TasCOSS Annual Report 2020/21: President’s Report

*** Delivered at the 2021 TasCOSS Annual General Meeting, RACV Hobart Apartment Hotel (The Stables), 8 December 2021 ***

Alexander McKenzie, TasCOSS Board President

In preparing my second President’s Report for TasCOSS, I have been prompted to reflect of course, on the past 12 months, for us as an organisation, a board and personally.  

Twelve months ago, we had — we thought — made it out of the worst of what COVID-19 had to throw at us. 

I recall driving down the highway, like I did today, thinking through how much we had achieved over the past year. And how intense the pressure had been on our TasCOSS team with all of the changing requirements: working from home, lockdowns and closed borders.  

I am not sure what reflections I can offer today on whether or not we have actually made it through the worst of what COVID-19 has to throw at us. We are exactly one week away from what feels like an ominous date.   

Living in Burnie, looking across Bass Strait every day, I have very keenly felt the protection of that moat.    

I also recall feeling as if 2021 would, hopefully, provide us with an opportunity to take a deep breath, and consider what strategies and direction the TasCOSS Board wanted to take.   

Before I outline some of the voluminous work the TasCOSS team has achieved over the past year, I want to take a moment to recognise Adrienne Picone.  

Adrienne’s graceful, resolute, collaborative leadership over the past 18 months has seen a strengthening of TasCOSS’s relationships with all our stakeholders, and a focussing of our work towards ensuring every Tasmanian gets access to a good life.   

In recognition of TasCOSS’s committed and ongoing response to support the community services industry and Tasmanians in response to COVID-19 in particular:  

  • Monthly COVID-19 Recovery meetings to provide support and up-to-date vaccination, business continuity and recovery information.
  • The Essential Technology Fund administration ($350,000 fund administered by TasCOSS on behalf of the Tasmanian Government to provide financial assistance to community service organisations in Tasmania that were required to change service delivery models in response to COVID-19 — allowing them to access and purchase new technology in order to continue to deliver vital support services to Tasmanians in vulnerable circumstances. 
  • Ongoing work during the period of July 2020 to June 2021 on the Joined-Up Recovery.  

TasCOSS’s vital work during this period in challenging and changing the systems, behaviours and attitudes that create poverty, inequality and exclusion has resulted in a range of advocacy and policy driven successes.  

For example, the $125 winter energy bill supplement for concession holders, the extension of the winter bill supplement to embedded network customers, additional funding for No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) Tasmania and the relaunching of the Tasmanian Energy Efficiency Loans Scheme (TEELS). 

Continued strong collaboration and relationships with government, stakeholders and partners has been key to these successes.  

An example of one strong partnership is the 2020 Tasmania Report, published in partnership with the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) which highlighted the importance of the state’s community services industry to our economy and increased need for social assistance and community-led recovery in the aftermath of COVID-19. 

I am confident that this partnership has played an integral role in more Tasmanians understanding, and importantly more policy-making Tasmanians understanding that the community services industry does not reflect just ‘nice to haves’ but is rather an integral part of a strong, well-functioning, egalitarian society.  

Our board and staff have continued their strong focus on governance and leadership. Our staff released four episodes of the Take Me to Your Board podcast during this period. 

It would be remiss of me not to mention also our outgoing board members, Lisa Coulson and John Stubley. Lisa and I were both elected to the TasCOSS Board in 2017, and John in 2018. Their input, advice and support for the board and for me personally over the past few years has been generous and enthusiastic. We will miss their contributions to our discussions and strategy.  

This year we are also celebrating TasCOSS’s 60th anniversary — 60 years of providing leadership and service to Tasmanians, advocating for and creating positive change. 

I also want to highlight the $3.3 million, three year commitment from the Tasmanian Government to partner with community services to address the skills shortage in the community services industry and create 4,000 new jobs by 2024 to meet rising community demand as outlined in TasCOSS’s 2021/22 Budget Priorities Statement: Local People into Local Jobs. 

The ongoing work of TasCOSS and the Community Services Industry Plan Steering Committee on the development of the Community Services Industry Plan (2021-31) during this reporting period, and the first board meetings in Launceston and Burnie and northern networking events in Launceston and Burnie further exemplified our commitment to a statewide presence and support. To be clear, our commitment to all Tasmanians is not lip service.  

During this time, we also launched the new FindHelpTAS website (findhelptas.org.au) which provides a central, free, online directory of services that support the health and wellbeing of Tasmania’s communities, offering the ability to search for services ranging from LGBTIQ+ specialist services to emergency accommodation through to drug rehabilitation support and family violence counselling. This website is an incredible demonstration of partnership and collaboration between community service organisations. 

Looking ahead to what will no doubt again be a very big year — including a Federal Election — TasCOSS will be supporting and adding to ACOSS’s voice and strong advocacy work. We will continue to raise that the next government must have the revenue required to meet the community’s needs for essential services, safety nets, and action on climate change. We will continue to warn of the consequences of any ‘race to the bottom’ on tax.   

To our current board — with our newly elected members Kathy Brown and Ann Hughes — thank you for your continued efforts in leading TasCOSS and I am looking forward to working with you and the TasCOSS team on our new Strategic Plan for the next five years which I have the pleasure of launching today.  

As you can see, our new strategic plan is underpinned by three key strategic goals, those being: 

  1. A good life for all Tasmanians;
  2. A strong community services industry; and 
  3. A vibrant organisation. 

To Adrienne and our staff — you are an extraordinary group of people doing extraordinary work for Tasmanians with less. Your commitment to recognising, reducing and removing barriers to access, whatever those barriers may be, inspire me every day. Tasmania is so very lucky to have you doing the work that you do.  

Thank you.