Community services need funding help to provide support from cradle to grave (The Mercury Newspaper Talking Point, 09/03/24)

Adrienne Picone, CEO, TasCOSS

All the altruism in the world cannot defy the basic laws of commerce, writes Adrienne Picone.

So far in the election campaign, we’ve heard pledges to support a range of industries around the state, from health care to tourism to agriculture.

But there is a significant industry that has so far escaped attention: community services.

It’s a massive industry that will provide services for most, if not all, Tasmanians at some point in their lives: breastfeeding and parenting support; early education and care (childcare); alcohol and other drug counselling; mental health support; housing and homelessness services; social connection and meals at neighbourhood houses; support and advocacy for carers, volunteers and multicultural communities; sexual assault and family violence counselling and support; aged and disability services; palliative care; and many more.

Once provided by government, these essential services are now mainly or wholly contracted out by government, often to community services organisations. For many years the contracted price for these services has not kept pace with the actual costs of delivering them. Many contracts include annual increases of between 0-2.5%, yet wages growth has averaged more than 4% in the last year and the CPI recently peaked in Tasmania at 8.6%.

Some years, the government has provided one-off, ‘top up’ funding to some organisations. But the fact is, the top-ups are well below the rate of inflation and wages growth and don’t make up for historic shortfalls.

Just like any business, a community service organisation can manage a shortfall between income and costs for a short period of time through savings here and there or drawing on reserves, but a sustained shortfall means organisations are forced to reduce the quantity and/or range of services they offer. Meanwhile, cost of living pressures are driving more demand for those services.

Organisations are doing their best in response, but it is having real impacts on the support Tasmanians need. A housing service told us they can no longer provide women fleeing family violence with a mobile phone for safety. A counselling service we spoke to said they can’t afford an in-house childcare worker, so minors are bearing witness to discussions of violence and sexual abuse. Another organisation saves on wage costs by not backfilling vacancies, so they have had to reduce the number of available appointments.

All of this means fewer Tasmanians have access to the support they need, when they need it, which in turn increases the likelihood they will eventually need more acute support in higher-cost services, such as the Emergency Department, homelessness services or the criminal justice system.

Our industry represents 8.7% of Tasmania’s economy, contributing $2.7 billion each year to our economic growth and employs about 28,000 workers. The only larger industry sector is agriculture — which employs less than half as many workers — and the current government has a plan to grow that sector fourfold to $10 billion.

The lack of similar support for investment in our essential services is inexplicable. Perhaps governments assume that, because many community service organisations are values-driven charities, they will continue to deliver services out of altruism?

But all the altruism in the world cannot defy the basic laws of commerce. TasCOSS and our members seek commitments from the major parties to adequately invest in our industry to ensure its sustainability, and so it can continue its crucial work of supporting Tasmanians, from the cradle to the grave.

You can read more about TasCOSS’s election priorities at

Adrienne Picone is the chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).