The 2021 Tasmanian State Election came at a crucial juncture with Tasmania’s economic and social recovery from COVID-19 hinging on decisive actions from our next term of government.
Throughout the election campaign, TasCOSS gave voice and agency to the Tasmanians living on inadequate incomes, and their hopes and aspirations for the future. Alongside seeking election commitments which go to supporting our population to recover from COVID-19 and building resilience, TasCOSS advocated on behalf of the community services industry — Tasmania’s largest and fastest growing industry.
With a majority Liberal Government returned, TasCOSS weighs up how their commitments addressed our election platform below.
1. Community services industry
The Tasmanian Liberals made a commitment to funding TasCOSS election ask with regard to the community services industry workforce.
The commitment of $3.3 million over three years in funding will ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry and our workforce, as well as enable community service organisations to continue to provide timely, wrap-around support to Tasmanians as we respond to increased demand for services.
The Tasmanian Liberals commitment includes:
- Funding an industry awareness and recruitment campaign to promote diverse employment and career opportunities.
- Establishing a Workforce Development Fund to equip the industry with 120 new trainers.
- Strengthening leadership, sustainability and capacity-building through funding for governance scholarships and training.
- Funding regionally-based individualised support services that connect young people, long-term unemployed and others facing employment barriers with local community services, employers, training and mentors.
TasCOSS called for policies and actions that will increase and improve housing stock, affordability and security, including:
- An affordable housing target of 10% of all Tasmanian dwellings to be affordable, social rental housing, backed by meaningful actions that will deliver 1,000 additional dwellings per year over the next decade; and
- Innovative affordable rental options such as shop-top accommodation, infill housing and retrofitting vacant offices.
- A review and modernisation of the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 and reforms to ensure tenants are not evicted into homelessness.
No specific commitment on any of these election asks was given. The Tasmanian Liberals made a number of commitments on housing, which are welcome, but the package overall does not come close to meeting existing and projected need over the next term of government.
It is also possible that stamp duty concessions and the boost to the First Home Owners Grant (from $20,000 to $30,000) will increase house prices. The announcement of a long-term Tasmanian Housing Strategy is welcome, however the strategy needs to be fast-tracked and adequately resourced. The announcement of a supported accommodation facility for older Tasmanians in the North and North-West is very welcome.
Other announcements include:
- $580 million for additional 2,000 social and affordable homes, totalling 3,500 new homes by 2027.
- 150 affordable homes as part of the 450-home Royal Hobart Showground redevelopment.
- Incentives to construct secondary (ancillary) dwellings.
- Land tax relief and first home owner assistance.
Overall, the package does not address the full range of causes of the housing crisis and nor does it reflect the level of need, much of it urgent, across the state.
TasCOSS called for policies and actions that will improve health outcomes for all Tasmanians, particularly those living on inadequate incomes, including:
- Developing and implementing programs that significantly reduce potentially preventable hospitalisations over the next three years.
- Preserving 5% of the overall health budget for direct spending on preventative-primary care.
- Adopting a Health in All Policies approach, framework and action plan.
- Accessing unused Commonwealth health funding to redirect to areas of greatest need.
No specific commitments on any of these was given by the Tasmanian Liberals, however:
- In the leaders forum hosted by TasCOSS, the Premier indicated interest in hearing more about what 5% of health budget spending on preventative health would look like (currently it is about 1.5% — $70 million of $9.8 billion). We will follow up.
- A significant positive outcome is Health Consumers Tasmania receiving a commitment of $4.5 million over two years to trial three Tasmanian Community Health and Wellbeing Network Hubs. These will enable communities to have a voice in what services they need locally, to identify and deliver community led, place-based health and wellbeing initiatives and reconnect vulnerable or disadvantaged groups to the health system. We welcome this important investment in community driven health care.
Announcements that address the need for health care closer to home and preventative health include:
- $52 million for a range of programs including in-home care, local community delivered palliative care and services to avoid hospital admissions when safe to do so, patient transport, and GP after hours support.
- Funding for Family Planning Tasmania to deliver a range of health services for women and girls.
- $10 million in alcohol and drug treatment services through organisations like the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council Tasmania, The Drug Education Network, Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Goodsports program, and the Salvation Army Street Teams, all who work at a grassroots level to educate and prevent harm.
- $10 million for the next Healthy Tasmania five year Strategic Plan, which includes an $8 million community grant program.
- A commitment to establish a Rural Medical Workforce Centre at the Mersey Community Hospital.
Overall, the Tasmanian Liberals main focus of spending was on hospital and infrastructure upgrades and on elective surgery waiting lists. This focus on the acute end does not deliver the investment in community health we know is needed.
TasCOSS called for policies and actions that will improve digital inclusion, including:
- Providing all government school students, from upper primary onwards, with devices and dongles/data where needed.
- Establish a community infrastructure fund to invest in regional and rural infrastructure, ensuring more Tasmanians have access to reliable, high speed internet.
- Introducing a grants program for community services industry organisations to enable service users to access devices.
- Introducing a telecommunications concession.
- Enabling unmetered access to government, emergency and essential community services websites.
- Introducing a digital literacy program to build capacity and digital skills for communities (based on the 26TEN Communities model).
- Funding for community-based digital skills and education programs, to ensure disadvantaged cohorts are work-ready and to support Tasmanians experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage to access telehealth, essential information and safely navigate online.
The only announcement that addressed these priorities was for an additional $350,000 over four years for the Digital Ready for Daily Life program, bringing the total funding for that program to $700,000. This program is predominantly web-based with a range of printable ‘How Tos’ and lists of locations to receive digital help, such as libraries and Online Access Centres.
TasCOSS believes a larger and more targeted investment is required in communities if we are to bridge the significant and growing digital divide in Tasmania. The 26TEN Communities program provides a possible model for community-based work on improving digital ability. There was overall very few initiatives to improve access and affordability for people and communities across the state.
Other announcements include:
- An additional $700,000 for the Digital Ready for Business coaching program.
- $4.3 million to develop a Service Tasmania digital portal.
- $300,000 towards a $1.1 million project to transition nine regional school sites to high speed optical fibre.
- $1 million for telecommunications infrastructure upgrades on King Island.
TasCOSS would like to see the State Government commit to a target of raising Tasmania’s Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) score to at least the national average by 2025. This will drive efforts to reduce the digital divide. As it stands, Tasmania ranks last of all states and territories in the ADII, which measures our population against the three key indices of digital access, affordability and ability.
TasCOSS called for policies and actions that will improve energy affordability and lower electricity bills for Tasmanian households, including:
- Delivering the lowest electricity prices in the country.
- Investing in the Household Energy Efficiency Program (HEEP), that will deliver:
- Energy efficiency upgrades for all Tasmanian social housing
- A grants program for homeowners to invest in energy efficiency upgrades; and
- An incentives program targeted to landlords to improve the energy efficiency standard of rental properties.
- Introducing mandatory minimum energy efficiency requirements for rental properties.
While none of these proposals were committed to, the Tasmanian Liberals announced some welcome measures that TasCOSS has advocated for over the past 12 months which will help Tasmanians on low incomes afford their power bills and improve energy affordability, including:
- $125 per household winter energy bill relief for concession card holders.
- $2 million boost to the NILS Energy Saver Loan and Subsidy Scheme.
- $30 million to relaunch the Tasmanian Energy Efficiency Loans Scheme program.