Election commitments lack long-term vision to build resilience and support Tasmanians (TasCOSS enews CEO Message, 21/03/24)

Adrienne Picone, CEO, TasCOSS

With polling day this Saturday, I’d firstly like to acknowledge the powerful advocacy from right across the community services industry in calling for better outcomes for the many, diverse organisations and service types which make up our industry, and the thousands of Tasmanians who rely on our services.

Fair Funding
TasCOSS has been strongly advocating to government to recognise the value of the essential work our industry provides, and to adequately resource community service organisations to ensure Tasmanians can get the help they need, when they need it. In the past week, we’ve seen announcements from both major parties on this campaign for fair funding.

However, despite claims by the Tasmanian Liberals that they will “increase the indexation applied” to the community services industry, their commitment in actual fact reduces indexation on government contracted services to 3.5% for the 2024/25 Financial Year, and 3% for the subsequent three years, delivering a cut of $7.35 million over four years.

The Tasmanian Labor Party, while initially not making a policy commitment, have since committed to matching the current rate of indexation provided by government (4%) for one year. However, they stopped short of providing funding certainty, instead promising to work with our industry to develop a funding framework.

As you well know, what we don’t need are more reviews or frameworks. The evidence-base for a sustainable funding formula already exists.

Securing the wellbeing of our population transcends politics and we urge the incoming government to make a long-term commitment to community services indexation which is reflective of the true costs of providing services.

Rest assured, TasCOSS will continue to advocate for the sustainability of our industry.

Limited Engagement Reflected in Piecemeal Approach to Policy-Making
As a peak body committed to challenging and changing the systems, behaviours and attitudes that create poverty, inequality and exclusion, TasCOSS was looking to this election campaign to address three key issues:

  • Supporting Tasmanians now, by providing immediate relief to address the cost of living crisis that has stricken Tasmanians and our industry organisations;
  • Supporting Tasmania into the future, by proposing policy solutions and investment directed at building resilience, increasing participation and improving the health and wellbeing of our community; and
  • Ensuring a well-resourced community services industry that can meet increasing levels of need and complexity in the community.

The drawback of an early election with a short campaign period has been highlighted by the focus of both major parties on the cost of living and one-off or band-aid solutions. There is no question that Tasmanians need immediate relief from cost of living pressures and commitments that reduce household bills or put more money in the pockets of those who need it most are, of course, welcome. 

But what has been missed is the opportunity to look beyond a four year election cycle or six year plan and set out a long-term vision for our community, that ensures our essential services are sustainable, Tasmanians experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage are well-supported, action to eliminate poverty and inequality, along with a roadmap for how we will achieve these goals.

Over the course of the election campaign, many millions of dollars have been announced in every portfolio, including in the two areas of most interest to TasCOSS and our members — sustainability of community services organisations, and the cost of living pressures facing Tasmanians. Please note, the following analysis focusses only on the priorities as laid out in TasCOSS’s 2024 Tasmanian State Election Priorities.

Many of the announcements will benefit organisations, communities and households, but on the whole we have not seen the structural solutions that reduce poverty and inequality over the long-term.

Instead, we have had commitments made to our industry that will deliver real cuts to community services organisations budgets, funding commitments to some peak bodies but not others, funding commitments that were not consulted on and therefore are not sector priorities, and many vital projects and services in need of investment that have been ignored.

On cost of living, there have been some positive announcements, including more protection for renters (for example Labor and the Greens support ending no-grounds evictions), although no party committed to an immediate review of the Residential Tenancy Act, which we believe is urgent to ensure it is fit-for-purpose in today’s housing environment where more renters will rent for longer and, indeed, permanently.

Commitments from all parties and candidates on food security were also welcome, notably investing in the Food Relief to Resilience Strategy and community-based food security initiatives that go beyond short-term solutions to hunger. Every party and candidate supports expanded provision of school meals, which we know improve school attendance and engagement. We also welcome Kristie Johnston’s (IND, Clark) and Tamar Cordover’s (IND, Franklin) support for legislated minimum dietary standards for food relief, which TasCOSS believes is important to ensuring food relief contributes to health and wellbeing, as well as addressing hunger.

Investment in and access to our public transport system is critical, and there have been some piecemeal announcements. the Liberals and Labor matched policies to halve fares for a year, while the Greens will make public transport free. 

Labor, the Greens and some independent candidates have committed to measures that make public transport more accessible and inclusive, and the Liberals, Labor and the Greens have committed to an expansion of services. We regard the expansion of services to areas of high transport disadvantage as crucial to improving Tasmanians’ access to services, education, training, employment, and participation more broadly.

Commitments to energy bill relief in the short-term are welcome, but the single biggest action to bring down energy costs over the long-term would be a broad scale program of energy efficient upgrades for all housing occupied by people on low incomes. There were some announcements on energy efficiency, but none go far enough and most rely on loans schemes that are beyond the means of many people on low incomes, are not accessible to renters, and/or are not of the scale to make a significant impact on energy bills.

The biggest gap from our perspective was digital inclusion — a worrying omission, given Tasmania has been the country’s most digitally excluded state for the most part of a decade and the ripple effects a lack of digital access and ability have on prospects for learning, employment, training, paying bills, staying connected, finding information and accessing services, in particular government services and information that are more and more being pushed online. Older people are a highly disadvantaged cohort that the Liberals have targeted with some welcome funding for digital inclusion initiatives, but in a half-a-billion dollar ICT policy there are no programs to support digital affordability, access or skills for priority cohorts. At the time of writing Labor has not released a digital inclusion policy.

Tracking Policy Commitments on the Issues that Matter
Check out our dedicated policy trackers to see how announcements and spending commitments measure up against the issues that matter to Tasmanians this election, namely in the areas of digital inclusionenergyfood securityhousingindustry sustainability, and transport. You can read more about TasCOSS’s election priorities at tascoss.org.au/election-2024.

The information in the policy trackers is gleaned from candidate and party responses and policy announcements during the campaign. Neither the Liberal or Labor parties chose to formerly respond to TasCOSS’s election platform, however we conducted our own analysis of their publicly available policies. Our election tracker is provided as a guide to inform members, and we encourage you to undertake your own research on candidate and party policy positions. All candidate and party responses received are available in full on the website. View the policy trackers.

The ABC have also developed an election promise tracker, which tracks pledges in a wide range of policy areas, including tourism, arts and events, law and order and the climate and the environment.

Changes to Voting Requirements
Voting is compulsory for electors in Tasmania’s five (5) electoral divisions: BassBraddonClarkFranklin and Lyons. For each division, electors now need to number at least seven (7) boxes when they vote. Find out more about the changes. 

You can vote in-person at a polling place this Saturday 23 March 2024. Services will be available for vision impaired electors. Please visit the Tasmanian Electoral Commission (TEC) website for more information.

If you are unable do vote on polling day, you may be eligible to vote early. The following voting options are available: