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01 - Editorial
  1. Labor

  2. Green


  1. Green

  2. Labor

Don’t risk your vote not being counted. On the large ballot paper for the Legislative Council, number at least two squares above the line, or at least 15 squares below the line.


ACCDP Special election edition – NSW state election March 2023


ASU members are essential workers.  We work in non-government, not-for-profit organisations that support people experiencing or at the risk of experiencing crisis, disadvantage, social dislocation, or marginalisation. 

ASU members are highly skilled practitioners. They hold qualifications in law, psychology, management, social sciences, welfare work, disability work, social work, youth work, child protection, aged care and community work, mental health, drugs and alcohol counselling and a long list of other specialist qualifications.  Our members also include clergy of many faiths.

ASU members work with people across the state, regardless of their age, gender identity, culture, or circumstance who are experiencing or escaping violence. They work to protect vulnerable women, babies, children, young people, men and families in their own homes, in out-of-home care, in refuges and in after care.  Our members also work to protect those same people when they are homeless, living in cars, on the streets, ‘couch surfing’, and in other dangerous circumstances.  Our members provide case work, crisis intervention, referral, financial and other support for individuals of all ages and families experiencing poverty, isolation and homelessness, gambling, drug and alcohol addictions, disability, mental health issues, overwhelming legal and financial problems, very young parents and those who are refugees or have other settlement issues.

Our members have lived and worked throughout the past five years of rolling disasters – fire, flood, drought, hail, COVID and now a cost-of-living crisis that has laid bare the insecurity that is in many of our communities.

Our members understand first-hand the pain that many people and communities are experiencing.

Our members are highly skilled and experienced professionals. They understand what needs to be done so that people can live in safety and dignity, without going without food so that their children have enough to eat and somewhere safe and clean to live.

Our members want to deliver services at world’s best practice standards, and they know that they can’t do this without sustainable funding for their services so that there are safe staffing levels, access to accredited training, portable entitlements and fair wages.

The current state government has failed our members – just like it has failed our communities.
ASU members understand the power of collective action.  There will be a state election in NSW on Saturday, 25 March. We have asked the Premier, and his government to tell us what they will do to make things better. We have not heard back. However, we have looked at the record of the current NSW State Government.

We have also asked the Leader of the Labor Opposition, Chris Minns and the Greens Party, what they plan to do to make things better for ASU members and the communities in which we work.
We have a Scorecard that shows what each of
the major political parties (Liberal-National Party Coalition, ALP and Greens Party) have said they will do on the issues that our members have told us are their priority issues.

ASU members are smart.  They don’t need to be told how to vote.  But they don’t want to be taken for granted.  Take a look at the ASU Election Scorecard below and make up your own mind about which political party will do the right thing for you and your family and your community.


How ever you vote at the state election on 25 March, don’t risk your vote not being counted.  On the small ballot paper for the Legislative Assembly, number at least two squares.  For example:

02 - Labor’s Plan for Better Jobs
About the authors

Jodie Harrison MP -  Jodie Harrison is the ALP Member for Charlestown. She is Shadow Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Seniors, and Women.  She is also a member of the NSW Parliament's Committee on Children and Young People. Jodie grew up ion Sydney’s south western suburbs and as an adult moved to the Lake Macquarie region, where she was a local Councillor and first Mayor of that city.  She is a long term union member, and former union official.


Kate Washington MP -  Kate Washington is the ALP MP for Port Stephens.
She is the Shadow Minister for Family & Community Services and Shadow Minister for Disability Inclusion

Labor’s Plan for Better Jobs & Fairer Funding for Community Services in NSW

Authors: Jodie Harrison and Kate Washington


The Problem:


The community services sector in NSW is one of the fastest growing industries in our state. There are more than 7,800 non-government organisations operating in the sector, employing more than 240,000 workers and providing support to over one million people each year. The vast majority are small to medium size, with fewer than 20 employees.  We know that one in four community sector workers are employed on short-term contracts.
Community services workers are mainly women workers. They are essential workers who have been at the frontline of supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our community throughout the pandemic, fires, droughts, and floods.  Under the NSW Coalition Government these essential services have faced insecure funding arrangements: They have faced short term funding cycles where organisations constantly reapply for funding across several programs and departments. This can be complex, onerous, and often duplicative. They have faced divisive tendering processes that force organisations to compete rather than collaborate, and which lead to a race to the bottom on wages and conditions in a female dominated sector dependent on Award wages.  Under the NSW Coalition Government both service users and the workers supporting them are losing out.

Labor’s Plan: 


To support women workers in this growth industry, to support good jobs in the community sector, and ultimately to support quality services to the people of NSW, Labor commits to a better way of supporting essential community services workers.

NSW Labor will transition to a sustainable funding cycle of minimum 5-year arrangements for key community service providers across all departments. With longer-term funding will also come obligations on providers to ensure that jobs in the community sector are good jobs for the thousands of women workers. There will be some instances where longer or shorter timeframes are appropriate instead. 

We will establish a taskforce to engage with the sector on the development of a new funding framework and jobs compact. The taskforce will work to ensure that funding practices of the Government include:


  • Standardised definitions, reporting, and contract management across government funded programs 

  • A whole-of-government prequalification process so organisations only demonstrate once they have met their threshold obligations. 

  • Reviewing funding models to stop the race to the bottom on wages, provide secure jobs and ensure adherence to Award conditions.

  • Transparent and adequate indexation of funding so services can meet the requirements of Fair Work Commission Award wage decisions.

  • Labor will also value the role of advocacy as a key component of the work of the community sector who are champions for their communities. Funding agreements should not include barriers to advocacy and for-profit providers will not receive funding for essential frontline services such as child protection, homelessness, and domestic violence.

Under Labor service providers will have the freedom to plan for the future, workers in the sector will have more secure jobs and the sector will be able to focus on the interests of their service users and communities. 

The High Cost of Doing Business report, delivered by NCOSS explored the administrative burdens faced by five NGOs.  It showed us that the average number of funding sources and related contracts being managed at any one time was 14.8. These grants had varying reporting requirements of twelve months, six months, or quarterly and that at least a third of organisations reported difficulties recruiting and retaining staff., with 1 in 4 workers are employed on insecure short-term contracts.

Under Going Home Staying Home “reforms” of women’s refuges in 2014, tendering processes saw women’s refuges decimated as they were forced to compete in a race to the bottom. 

What will be the benefit to providers?

Longer term contracts will provide certainty and stability to the sector. NGOs will be able to provide more secure and predictable employment practices – for a workforce that is predominately women – and therefore better services for the most vulnerable people in our community. 

Administration costs will be reduced without the burden of regular recruitment and termination costs. Staff retention rates will improve and services will see better managed growth and organisational planning. 

What will be the benefit to workers in the sector:

Longer term contracts will ensure more secure jobs providing certainty to workers at the frontline of essential services in NSW.  Removing the race to the bottom on wages and conditions in the sector means women workers will not be asked to do the same job for less as a result of Government tendering.

Who does it apply to? 

All NGOs that receive NSW Government funding, for example,  domestic and family violence, child, youth and family services, community mental health services, homelessness services, drug and alcohol services, neighbourhood centres.

Why doesn’t the government already do this? 

The NSW Coalition Government has failed to properly respect and value the work of the community services sector who are heroes of the pandemic. Community services and their workers have been calling for these reforms for a decade and they have failed to act. 

Do other states do this?


  • Queensland - Dept. of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services have five-year service agreements in place with funded service providers, where appropriate. 

  • WA – standard length of community service contracts is five years (commonly as three-plus one-plus one contract terms) 

  • NT – considering scope for five-year contracts with an option for extension of 2 years. 


In the disability services sector, Labor is committed to making NSW a leader in disability inclusion, employment, and education. A Labor government is committed to:

  • All government documents relevant to people with intellectual disability being in Easy Read by 2025.

  • 5.6% of the government workforce being people with disability, including people with intellectual disability. 

  • A working party to advise a Labor Government on guardianship reform.

  • A more inclusive experience in schools - and pathways for people with disability to become teachers and school support staff.

  • Raising recruitment and retention of people with a disability through NSW Government departments.

  • Inclusive healthcare – with a new program across 10 hospitals.

  • Boosting NSW as a tourism destination by enhancing accessibility and disability inclusion

03 - Pride in our union during WorldPride in our city
About the author

Angus McFarland -  Angus McFarland is the Secretary of the Australian Services Union (NSW & ACT). Angus first joined the ASU in 2010 as an organiser working on the Equal Pay campaign. In his time at the ASU, he has supported members to grow their union across all sectors, including the community and disability sectors.  Angus is committed to supporting all ASU members across the very diverse workplaces represented by the ASU.  Together with members and delegates he has led the ASU’s campaign to Make the NDIS the Best it Can Be. He recently appeared at the Disability Royal Commission advocating for the importance of a portable leave scheme and a portable training entitlement for disability support workers. He is a member of the DSS Workforce Industry Reference Group.  Angus is proud to lead the fastest growing union in Australia.

Pride in our union during WorldPride in our city

Author: Angus McFarland


It is with great pride that I was invited as the new Secretary of the ASU NSWACT Services Branch to address Union Pride at the beginning of WorldPride in Sydney.

At a time when we are working together towards a successful YES vote in the referendum on The Voice I want to start by acknowledging the pain that this process can cause for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members. Queer communities know that public referendums and judgments on our rights can be painful and confronting.  I’m sure that all members of Union Pride, our supporters and allies are committed to do whatever we can to support First Nations members in their struggle for recognition and justice.

Members at the ASU work across public services, the private sector and in the community and disability sectors. We are also the union for many of the community organisations that support our community – organisations that include ACON, Bobby Goldsmith, NAPWHA, AFAO, Twenty 10, Positive Life, HALC, ASHM, SWOP and Equality Australia.

ASU members were at the first Mardi gras. We were at the last one and we’ll be at the next one!

WE have a proud history of supporting diversity in our union & workplaces. 15 per cent of our members, 25 per cent of our delegates and 25 per cent of our staff identify as queer.

The ASU established Unions for Marriage Equality over 10 years ago, building a coalition of support and activism within our union movement.

Right now, our ASU Pride group is focused on gender affirmation leave policies and campaigns to support our trans members and we are working with other union members in our workplaces to make sure that we can genuinely have pride in those workplaces, certain that our rights will be recognized and upheld.  There can be no workplace equality while ever LGBTIQ+ workers do not feel safe and equal in their workplace.

As queer people we know, and as unionists we know, that none of us are equal until all of us
are equal.

We know that unity, solidarity, activism and hope trump hate fear division and bigotry every time.

That’s what makes us union and that’s what makes us queer activists. And that’s why we must all support each other – especially our trans comrades – when others try to divide us or attack any of us or propose different rights for different people.

Congratulations to Union Pride for the work that they did during Mardi gras and WorldPride and for the work that they continue to do in support of queer union activists and queer workplace rights.

We need to support each other. Every worker, every member, every delegate, every organiser, every official should feel welcome, valued and included in our movement.

You can’t be a progressive activist if you’re not a unionist, and comrades you are not a unionist if you don’t stand in solidarity with our community in the struggle for justice, equality, recognition and dignity for all.

04 - We’re asking politicians to commit to change at the next election
About the author

Dr Lucy Watson - Lucy Watson is ACON’s Manager Policy, Strategy and Research. Prior to joining the Policy, Strategy and Research team in 2021, Lucy was a part of ACON’s Alcohol and Other Drugs and Mental Health Programs. Lucy was previously an editor of Archer Magazine, and a sessional academic at the University of Sydney and UNSW. Her PhD was conferred from the University of Sydney in 2020.  Lucy is a proud ASU member, delegate and activist.  She recently spoke as part of an ACCDP panel during WorldPride. The discussion can be viewed here: ACCDP webinar 2023 - Pride in your workplace

We’re asking politicians to commit

to change at the next election

We are asking because our communities deserve this: we deserve human rights, justice, access to services, better health outcomes, and lives free from stigma and discrimination.

Author: Lucy Watson


ACON is NSW’s leading health organisation specialising in HIV responses and community health for people of diverse sexualities and genders. We were established in 1985 and have a long history of working with our partners to seek collective commitments from politicians every election cycle.

As ACON began to look toward the NSW State Election, as with previous elections, we identified the strength in working collectively with our partner organisations to identify our core priorities for candidate commitments.

This election, we are working with our partners at BlaQ Aboriginal Corporation, Equality Australia, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, Hepatitis NSW, Positive Life NSW, the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), and Twenty10. 

Together, we serve many diverse and resilient communities that overlap, intersect, and diverge. Our organisations work with:


  • members of sexuality and gender-diverse communities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual communities (LGBTIQA+), and subsets of these populations 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of these communities, including Sistergirls
    and Brotherboys

  • young members of these communities

  • people living with or affected by blood-borne viruses (BBVs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, including subsets of these populations (such as sex workers, or gay and bisexual men who are living with or at risk of HIV).

The communities we work with are bound by some common experiences of stigma, discrimination, human rights violations, and a number of key health inequities and challenges. It is necessary to acknowledge that the experiences of people in our communities are not homogeneous. Many in our communities experience compounding and multiple forms of marginalisation that need to be addressed in targeted and intersectional ways.

As a collective, we came up with 39 priorities and compiled them into a questionnaire to share with the major political parties and key independents. The priorities cover several key areas, including:


  • HIV, BBVs and STIs

  • Community organisations, partnerships, and research

  • Inclusion in government decision making and delivery

  •  Human rights and justice

  •  Our communities’ health and access to services

  • Alcohol and other drugs

  • Safety

We’re asking politicians to commit to change at the next election: to ensure that government services, legislation, policies and strategies, and community organisations and research all work to better include our communities, and enable us to live healthy lives, free from stigma and discrimination. 

We are seeking funding commitments in successive HIV, BBV and STI Strategies, as well as the NSW LGBTIQ+ Health Strategy. We are asking for indexation of community organisation funding; an expansion of the peer workforce and peer-led research; intersectional collaboration across government portfolios; inclusive service provision; and a centralised government agency for LGBTIQ+ communities. 

We are also seeking reform to the Anti-Discrimination Act, legal recognition of trans and gender diverse people’s gender identities, a repeal of the Mandatory Disease Testing Act, and changes to the Public Health Act. 

We are asking because our communities deserve this: we deserve human rights, justice, access to services, better health outcomes, and lives free from stigma and discrimination. This election is an opportunity to seek commitments for action on what we deserve. 

To view responses to our Candidate Questionnaire that have been submitted so far from major parties and independents, please visit

05 - NCOSS Policy Platform 2023

NCOSS Policy Platform 2023:

Working together for a fairer NSW

Author: Joanna Quilty


Over the past three years, people in NSW have faced unprecedented upheaval, as the state has been hit by fires, floods and a pandemic. The evidence tells us that collectively, these events have contributed to increased housing insecurity and homelessness, and a spike in domestic violence across the state. More people have experienced anxiety and depression, while children’s safety, social development and educational outcomes have been negatively impacted, with potentially lifelong implications.

In recent months, stagnant wages along with multiple interest rate rises and inflation at a 32-year high have seen the cost of living soar, with floods and the war in Ukraine adding to the upheaval. These economic headwinds are forecast to continue, as is extreme weather. Concerningly, the impacts of these events are not felt evenly. Particular regions and groups in the community bear the brunt. Beyond individual impacts, there are flow-on economic costs from reduced productivity and participation, and increased demand on our social service, health and other systems.

During these unprecedented times, frontline social service organisations have lifted communities up and supported those doing it toughest. But these organisations face an uphill battle responding to the rising tide of demand, all too often dealing with their own scarcity of resources and depleted finances. The importance of learning from these last few years - and investing wisely to prevent entrenchment of disadvantage and widening inequality – cannot be overstated. As the recent Independent Review of Australia’s COVID-19 Response has found, being prepared for future crises depends on our ability to address societal fault lines and place the needs of people who are disadvantaged front and centre.

Which is why the next four years are so important.

This policy platform sets out the opportunities to work together for a fairer NSW and the investments that will deliver benefits for the future. It has been developed through close engagement with our members and informed by a rigorous research agenda.  The next NSW Parliament can act decisively to provide immediate cost of living relief, build resilience for vulnerable population groups and improve conditions and opportunities for the female dominated social service sector. 

NCOSS looks forward to working with policymakers and elected officials to pursue opportunities which prioritise those most in need, deliver benefits for the future and set us on the path for a fairer NSW.

Summary of Recommendations

Immediate cost of living relief

1.  Respond to rising energy prices:

  • Permanently increase the cap on Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) vouchers to $1,600 per year, streamline the application process and ramp up promotion in lower socio-economic areas and among vulnerable cohorts. 

  • Make the Low Income Household Rebate a fixed percentage of a person’s energy bill, instead of a flat rate.


2.  Improve access to dental care:

  • Double funding for public dental outreach services to address shortages across NSW, prioritising locations with the highest need and most disadvantage; and address gaps in the provision of dental services by Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to increase access to this essential care for Aboriginal communities


3.  Make renting more secure and affordable:

  • Replace no grounds evictions in current tenancy law with a range of specified reasonable grounds.

  • Introduce a permanent hardship framework and other measures to improve stability for renters.


4.  Invest in social infrastructure so that essential support reaches those in need:

  • Provide core funding for neighbourhood centres and similar services that act as access and distribution points for support, connection and pathways to assistance during tough times.

Targeted support for the most vulnerable


5.  Enhance safety, security and wellbeing for women impacted by domestic and

     family violence:

  • Construct social housing for the 4,812 women and their children experiencing domestic violence who become homeless or return to a violent relationship because of a lack of housing.


6.  Bolster children’s safety, social development and educational outcomes:

  • Increase investment in the Targeted Early Intervention Program by 25%, prioritising funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

  • Continue evidence-based implementation of high-quality school tutoring programs to counter the long-term impacts of lost education due to COVID.

  • Implement the Family is Culture blueprint through a genuine partnership and shared decision making with Aboriginal leaders, Community Controlled Organisations and communities.

  • Facilitate access to whole-of-family health and social services within the school setting in disadvantaged communities, by extending the ‘School Gateway Project’ to other sites in NSW.


7.  Limit the harm caused by pokies on vulnerable communities

  • Mandate use of a cashless gaming card across NSW venues operating pokies, to enable a pre-commitment scheme and give effect to voluntary exclusion.

  • Overhaul the NSW ClubGRANTS scheme so that it provides transparent, targeted funding for those it was designed to benefit – people on low incomes or who are otherwise disadvantaged.

Social Sector sustainability

8.  Strengthen sustainability of the NSW social service sector as a growth industry and

     key employer of women

  • Extend standard contract terms for social services to seven years and ten years for service delivery in rural and remote communities.

  • Introduce portability of entitlements across the NSW social service sector, including long service leave, similar to schemes in other Australian jurisdictions

  • Develop a consistent robust approach to annual indexation and a population-based funding model, in partnership with the sector.

Our approach 

Our recommendations are grouped into three categories: cost of living relief, targeted support for the most vulnerable and social sector sustainability. They are based on consultation with NCOSS members over the last four years. They also draw on our recent Cost of Living research and our Aftershock research series.

Our Cost of Living survey was undertaken in April this year, involving a statistically representative sample of more than 1,000 low income households across the state. Since its completion, inflation has increased to 7.3% and there have been seven consecutive interest rate rises.  While it paints a grim picture, the situation for many has deteriorated further.

Similarly, our Aftershock – Addressing the Economic and Social Costs of the Pandemic and Natural Disasters series uses best available evidence to assess the impacts of the last three years on the wellbeing of people in NSW. In many instances, these estimates are likely to be conservative.

The recommendations in this policy platform respond to some of the immediate, practical challenges facing households in NSW; broader structural issues exacerbating disadvantage; and sector issues which require urgent attention to support the under-resourced, female-dominated social service sector. 

Where possible, we have provided estimated costings of our recommendations based on best available information. However, a decline in the public availability of relevant data has made this task challenging.

Immediate cost of living relief

1.  Respond to rising energy prices:

  • Permanently increase the cap on Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) vouchers to $1,600 per year, streamline the application process and ramp up promotion in lower socio-economic areas and among vulnerable cohorts. 

  • Make the Low Income Household Rebate a fixed percentage of a person’s energy bill, instead of a flat rate.

More and more people living in NSW are waking up each morning and wondering how they will afford to feed their families, pay the bills, and just get by.

Energy costs consume a sizable portion of the disposable income of low income households. Our Cost of Living survey identified utilities and housing as the most significant items of expenditure and coming under the most pressure in recent times, second only to food.

58% of respondents reported difficulty covering the cost of everyday essentials like utility bills, and resorting to drastic actions including skipping meals and forgoing health care and medication in order to make ends meet. The majority of respondents did not have any savings in case of emergencies.


“During the pandemic we were struggling to make rent, we could afford food but it was far from an ideal diet. Utility bills were almost never paid on time, and we were forced to ask our family for financial assistance on multiple occasions."

(2022 Cost of Living survey respondent: male, 25-34, couple with dependent children, Central West)

Yet the survey found extremely low awareness, and even lower uptake, of NSW Government Cost of Living initiatives aimed at helping low income households cover their energy costs. 

11% of respondents were aware of the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) scheme, but only 1.7% had accessed it, despite it having increased temporarily in response to COVID-19. 21% of respondents were aware of the Low Income Household Rebate, but only 4.7% had used it; while 19% of respondents were aware of the Seniors Energy Rebate, but only 6.4% had accessed it.    


With awareness rates for Dine and Discover vouchers sitting at 78% and access rates at 68%, something is clearly amiss. When it comes to EAPA vouchers, it can take up to six weeks for an application to be processed (despite the scheme being there for financial emergencies), it requires considerable documentation to obtain one $50 voucher at a time, and the assessment process is complex. 

Such barriers need to be removed, starting with a permanent increase to $1,600 for EAPA vouchers, regardless of energy type used, and streamlining the application process to mirror that for Dine and Discover vouchers.  Making the Low Income Household Rebate a percentage of the eligible applicant’s utility bill, rather than a flat rate, will also ensure a more targeted program that delivers the most benefit to people in highest need. 

A comprehensive awareness campaign, using multiple channels and targeting lower socio-economic areas, First Nations communities and culturally diverse households will help to deliver the uplift required, at a time when cost of living support has never been more important. 


2.  Improve access to affordable dental care

  • Double funding for public dental outreach services to address shortages across NSW, prioritising locations with the highest need and most disadvantage; and address gaps in the provision of dental services by Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to increase access to this essential care for Aboriginal communities. Estimated cost: $20 million pa

Good oral health is fundamental to health and wellbeing. Oral health is one of the leading causes of acute preventable hospital admissions in Australia. In 2019–20, about 67,000 hospitalisations for dental conditions may have been prevented with earlier treatment.   Poor oral health is associated with chronic diseases such as stroke and cardiovascular disease. It also affects a person’s quality of life – it can impair appearance, speech, self-confidence and participation in education, work and social life.

Dental care is an essential health service but in Australia it is not covered by the Medical Benefits Scheme with the majority of expenditure borne by individuals.  For many the cost of dental care is prohibitive with up to 1 in 5 people in NSW delaying visits for this reason. For people without private health insurance, in regional areas of NSW or who are unemployed, this is even more so.


The public dental system is the backup for those on low incomes who can’t afford private dental care. But with more than 100,000 adults on the waiting list for assessment and treatment in NSW; and average waiting times, in 2020-21, of 16 months to get an appointment (up to two and a half years for less serious conditions)  , many people are living in pain and discomfort for unacceptable periods.

A 2020 survey by Health Consumers NSW highlighted the experiences of 105 people struggling with the cost of health care in NSW, including dental services. Participants spoke about neglecting their teeth, putting off dental care for the whole family because of cost, and ending up with teeth extractions after years spent on the public waiting list or because it was the only option they could afford.


There is an inequitable distribution of public dental services across the state. While there are waiting lists across all Local Health Districts in both metropolitan and rural and regional areas, those with the highest numbers are Hunter New England, South West Sydney, Central Coast, Northern NSW and Southern NSW.

In rural and remote areas, waiting times are compounded by the difficulties in accessing services. The Far West district, covering 195,000 square kilometres, has only one permanent public dental clinic at Broken Hill and six others that operate irregularly.     If they are able to get an appointment, people in outlying areas then have to travel large distances, involving considerable time and cost.


NSW Health currently funds 35 outreach services across the state but this is clearly insufficient to meet the demand. Doubling the number of outreach services, including the provision of oral health promotion programs, would be the quickest way to deploy additional resources to address this high level of unmet need and improve oral health outcomes.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience poor oral health and untreated dental disease, and they are less likely to have received preventative dental care. Factors can include cost, accessibility, and lack of cultural awareness by some service providers.    For First Nations communities in rural and remote areas these factors are compounded. And while Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations play an essential role in planning and delivering culturally appropriate and accessible oral health services in both metropolitan and regional NSW - only 24 of the 37 across the state are funded for these services. This needs to change. 










3.  Make renting secure and affordable

  • Replace no-grounds evictions in the current NSW tenancy law with a range of specified reasonable grounds.

  • Where tenants are evicted for reasons other than a breach, introduce provisions requiring compensation for moving costs by the landlord.

  • Introduce a permanent hardship framework to support renters maintain their tenancy and avoid eviction.

  • Consider the feasibility of a mandatory landlord insurance scheme and/or landlord rental bond scheme to cover the cost of hardship provisions such as rent reductions. 

Renters are the fastest growing tenure type in Australia. In NSW, the number of households renting has increased by 17.5% since 2016, now making up close to one third of households across the state.


Low-income renters are most at risk of housing insecurity and displacement when disasters occur. Across NSW, the combined impact of loss of properties from bushfires and floods and the COVID-induced movement of people to regional areas has seen housing shortages worsen and vacancy rates plummet. As a result, an estimated 54,000 additional households have entered or experienced a worsening of housing stress since the start of the pandemic.

And with flatlining wages and rental increases particularly impacting regional areas, the number of low income rental households in regional NSW experiencing extreme housing stress (paying more than 50% of their income on housing costs) has increased since March 2020 by 52%.

Our Cost of Living survey highlights that escalating housing costs limit the ability of low income households to pay for other essentials.  It also underscores the precarity of renting. Almost half of the rental households surveyed had experienced a negative change to their housing in the previous 12 months - including rent increases, having their lease terminated or not renewed, moving because of cost, or having their home damaged by a natural disaster.





“We were cut hours and pay but our rent increased. A lot of sacrifices had to be made. Kids could no longer attend day-care, nor could we afford to do much for them here at home. We have been stripped of a lot of food choices and have been eating noodles, pasta, or rice (whichever was available!) more than often. It’s been difficult to explain to our kids why we are under a lot of pressure and stress financially” 

(2022 Cost of Living survey respondent -female, 25-34, couple with dependent children, Outer South-West Sydney)

There are significant costs associated with this uncertainty, such as disrupted schooling and employment. It also leads to rising homelessness, with an estimated increase of 10% across NSW since the start of the pandemic.

This is devasting for the individuals and families forced into desperate circumstances. But the costs to the NSW economy – of between $524.5 million and $2.5 billion - are also significant.    


4.  Invest in social infrastructure so that essential support reaches those in need

  • Provide core funding for neighbourhood centres and similar local services that act as community access/distribution points for essential support, social connection and pathways to other assistance during tough times.  Estimated cost: $27 million pa

Neighbourhood centres and others such as multicultural services and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations have been lifelines during recent disasters. They have distributed food and financial aid, checked in on the socially isolated, translated complex messaging and ensured that available relief reaches those whose need is greatest.

They also provide social connection and psychological support.  Financial hardship can be both mentally draining and lonely - the poorest one-fifth of Australians are more likely to experience high levels of psychological distress; while people living below the poverty line are twice as likely to not go out or catch up with family and friends, and to not be able to afford the internet or mobile data.

Neighbourhood centres fill this gap. They also act as a gateway, helping people navigate complex systems to get the services they need.

The Queensland Government recently doubled core funding to its network of 127 neighbourhood and community centres, recognising their vital role during tough times.  But in NSW there is no core funding, Here, neighbourhood centres are dependent on attracting program-based funding which doesn’t cover core operational costs, and must rely on fundraising efforts and volunteers to bridge the gap.

Investing in core operational funding for NSW’s network of 180 locally-managed neighbourhood centres and enabling new centres to be established in growth areas would bolster essential social infrastructure and ensure their sustainability across the state. 

$123,000 per centre, and establishment of a Community Investment Fund of $5 million, to cover the cost of new centres or locations/circumstances necessitating additional resourcing, is a modest and reasonable ask in view of the contribution these organisations make to the wellbeing of NSW.  


Targeted support for the most vulnerable 

5.  Enhance safety, security and wellbeing for women impacted by domestic and
     family violence:

  • Construct social housing for the 4,812 women and their children experiencing domestic and family violence who become homeless or return to a violent relationship because of a lack of housing.  Estimated cost: $2.2 billion

The housing crisis continues to worsen in NSW, particularly for those who are most vulnerable. Social housing waiting lists are overwhelmed, at almost 50,000 people as of June 2021, with wait times for some locations of over 10 years.    First Nations people are homeless at over seven times the rate of the general population.

Meanwhile the pandemic has worsened housing insecurity for women in NSW. The number of people seeking specialist homelessness services who had experienced domestic and family violence increased by 7.1% in 2020-21, twice the rate of the overall increase in demand.    It is estimated that in the first year of the pandemic, 60,000 women experienced domestic and family violence for the first time; and a further 46,000 experienced an escalation in violence.

A long-term approach to addressing the housing crisis is needed, including a target to increase the proportion of social housing to 10% of all NSW dwellings by 2050. 

As a first step, the incoming NSW Government should focus on problems we can and must solve now – providing homes for the 4,812 women and their children experiencing violence who currently face homelessness, or returning to violence because of a lack of safe, secure and affordable housing.

An additional investment of $2.2 billion - less if community housing providers and other innovative financing models are used - would enable this. As well as saving lives, it would boost the NSW economy with an estimated $4.5 billion in social and economic benefits. 







6.  Bolster children’s safety, social development and educational outcomes

  • Increase investment in the Targeted Early Intervention Program by 25%, prioritising Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations Estimated cost: $43 million pa

  • Continue evidence-based implementation of high quality school tutoring programs to counter the long-term impacts of lost education due to COVID Estimated cost: $360 million pa

  • Implement the Family is Culture blueprint through a genuine partnership and shared decision making with Aboriginal leaders, Community Controlled Organisations and communities 

  • Enhance timely access to health and social services for children and their families in disadvantaged communities, by extending the ‘School Gateway Project’ in its South West Sydney location and to another two school sites in NSW Estimated cost: $3 million pa

Children in NSW have faced major upheavals over the last three years, as families have dealt with increasing financial stress, and the closure of schools and childcare has impacted learning and social development. The full impacts are still unfolding but a concerning picture is emerging.

More children from low socio-economic areas are starting school developmentally vulnerable, increasing by 13.4% between 2018 and 2021, and more likely for Aboriginal children.

The mental health of children and young people has taken a hit – with a large spike in calls to the Kids Helpline and a 32.7% jump, in 2020-21, in emergency department presentations for children under 17 with mental health concerns.

There are more children at risk of significant harm. Reports have risen by 13.5% overall in the three years to 2020-21, up by more than 20% in some locations. For Aboriginal children, over the five-years to 2019-20, there was a 40% increase. 

Across NSW, school students have missed out on 7 to 19 weeks of face-to-face learning, with children from lower socio-economic areas most at risk of reduced educational outcomes, lost opportunities and associated long-term costs.

Our service system continues to be crisis oriented, making it hard for families to connect with the right support early on. Even a child protection notification doesn’t guarantee access to services. In 2021, only a quarter of children reported at risk of significant harm were seen by a caseworker.

Recent reforms have placed greater responsibility on non government organisations – requiring them to extend reach, take on more complex cases and implement measurement and reporting frameworks. But funding has not kept pace, despite added responsibilities and growth in demand.

While the 2022-23 State Budget allocated $3.1 billion in recurrent expenses to the child protection system, including $1.6 billion to support out-of-home care and permanency outcomes, only $172 million is allocated to the Targeted Early Intervention Program. 

A suite of measures is required to address the adverse impacts of the last three years, provide timely support and prevent outcomes worsening - particularly for already disadvantaged children.  The needs of Aboriginal children must be prioritised. 

In this regard, the Family is Culture review undertaken by Professor Megan Davis provides the blueprint to address the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the out-of-home care system.   Three years on, concerns are that progress with implementation of the review’s 126 recommendations has been piecemeal, lacking in substance and failing to adequately engage with and empower Aboriginal peak bodies, Community Controlled Organisations and communities.  

There is also the opportunity to extend an innovative program currently operating in South West Sydney which is testing the potential to lift educational outcomes by leveraging the physical and social infrastructure of the school setting to connect families to timely health and social services.






The School Gateway project

The School Gateway project is a partnership between NCOSS and Ashcroft Public School in South West Sydney, funded for three years through Allan and Gill Gray Philanthropy Australasia. 

Based on the Victorian Our Place approach, the project uses the social and physical infrastructure of the school to combine high quality early learning and schooling with health and wellbeing services for the whole family, including adult learning and enrichment activities. It is based on the premise that providing ready and timely access to services and supports, in a familiar and welcoming environment, will encourage positive family functioning and parental involvement in children’s learning, lifting educational outcomes and preventing the need for crisis intervention. 

Now at the end of its second year, the project has been based at the highly culturally diverse Ashcroft Public School for 12 months.  The Mirrung Wellbeing Hub, situated on school grounds, is up and running, with strong engagement from families, students and the school community in its establishment, and a growing range of activities and supports on offer. 

The project team employed by NCOSS operates from the school, working with the school principal and leadership team to build trust with families and students; broker improved collaboration across local health and social service systems; and facilitate the delivery of appropriate early intervention services and other programs through the Hub.  

Taking a place-based approach, the project is reconfiguring the local service system to provide the right support at the right time for families in need. The early Education and Child Health (TeACH) Research Centre, Western Sydney University, has been engaged to independently evaluate it over its three-year duration.  

Extending the project at its Ashcroft Public School site beyond 2023 and expanding to another two sites will enable the approach to be tested over a longer time period and evaluated in different community settings, informing its suitability for larger-scale rollout to key locations across NSW.

7.  Limit the harm caused by pokies on vulnerable communities

  • Mandate use of a cashless gaming card across NSW venues operating pokies, to enable a pre-commitment scheme, voluntary exclusion and other harm minimisation measures.

  • Overhaul the NSW ClubGRANTS scheme so that it offsets harm by providing transparent, targeted funding for those it was designed to benefit – people on low incomes or who are otherwise disadvantaged.

The average Australian user lost $2,800 in 2021 on pokies, except in NSW where they lost more than $4,500. Across NSW, in the first half of 2022, punters lost almost $4 billion playing the pokies.

And it is Local Governm
ent Areas with the lowest levels of income, where the losses are greatest. The top 10 most profitable LGAs for clubs are Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Central Coast, Blacktown, Penrith, Campbelltown, Wollongong, Georges River and Newcastle. 

In Fairfield, more than $211 million net profit was recorded from some 3,300 pokies across 18 venues. Canterbury-Bankstown, which has more than 3,800 pokies across 28 venues, netted $186 million after tax.  Blacktown recorded a net profit of more than $90 million from more than 2,000 gaming machines in 11 venues.

The most recent Census data, released in June, shows Fairfield and Canterbury-Bankstown had the lowest median household incomes of the 32 local government areas across the Sydney Basin. Cumberland City Council had the third-lowest median household income.

By contrast, the lowest pokie profits were recorded in Kur-in-gai ($374,000 in net profit from 58 pokies in five venues) and Woollahra (some $643,000 from 59 pokies in four venues).

According to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Authority, cashless gaming systems have significant potential to minimise gambling harm, with the design and implementation of the system key to its success at protecting punters, especially those who have a serious gambling problem.  This includes the ability to pre-commit to maximum losses and to self-exclude across venues.    A cashless gaming card can also support or work in conjunction with other functions such as breaks in play, directed messaging, and provision of activity statements.

In addition to mandating a cashless gaming card, the NSW ClubGRANTs scheme must be overhauled. 

In 2021 NCOSS concluded its review of its role in the Local Committee process that forms a key part of the NSW ClubGRANTS Scheme. The Scheme was established in 1998 and allows Clubs in NSW to claim dollar for dollar tax rebates on poker machine profits over $1 million dollars (capped at 1.85%) when they make grants to eligible community projects. 

Successful projects must be aimed at improving the living standards of low income and disadvantaged people and are purportedly selected on advice from Local Committees which can include local council representatives, NCOSS member organisations and other local community representatives. 

Our review found that governance of the Scheme does not meet community expectations for the expenditure of taxpayer funds, with Clubs the ultimate decision makers. The review presented evidence that the Scheme’s design enables Clubs to fund their own initiatives, bypass committee recommendations, select projects that do not target low income or otherwise disadvantaged groups, and to not report openly and transparently on funding decisions.  

We called time on our role in the local committee process, which was in name only, and made a series of recommendations to strengthen governance and oversight of the Scheme, improve public accountability and bring it into the 21st century. These recommendations have yet to be implemented.





Social sector investment 

7.  Strengthen sustainability of the social service sector as a growth industry and
     key employer of women

  • Extend standard contract lengths for social service sector grants to seven years and ten years for service delivery in rural and remote communities

  • Introduce portability of entitlements, including long service leave, providing incentive for experienced staff to stay in the sector

  • Introduce consistent, evidence-based indexation

  • Develop a population-based funding model for the sector.

The social service sector is part of the Health Care and Social Assistance Industry which is projected to make the largest contribution to Australia’s employment growth to 2025. In NSW it is a major employer, with over 7,800 non-government organisations – spanning disability, aged care, domestic violence, homelessness, child and family services and others across the state - employing more than 240,000 staff and providing care and support to over one million people each year.

In 2015, one in twenty jobs in NSW was in the sector, but in the five years since, this has grown to one in eight jobs. According to the National Skills Commission, it will grow even further – by about 14% across NSW by 2025 and higher than the national average growth rate of 7.8% across all industries.    It makes a significant contribution to the NSW economy, with annual output worth $15.4 billion.

Demand for social services in NSW continues to grow. Between 2016 and 2021 the NSW population aged over 65 increased by 40%, while those needing assistance with core activities grew by 37%.

The impact of COVID-19 and other recent disasters has also led to increases in mental health issues, domestic violence, housing insecurity and homelessness, and child safety and wellbeing concerns – with flow-through increases in demand for social services specialising in these areas.

The sector is highly feminised with three out of four jobs in NSW being female, and 50% of these jobs being casual or limited term.  It is also characterised by low pay, poor conditions and a large gender pay gap.    According to the Fair Work Commission such ‘gender-based undervaluation of work in Australia arises from social norms and cultural assumptions that impact the assessment of work value’.

With the labour market tightening and the supply of workers constrained, the social service sector is experiencing significant staff shortages. Latest data shows that skill level 3 occupations, including aged and disabled carers and childcare workers, recorded the highest share of occupations in shortage across both metropolitan and regional areas.

The vast majority of organisations that make up NSW’s social sector are small to medium in size, with less than 20 employees and annual revenue under $5 million.    They rely on small-value, short-term government grants, a low-paid female workforce, a large contingent of volunteers (performing 1.7 million hours of unpaid work per week), and fundraising to address revenue shortfalls.    Feedback from a 2022 survey of 560 NSW sector employees highlighted burnout and stress, better pay and conditions elsewhere and job insecurity as barriers to attracting and retaining staff.

These issues threaten the viability of the sector. The NSW Government has the levers to turn this situation around through longer term contracts, greater certainty of funding and other straightforward measures that would improve conditions for this predominantly female workforce.













  1. Institute of Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology (2022), Tough Times, Hard Choices – struggling households and the rising cost of living in NSW, Sydney

  2. Institute of Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology (2022), Ibid

  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022), Oral health and dental care in Australia, Hospitalisations - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022)

  5. NSW Council of Social Service (2020). Mapping Patient Experience and Economic Disadvantage in NSW. 

  6. NSW Health (2022), NSW public dental service data.

  7. Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association (2022), The biggest dental deserts.

  8. Health Consumers NSW (2020), Consumer stories of patient experience and economic disadvantage in NSW, Sydney

  9. Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association (2022), Ibid

  10. Op.Cit

  11. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022)

  12. Tenants Union NSW (2022), Census 2021: renters are the fastest growing tenure in Australia.

  13. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Aftershock – Addressing the social and economic costs of the pandemic and natural disasters. Report Three – Housing Insecurity, Sydney

  14. Op.Cit

  15. Institute of Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology (2022), Op.Cit

  16. Impact Economics and Policy and Governance, University of Technology (2022), Op.Cit

  17. Institute of Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology (2022), Op.Cit

  18. Department of Communities and Justice (2020), Expected Waiting Times.

  19. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness.

  20. Equity Economics (2021), Rebuilding Women’s Economic Security – Investing in Social Housing in New South Wales, Sydney

  21. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Aftershock – Addressing the social and economic costs of the pandemic and natural disasters. Report Two - Domestic and Family Violence, Sydney

  22. Equity Economics (2021), Op.Cit

  23. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Ibid

  24. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Ibid

  25. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Ibid

  26. NSW Department of Community and Justice (2022), Annual Statistical Report 2020-21  

  27. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Op.Cit

  28. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Ibid

  29. Koziol, M (2022), Average NSW pokes loss way above that of other states. Sydney Morning Herald. 5 September 2022 

  30. NSW Department of Customer Service (2022), Six Monthly Gaming Machine Data. Latest Reports: January 2022 – June 2022.

  31. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022) 2021 Census

  32. Hare, S (2020), What is the impact of cashless gaming on gambling behaviour and harm? Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne

  33. Equity Economics (2021), The Social Sector in NSW: Capitalising on the Potential for Growth

  34. Rapeport, S and Ravindran, A (2021), Industry Analysis: Health Care and Social Assistance. National Skills Commission

  35. NCOSS & Impact Economics and Policy (2022), A Long Way to the Top: career opportunities and obstacles for women in the social services sector in NSW, Sydney

  36. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022) Op.Cit

  37. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Op.Cit

  38. Equity Economics (2021), Op.Cit

  39. Thompson, A (2022), Aged care workers to get 15 per cent pay rise. Sydney Morning Herald. 4 November 2022

  40. Rapeport, S and Ravindran, A (2021), Op.Cit

  41. Equity Economics (2021), Op. Cit

  42. Ask Insight (2022), The High Cost of Doing Business: Administrative and management overload in smaller NGOs, a report prepared for NCOSS, Sydney

  43. Impact Economics and Policy (2022), Op.Cit

About the author

Joanna Quilty - Joanna Quilty is the  CEO, NSW Council of Social Service. Her focus at NCOSS is on developing the evidence base to contribute to sound and equitable public policy; raising awareness of the extent of poverty and disadvantage in NSW, the experience of vulnerable groups and the interventions that will make a difference; and ensuring a strong, valued community sector that is well placed to provide frontline support and collaborate with Government for a fairer, more equitable NSW. Joanna joined the non-government sector in 2013, first as Director of Operations at Relationships Australia NSW and then as General Manager, NDIS Transition at mental health organisation Flourish Australia before taking on the role at NCOSS in 2018. Prior to the NGO sector, Joanna had an extensive career in the public sector spanning social policy and research, regulatory reform, infrastructure planning and delivery, and operations. She held senior roles at watchdog agencies ICAC and the Community Services Commission. The ASU is very proud to represent the people who work at NCOSS.

06 - Make Renting Fair
Make renting fair.jpg

Make Renting Fair


What does Make Renting Fair stand for?

Make Renting Fair NSW has four key advocacy themes. Each advocacy theme has either one or two policy solutions that, if implemented, would make renting fairer.  Make Renting Fair NSW knows that all renters need homes that are affordable, secure, healthy, and that feel like home. These are our four Make Renting Fair advocacy themes.

All renters need homes that are affordable

Nobody should be forced to choose between keeping a roof over their head or putting food on the table. In NSW, the rules allow landlords to set rents at levels that are unaffordable for many renters, forcing people to make impossible choices. We think this can and should change – do you? Our vision is a NSW where renters can afford to pay our rent without worrying that it will mean we go without other life essentials.

What needs to change?

While there are a range of changes required, we suggest the following to begin to address the lack of affordable housing in NSW:

  • The NSW Government commits funds to build at least 5,000 new, additional homes each year for the next 10 years that are genuinely affordable, to begin to address NSW’s current housing need.

  • Introduce stronger protections against excessive rent increases in NSW tenancy law

All renters need homes that are stable and secure

At the moment, renting laws in NSW allow landlords to evict renters for no reason (‘no grounds’). This means a landlord can evict for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation because a renter asserted their rights. And renters aren’t really able to challenge the eviction to test whether the reason is fair. This isn’t legal in most jurisdictions around the world. We need to end ‘no grounds’ evictions in NSW to Make Renting Fair. Our vision is a NSW where renters can live without fear of unfair ‘no grounds’ eviction from our homes.

What needs to change?

  • Replace ‘no grounds’ evictions provisions in NSW tenancy law with ‘reasonable grounds’ identified through community consultation.

All renters need homes that are safe and healthy

Everyone needs a home that can keep us safe and healthy, through cold winters and hot summers, that we can live and move about in without barriers. Unfortunately, many NSW renters live in homes that don’t meet their accessibility needs. And far too many landlords fail to properly maintain the standards of the properties that they rent out. Renters also are more likely to live in homes so energy inefficient they are cold and damp in winter and sweltering hot in summer. This can have a big impact on our health and wellbeing.  Our vision is a NSW where renters can live in homes that are healthy through cold winters and hot summers, and that meet our accessibility needs.

What needs to change?

We need to have some mandatory minimum standards in place to ensure all rental housing meets basic standards regarding energy efficiency and accessibility.

  • Introduce mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards for NSW rental homes.

  • Introduce mandatory minimum building standards that take account of universal design for general accessibility in the community for all new builds


All renters need homes that feel like home


A rental is not just a landlord’s investment property, it’s a person or family’s home. Homes are special, and so much more than just a roof and four walls. All people should be able to make straightforward choices to make the house we live in a home, including whether or not to keep pets.  Our vision is a NSW where renters can make simple choices to make the houses we live in homes, including whether or not to keep pets.

What needs to change?

NSW needs more pet-friendly renting laws. This includes making sure there are no blanket bans on pets in rental housing, but also that renters can apply for a home without having to disclose whether they own pets (and potentially opening themselves up to discrimination).

  • Prohibit blanket ‘no pets’ clauses in NSW tenancy law.


Where does each major party sit on the Make Renting Fair campaign solutions?

Y = support        OA = other announcement       A = no announcement       N = no support

Pages from ACCDP Journal - TU article March 2023 Special election edition final.jpg

*NSW Liberals and Nationals have committed to ending ‘no grounds’ evictions during periodic tenancies. See our election announcement tracker for more information on announcements made by each major party. Get in touch via if your local MP is from another party or is an independent, and you want to know where they stand on the issues.

Make Renting Fair NSW is a community campaign. We know everyone deserves a home that is affordable, stable, healthy, and ‘feels like home’. Working with community organisations, faith based peaks, unions and directly with renters, the campaign is focused on making renting fair for the more than 1 in 3 households who rent their home in NSW.

About the Making Rents Fair campaign
Make renting fair.jpg

We Are A Community Campaign. We know that when everyday people in our communities come together and organise, amazing things can happen. Make Renting Fair is all about supporting and empowering renters to push for the changes they want to see in the NSW renting system.

Campaign Partners:

07 - Shifting the Balance
About the author

Carmel Tebbutt - Carmel Tebbutt is the CEO of Mental Health Coordinating Council and a member of the Board of Mental Health Australia. Carmel successfully transitioned to the community sector after spending 17 years in the NSW Parliament, where she held a range of portfolios including Health, Education, Community Services, and the Environment. She was the first woman to be Deputy Premier in NSW. Carmel is committed to working with all stakeholders to see increased investment in the mental health system, the delivery of more community-based services and better outcomes for people living with mental health conditions.

Shifting the Balance –

Investment priorities for mental health in NSW

Author: Carmel Tebbutt 


By 2041 it is estimated that nearly two million people in New South Wales will be living with a mental health condition.  Given that we know too many people are already missing out on mental health supports and services in the state, it is paramount we find ways to improve outcomes for people across NSW now and into the future.

Mental Health Coordinating Council has developed Shifting the Balance, a submission that looks to the future and identifies four key solutions to gear investment towards supports in the community that deliver better outcomes for individuals, reduce pressure on the hospital system and improve cost efficiency.


Why a shift is needed

Four years ago, MHCC produced a wide ranging report into mental health in NSW - at that time the Productivity Commission had not begun its mental health inquiry, COVID-19 was unheard of, and the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement did not exist. The landscape has significantly changed since then and MHCC considers it timely to revisit investment priorities for community mental health services in the current context. What we know is that people with complex mental health conditions can live well in the community when they have the right mix of services, including psychosocial rehabilitation and support. 

The National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement recognises that psychosocial supports are an important part of a well-equipped mental health system.  Unfortunately, far too many people who would benefit from these services miss out, and emergency departments across NSW become the default access point into the mental health system.

This gap in psychosocial supports is felt in real time by people experiencing mental health distress who cannot get the support they require, by families and carers who battle to navigate the service system on behalf of their loved ones and by service providers increasingly stretching their workforce to cover ever-growing demand.  Despite increased resources being provided by governments – the NSW Government is investing $2.9 billion annually in mental health services – people remain unable to get mental health support when and where it is needed.


To shift the balance, MHCC has identified four key priorities for investment in the mental health sector which will support people to realise their recovery goals and live meaningful lives in NSW. 

Recommendation 1: Increase mental health supports in the community

It is vital to have a diversity of psychosocial supports available in the community for people who experience mental ill health that meets their needs and aspirations and are easy to access.

Community-based supports ensure people, their families and carers have their social and psychological needs met in a way that aligns with their recovery journey, rather than just at points of crisis.  The NSW Government funds community-managed psychosocial programs as part of the suite of NSW Mental Health Community Living Programs. 

Services currently available include the Housing and Support Initiative (HASI), HASI Plus, Community Living Supports (CLS) and Mental Health Community Living Supports for Refugees (MH-CLSR).


The types of support people receive as part of HASI-CLS are dependent on their individual needs. These programs are targeted towards people living with severe mental health conditions who experience difficulties functioning with day-to-day living activities.

Impact of investment

Psychosocial supports in the community, such as HASI and CLS, have demonstrated the ability to provide valuable and accessible mental health supports, while contributing to overall cost efficiencies.

A recent UNSW NSW HASI-CLS evaluation report of the programs showed hospital admissions due to mental health for people receiving the packages fell by 74% following entry into the program.  Over five years it was shown the programs generate more in cost offsets than they cost to fund. We see net cost savings of $86,000 per person over five years – mostly from less hospital admissions and shortened time in hospital.

Economic modelling performed on HASI-CLS programs revealed that the cost effectiveness of the program increases exponentially. 


  • Cost saving in year one 43% 

  • Cost saving in year two 67% 

  • Cost saving by year five 95.3% 

The evaluation found HASI-CLS reduced mental health inpatient hospitalisations by 30.7 days per person per year, saving $33,617 per person per year.  Reduced interactions with the justice system resulted in a cost saving of $8,242 per person per year.  When considered against the costs of homelessness services, the return on investment was calculated to be 1.93 in the medium term.  These figures make it clear that HASI-CLS provides a more cost effective alternative to emergency department and hospital-based supports with benefits at both individual and service system level.


The way forward

There is a clear need for the NSW Government to expand the availability of psychosocial support packages in the community for people experiencing mental health challenges. An additional investment of $356 million over four years would support a further 10,000 HASI-CLS packages for people living with mental health conditions to be supported in the community. This scaling up of support would ensure barriers to access supports are lowered, offering flexible transition into community-based supports.

Recommendation 2: Expand Step-Up Step-Down Services

Step-Up Step-Down (SUSD) services are recovery-focused residential programs that provide a ‘step-up’ from the community into a highly supportive environment that aims to minimise the risk of readmission to inpatient mental health facilities.  The service provides a ‘step-down’ for people being discharged from inpatient mental health facilities who would benefit from safe and comfortable voluntary environment from which to be supported to transition back into the community. 

How NSW compares

NSW is lagging behind in its per capita expansion of SUSD services compared with other states. Western Australia has six SUSD services operating in the state, Victoria has 22 adult PARC services, and three youth PARC services and Queensland has eight state-funded SUSD services in the state. Victoria has at least one SUSD service available per 260,000 people in the state. NSW has at least one SUSD service available per 1,633,200 people in the state. To match Victoria’s level of service availability, NSW would have to invest in a further 26 SUSD services across the state.


This shows the significant service gap for SUSD services in NSW. SUSD programs demonstrate positive outcomes in assisting people to build and rebuild independent lives within their communities and assist in transitioning into communities from more intensive supports.  There have been studies of four SUSD programs in Australia that have been strongly associated with significant improvement of psychological wellbeing, self-efficacy, and social adjustment.

It has been estimated that approximately one-third of people with mental health conditions in NSW hospitals could be discharged if community services such as SUSD services, were available. This demonstrates the significant cost savings available in NSW as well as the impact on individuals and the hospital system that could be had with the expansion of SUSD services.


The way forward

Establish a network of Step-Up Step-Down services across NSW by adding an extra 130 places, to ensure more people have access to recovery-focused residential programs that minimise the risk of hospital admission. The additional 130 places will provide services for an extra 2,000 people a year across the service, at an annual cost of $18.2 million.

Recommendation 3: Improve access to youth supports

In NSW there are a variety of youth services and supports. This includes key national initiatives, such as headspace, Kids Helpline, Reach Out, headspace, eheadspace, Beyond Blue Youth Support, Smiling Mind and Head to Health, a service that provides early intervention supports for young people.

In the past few years there has been increased investment in youth mental health services, including $109.5 million over four years to develop 25 ‘Safeguards’ – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Response Teams across NSW to provide services to children and teenagers with moderate to severe mental health issues and their families and carers.  While these supports and services are welcome and needed, additional investment is required to cover the full spectrum of complex mental health needs for young people.


Projected need 

A lack of services and supports are available that are suitable for young people who represent part of the ‘missing middle’ within the mental health sector.  Characteristically young people in the ‘missing middle’ fall through the service gaps as many within this group have higher support needs than currently available from the primary care sector but may require a lower level of support than what is available in acute public health service settings.

The most recent evaluation of the national headspace program found waitlists and opening hours to be key barriers to access for young people seeking supports.  Waitlists were found to be driven by limited referral pathways and high demand for services as well as high levels of complexity of those presenting with mental health challenges.  The long wait times before service impact on the therapeutic engagement of young people at the point of treatment, and overall satisfaction and experience when accessing services. 

These challenges are exacerbated for young people who live in rural and remote settings as well as those experiencing high levels of complexity, which may include coexisting conditions, substance use and developmental conditions such as ADHD.  Young people aged 16-24 have higher rates of mental health challenges when compared to other groups.  This is true for young people experiencing anxiety disorders, substance use, high/very high rates of psychological distress, eating disorders and other self-harming behaviours.


There is a lack of ongoing and long-term mental health supports and services for young people as most existing supports are short term and focus on prevention, early intervention, and low acuity needs. There is a need to increase dedicated supports for young people through a diversity of community-based face-to-face psychosocial supports, as well as specialised youth Step-Up Step-Down services.

The way forward

Boost dedicated community-based, face-to-face, tailored and holistic psychosocial supports that address the gap in mental health services for young people. Establish an additional 10 specialist youth services located around the state and scale up the five existing Youth Community Living Support Services for young people at an additional investment of $12 million per annum.

Recommendation 4: Invest in workforce

The community-managed mental health workforce makes up one-quarter of the entire mental health workforce in NSW, and is growing significantly, increasing by nearly 13% in the two years to 2021.  However, further increases in workforce numbers with higher levels of skills and competencies is required to meet the projected future demand. There is a need to invest in the workforce both now and into the future.

Workforce retention has been impacted by negative perceptions of the sector, varying employment conditions, limited professional development opportunities, fatigue in the workforce due to the nature of the work and short funding cycles which limits job security. All of these factors contribute to a sector that experiences difficulties in attracting, training and retaining a workforce that will meet the needs of the mental health system in NSW.

Peer workforce

The peer workforce can provide greater support to people accessing services by providing recovery-oriented and multidisciplinary support through their unique experiences of navigating the mental health service system.


The way forward

Strengthen workforce planning to better forecast projected demand and increase investment in a workforce development program to address current and future shortages, including the development of a peer workforce. Provide adequate indexation for community mental health organisations that responds to the impact of inflation on services and salaries. Introduce guidelines for services delivered by community mental health organisations to allow for rolling five year contracts based on ongoing review and achievement of objectives

Shifting the balance

The challenge for policymakers is to make sure all people can access the support they need, in their own communities, no matter how complex or individual their mental health condition. Solutions exist already, and are working successfully in the community, driven by community-managed mental health organisations.  These solutions are not only beneficial for individual outcomes but represent significant opportunities to maximise the dollar spend in mental health. 
To encompass all people in NSW and build a broad-based,  strong mental health system these community-based supports need to be expanded and accelerated as a priority. We need to shift the balance towards community-based solutions, supports and services.

None of this can be achieved without a committed and skilled workforce supported to do demanding, but essential, work.  The community sector’s mental health workforce deserves a greater focus and tangible investment to build and sustain it today and in readiness for the challenges to come.

08 - If not now .. When?
Julie Perkins.jpg
About the author

Julie Perkins is a proud Gumbaynggir woman from the North Coast of NSW. She has been a fierce and tireless advocate for community justice for First Nations communities across NSW. Julie is a proud ASU member and sits on its Committee of Management and Executive Committee.  She is recipient of the National Award for Excellence from the Attorney General, Edna Ryan Award, ASU Delegate of the Year.

If not now ... when?

Author: Julie Perkins


Giinagay (Hello in Gumbaynggirr) 


I am a proud Gumbaynggirr senior woman from Corindi Beach between Grafton and Coffs Harbour. I am not a language speaker (sadly) given the fact that mob of my age were discouraged – even from within our own families to not learn language. My mother and grandmother were fluent language speakers - ‘ yarnin in lingo’ all of their lives. We, as kids were hunted away, for fear if we even learnt lingo, the welfare would arrive and remove us. The greatest fear of my ma and parents' lives was their beloved children would be taken. My ma and parents became subservient – begrudgingly doing what the dominant culture believed was right for us and our future as First Nations mobs of our own Country.  


My parents and particularly my mother though spoke with us at length in the quiet of the night by the kerosene lanterns (we didn’t have power and running water ‘til I was in seventh grade), mum spoke about a day when we as mobs would not be under the control of welfare and the government and we would be ‘free’ to live our lives and determine our own futures and build on the innate strengths we had as survivors for thousands of years. 


My beautiful mum was only allowed to attend school ‘til sixth grade (class) before she had to leave to carry out domestic and other labouring tasks for families in our area. Mum was never paid as we are today, she was usually given a pot of food, soup, curry, stew to take home following a long and full day of work. For my mother and family and mob, I commend my own long journey of seeking ‘justice’ and trying to understand what the ‘laws of the land’ actually meant for First nations peoples.  Following a lengthy journey of rejection to study, removal from study and many forced diversions from those controlling my life – I gained my formal qualifications as a mature woman. 


Did the long journey assist me and my family as I had wished as a small child? 


Firstly, increasing one’s knowledge is always empowering. Especially when it is about the true history and laws that have been dominating and had a negative impact on our mobs. I am so blessed to have gone back to school as a mature woman; education and opportunity in the broader economy - is a key in my opinion, to a future of equity for First Nations. On a sad note, my beloved mum passed on from a hard life and never saw the results of her yarnin’ with her kids and her absolute determination in that her kids would have a life where they were not under the negative and discriminatory policies of government - where her children could speak up, yarn freely and be the leaders in matters affecting our own lives.   


I am not going to give a detailed account of history or the specifics of the proposed Constitutional reform – there are far greater academics, writers and voices who have written with fact and confidence.  


I’m Julie Perkins, I am a proud First Nations Executive Member of the ASU - NSW/ACT. 


Below – is in part a small speech I gave at the Labor Conference in 2022. Given we are in the midst of a State Election, I think it is important to re-iterate the need to follow the YES Campaign of which I am a proud supporter and why we need to accept the generous gift of First Nations Peoples to walk alongside of us and to stand together. 


I have worked as an activist in my community for as long as I can remember and am proud to have followed some great women and Aunts including our talented female leaders and those passed, those quiet achievers in regional and country towns and my mother, Clarice Perkins (Skinner).


Sadly, many of our community warriors have now passed on.  


Now we are looking to our young people to continue the activism.  


Generations of oppression are not forgotten quickly, if at all. 


In the headlights of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are told by governments that they want a ‘new way of doing business with Aboriginal people’ – an equal partnership of government and Aboriginal people.  


They want to ‘close the gap.’  


That would be a good thing.  


As a First Nations person, my life expectancy is still much shorter than that of non-First Nations people.  


My community is still more likely to be incarcerated. 


Our children are less likely to finish school.  


We are less likely to own our own home. 


We are still the most impoverished people in our own Lands.  


So, there is still a bit of work to do. 


Though, via current Policies and Strategies, we are told that we already have a seat at the table that we have an equal voice.  


How does one talk or negotiate as equals when we are worried that the chair, we sit on might be pulled out from under us at any time? When we are still under the whim of the Governments of the day to decide what Policy is best, how much (if any resources) are attached to such Policy.  Since 2013, I have been involved in an Alliance in NSW, with the mantra of being the ‘new way of doing business with Government’ enabling First Nations peoples to determine our priorities and affairs. I have seen the additional resources go to Government administration and ad hoc funding be ‘given’ to the workers and people on the ground for co-ordination and delivery on the ground.


This is not equal in any sense of the wording...We, as a Peoples need and deserve more stability, consistency with programs and services, cultural respect and safety, let alone our human and legal rights to be recognised and enshrined in the Constitution of our own Country.   


The Uluru Statement called for the Voice and knowledge of Australia’s First Nations People to be enshrined in our Constitution.  


It calls for a Makarrata – a coming-together of people after a struggle in a fair relationship based upon truth telling, justice and self-determination. 


There can be no justice without justice for all.  


Delegates, history is calling. Now we are inviting you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. Delegates, I am asking you to support a First Nations Voice to parliament by voting YES at the upcoming referendum, so we can finally have our say - enshrined in the Constitution on policies and laws that affect our communities. 


In closing. I leave you with some words from an Uncle...on the Land Welcoming us... 


Yaam nganyundi wajaarr (this is my land)  


Yaam nginundi wajaarr (this is your land) 


Ngiiabarr gunganbuwala (therefore let’s be friends) 


I pay my respect to all the warriors gone before us, as they had commenced these discussions for representation and a ‘voice’ many decades ago. Join with us now, in an act of generosity and VOTE YES for the continued journey of nation-building. 


As our prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated following his election win:  “if not now ...when” 

09 - Ending violence will take all of us
About the author

Delia Donovan - Delia has more than 21 years’ experience in the government and the community services sector in both the UK and Australia.  For more than 11 years she has been working as a specialist practitioner in the domestic and family violence sector and is currently the CEO at the NSW sector peak, DVNSW, where she has worked closely with ASU members and delegates and with the ASU more generally, especially around our campaigns for better sector funding and for paid family and domestic violence leave.  Delia was previously Delia CEO at Dash, (Domestic Abuse Stops Here) in the UK and more recently, was CEO at White Ribbon Australia.  Delia has been recognized and awarded for her work in both the UK and Australia and holds a Bachelor of Honours Degree in Social Work from Brunel University in London. Delia is a proud member of the ASU.

Ending violence will take all of us.

Author: Delia Donovan


Sexual, domestic and family violence has never been more of a national crisis. Last year, 56 women died because of gendered violence in Australia. This year, it is already five. The devastating reality is that not everyone in Australia or NSW lives free from violence. According to BOSCAR, the number of domestic violence assaults have increased annually in the past five years and sexual violence cases are the fastest growing crime reported in NSW, with an alarming 21% increase in 2021 alone.

Currently, there are at least ten different strategies across seven NSW government departments related to domestic violence. Instead of this siloed approach, we MUST ensure all government initiatives, resources and strategies are coordinated across government departments. When accessing services, victim-survivors need supports which speak to each other rather than being referred from one place to another without getting the help they need.

The upcoming election is a chance for the sexual, domestic and family violence sector to be heard when it comes to ending gendered violence in NSW. The NSW Women’s Alliance is an alliance of peak organisations and state-wide, specialist service providers responding to and working to prevent sexual, domestic, and family violence. We have launched a state election platform called Action to End Gendered Violence, outlining seven key asks to reform the landscape of sexual, domestic and family violence.


1. A coordinated, whole-of-government approach to sexual, domestic and family violence policy in NSW. This includes a call for a lived expertise advisory group to the NSW Government, increased transparency, quality standards for specialist services and a whole-of-government risk assessment framework.

2. Commitment to intersectional primary prevention to end gendered violence and promote gender equality. If we are going to change societal attitudes, it’s going to be generational. We must be focusing on primary prevention and early intervention aimed at stopping the violence before it starts. The NSW Women’s Alliance is calling for a NSW Primary Prevention of sexual, domestic, and family violence plan committed to an intersectional approach.


3. Immediate and long-term supports for people experiencing and recovering from sexual, domestic, and family violence. We are calling for an increase in funding to the specialist sexual, domestic, and family violence sector by a minimum of $133.55 million per year, as well as the introduction of flexible support packages (so that victim-survivors have flexible and safe access to the money they need) and an increase in funding for specialist children’s and young people’s services.

4. Safe and appropriate housing for everybody experiencing and recovering from sexual, domestic, and family violence. We want to ensure all victim-survivors of domestic and family violence can access a safe home. This means tangible commitments to funding long-term, affordable and sustainable social housing.

5. Reform legal systems and policing for people experiencing sexual, domestic, and family violence. There must be improvements to policing in NSW which ensure people experiencing violence can access consistent and safe responses anywhere in the state, and greater transparency and quicker access to safer courts and the Victims Support Scheme. 

6. Enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to lead change towards ending sexual, domestic, and family violence in their communities. The NSW Women’s Alliance supports recommendations from the DVNSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Steering committee to support self-determination and seek the expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to design responses which will achieve successful outcomes in Aboriginal communities.

7. Develop and implement a workforce development plan for the specialist sexual, domestic, and family violence sector. One in four workers in community service organisations in NSW are aged 55 or over and approximately half of the staff will be of retirement age by 2027. The pandemic has further exacerbated the issues behind an under-resourced sector, as demand has increased while workers have been stretched thin, facing a high risk of burnout. The NSW Women’s Alliance is calling for a thorough workforce development plan incorporating the training needs of the current sector, more long-term contracts and fairer salaries. 

We are motivated by the services and frontline workers who show up every day to save lives. We will continue to advocate for more funding, more resources and more support for them. We must listen to them – the services that are overworked, under-resourced and having to turn away women in crisis every day. We need to listen to the victim-survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and put them at the centre of policy and funding decisions.

We must be united to end gendered violence. We need commitment to a whole-of-government, holistic approach to preventing and responding to sexual, domestic and family violence in NSW. We need election commitments that put the lives of women, children and LGBTIQA+ people first.

Everyone deserves to live free from violence.

10 - Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave

Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave  
Eleven million reasons (and counting) to be #ASUProud!

Author: Christine Smith


It’s a special feeling being part of a Union which is providing real services to members and has been at the forefront of working towards the successful introduction of legislation to make 11 million workers safer and more able to escape abuse and violence.  I felt incredibly fortunate to be able to attend a breakfast at Parliament House in Canberra, where members of unions including the ASU, Teachers Federation, and the HSU had been invited to celebrate the introduction of Paid Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) Leave, which became law across Australia for workplaces with more than 15 staff on 1st February, 2023 (and in workplaces with fewer than 15 staff on 1st August, 2023).

During the event, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed us, and reminded us of the legislation’s path to becoming national law and the creation of a new, ground breaking international standard.  Mr Albanese’s speech showed that he was well informed and genuinely interested. While paying tribute to the work of the DV Clearing House team and the ASU’s own Natalie Laing, Mr Albanese reminded us that ordinary people, including Union members and delegates took up the practical challenge of working to introduce this life changing – and life-saving – leave into people’s workplaces.

As most will know, Paid Domestic and Family Violence Leave became a workplace right after over 15 years of advocacy by ASU members and the Trades Union movement, and people with lived experience, feminist activists such as Ludo McFerran.

The first place to offer Paid Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) Leave to their staff was the Surf Coast Shire Council, and over the next 15 years thousands more businesses, large and small (including my own employer, DV West), made Paid DFV Leave available to workers.  But the ASU didn’t stop there. Members continued to work, talk and press for the right to 10 full days of Paid DFV Leave for all workers – fulltime, part time, casuals, workers employed by labour hire firms, arguing that everyone who worked needed to be covered – because this leave saves lives, and the lives of all workers are equally valuable. 

As Mr Albanese said, Paid DFV Leave is a real example of ‘ground up’ change.

When the legislation was read in Parliament last year by Industrial Relations Minister Tony Bourke, everyone in the Gallery applauded. Finally, recognition of the reality for workers, especially women workers – the personal is not just political, it’s economic! 

We don’t leave our lives at home when we go to work, and a healthy work life balance must incorporate an understanding of the difficulties people face, as well as ensuring workers can keep themselves safe without fear of losing their livelihood.

ASU members started advocating for this important workplace right at a time when many people believed domestic and family violence were ‘private’ matters. The truth was then, and always has been, that DFV directly affects a worker’s ability to do their job – and in many cases, to do it safely.

When someone is being controlled, abused, harassed or assaulted by a partner or family member, a steady income provides a real, practical escape route, and being able to take time out of the workplace to find safety and deal with legal issues and government departments is vital.  But for people seeking to do this, often with children’s safety and welfare to manage at the same time, time out of the workforce often meant financial penalty, and sometimes even losing their job.
Through my job as an Intake Assessment and Referral Worker for DV West, a specialist Domestic and Family Violence support service based in Western Sydney (and providing services in Penrith LGA, Blue Mountains LGA, Blacktown LGA, the Hills Shire and the Hawkesbury), I’ve been privileged to speak with hundreds of DFV victim survivors in the past 5 years.

Many have been reaching out for support for the first time, unsure what help – if any - was available, and workplace security is a real issue for many - whether they are working full time, part time or as casuals.  This was especially difficult for people working in insecure jobs, particularly through labour hire firms where the ultimate employers often don’t know anything directly about the people they employ. 

Some clients can only access restricted government support due to visa status or country of origin. If workers cannot access crisis accommodation or support payments, Paid DFV Leave is even more vital to escape abuse.  Some victim survivors have been sacked because their abusers come to their workplace and make a scene, sometimes verbally - or even physically - attacking colleagues and management, waiting  outside the workplace to monitor who the victim survivor interacts with or phoning dozens of times a day, disrupting the worker’s performance.  In some cases, abusers have approached other workers to ask them questions about the victim/survivor.

Although most people are sympathetic,  these things can be really frightening and confusing for colleagues and employers. Some employers are not supportive and react punitively to the victim, but clients have also told me employers often really want to help – but don’t know how. Now, these employers have a tool which enables them to provide practical assistance – Paid DFV Leave, provided confidentially and for all employment types.

Clients fear losing their employment for all the obvious reasons, but also work is often the only place they are free of abuse for a period of time, and may even have supportive colleagues.  Sometimes colleagues and employers tell victims about support services, and they call but can’t maintain an ongoing connection because the abuser is always around, reading their phone messages, listening to their calls and following them to appointments.

Paid DFV Leave means that if the victim accesses a support service and makes a plan – perhaps by using a colleague’s phone, they can leave with the knowledge they won’t lose their only source of income, and will have paid leave while they find accommodation, visit government departments, organise their children’s schooling, and all the many things needed to make lasting life changes. And many people aren’t aware - until they try to leave, that people who are employed are likely to exceed income limits and means tests for crisis accommodation and support payments. For example, NSW residents are generally entitled to 28 days of “free” Temporary Accommodation - usually in motel-style accommodation funded by the NSW Government, but numerous restrictions apply including means testing. If you earn or have assets above a certain amount, Temporary Accommodation entitlement is limited to 2 nights, or may be refused entirely. 

Some victim survivors I’ve spoken with have been unable to extend Temporary Accommodation (TA) because they’ve earned too much due to a few extra casual shifts or have a small amount of savings in the bank.  TA access restrictions also apply to NZ citizens working in Australia and various other types of visa holders. These workers often pay into Australia’s tax and superannuation systems but can have limited rights to access government support in times of crisis.  The TA system is difficult for people with companion animals, which are not accepted by most providers, so victim survivors are forced to choose between their pets or safety, which  Support services such as the RSPCA (which offer lower cost boarding for people in crisis) are often at capacity and if someone is financially insecure can be unaffordable.

DV West’s DVRE team link up with women placed in Temporary Accommodation, and provide intensive support, including helping to access short term accommodation and long-term accommodation through various rental subsidy programmes. 

It continues to be a challenge because affordable housing is at a premium, there are waiting lists of many years for public and community housing and rents are high. In the inner city, the rough sleeper is a kind of tragic symbol of homelessness, but in the ‘outer suburbs’ and regional areas, the face of homelessness is more likely to be a mum with a couple of kids staying a few nights with different family members and friends for months at a time, occasionally sleeping in the car, and always desperate to find some kind of secure accommodation.

Much of the safety planning provided by DV West’s specialist support workers revolves around assisting clients to find safe and affordable accommodation, utilising available resources and the knowledge and expertise of the incredible staff.  And it’s not just accommodation. Someone leaving an abusive relationship may need to negotiate with schools, seek legal advice, contact government departments such as Centrelink. Anyone who has had to any one of these things knows how time consuming it is – imagine having to do it in just a few days, all the time in fear of having to return to an abusive situation if you don’t succeed!

Paid DFV Leave means clients have a more realistic time frame to make a start on some of these things, and focus on getting support for priority matters. Every week in Australia, people (mostly women) die as a result of DFV. Many make headlines but still some go unrecognised.  Paid DFV Leave will mean that working Australians may be able to leave before it’s too late. This leave will save lives.

Almost as important, DFV is now legally recognised nationally as an industrial issue.  This is a turning point in the way our society understands DFV, what it is, and what its impacts are on the individual, their children and family, and our wider community.

And we wouldn’t have Paid DFV Leave without the dedicated work of ASU members across the past 15 years, which has changed the rights of 11 million Australian workers today and unknown millions of future workers. Eleven million reasons (and counting) to be #ASUProud!

About the author
ChristineSmith .jpg

Christine Smith - Christine Smith is a proud ASU member who with a domestic and family violence support service in Gundungurra and Darug country in western Sydney, where she lives and works.

11 - Upholding workplace safety

Upholding workplace safety when supporting
survivors of institutional child sexual abuse:

Perspectives from community and legal practitioners

covering Greater Western Sydney

Authors: Laura Butler, Amy Lawton and Parisa Kalali



Supporting survivors of institutional child sexual abuse is critical, complex work undertaken by diverse individuals and organisations across Australia. Community and disability organisations are a key arm of this support. In 2021, our team at WESTIR – a non-profit research centre based in Greater Western Sydney (GWS) – undertook a qualitative research study exploring the role of community and not-for-profit legal services covering GWS in supporting survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The full report is available on WESTIR’s website.

The broad aim of the research was to understand the current state of the service system for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, through the perceptions and experiences of workers in relevant community based services. In doing so, the research study sought to highlight the challenges, gaps, and potentials within the service system since the completion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) (2013-2017).


As part of this investigation, WESTIR heard powerful reflections from practitioners regarding their feelings of safety and wellbeing when supporting survivors of abuse. It is these findings that this article reflects upon. The implications of these findings are not only relevant for the ongoing wellbeing of practitioners, but the sustainability and effectiveness of the community services system of survivor support.


Between March and August 2021, our social research team conducted 15 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with 21 community practitioners representing 16 organisations. Participants were recruited by a mix of purposive and snowball sampling, identified through our existing knowledge of the sector and recommendations from participants. All interviews were conducted virtually to ensure participant safety and convenience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participating organisations included community services (n=10), not-for-profit legal services (n=5), and a local government (n=1).


The project was approved via WESTIR’s internal ethical review. The research team followed strict protocols to ensure privacy, security, and safety standards were upheld, as outlined in the Participant Information Statement provided to all participants. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analysed based on research objectives using NVivo. In doing so, WESTIR captured the experiences, perspectives, and insights of community service staff regarding creating and maintaining safety for workers supporting trauma survivors.


Through interviews, we found several common themes regarding the sustainability of social sector workforce and practitioners undertaking the crucial work of supporting survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. Three themes were key: the importance of trauma-informed workplace safety; the impact of culture on staff burnout and turnover; and the need for adequate, pro-active training.



A key concern for practitioners supporting survivors of child sexual abuse was workplace safety. Prominent among discussions of workplace safety was the issue of vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma, also known as secondary trauma, refers to “harmful changes that occur in professionals’ views of themselves, others, and the world, as a result of exposure to the graphic and/or traumatic material of their clients” [1]. Preventing and managing vicarious trauma is critical to protecting staff wellbeing, job satisfaction, and employee retention [2]. Consequently, it is also critical for ensuring the longevity and effectiveness of client support.


As identified in a research study produced to inform the Royal Commission, trauma-informed care is an approach to service delivery that centres on an awareness of trauma and its impact on peoples’ lives [3]. In undertaking therapeutic work and supporting survivors of trauma, trauma informed practices are critical for protecting staff from vicarious trauma [4]. Trauma-informed workplace practices include providing proactive support, regular training, and maintaining a work-life balance where personal lives can be separated from trauma-focussed work. 


With many interview participants openly discussing the practice of trauma informed care, this approach appears to be at the forefront of practice among community and not-for-profit legal services covering GWS. For example:

“people [who] work in this sector definitely need to have a lot of support around self-care” (Interviewee 1, Community Service).


“[practitioners] need to be supported well in terms of making sure they’ve got adequate supervision, that there is that work-life balance in place… [it is like when] you sit on a plane and it comes on with the safety thing, saying ‘put your oxygen mask on first before you put it on your child’. Unless you’re looking after yourself, you can't look after your client. I think there really does need to be a focus on ‘how can we help you to do this work well, but also to remain well’” (Interviewee 13, Community Legal Service).

Interviewee’s broad recognition of the importance of trauma-informed workplaces was not always positive. Some participants shared their concerns that workplace cultures posed barriers to practitioners enjoying such protections. Failures in establishing trauma informed workplaces were considered to be shaped by factors such as workload, occupational norms, and standards set by senior staff. For example:

“Lawyers are pretty terrible at it [accessing support]… I always had external clinical professional supervision, I see an external supervisor every month and having that type of support for me is just foundational to be able to continue to do the really difficult work… [but] it wasn’t always set as the standard from the top down and I think that creates a culture of you can just keep going” (Interviewee 6, Community Legal Service).

Even with services who enjoyed trauma informed workplace practices, these practices encountered new obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, many community services shifted their practice to remote service delivery to adhere to public health recommendations. To many, remote service delivery meant working from home. As existing studies have found, working from home can raise challenges such as disrupted communication and collaboration with colleagues, lack of social contact, increased stress, increased burnout, difficulties in maintaining work-life balance, and other safety concerns [5] [6] [7]. Concerns regarding providing trauma support from home were emphasised in interviews:

“the team was listening to the stories of complex trauma of childhood sexual abuse. So, they were doing that within their own homes and not everyone in the team has an office. Like, some of them were working from their bedrooms, kitchens, things like that. So, how do you have that same sort of closure and detachment?” (Interviewee 9, Community Service).

As limited communication can endanger staff safety and team cohesion [8], transitioning to working from home arrangement raised concerns about replicating team connectivity remotely. For example:


“what we know about… sustainability about trauma, is that you have to co-regulate with others. You have to have a relational aspect. And so, [in the office] the team were very connected and they sat together and they would obviously co-regulate each other through the day. I was really concerned about that because they were not near anyone [when working from home]” (Interviewee 9, Community Service).

In addition to formal workplace practices, informal strategies such as personal coping mechanisms can help to prevent or manage vicarious trauma [2]. Participants identified personal and incidental practices that helped them to maintain wellbeing while supporting clients remotely. For example, one interviewee found value in the natural surroundings of their home, echoing existing research regarding the power of nature in trauma recovery [9] [10]:


“it meant that the intense work that we did over the phone was manageable. So, [it helped] if you suddenly hear a bird or something coming up your driveway, [or] look at a tree” (Interviewee 6, Community Service).


Additional risks to practitioner safety, according to research participants, were workplace culture and experiences of burnout. In turn, such challenges were observed to lead to high staff turnover. Long work hours, high and complex caseloads, and fatigue were frequent points of discussion seen to contribute to these issues:

“Mondays I often start at 9 [o’clock] and finish at 8. The work needs to be done” (Interviewee 4, Community Service).


“we are really tired, and talking to other services, everybody is tired and it’s more than the usual ‘oh I’m tired’. It’s like the dam’s about to break” (Interviewee 7, Community Service).


Factors such as burnout and problematic features of a workplace’s culture raise a risk beyond practitioner wellbeing: staff turnover. As one interview participant discussed, their service was experiencing:


“quite a high turnover of staff [due to the] culture within workplaces… a pattern where great workers have come in well and come out the other end not well… [it’s] something that is not talked about” (Interviewee 7, Community Service).

In 2021, a survey of 975 community and disability practitioners nationwide found that many planned to leave their employer in the next year or two, either for another employer in the sector (22% of social workers, 10% of disability support professionals, and 9% of community service workers) or to a different sector altogether (19% of social workers, 14% of disability support professionals, and 11% of community service workers) [11]. The loss of such professionals to community services and the sector is costly, with the loss not only seen in the skills and care of the practitioner, but institutional memory, team sustainability, service continuity, and potentially service quality.


A growing amount of literature explores the numerous factors impacting community sector workforces. Factors shaping workforce retention include low salaries, long work hours, burnout, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and more [12][13][14]. Workplace culture in the field of survivor and trauma support, however, has been less explored in research. From our study, we identified several additional concerns, such as job insecurity, specifically tied to insecure funding and contracting arrangements:

“a big one for a lot of people is job insecurity… because our funding comes in 2 year blocks, most of us are on contracts, there’s no such thing as a permanent position anymore. That worries me… I live off this job, I don’t own a home. If I don’t have a job, I’m going to be one other [of the] ever-growing cohort of women over 50 who are homeless. That worries me” (Interviewee 1, Community Service)



Regarding practitioner and workplace safety, one topic frequently discussed by interview participants was training. Effective training is critical for the wellbeing of both survivors and staff [2] [15]. Fields where participants identified practitioners were receiving training included responding to disclosures, child wellbeing, and managing vicarious trauma. For example:

“[we are doing] a lot of the training [on], how to respond to the disclosure in the first place… starting at square one, the basic” (Interviewee 11, Community Service).


“[I] saw many colleagues deeply impacted and traumatised by the [work]… it was like every time the phone rang, it was like a trigger – you knew what was on the end of the line. And it was very stressful for the lawyers having to constantly step into that space of trauma… [but they] had a lot of training as well” (Interviewee 8, Community Legal Service).

Yet, several participants identified limited training as an issue endangering staff and clients alike. A prominent training gap identified by participants was how to manage disclosures of sexual abuse. For some, managing abuse disclosures was complicated by the limited availability of specialist sexual assault services, which meant survivors sought support from more generalised services, where specialised training may not be standard. Regarding training needs for managing abuse disclosures, for example:


“recognising signs and indicators of child sexual abuse and responding to them is quite poor across the board… there isn’t effective training” (Interviewee 6, Community Service).


“[we need] more support for staff to manage disclosures and create safe environments for young people to disclose when we are working with them [so workers can] respond to that in a safe way” (Interviewee 5, Community Service).

Training was not only recommended to be broadened within community services, but across the health and welfare sectors. Professionals in aged care and medicine were especially highlighted:

“[it is critical for] all people who may be working with survivors to have an understanding of what this means for them. That's aged care, doctors, all of those professionals who might be hearing someone's story… we focus on current organisations and current children now, but our redress survivors are 60, 70, 80… how [do] our aged care service providers respond to people who are disclosing abuse, who are in their 70s and 80s? How do we do that?” (Interviewee 3, Community Service).


Participant reflections on the importance of quality training echoes the findings of the Royal Commission, which raised concerns regarding the lack of workforce training, skills, and capacity regarding recognising issues and responding appropriately [15]. The Royal Commission also noted the need for organisations to ensure that they have the appropriate policies, continual training, and effective support to identify possible abuse and support disclosure. In NSW, at the time of publication, training on child safety and responding to abuse disclosures is available through organisations such as the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian and the NSW Health Education Centre Against Violence. Expanded provision and use of this training, in combination with time made available to service staff to undertake training, will only help protect practitioners as they undertake crucial survivor support work. 

In interviewing community and legal practitioners working to prevent and address the impacts of institutional child sexual abuse, our research study captured a glimpse of the invaluable work undertaken by individuals and organisations in the social sector. Moreover, it captured insights and experiences of the challenges involved in undertaking this work, notably vicarious trauma and burnout, which when experienced, were considered to be perpetuated by workplace cultural norms and insufficient training. 

For the community services sector to support survivors and work towards enacting the Royal Commissions’ recommendations, it is important that services establish safe, supportive, trauma-informed workplace cultures that apply effective policies and support programs. The findings of our research reflected how services must ensure that professional supervision is not only made available, but is of high quality, and foster workplace cultures that support accessing this supervision. As COVID-19 continues to circulate and Australian workplaces broadly shift towards hybrid work practices, services must also be attuned to how workers can navigate trauma support work remotely, ensuring strategies are in place to help staff detach their professional work from their private lives. Investing time and effort into strategies that help teams connect and co-regulate, whether working on site or remotely, will assist in these protections. Services may also consider openly discussing the informal, positive coping mechanisms used by practitioners (such as engaging with nature, meditation, and exercise) and brainstorming strategies among teams to encourage wider adoption of peer support and self-care practices. Together, such strategies may help to reduce turnover and ensure that practitioners are not experiencing trauma as they help to relieve the trauma of others. As funders work to support survivors of abuse, it is critical that they are also attune to practitioner needs in the community and other sectors.


[1] Baird, K & Kracen, AC, 2006, ‘Vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress: A research synthesis’, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 181–188.
[2] Trippany, RL, Kress, VEW, & Wilcoxon, SA, 2004, ‘Preventing vicarious trauma: What counselors should know when working with trauma survivors’, Journal of Counseling & Development, vol. 82, no. 1, pp. 31–37.
[3] Quadara, A & Hunter, C, 2016, Principles of trauma-informed approaches to child sexual abuse: A discussion paper, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney.
[4] The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017a), Final Report: Identifying and disclosing child sexual abuse, Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia.
[5] Deutrom, J, Katos, V, & Ali, R, 2021, ‘Loneliness, life satisfaction, problematic internet use and security behaviours: re-examining the relationships when working from home during COVID-19’, Behaviour & Information Technology, pp. 1–15.
[6] Hayes, S, Priestley, JL, Ishmakhametov, N, & Ray, HE, 2020, ‘"I’m not working from home, I’m living at work”: Perceived stress and work-related burnout before and during COVID-19’, PsyArXiv.
[7] Pennington, A. (2021) ‘Working from home: Risks and opportunities’, Australian Journal of Community and Disability Practitioners, no. 2, pp. 16-18.
[8] Smith, BJ & Lim, MH, 2020, ‘How the COVID-19 pandemic is focusing attention on loneliness and social isolation’, Public Health Research & Practice, vol. 30, no. 2, p. 3022008.
[9] Berger, R, 2016, ‘Renewed by nature: Nature therapy as a framework to help people deal with crisis, trauma and loss’, in M. Jordan & J. Hinds, Ecotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, pp. 177–185, Macmillan International Higher Education, London.
[10] Wheeler, M, Cooper, NR, Andrews, L, Hacker Hughes, J, Juanchich, M, Rakow, T, & Orbell, S, 2020, ‘Outdoor recreational activity experiences improve psychological wellbeing of military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder: Positive findings from a pilot study and a randomised controlled trial’, PLoS ONE, vol. 15, no. 11, p. e0241763.
[11] HESTA (2021) State of the Sector: Community and Disability Services Workforce Insights, HESTA (Health Employees Superannuation Trust Australia), Parramatta.
[12] Cortis, N. and Blaxland, M. (2020) Australia’s Community Sector and COVID-19: Supporting Communities Through the Crisis, Sydney, Australian Council of Social Service.
[13] Baird, S & Jenkins, SR, 2003, ‘Vicarious traumatization, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout in sexual assault and domestic violence agency staff’, Violence and Victims, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 71–86.
[14] Wood, L, Wachter, K, Rhodes, D, & Wang, A, 2019, ‘Turnover intention and job satisfaction among the intimate partner violence and sexual assault workforce’, Violence and Victims, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 678–700.
[15] The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2017b), Final Report: Recommendations, Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia.

About the authors

Laura Butler is a Social Research and Information Officer at WESTIR Ltd and a PhD student at the University of Wollongong’s School of Geography and Sustainable Communities. Her work at WESTIR focusses on research consultation and demographic analysis for social planning and community sector development. She has a particular interest in Australian public policy and the human dimensions of environmental issues.


Amy Lawton is a research consultant at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance (IPPG) at the University of Technology Sydney. Prior to her time at IPPG, she worked at WESTIR Ltd as a Social Research and Information Officer. Amy has an interest in public policy responses across all levels of government on a variety of social and human service issues, including child protection and welfare, food security, and housing and homelessness. Amy is a member of the National Tertiary Education Union.


Parisa Kalali is a Research Officer at Astrolabe Group and a Casual Academic at the University of New South Wales. Before joining the Astrolabe Group, she worked at WESTIR Ltd as a Social Research and Information Officer. Parisa has an interest in social, cultural and community-focused studies. WESTIR Ltd (Western Sydney Research and Information Service) is a not-for-profit research organisation based in Parramatta, NSW, which employs members of the ASU who undertake important research for the communities of Greater Western Sydney (GWS) with a particular focus on Targeted Earlier Intervention (TEI). To read the full research report and accompanying background report, please visit

12 - Government lifts its years long ‘gag-clause’

Government lifts its years long ‘gag-clause’ prohibiting CLCs from political advocacy

Author: Merryn Lynch


In good news for community legal assistance sector, the Federal Government is lifting a restriction in federal funding agreements that previously prohibited Community Legal Centres (CLCs) from taking part in political advocacy and lobbying.


In making the announcement, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said this change ends: ‘political censorship and restor[es] independence and free speech to the community legal sector.’

Why was there a gag?

In 2014, the Abbott Government introduced a clause in the National Legal Assistance Partnership (an agreement between the Federal Government and state and territory governments for federally funded legal assistance) that prohibited CLCs from engaging in advocacy. As part of the Federal Government’s recent announcement, this clause will now be removed from the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25.


What was the impact of the gag?

The 2017 Civil Voices report found that these ‘gag clauses’ had been one factor that contributed to the poor health of public debate in Australia. Dr Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, explained the effect of gag clauses by saying:

The Coalition in their nine-year war on charities took the view that charities should be seen and not heard. That environmental charities should plant trees, but couldn't talk about deforestation. That antipoverty charities could serve in a soup kitchen but couldn't talk about inequality. And that legal charities could serve clients but couldn't talk about law reform.


Katrina Ironside, the Executive Director of Community Legal Centres NSW, ‘wholeheartedly welcome[ed] this announcement’, saying


It shifts us from an environment that deterred advocacy, to one that embraces it. We’re a sector that really believes that change is possible. And this decision shows that the federal government understands the value of community legal centres as advocates for change.


What does this mean for Justice Connect?

Justice Connect echoes the sentiments expressed by the representatives of the community legal sector and other Australian charities. 

As an organisation with an extraordinary depth and breadth of insights into the commonly experienced legal issues, we are glad to once again be able to use our professional experience to advocate for system-level solutions to the problems we observe in our casework. 

We can prevent people’s difficult experiences of navigating the legal system if we address the drivers of unmet legal need and improve the legal and justice system.


The lifting of the gag enables us to advocate for the changes we want to see and system-level improvements that will bring our society closer to equality under the law and social justice.


This article was originally published on the Justice Connect website.

About the author

Merryn Lynch is a lawyer with Justice Connect.  Merryn has worked in private, and community based legal practices.  In her current role at Justice Connect, Merryn works with Local Aboriginal Land Councils and other not for profit organisations to provide advice and training on a broad range of legal topics.  Merryn is a proud ASU member and activist.

13 - The price we pay for selling our values

The price we pay for selling our values

Author: David Crosbie


‘Effectiveness without values is a tool without a purpose.’  Edward De Bono

Most of the time I am proud to live and work in Canberra alongside many hard-working public servants, most of whom take their responsibilities to the Australian community very seriously. They do not always get everything right, and can sometimes be a little overzealous and out of touch, but mostly they are doing their best, informed by their own commitment and values.

In fact, the Australian Public Service has adopted a set of five core values:


  1. Impartial - apolitical and provides the government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.

  2. Committed to service - professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the government.

  3. Accountable - open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility.

  4. Respectful - respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.

  5. Ethical - demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.
    APS Values | Australian Public Service Commission (

I know people who work at senior levels in the Department of Social Services.  They were proud to be part of an organisation that has as its stated purpose: Our mission is to improve the wellbeing of individuals and families in Australian communities.  About the Department | Department of Social Services, Australian Government (  They are not as proud these days.

The last fortnight of revelations about Robodebt has been devastating, not only because of the level of harm done to so many Australians – most of us were only too aware of the destructive impact - but also for what it says about the capacity of people working in the Australian Public Service to completely disregard every one of their five core values.


No-one questions the need for all governments to ensure taxpayer funds are being well spent without fraud or misappropriation.  This is an important aspect of running accountable government.  But for the government to construct a false and misleading narrative about welfare fraud and deception, and then seek to recover legitimate expenditure from the most vulnerable in our community is a betrayal of everything government should stand for.

Robodebt was bias, unprofessional, unaccountable, disrespectful and unethical.  It undermined the wellbeing of vulnerable Australians and their families.  It destroyed lives.  And what made it worse is that Robodebt demonstrated the capacity of the public service to prosecute innocent people while working overtime to pretend they were doing nothing wrong.

In decades of dealing with public servants across many areas of government, the Robodebt scheme stands out for me as an icon of malicious discrimination against innocent and vulnerable Australians.

Rick Morton, writing in The Saturday Paper, described Robodebt in these terms: ‘Although no findings have yet been made, it is clear the welfare debt scheme is at the very least the result of a catastrophic, multisystem failure within the Australian Public Service, which designed, incubated, sold and then covered for a program with a fatal flaw so obvious that every Centrelink front-line worker – who earn 13 times less than the secretary – was warned about it during routine inductions.’

The fatal flaw Rick Morton was referring to was income averaging – taking the gross income for a year and averaging it out per fortnight so that if someone was unemployed for nine months, but then managed to earn $30,000 in three months of paid work, they were presumed to have earned $1200 every fortnight of the year.  The debt collectors could come calling asking for nine months of Jobseeker to be repaid.


Not everyone was complicit in prosecuting the bastardry of Robodebt.  Centrelink compliance officer Colleen Taylor told the Robodebt Inquiry she quit because she could no longer keep ‘doing the wrong thing ... If we know there’s no debt, and yet we’re sending a debt notice out to someone, isn’t that stealing?' Her appearance at the royal commission this week introduced Australians to a  frontline Centrelink worker who had the moral compass to tell her superiors something they either did not or pretended not to know: that the Robodebt program was wrong.   Centrelink worker recounts ‘callous indifference’ from superiors after raising alarm about robodebt | Royal commission into robodebt | The Guardian

The question many people are now asking is; why were so many senior people in government departments prepared to put aside their own values and the values of the APS to create non existent debts and seek repayments from vulnerable Australians?

The answer is partly about the nature of the government and the Ministers these public servants were answerable to, partly about what they perceived was required of them if they were to advance their careers, and partly about their own insular arrogance and limited compassion or empathy.

Rather than explore each of these factors, I think it is important that we as charities reflect on our own professional behaviour and what, if anything, prevents us jettisoning our values and purpose in pursuit of individual or organisational interests?  

Who would or wouldn’t we take money from to continue our programs and services?  What terms and conditions might we insist on to ensure our values are enacted within new partnerships and collaborations?  What values or behaviour would exclude someone from being able to fulfill a leadership or executive role in our organisations?  What are our value red lines around staff, volunteers, leaders and supporters?  What are the moral or ethical boundaries that our organisation has to stay within?

While most charities have strong mission statements and can talk about their values, the best defence against losing our way and dropping our moral compass is the ongoing monitoring and reporting of both our purpose and our values.

I have looked for reporting about the APS values and cannot find any measures anywhere.  We now know the words the APS use to describe their values are no more than decoration, meaningless statements that everyone can agree to without having to actually do anything or not do anything.

Robodebt is an indictment of the Australian Public Service, a clear demonstration that values do not matter for some of the most highly paid ‘successful’ government officials in Australia.

The uncomfortable truths Robodebt exposes should ensure every charity in Australia is actively monitoring both its values and its purpose.  The costs of losing your integrity go way beyond the dollar signs.  

Originally appeared in Pro Bono, 15/12/22. Published with permission of the author and Pro Bono

About the author
David Crosbie.jpg

David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia, a role has had held for ten years.  He and has spent more than 25 years as a CEO of significant not-for-profit organisations including as a CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and Odyssey House Victoria.  He has served on many national advisory groups and Boards including the first Advisory Board for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, the Not-for-Profit Sector Reform Council, Chair of the National Compact Expert Advisory Group, and an inaugural member (now a judge) of the Pro Bono Australia ‘Impact 25’ listing of the most influential leaders in Australian charities and not-for-profit sector. David has a diverse background having taught in prison and other special settings, been a probation officer, lectured at university, worked as a farm hand, truck driver, bank teller, public servant, and a musician in a successful rock band. 

14 - Anti-protest laws-  a Christian activist’s perspective

Anti-protest laws -  a Christian activist’s perspective

Author: Thea Omerod


I haven’t seen this before. A Muslim supporter of our organization, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), recently participated in a peaceful protest held in Macquarie Street. Protesters did not block the footpath, but they were perhaps noisy, with chanting and speeches and the usual placards. Afterwards, she and another protester were followed around for some hours by police officers.

In mid-2022, a Quaker friend of mine was with others on private property, when men in camouflage with guns drove onto the property in an unmarked vehicle. The men did not initially identify themselves as police. Next, there were helicopters, dozens of uniformed officers and police dogs. Seven people were arrested - this had not even been a protest.


At the court hearing, my Quaker friend was shocked to hear that the NSW police had a warrant to listen in to conversations he had been having on his mobile phone.

Since then I have read about a 23-year-old being arrested by four or five police who broke into her house at midnight because she had been seen in a protest outside the Reserve Bank of Australia. 

Sadly, there are many more stories like this.


As a Christian climate activist committed to peaceful, nonviolent forms of protest, I’m deeply disturbed at the backward step democracy has taken in New South Wales since March last year. Not only were the hastily passed anti-protest laws disproportionate, but the culture among police has also noticeably changed. The harsher penalties for protest seem to have precipitated a shift among the police towards heavy-handedness in situations which used to be entirely non-arrestable.

The Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Act 2022 increased maximum penalties for certain kinds of non-violent protests to two years in jail and a $22,000 fine. In NSW this is a heavier penalty than for Driving Under the Influence. Compare these potential penalties with the $469 fine and 3 demerit points imposed on a driver who ran through Blockade Australia’s march in the Sydney CBD on 27th June.


The new legislation also expanded the types of locations that would be off-limits. Previously they were major bridges or tunnels, now they include roads, train stations, ports and public and private infrastructure. The regressive nature of these laws has been widely condemned.

This is part of a nationwide trend towards harsher penalties against peaceful community activists in various Australian States, unfortunately supported by both major political parties. The new laws have met with significant community opposition, including challenges in the High Court and currently before the Victorian and Tasmanian parliaments. 

I’ll be honest. Initially I had some sympathy for the frustration people expressed at traffic-stopping protests early last year. There are surely more targeted, intelligent ways of making a point.


It didn’t take long, however, for me to recognise that society’s response was far less ethical than the original protest activities. The activities were, in some cases, very annoying but they did not cause harm. They were inconvenient, not violent. Contrary to what the leaders of the two major political parties said at the time, they did notstop people earning a living and a wage’ (as the NSW Premier claimed) or ‘shut down half the city…They were shutting down the city in a comprehensive, staged and strategic way’ (as claimed by Opposition leader Chris Minns). 

What is a form of violence is when police use their authority to arbitrarily arrest people, or use their powers to intimidate them. It is a form of violence to pass laws which effectively thwart everyday citizens who would otherwise feel compelled to challenge an injustice.


What is a form of violence is when police use their authority to arbitrarily arrest people, or use their powers to intimidate them. It is a form of violence to pass laws which effectively thwart everyday citizens who would otherwise feel compelled to challenge an injustice.

Effectively, the democratic right to peaceful protest is currently being undermined. That is dangerous for a democracy. It is especially dangerous when we are careering towards 1.50C and we urgently need governments to rein in the power of coal and gas companies. Instead, fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists have never been closer to those in government. Our elected representatives are meeting every day with those spruiking the benefits of fossil fuels, while those of us wanting to protect the earth’s future wait weeks for a meeting. One of the few options we have is the right to peaceful protest. Now more than ever, this precious right needs to be protected. 

About the author
Thea Omerod.jpg

Thea Ormerod is a Catholic Christian, a retired social worker, grandmother and an advocate for action to curb global warming. She has long been involved in a range of social justice issues, mainly concerning global poverty. For the last fifteen years Thea has been involved in the multi-faith climate action organisation, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC, pronounced “ark”) and is currently the President. ARRCC is a Founding Partner of GreenFaith International.

15 - Pressure builds on the NSW government’s anti-protest policy

Pressure builds on the NSW government’s
anti-protest policy

Authors: Anne Charlton and Josh Pallas


In the lead up to the poll on 25 March, pressure is building on Premier Dominic Perrottet as the reality of the NSW anti-protest laws sinks in for the broader New South Wales community.  NSW Police reportedly told organisers of the weekend’s Sydney International Women's Day March, the School Strike for Climate last week and the organisers of the 2023 May Day Rally that they could not hold these community-based actions in front of Sydney Town Hall if the number of people exceed 2,000 - an arbitrary number that has no legislative or policy basis.

On Monday night, the City of Sydney council passed a motion from Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Sylvie  Ellsmore rejecting police attempts to restrict protests at Sydney Town Hall and a second motion condemning the recent arrest and restrictive bail conditions of protestors in the City of Sydney.

Josh Pallas, President, New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties said, “Activism changes history and the right to stand together and peacefully protest must be protected and defended for every citizen not pared back. The Perrottet government’s anti-protest laws fly in the face of what civil society organisations fight for. We thank Councillor Ellsmore for vocally opposing these measures which negatively impact on our rights to freedom of speech and peacefully assembly across NSW.”
The NSW union movement has condemned this legislation and these recent threats by NSW Police particularly despite both Liberal and Labor assurances that the anti-protest laws will not impact unions. These laws criminalise protest actions, which may impact on workers’ legitimate right to take industrial action in central Sydney.

“The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties thanks and acknowledges the City of Sydney Council for its reaffirmation support for peaceful protest, and its opposition to heavy handed Policing.  The implications of criminalising protest at iconic sites like Town Hall and Oxford Street is unimaginable to ordinary Australians who have watched and actively participated in protests across countless human rights issues. These new regulations restrict peaceful protest rights that have always been the lawful right of trade unions, climate campaigners and other activists to convey their message.”

This article originally appeared on 14 March 2023, titled: NSWCCL: Pressure builds on Perrottet re his anti-protest policy, author Anne Charlton

About the authors
Anne Charlton.jpg

Anne Charlton is currently the Executive Officer at the NSW Council for Civil Liberties but has a long history of activism as a feminist and unionist.  She has been at the forefront of the community campaign to overturn anti protest laws in NSW, working with NSW CCL President, Josh Pallas and a committed alliance of other community organisations.  Anne has also worked in the community sector and has been on the board of the Kamira Alcohol and Other Drug Services for many years.  Anne is a proud member of the ASU.

Josh Pallas.png

Josh Pallas is the President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. He was previously the Senior Solicitor at the Crown Solicitors Office  and has also worked in private law firms.  Josh has lectured in law and has been a long-term volunteer with the Inner City Legal Centre and the International Humanitarian Law Department at the Australian Red Cross.  He is currently completing his PhD at the University of Sydney Law School.  He has represented the NSW Council for Civil Liberties at the Human Rights Council in Geneva and is currently working with the ASU, together with other unions and community based groups to overturn anti protest laws in NSW.

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