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VCOSS in action: busy times for advocacy

With the election of the Andrew’s government in November last year, the first half of 2015 has proved to be an extremely busy period, with a flurry of inquiries, reviews and consultations providing a multitude of opportunities for VCOSS to capture members feedback, analyse and research the issues and present this to the Victorian Government. We have been busy responding across a wide range of areas, including the value and sustainability of community organisations, family violence, education and training, poverty and the cost of living, justice and human rights, Aboriginal Victorians and community recovery in emergencies. On top of that, in May we conducted a broad State Budget analysis of the Victorian Government’s first Budget, with 14 detailed snapshots of different portfolios.

A Thriving Community Sector

In May, we released Strengthening the State: A Snapshot of Victoria’s Community Sector Charities, which used data from the ACNC to provide an outline of the size and capabilities of Victoria’s community sector. In June, we followed up by releasing Building on the Value of the Community Sector at the launch of our RMIT – VCOSS Research Partnership. The report identifies the value of community sector organisations and how this value can be further built on, to generate even more benefit for people and communities facing disadvantage, and Victoria as a whole. We have worked with the Victorian government to improve the detail of the standard service agreement and advocated for adequate funding indexation to keep up with real growth in costs, including funding for the Equal Remuneration Order which was included in this year’s State Budget.

The launch of the Ageing, Disability and Mental Health Collaborative Panel saw the release of the Community Organisations in a Climate of Change briefing papers, prepared by VCOSS on behalf on the panel, to assist community sector organisations in the move to consumer directed care and the NDIS.

Family Violence

VCOSS has consulted widely with our member organisations in order to complete a comprehensive VCOSS response to the Family Violence Royal Commission. The VCOSS Submission to the Royal Commission highlights that tackling family violence requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach, including intensive collaboration with the community sector, and makes 50 recommendations to address the problem.

Education and Training

VCOSS made a submission to the Victorian Government’s Vocational Education and Training Funding Review, noting the impact of changes to VET funding for access for students facing disadvantage and making recommendations for improving the quality of and access to vocational education and training. We provided a submission to the Department of Education and Training’s Regional relationships and support consultation, outlining the need for greater linkages between different parts of the education with one another and with community services. We have also provided input into the review of School Focused Youth Services and the Parent Payments Independent Review.

Poverty and Unemployment

In June, we hosted a Forum on the lived experience of Poverty, featuring Linda Tirado, a U.S. anti-poverty advocate and author of Hand to Mouth: Being Poor in a Wealthy World. This followed on from the April release of our unemployment edition of Insight Magazine.

The Cost of Living

Our submission on energy hardship to the Essential Services Commission review of the Financial Hardship Arrangements of Energy Retailers discusses the need for stronger regulatory control on the operation of hardship schemes. In addition, we contributed a submission to the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target Scheme, making the case for a dedicated program to assist low-income households with the cost of energy efficiency improvements to reduce their energy costs.

Justice and Human Rights

We provided a submission to the 8-year Review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act, advocating strengthening the legislation and including a broader array of economic, social and cultural rights. We also responded with a submission to the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners in Victoria.

Aboriginal Victorians

VCOSS has been deeply concerned at the changes being made by the Federal Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, and the widespread cuts to Aboriginal-controlled organisations in Victoria and across the nation. We highlighted the impact of these cuts in our submission to Inquiry into the Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering process, held by the Senate Committee on Finance and Public Administration.

Emergency Management

At our sold-out VCOSS-MAV Emergency Management Forum, we launched our report One year on: Morwell and the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire. The report documents the experiences of community organisations and continuing need for services in Morwell to recover from the experience of the Hazelwood Mine Fire.

While the first half of 2015 provided the VCOSS team and our members with the multiple opportunities to provide feedback into consultation processes and to advocate for a fair and just Victoria, the rest of the year offers many more chances to influence policy and shape the future directions of the state. This includes significant reviews already announced in the areas of education, disability abuse and neglect, community sector portable long service leave, rental housing reform and the re-opening of the Hazelwood Mine Fire inquiry. We look forward to working with VCOSS members to provide detailed analysis and strong advocacy over the coming months.

In July and August 2015, VCOSS is hosting a series of consultation and information forums around Victoria about the current community sector environment, key issues for the VCOSS State Budget Submission 2016-17 and other policy priorities.