Secretary's review

Finn Pratt

I am pleased to present the Department of Social Services Annual Report 2015–16. It celebrates our achievements and showcases the broad range of activities we conduct every day to improve the lifetime wellbeing of people and families in Australia.

We provide assistance to those Australians who need it most – the elderly, the sick, those with disability, and people living in remote and regional areas. Our policies and programs make a meaningful difference and help millions of Australians through the course of their lives.

We have welcomed a new Minister, the Hon Christian Porter MP, and new Assistant Ministers, the Hon Craig Laundy MP and the Hon Jane Prentice MP.

We have made significant progress in addressing violence against women under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2020 and implemented critical measures as part of the Prime Minister’s Women’s Safety Package.

We have continued to support the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and made substantial progress to address the ongoing challenges for people with disability to access mainstream work.

In this year’s Annual Report we look at our performance and compare it against our stated purpose and objectives. This allows us to look at what we do and track how well we are doing it.

Some of our other significant achievements include:

Implementing an investment approach

In the past year, we have continued to develop the Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare. This approach allows us to invest in people early and direct funding to where it will be of the most benefit.

The welfare system must be well-targeted to those who need help the most.

Rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme

On 1 July 2016, the National Disability Insurance Scheme began its transition to full scheme, building on lessons learned in trial sites and early transition areas. The Scheme is being introduced in stages over at least three years, and start dates differ depending on where you live and how old you are. We negotiated bilateral agreements in 2015–16 to confirm the NDIS start dates and details for every state and territory except Western Australia. We aim to agree the transition approach for WA during the coming financial year.

In this past year we have laid the policy foundation for a National Quality and Safeguarding Framework, which will apply at full scheme. Existing state and Commonwealth protections will remain operational in the meantime, delivering the safe environment and quality services that NDIS participants deserve. We also reached agreement with state and territory governments on a Specialist Disability Accommodation Pricing Framework.

More than 35,000 people with disability are already being assisted by the NDIS, enjoying the choice, control and lifetime support that makes the NDIS so different from the ad hoc disability system it replaces. At full scheme, that number will climb to around 460,000 people across Australia.

Increasing immunisation rates1 and 5 year olds reached 93 per cent immunity.

The Government introduced the No Jab, No Pay measure to reinforce the importance of immunisation for children of all ages and protect public health. We are beginning to see the positive effects of this measure with national immunisation rates increasing for one, two and five year olds. Coverage rates are getting closer to an immunity level of 95 per cent, with one and five year olds now reaching 93 per cent for the first time.

No Jab, No Pay is a significant example of how welfare conditionality is a useful tool for improving social and health outcomes.

Assisting humanitarian refugee settlement

We are responsible for providing settlement services to humanitarian refugees when they arrive in Australia. Our goal is to implement effective settlement services, with a particular focus on enhancing social integration and to better assist people in their transition to a self-reliant life in Australia.

In 2015–16 we helped 10,961 humanitarian refugees settle in Australia and we will continue to settle an additional 12,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq, as announced by Government in September 2015.10,961 people were assisted under the Humanitarian Settlement Services program in 2015-16.

Trialling new approaches to reduce social harm

In an effort to reduce the proportion of welfare payments spent on drinking, gambling and drugs, we introduced the Cashless Debit Card trial in two locations in late 2015-16.

We have worked closely with local community leaders to introduce the trial in the Ceduna region of South Australia and Kununurra and Wyndham in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The trial will help determine if limiting the proportion of welfare payments available to be spent on drinking, gambling and drugs will reduce social harm in communities with high welfare dependence.

The Government has also invested in additional support to complement existing alcohol and drug rehabilitation services available in and around the two trial regions.

Improving access to information on disability support services

Accessing mainstream employment opportunities remains a challenge for people with a disability. A new JobAccess service, introduced in the 2015–16 Budget, aims to ensure relevant information about disability employment opportunities is available to jobseekers.

It brought together the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator, the JobAccess telephone and web service, the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline, and the Complaints Resolution and Referral Service.

Financial management

We are responsible for around one-quarter of the Australian Government Budget. This financial year, we managed a budget of $120.9 billion. This consisted of $120.3 billion in administered appropriations and $0.6 billion in departmental appropriations.

Our strong financial and resource management resulted in a small surplus attributable to our Department.

Looking forward

During 2015–16, we continued to develop and deliver policies and programs that improve the lifetime wellbeing of people and families in Australia.

Our focus for 2016–17 includes:

  • Reducing long-term welfare dependency

We will further develop and implement the Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare.

We will develop and implement the Try, Test and Learn Fund. This will allow Government to experiment with different policies – those that work will either continue or be scaled up, and those that do not work will cease and resources will be redirected to other areas.

  • Supporting people with disability and carers

We will continue to work with state and territory governments to support the transition to the national rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme from 1 July 2016.

We will develop proposed reforms to Disability Employment Services to be introduced from March 2018.

We will continue to implement the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020, specifically delivery of the strategy’s second implementation plan, Driving Action 2015–18, in 2016.

We will progress development of the Australian Government’s Integrated Plan for Carer Support Services.

  • Tackling domestic violence

We will continue to strive to reduce the rates of domestic and family violence and sexual assault against women and their children through the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 and implementation of the Women’s Safety Package.

  • Improving housing and homelessness services

We will develop a report for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on reforms to housing and homelessness services in the context of existing work on housing affordability. COAG will receive this report by the end of 2016.

  • Streamlining the grants process

We will transition our Department and other Government agencies to the Community Grants Hub, with the aim of simplifying and streamlining the grant experience for service providers, the community and government.

I am honoured to be heading a team of dedicated and professional staff who are all contributing to making DSS the pre-eminent social policy department in Australia.

Finn Pratt
Secretary, Department of Social Services
September 2016

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