Dr. WOODRUFF- Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Minister, following the cost of living questions, you were of course at the TasCOSS briefing and we all agree that the community service sector is doing an amazing job. You saw the graph that was presented showing the huge increases in things like gasoline, fuel, food, and a whole range of other things. Neighborhood Houses Tasmania is quite clear that they are stretched beyond capacity. The current funding that was extended, I think, last year or the year before, is very much appreciated; but in the current situation, it certainly does not meet the demand that they know. They had this massive increase in demand for COVID-19; mental health stress; youth and cost of living pressures; social isolation – it all becomes really difficult for people. Why did they not get an increase in funding to recognize that the situation has changed since the last budget?
Mr STREET – Thank you for the question. I disagree that they haven’t received more funding. We have committed $2.8 million over the next two years for the Community Care Advisor model. The reason for this is to get more resources into neighborhood houses to deal with the increased number of people coming through the door.
When they kicked off neighborhood house week in their offices maybe three weeks ago, I talked about this community care counselor program and the fact that what we’re trying to do with this is is to reduce the pressure on the managers of neighborhood houses. We would all know from visiting neighborhood houses, in our constituents that managers really have to be a jack of all trades. They sort as people walk through the door, so they need to have a range of skills. What we’ve tried to do with the community care counselor program is to put more resources into the neighborhood houses, so that they have additional people or can call on additional resources to deal with the range of problems that arise.
Having spoken to community center managers, I know that they are extremely grateful for this support. Michael Bishop, CEO of Neighborhood Houses Tasmania, pushed very hard for the Community Care Advisor pilot project. He is very pleased with the results they are getting and the commitment they are getting from the people working in this pilot program. I met him more than three times, I think, already as minister, and each time he talked about this pilot program and the good work he is doing. In addition to that, there is $5.2 million in funding for neighborhood houses.
Dr. WOODRUFF- Is it additional funding?
Mr STREET – We have $400,000 over four years for a program to build governance capacity within neighborhood houses, because another issue we’ve had, particularly in a few houses, is the disconnect between the boards of these houses and their operational staff within them. We also try to build the capacity of people who come to serve on the boards of those particular facilities. As I said, the $2.8 million for the pilot program and we also have the capital improvement program for neighborhood houses for work in progress. We have committed $300,000 over the next two years for Kentish House. We have also committed funds for Phoenix House on King Island. I am very proud of this government’s support for neighborhood centers and the network, recognizing the important work they do in the community. They are one of the frontline service providers for us as a government.
Dr. WOODRUFF- Thanks for bringing up the Community Care Advisor. As I said, I recognize the $5.4 million the government has invested in neighborhood houses, but unless I misread the budget, that’s not an increase, it’s not it not?
Mr STREET – No, it was a commitment that was made in the 2021 election over three years, the $5.2 million.
Dr. WOODRUFF- Yes.
Mr STREET – This is much more than the community centers have ever received.
Dr. WOODRUFF- There’s a lot of money going there, but I’m just saying there’s a much greater level of need that the money isn’t meeting. I recognize the pilot program. There are 11 community care counselors, a full-time equivalent, I think, across the state. It’s a pilot program that seems to be having a lot of success. Will you commit to making this a permanent program, but with some adjustments if information comes to light. In principle, will you commit to ensuring the safety of the work of these people within the framework of the Estimated Estimates?
Mr STREET – Looking at these audiences, I noticed that you were often leading with ‘Do you want to commit?’ I’m not going to commit to anything here today, except that we’ve committed to the two years of the pilot program and the analysis of the reports that come back at the end of the pilot program. If they’re as positive in another 18 months, as they were in the first 6 months of the program, then I think it’s inevitable that they’ll have a strong case to make the case for this program to be continued, accelerated or continued in one form or another. Absolutely.
Dr. WOODRUFF- That’s a good point; but I met with the Minister of Arts on Monday and asked her why $26 million had been cut from the arts budget. She said it wasn’t retired, it was just the end of a program. What I mean is that if you can’t give the industry more money, you can give it more security. Then they can understand, as this program comes to the end of its lifespan, that they can wonder how they can plan for the future. Two years is fine, but it won’t really get them into the work, planning for the future, and all the things they need to do to support people.
Mr STREET – I totally understand that. One of the things we talked about at the TasCOSS forum was the certainty for those organizations in terms of funding as well, so they don’t live 12 months to 12 months, that we can extend the funding.
Dr. WOODRUFF- It’s a welcome change.
Mr STREET – But I have to point out that it was called a pilot program for a reason. This is the first time that we have rolled out this particular program in neighborhood homes. The reason it was funded for two years was to allow the program to roll out and for us to analyze the results.
My commitment is that we will analyze the results of the program and we will certainly not let it wait until the last week of the two years before making a decision on what we are going to do in the future. But I would ask for the ability to roll out the pilot program statewide and allow proper analysis of the program so we can decide what we do in the future. That’s why it was called a pilot program.
Dr. WOODRUFF- I understand. I was asking for support in principle for the work that is being done.
Dr. WOODRUFF- Minister, I just have one last question on Neighborhood Houses and the fact that they have identified a number of communities around Tasmania that could benefit from a Neighborhood House. Have you discussed with them the continuation of these plans and what can you tell us?
Mr STREET – Regarding the conversation with Neighborhood Houses Tasmania, I had at least two conversations with Michael Bishop, the CEO, about expanding the network. I also met with a few different communities from our constituency, Dr Woodruff, who also advocated for the establishment of a neighborhood house in their area. I shouldn’t mention them but I will – Cygnet.
Dr. WOODRUFF- Yes, Cygnet has been trying to get one for a very long time.
Mr STREET – I have met with Mez Newman several times to talk about the fact that they want a neighborhood house in Cygnet. The criteria for determining whether a community qualifies for a neighborhood house is difficult because it kind of looks at an average in the community, so areas like Cygnet, which might have a small proportion of very affluent people, bring down some social indicators for that particular area that mean it might fall outside the criteria.
Dr. WOODRUFF- Yes, it lacks the truly extreme level of need.
Mr STREET – Yes. I had a conversation with Michael and Mez about this and it’s something we need to look into.
Dr. WOODRUFF- OK. It’s not just Cygnet, obviously there are other places –
Mr STREET – No. I’m sure there are other places across the state that would appreciate having a neighborhood house in their area. I’m not saying we’re committed to expanding the network, but – Mrs Kent has just put a very useful note in front of me that the new community houses strategy that’s being developed looks at the criteria for communities in terms of application also for or potentially to have access to the network of neighborhood houses.
Dr. WOODRUFF- Alright, that’s really good. The point you made, Minister, is very important, that just because you have these very different socio-economic groups in a community – and Cygnet is a great example, but there are other places – it can mean that they are missing out when there is a huge need.
Mr STREET – The criteria we have at the minute simplify the evaluation process, but I think they are probably almost too simple. It takes a deeper dive to be able to get a proper analysis of what is needed in each community as well. I know when I asked about Cygnet before they pointed out the fact that there is a community house in Geeveston, which is –
Dr. WOODRUFF- Hello?
Mr STREET – Exactly. What it indicates is that –
Dr. WOODRUFF- Hello, Regional Tasmania.
Mrs. HADDAD – In fact, they do an amazing job supporting the community.
PRESIDENT – Order.
Dr. WOODRUFF- No, it’s fantastic for the people of Geeveston.
Mr STREET – GeCo is a great facility, but it kind of ignores the fact that the people accessing Neighborhood Houses aren’t always mobile. They don’t drive to a community center for help, they walk there or take public transport. I’m going to hand over to Ingrid to add a few words about the work we’re doing with the strategy.
Ms KENT – The current neighborhood houses strategy which is being developed in collaboration with the network runs until June 2023, so we have started discussions around consultation with the houses on the development of the next five-year strategy. The discussion around the criteria of what a neighborhood house is and how it is decided when new houses want to enter the network is definitely something we want to work on with the network and is part of this forward planning .
Dr. WOODRUFF- Okay, thank you, and hopefully there will be consultation with communities outside of the network to inform this strategy. I’m sure there would be.