HON NICK GOIRAN (South Metropolitan) [10.15 am] — without notice: I move —
That this house expresses its grave concern that the instances of dysfunctional decision-making by the McGowan government in the service sectors have now become so regular as to be indicative of a systemic problem.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.47 am]: I rise to comment on this motion. The services sector is a really important part of our community. It needs to be robust and well funded, and any decisions about how it operates need to be strategic and well thought out. When we talk about the services sector, of course, we are talking about a broad range of services. We are talking about education, health and mental health—the sorts of services that have been described as “producing things that you cannot drop on your foot”. We are talking about a huge number of services.
Along with many in this chamber, I have spoken at length about the appalling decisions of the government to cut education services. They have already been mentioned by some of the previous speakers—Perth Modern School, Schools of the Air, Northam and Moora Residential Colleges, community kindergartens and Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre. Although I applaud the government for reversing its bad decisions—I think we should congratulate the government for reversing its poor decision-making—I note that far too many cuts are still ongoing. I want to particularly express my very deep concern about the future of Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre, which is severely at risk of needing to stop providing its services completely. That is poor decision-making, and, I have to say, there is a fair degree of bloody-mindedness in the Minister for Education and Training’s refusal to even contemplate a reversal of that decision. I only hope that some other part of government is able to step in and do the right thing.
I have also raised concerns about cuts to mental health and health services, particularly because a number of community-managed grassroots services that provide essential early intervention and prevention services are now gone. I think about the cuts to Living Proud—what a disgrace. There have even been cuts to Coeliac WA, for goodness sake. These people are providing really important services to the community. There have also been cuts within the government itself, such as to the meth helpline—just short-sighted, really dumb decision-making. There does not seem to have been any real basis or thinking behind how that has happened.
I also want to speak today about the ongoing concerns that the Greens have with the way the government is funding community services. The Western Australian Council of Social Service recently released its state budget submission for the next financial year. The development of that submission resulted from comprehensive consultation with WACOSS member organisations that deliver a wide range of services to some of our most vulnerable community members across the state. The ongoing theme of these consultations was the issue of funding pressure concerns. It is a huge concern of our community services. They are concerned that it has resulted practically in a reduction in service hours, outreach and quality of services. They have real struggles now with staff retention. That is an enormous problem that the government needs to be addressing, because these people are at the front line, and if they are not providing those services, ultimately the government will have to pick up the slack, and that will be a lot more expensive. That is without looking at the human cost of not having those services. I will quote from the report that came out of the pre-budget submission. It states —
A number of services reported contracts established before 2012 that have been extended and rolled-over multiple times, with inadequate indexation and no opportunity to renegotiate funding levels or service outputs.
This means that the services are simply unable to keep up with need, which is absolutely not okay. The non-government sector is struggling as a direct result of this government’s decision-making.
I continue to be very concerned, in addition to that, about the loss of experience and expertise from the public sector. I note that the government has made a decision to gut the public sector. Particularly grave concerns have been raised with me by people who work in child protection, and also community services working around child protection. Their concern is that there are simply not enough workers. A genuine concern is being raised with me that it will take another child death before a strong light is finally shone on the impact of the public sector cuts. That chills me to the bone, and every single person in this chamber should be absolutely horrified that that feedback is coming back from child protection workers. As at 30 June this year, 334 people had left the Department of Communities under the voluntary targeted separation scheme. It has resulted in an environment in which increasing numbers of children receiving child protection services are simply not getting the level of attention they require. It does not make sense to be reducing staff when the amount of work is increasing significantly. Unprecedented numbers of children are being brought into care. There were over 5 000 children in care in Western Australia at the end of June 2018. In this environment, we need to ensure that we are prioritising investment in keeping families together, which is vastly cheaper than providing out-of-home care. However, that is also not happening. There has been a significant decline in the delivery of family support services, which are really essential to ensure that families are kept together and to reduce the need for children to be placed in out-of-home care. Instead, we have seen a reduction in funding and a narrowing of the availability of these services, which is also an enormous concern.
Service delivery in the community has also been adversely affected as a direct result of the machinery-of-government changes. I acknowledge that there were some good intentions in the idea of establishing machinery-of-government changes, most notably the breakdown of the silos between departments. I recognise that that was an important thing to do, and I acknowledge some positive outcomes, particularly in the work between housing and child protection. Unfortunately, overall, it would appear that, particularly within the Department of Communities, the MOG changes have not been good. They have caused a great deal of confusion and uncertainty, which is continuing. I have already talked in this place ad infinitum, but I am going to keep raising it, about the concerns I have about youth justice. That is still up in the air, and no-one knows what on earth will happen with it. Will it finally come out of Corrective Services or not? What will that look like? I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the staff trying to work in that space. It is also impacting on contracts. There is uncertainty around policy direction, and complications and delays that have been caused by the debacle of the machinery-of-government changes. That is a problem.
Because I am a member of the Greens, I am also happy to acknowledge that it is not all bad. There have been some positive things. I welcome the focus on family and domestic violence, and I note that there have been some moves in out-of-home care. Let us see—I hope the Target 120 initiative is able to deliver as it has been promised. We have talked previously about things such as the strategy on homelessness. Even in these instances, the community-managed sector, WACOSS in particular, is still saying that even those planned programs that have the potential to work well need to be co-designed with the people on the ground, because that is where the expertise lies, particularly as we have lost so much expertise in the public service. The MOG process has been and continues to be mired in a lack of communication and transparency, and cuts to the public sector have had a profound effect on the delivery of the services sector. Although I recognise that our state is not flush with funds, not investing in our public sector and our community services more broadly represents very poor decision-making, and will result in greater costs for all of us in the long run.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
The PRESIDENT: Members, I interrupt the debate in accordance with the motion agreed to earlier today.
Debate interrupted, pursuant to standing orders.