The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:35): I seek leave to make an explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion on the subject of the axing of financial counsellors.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Honourable members may be aware how angry South Australians are after learning their heartless government, which is supposed to act in their interests, has cut 44 financial counsellor positions from Families SA. These positions have been cut at precisely the time they are most in demand. There has been a 60 per cent increase in South Australians seeking counselling from the government since November 2010. Just as we have seen with the Residential Tenancies Tribunal, where this government dumped its crisis management services onto the non-government sector, organisations in counselling such as UnitingCare Wesley and the Salvation Army have seen calls for help skyrocket. Indeed, Anglicare recorded an astonishing increase in demand of 373 per cent. In an extraordinary display of arrogance yesterday, the Premier brushed off a question, saying that he believes financial counselling is 'not core government business'. My questions are:
1. It is core government business to stand by and watch as South Australians face an average increase in utility bills of $450 a year?
2. How many more basic frontline services will this government have to cut in order to balance its budget?
3. Does the minister think it is fair for the government to abandon its constituents at a time when South Australia is not only the highest taxed state in Australia but has the lowest growth, when Adelaide is now one of the most expensive cities in the world, and when it is the government that is solely to blame for this mess?
The PRESIDENT: The honourable minister can disregard all the opinion in the question.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion, Minister for Social Housing, Minister for Disabilities, Minister for Youth, Minister for Volunteers) (14:36): Thank you, Mr President. If I were to disregard all the opinion in the question there would be nothing to answer, but let me attempt some sort of response that might mollify the confected outrage of the opposition today on this issue.
The 2010-11 state budget required Families SA to restructure the anti-poverty program. Within the Families SA anti-poverty program, 44 FTE positions were identified to be abolished. The primary focus of this program is to work with children, young people and families who have contact with Families SA's care and protection. The Families SA data identified that approximately 1,800 episodes of general financial counselling to non-Families clients occurred over a 12-month period. The equivalent amount of emergency financial assistance funding used over the previous year for non-Families clients was required across the state to maintain these existing service levels.
Since 1 July 2011 emergency financial assistance funds have been available to non-Families clients across the state through non-government organisations. Families SA retains responsibility for distributing these funds in Victor Harbor and Coober Pedy, as appropriate NGOs were not identified at the time.
The Department of Communities and Social Inclusion distributes a range of other funds for poverty alleviation across the state, including $1.1 million in low income support programs, which includes 4.4 full-time equivalent financial counselling and emergency electricity payment scheme staff. The department is also preparing a trial new model to ease financial hardship for low income earners, which includes the working poor, over the next four months. This program has a particular focus on improving the resilience of households experiencing financial hardship.
I also take the opportunity to advise the chamber that the member for Morialta put out a press release yesterday which, like Leader of the Opposition in the other place, is distinctly misleading. It is misleading and a cheap trick to actually use a quote of mine but replace a comma with a full stop. In his press release, the member for Morialta said:
Mr Hunter said on morning radio, 'We're talking to the sector and we're saying to them, 'Look, if you really are of the view that you haven't got the resources and the demand is going up then give us that information and we'll have a look at it.'
That is not what I said. What I said is:
We're talking to the sector and we're saying to them, look, if you really are of a view that you haven't got the resources and that the demand is going up then give us that information and we'll have a look at it—
but at this stage we believe that we've given them adequate resources to pick up those extra episodes of counselling that are required.
The government has provided to the sector a further 3.5 full-time equivalents for financial counselling. Feigned outrage from the chamber—
The PRESIDENT: Order!
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —that the member for Morialta would stoop to such a low tactic of changing my quote and putting a follow stop where the comma should be, conveniently leaving out the essence of the quote!
We in fact have provided a further 3.5 full-time equivalent financial councillors to the sector. And if you just assume that those 3.5 full-time equivalents could manage four counselling episodes a day—that is about 14 episodes a day across all of those—that is approximately 70 episodes a week. If those councillors only work for 40 weeks a year, they will be supplying well over 2,800 episodes of counselling to the sector, more than enough to meet the needs by which SACOSS and presumably their affiliates are saying to us the demand has gone up.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink has a supplementary.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:40): Can the minister clarify exactly what he means by 'look at it'? Does he mean there is funding available if the figures should demonstrate that it is required?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion, Minister for Social Housing, Minister for Disabilities, Minister for Youth, Minister for Volunteers) (14:41): I thank the honourable member for her supplementary question. What it means to ‘look at it’ is to invite the sector to provide us with new information and the government will consider it.