The Victorian government can strengthen the community sector by cutting red tape. Victorian charities spend almost 300 hours, and more than $23 million each year meeting government reporting obligations.[11] One way to quickly reduce this reporting burden is to work with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to become a ‘Charity Passport Partner’.[12] This would enable the ACNC to share information collected from registered charities with Victorian government agencies, reducing the number of reports charities need to submit to different government agencies, in line with
the ACNC’s ‘report once, use often’ framework.

Reduce compliance costs by simplifying fundraising

The Victorian government can significantly reduce the regulatory burden on not-for-profit community organisations by repealing the Fundraising Act 1988. Victorian community sector charities raise nearly $1 billion per year through donations and bequests.[13] The Fundraising Act 1988 means charities spend more than $15 million per year nationally on unnecessary reporting and compliance requirements.[14] Fundraising can be regulated better by other laws, including Australian Consumer Law (a proportionate, risk-based model), which Consumer Affairs Victoria recently used to successfully prosecute a charity for misleading conduct.

Provide funding stability

The Victorian government can value long-term relationships between community organisations and people, by providing long-term funding and minimising use of competitive tendering, to enable service continuity. Working with vulnerable people requires strong relationships and these take time to build. Sudden disruptions that sever connections between organisations and the people they work with risk destroying these relationships, which can take many years to rebuild. Disrupting services carries the risk of people not engaging with new services and breaking therapeutic relationships.

Support social enterprise

The Victorian government can support community organisations to generate independent income streams through social enterprises. As well as improving organisations’ financial position, this income can then be used to fund additional services for Victorians. The government is producing a social enterprise strategy that can raise the profile of social enterprises, build skills and knowledge about them in the community sector, and assist their development by purchasing goods and services from them.

Improve social cohesion

The Victorian government can strengthen social cohesion by supporting organisations working with multicultural communities to build on Victoria’s open, accepting and diverse society. The government’s Social Cohesion Framework has largely allocated funding to pilots and start-ups, rather than strengthening existing services. Mainstream organisations have been preferred over specialised multicultural organisations embedded in local communities.[15] These organisations have developed long-term trusted relationships and networks with multicultural people and communities, best placing them to work with isolated, marginalised people.

Support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

The Victorian government has allocated welcome resources for refugees and asylum seekers, including the recently announced refugee health package. The government can support settlement and social and economic participation of the 4000 Syrian refugees expected in Victoria by bolstering community services in settlement areas, particularly in rural and regional areas.

Trauma-informed approaches for newly arrived refugees helps prevent potential mental and physical illness, social and relational difficulties, and poor academic and employment outcomes. Child-focused wrap-around services integrated with schools, hospitals, maternal and child health and other allied health services can help children and young people integrate well. Effective services for this group can develop trust and understanding for newly arrived refugees accessing services.

The Victorian government can provide diverse support, including for employment and training, health, social cohesion, youth issues and education. Emergency relief and housing services in popular settlement areas will experience increased demand. The government can fund more child and family services, as well as family violence support services, including translators. Increased staff training in cultural awareness, sensitivity and competency can deliver more effective services.

Strengthen the Human Rights Charter

The Victorian government can promote, protect and fulfil the human rights of every Victorian by building a stronger and more enduring human rights culture. When everyone is treated respectfully, human rights are protected.Community and government support, leadership, and expanded human rights education can help develop this culture.

The Victorian government announced full or partial support for 45 of the 52 recommendations of the 2015 Independent Review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Progressing these recommendations helps strengthen the Charter and builds a stronger human rights culture. However, the government deferred some important decisions, including rights enforcement mechanisms and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s jurisdiction to resolve Charter complaints.

VCOSS recommends economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to self-determination, be included in the Charter. People often find economic, social and cultural rights most meaningful, because they relate to basic necessities of life, including access to healthcare, housing, social security and adequate food.

Strengthen disaster resilience

The Victorian government can support the community sector to use close community ties, willingness, specialist skills, assets and capacity to contribute more to disaster resilience. Community organisations can help people better prepare for emergency events and respond to them afterwards. Research with community organisations shows:

  • More than 70 per cent can deliver community education programs teaching people about local extreme weather risks and preparing for potential impacts
  • More than 60 per cent can plan for collaborative service provision during extreme events
  • More than 60 per cent can warn service users abouta predicted extreme weather event
  • About 40 per cent can evacuate people from high-risk areas before a predicted extreme weather event.[16]


[1]      Victorian Council of Social Service, More than Charity: Victoria’s community sector charities, July 2016.

[2]      Ibid. p. 11.

[3]      Victorian Council of Social Service, Communities taking power: using place-based approaches to deliver local solutions to poverty and disadvantage, October 2016.

[4]      Australian Government Department of Employment, Industry Employment Projections 2016 Report, March 2016, p. 1.

[5]      Victorian Council of Social Service, More than Charity:Victoria’s community sector charities, 2016.

[6]      Fair Work Commission, National Minimum Wage Orders, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

[7]      Australian Bureau of Statistics, Consumer Price Index Australia, Cat. No. 6401.0, 2015.

[8]      Aboriginal Victoria, Treaty Fact Sheet, 2016.

[9]      D Andrews, Premier of Victoria, Closing the Gap event, Queens Hall, Parliament House, 18 March 2015.

[10]    Association of Neighbourhood Houses and Learning Centres, Neighbourhood House Survey 2013.

[11]    Victorian Council of Social Service, More than Charity: Victoria’s community sector charities, July 2016, p. 26.

[12]    See Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Charity Passport, accessed 13 September 2016.

[13]    Victorian Council of Social Service, More than Charity: Victoria’s community sector charities, July 2016, p. 11.

[14]    Deloitte Access Economics, Cutting Red Tape: Options to align State, Territory and Commonwealth charity regulation, Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, 2016, p. 39.

[15]     Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, Pre-Budget 2016-17 Submission to Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance, February 2016.

[16]    K Mallon et al, Adapting the Community Sector for Climate Extremes, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 2013, p. 286.