UnitingCare Australia

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Uniting Church in Australia proudly shares the tradition of the Christian Church. It traces its origins to the call by the God of Abraham and Sarah, honours the Hebrew Scriptures and bases its confessions in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as recorded in the documents of the New Testament. The church exists to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Uniting Church believes that God’s action in Christ is the declaration of a new creation and involves the transformation of humanity, within a restored natural world.

The Church seeks to make known the meaning and claim of this decisive action of God, and challenges us to be a fellowship of reconciliation.

In the Gospels and through the work and teachings of Jesus Christ, the foundations are laid for the Church’s understanding of its mission in community services. Jesus’ ministry challenged people to give more serious attention to the nature of service to one another.

We witness God’s love extended to all people, with no discrimination on the grounds of age, gender, sexuality, ability, class, colour, creed or cultural origin.

Engaging the church with the world through community services provides us with opportunity to live out the Christian vision. The Christian vision is inclusive, all encompassing, and looks for the equality of opportunity for individuals, communities and peoples.

UnitingCare Australia, Faith Foundations

Summary

UnitingCare Australia was formally established as the national identity for the community services activities of the UnitingChurch at the Ninth Assembly. Since then, work within UnitingCare Australia and across the wider UnitingCare network has consolidated and developed according to the directions set by that Assembly.

UnitingCare Australia’s Mission is to express God’s love for all people through the UnitingChurch’s commitment to supporting individuals, families and communities through advocacy and the enhancement of community service provision.

Key achievements over the past three years that have delivered against the agency mandate include:

  • the building of strategic government and media relations at the federal level to strengthen our advocacy work and contribute to social policy and major initiatives in support of vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians and the services that support them. Our work continues to respond in part to the continuing impacts of the Global Financial Crisis, changing employment opportunities,  and other causes of poverty and inequity;
  • advocacy on a wide range of specific areas, including  the way governments and communities respond to the changing demography and social fabric of Australia.  This includes a focus on reform of aged care, disability services, child protection and family support, employment support, the operation of the tax and income support systems and the way mental health is approached in Australia.  It also includes advocacy on improving the relationship between government and not-for-profit social services, with a focus on simplifying tax arrangements, contracting and regulation, and better aligning policy aims with the administration of funding;
  • strengthening relationships within the Uniting Church, ecumenically with the other national Major Church Providers and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce; and with community service peak bodies to increase the impact of our national advocacy efforts; and
  • continuing to strengthen our engagement with the UnitingCare network through national networks, reference groups, working groups, a weekly e-newsletter, our website www.unitingcare.org.au, and development of an   interactive website – Uniting for Change - that provides a forum for service providers, congregations and people in the communities we work in to share their expertise and advice with decision-makers.  We also provide a monthly update on services sustainability issues.

While future directions for UnitingCare Australia will be shaped by the external environment in which the Agency operates, the strategic focus of UnitingCare Australia will continue to reflect its mission and mandate and its identity as a national agency of the UnitingChurch.

At this point in Australian history we face economic challenges internationally and nationally, especially the multi-speed economy created by the mining boom, the ageing of the population and the high Australian dollar. We continue to live with the ongoing impact of the global financial crisis and the growing disparity in costs of living and the income available to disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians. These issues are amongst those that threaten to embed long-term social and economic disadvantage amongst the most vulnerable in our society, but there is an opportunity for the UnitingChurch through UnitingCare Australia to bring our story of hope and transformation to bear on social policy and practice, and so to shape our shared lives together for the common good.

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. Agency parameters

UnitingCare Australia’s Mission is to express God’s love for all people through the UnitingChurch’s commitment to supporting individuals, families and communities through advocacy and the enhancement of community service provision.

UnitingCare Australia is an Assembly agency, operating under a mandate approved by the Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) in July 2008 (Attachment A). UnitingCare Australia’s original mandate was first approved by the ASC in September 1993; amended and approved by the Ninth Assembly in Perth in 2000; and then renewed in March 2005 and then 2008 to ensure good governance embedded in the vision and values of the UnitingChurch.

UnitingCare Australia is guided in its work by twelve commitments articulated in the Agency’s Faith Foundations document. The commitments are grouped into three categories:

1. Foundational concerns, including responsibilities to contribute to the common good; to hold up in the public domain a vision of a united Australia; to work towards a just, participatory and sustainable society; and to celebrate one humanity, living out our hope for one world under God.

2. Defining characteristics, including working within a human rights framework, a concern for the nurture and restoration of the natural world, affirmation of pluralism, and a commitment to work towards the restoration of broken relationships.

3.

4. Specific roles, including advocacy, offering a prophetic voice, and engendering a culture of shared responsibility in Australia.

Strategic activity called for by the Assembly’s mandate falls into four broadly defined areas:

  • Theological reflection
  • Advocacy
  • Policy analysis and development; and
  • Communication and collaboration

Acting within guidelines set by the Assembly or the Assembly Standing Committee, and grounded in the experience of UnitingCare service providers, UnitingCare Australia:

1. Encourages theological reflection on the Church’s community services work.

2. Advocates to Government and within the Church and community those policies and practices which enhance the dignity of people, especially those who are most disadvantaged and marginalised.

3. Enables exchange of information across Synods and UnitingChurch service providers.

4. Seeks to enhance the quality of community service provision by the UnitingChurch.

5. Represents the views of UnitingChurch service providers to governments.

6. Works as appropriate with other churches and peak organisations in the community services field.

7. Acts on requests and referrals from Synods and the Assembly.

UnitingCare Australia contributes to the life of the Church by:

1. Focusing the activities of the agency on the vision of the Assembly as a whole.

2. Advising the Assembly and/or the Assembly Standing Committee on policy matters within their areas of responsibility.

3. Making policy decisions where the Assembly or the Assembly Standing Committee has delegated authority, either through UnitingCare Australia’s Mandate or by resolution.

 

1.2. Agency goals and objectives

UnitingCare Australia seeks to influence social and public policy and advocate for a community in which everyone has the means and opportunity for a decent life. This work is grounded in the values and vision of the UnitingChurch in Australia and informed by the expertise of the UnitingCare network. and the experience of the people who use those services. UnitingCare Australia is committed to speaking with and on behalf of those people who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, for the common good.  In our advocacy we partner with governments, other churches and organisations, communities and all people of goodwill.

Working across the life of the Church UnitingCare Australia:

  • Takes up community service issues within the theological framework of the UnitingChurch, particularly the Church’s social justice perspectives. 
  • Develops and reflects on the policies and practices of the UnitingChurch in community services. 
  • Pursues appropriate issues within the UnitingChurch, with Government and the community sector, with the Australian community and with other parts of the church.

We achieve this by:

  • influencing social and economic policy and engaging in advocacy; through influencing decision-making and priorities for change in the services and policies that impact on the lives and opportunities of disadvantaged and vulnerable people
  • developing and maintaining political and other stakeholder relations;
  • developing the Church’s network of community services and the capacity to deliver those services;
  • maintaining effective engagement across the UnitingCare network; and
  • building and strengthening relationships across the life of the Church and with organisations of goodwill.  with shared values.

We focus our advocacy work in the following areas:

Social Services Development

  • Ageing and aged care
  • Vulnerable families and early childhood
  • Affordable housing and homelessness
  • Employment services
  • Costs of Living for low income and vulnerable Australians – including impacts of climate
  • change on disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians, income support justice (adequacy and
  • conditional welfare) and reform of Emergency Relief and Financial Counselling programs
  • Disability – including mental health as well as other disabilities.

Social Services Sustainability

  • Government and not for profit relationship
  • Charity Taxation arrangements and concessions
  • Government Regulation
  • Charity Law
  • Funding adequacy
  • Government and not for profit interface systems and processes (tendering, contracts reporting and acquittals)
  • Workforce

Public Affairs

  • Government Relations
  • Media Relations
  • Communication across the Church, our social services agencies, other churches and broader civil society

1.3. Agency Governance

Peter Bicknell has chaired the UnitingCare Australia National Committee since the Eleventh Assembly. The National Director of UnitingCare Australia is Lin Hatfield Dodds.

National Committee

The National Committee is the key governance body of UnitingCare Australia and is appointed by the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia.

The role and responsibilities of the National Committee as delegated by the Assembly are to:

  • develop and ensure the implementation of strategic directions for UnitingCare Australia
  • discern and determine key priorities
  • give oversight to the work of UnitingCare Australia, including the National Office and national working groups and networks

The National Committee membership comprises three ex-officio members, six synod representatives and five appointed members. 

Ex officio members
Peter Bicknell, Chair
Glenda Blakefield, Associate General Secretary of the Assembly
Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director

Synod Representatives
Anne Cross, UnitingCare QLD
John Dunn, UnitingCare Synod of WA
Harry Herbert, UnitingCare NSW.ACT
Daphne Read, Northern Synod
Charles Gibson, UnitingCare VIC/TAS
Michaela Tiller (2010-12) Rob Brown (2012), UnitingCare SA

Appointed Members
Robyn Batten, Blue Care (2010 and 2011) Vaughan Harding, Uniting Church Homes (2009 and 2012)
Keith Garner, Wesley Mission
John Knowles, Good Samaritan Industries
Jill Wilson, University of Queensland
Jane Woodruff , UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families

National Office

UnitingCare Australia has eight permanent staff (five full-time and three part-time) and three short-term staff employed on various projects, all in a part time capacity.  UnitingCare Australia is located in Canberra, in close proximity to Parliament House.

Working Groups and Networks

UnitingCare Australia has four national advocacy networks that assist in identifying issues requiring national action and enable the network to work across organisational boundaries to pursue common goals. Members of these networks are drawn from across the UnitingCare network.

The role of these networks is to develop, review and reflect upon the policies and practices of the Uniting Church in its community services ministry with people; and contribute to the advocacy of UnitingCare Australia.

The four networks are:

1. UnitingCare Australia’s Aged Care Network
2. UnitingCare Australia’s Children Young People and Families Network
3. UnitingCare Australia Employment Services Network
4. UnitingCare Australia Financial Health and Wellbeing Network

Services Development

The Director of Services Development works with a number of less formal groups within the network on issues of shared interest.  These groups provide expert advice and input, often in response to emerging social policy issues.  Over the past triennium the following groups have been active:

  • Disability Interest Group
  • Emergency Relief and Financial Counselling Interest Group
  • Energy Affordability reference group
  • Gambling reference group

Services Sustainability

  • National Information Communication Technology Group

Other small working groups which are established from time-to-time assist in content specific issues.

Public Affairs

The Director of Public Affairs occasionally takes carriage of matters of particular strategic interest which have a high public profile. In the last triennium this has been the:

  • Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce

UnitingCare Australia established the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce in March 2011. We provide the secretariat for the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. Members include the heads of Australian Christian Churches and the heads of their social services agencies nationally, united by a commitment to reduce the harm caused by poker machines.

Strategic Directions

Over the past triennium, UnitingCare Australia has been guided by its Strategic Directions 2010-2012.

1. Speaking out, empowering those disadvantaged and vulnerable -

advocating for policies and practices that build opportunities for all people to live hope-filled lives in an environment that promotes wellbeing by

  • using our mission, size, scope and diversity
  • working in partnership with other bodies and as participants in a national campaign

2. Developing sustainable policies and positions -

drawing on the knowledge and experience of the UnitingCare network and its communities to develop policies and positions in order to:

  • speak out
  • contribute to the development of innovative responses, and
  • affirm existing effective programs

3. Building the capacity of UnitingCare Australia

1.4 Agency identity and approach

The core business of UnitingCare Australia is influence and advocacy. The agency’s approach to advocacy is to bring together theology (the values on which we stand), with a story of a good society (our vision), in a way that can be heard and makes a difference. This work is grounded in the daily experience of the 2 million Australians who are supported by UnitingCare Each year, the expertise of the UnitingCare network, and engagement across the life of the Church. It is the coming together of these three strands of values, vision and experience that gives strength and integrity to our activity.

Together with other agencies of the church, UnitingCare Australia works to promote a just and participatory society, a united humanity, respect for all, and investment in the common good, in relation to policy and practice associated with the provision of community services. Our task is to make explicit the connections between faith, social policy, and outcomes on the ground for people; to government, to the church, and into the public domain.

UnitingCare, as the network of community services and activities within the Uniting Church, gives concrete expression to God’s love for the world, and to a church that cares and works together for justice. The UnitingCare network enables cooperation and support across agencies, institutions and missions, and Synods. It represents a nurturing, healing and caring church, integrated, open to diversity, and committed to collaboration and creative change.

UnitingCare Australia is a powerful vehicle for a unified public voice, and plays a significant role in promoting the Uniting Church’s social justice perspectives to government and the wider community; developing national positions; gathering and disseminating information; networking with other church and community bodies; and advocating our position to the Australian Parliament and relevant Australian Government departments.

1.5. Agency funding

UnitingCare Australia is funded by contributions from the UnitingCare network. This funding is occasionally supplemented by grants for specific purposes.

2. ACTIVITY AGAINST UNITINGCARE AUSTRALIA’S MANDATE

The four core areas of responsibility of UnitingCare Australia’s activities and strategic outcomes are theological reflection, advocacy, policy analysis and development, and communication and collaboration.

2.1. Theological reflection

The value and distinctive contribution of UnitingCare Australia to public policy debate stems from its faith foundations, and the continuing process of theological reflection and discernment that guides the work of the Agency and the wider UnitingCare network.

UnitingCare Australia actively networks with relevant individuals and agencies, including theologians and justice workers within the UnitingCare network, the Synods, our Assembly bodies, and with other churches. Theological positions are incorporated in policy documents. Foundation documents developed by Uniting Justice Australia and used by UnitingCare Australia include Dignity in Humanity, and An Economy of Life.

The document Faith Foundations has continued to provide a theological basis for the work of UnitingCare Australia. Frequent requests for copies of the Faith Foundations document from across the network attest to its usefulness. The theological underpinnings outlined in Faith Foundations provide the framework for UnitingCare Australia’s policy analysis and development, and advocacy activity.

2.2. Advocacy

Using our size, scope and diversity as a national network, we continue to advocate for policies and positions that build opportunity for all people to live hope-filled lives in an environment that promotes wellbeing. 

UnitingCare Australia engages in advocacy to three major sets of stakeholders:

1. To government and Parliament, representing the views of UnitingCare community service providers and advocating for better quality of life outcomes for individuals, families and communities;
2. Across the Uniting Church and wider Australian community, advocating policies and practices that enhance human dignity; and
3. Within the UnitingCare network, seeking the enhancement of the quality of advocacy and community service provision.

UnitingCare Australia has a primary focus on evidence-based advocacy. This evidence base has two sources: the experience of UnitingCare agencies and missions across Australia, and research that develops an evidence base for policy analysis and development across identified national priorities.

UnitingCare Australia discerns advocacy needs and opportunities, with a particular focus on issues that are unlikely to be adequately addressed by other national bodies and coalitions. A key role for us is to find our distinctive Uniting Church voice, to determine what it is that we bring that is different, that adds value, to the public domain.

2.2.1     Advocacy to Government

UnitingCare Australia aims to produce sound, evidence-based, powerful policy and position statements, and to use these to influence political, policy and legislative agendas. The Agency gives priority to establishing and maintaining relationships with key Federal political stakeholders, including Government, the Opposition, the cross benches and the Independents, political advisors and government officials. Regular meetings have been held over the past triennium with Ministers, Shadow Ministers, Minor Parties, Cross Benchers and their advisors, other politicians, and senior departmental officers.

The last three years of advocacy activity has taken place in an environment where Kevin Rudd delivered the historic apology to Australia’s first people in 2009 and was deposed as Prime Minister in 2010. Julia Gillard then led the Labor Party to a narrow election victory where she was able to form government only with the support of Independents Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie, Greens Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt also agreed to support the minority Labor Government on issues of supply.

This created a precarious environment for public policy reform. UnitingCare Australia has worked closely with the Government, the Independents and the Australian Greens and with the Opposition to influence significant reform. We welcomed clean energy measures, Fair Work Australia’s fair pay decision, and efforts to address fairer superannuation arrangements. We acknowledged efforts to improve disability care and support and aged care reform. We outlined our budget priorities for 2010, 2011 and 2012. We welcomed efforts to skill up teenage parents but challenged compliance measures associated with the initiatives. We cautiously welcomed Government measures to help move people from welfare to work, but warned against punitive measures that overlook the mismatch between skills and available jobs. We welcomed the release of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and committed to a watching brief on the rollout of the scheme. We welcomed the Government’s plan to legislate on a price on carbon, noting the support of the Australian Greens. We backed the National Child Protection Standards released in 2010, which for the first time provide a national picture of how children and young people are faring in state care, but continue to back the Greens call for an independent national children’s commissioner.  We released our Federal Election package: A Decent Life for Every Australian and the subsequent election report card, accusing both major parties of falling short on commitments to social policy reform. We backed a super profits tax and called for a Ministerial taskforce following the Henry Tax Review. We advocated for aged care reform to focus on healthier older Australians and challenged the benefit of compulsory income management.

Highlights over the last three years include:

  • As the reality of the Global Financial Crisis became evident in 2009, the Major Church Providers commissioned a paper by Access Economics that outlined the impact of the Global Financial Crisis on social services agencies’ capacity to deliver the increasing demand for already stretched services.  In response to a meeting with the not for profit sector, led by the Churches (based on the content of the paper), then Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard Minister established the Community Response Task Force which was to help the non-profit sector work directly with Government to mitigate the impact of the Global Financial Crisis on vulnerable Australians. Representatives included UnitingCare Australia, Anglicare Australia, Catholic Social Services, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, ACOSS, Jobs Australia, the Mental Health Council of Australia and the Social Inclusion Board. There was consistent high level Ministerial representation at each of the meetings. The efforts of the Taskforce led to no and low interest loan schemes and matched savings schemes to help people stay in their homes in the face of the impact of the GFC. Regulatory reform was also considered by the taskforce to ensure non-profit organisations could avoid excessive red tape and focus on providing the needs of the increasing number of Australians who sought support.
  • Participation in high level dialogue regarding taxation and income support reform, including the Federal Government’s lock-up on the Henry Review of the Australian Tax System (2010), and the Tax Forum in October 2011. We play an active role in a number of Government advisory groups dealing with a range on Not-for-profit initiatives including but not limited to establishment of the new Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission, charity taxation, and the Gender Equity Pay claim.  We also met regularly with the offices of the Treasurer and Minister for Finance. Among the issues we highlighted was the need for a fairer approach to government support of retirement incomes and better targeting of superannuation tax breaks. UnitingCare Australia advocacy messages were included in the Uniting Church submission to the Henry Tax review, the UnitingCare Australia response to the draft report of the review, in Federal Budget publications and in a discussion paper released in September 2011 titled What price dignity.
  • We were instrumental in the establishment of the Government’s Community Detention Reference Group, following our concerns about the roll out of community detention arrangements for asylum seekers. We raised our concerns at Ministerial level and continue to work closely with the department on this issue.
  • The establishment of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, established on the back of historic opportunity for reform following the Wilkie Gillard agreement which helped the minority government form government. Heads of Christian churches and their social services arms formed a national credible voice committed to limiting the harm caused by poker machine gambling.
  • Twenty four submissions to parliamentary, departmental and independent inquiries and reviews in a wide range of areas, including, tax, income support, aged care reform, development of a National Disability Insurance Scheme, gambling , disability, employment services, charity tax, not for profit reform including regulation compliance and administration, child protection, early childhood education and care, financial counselling and emergency relief, a National Children’s Commissioner and child protection and out of home care. These submissions can be found on our website.
  • Working with experts across the UnitingCare network to facilitate advocacy on issues of critical importance to their agencies, including advocacy on energy affordability and the impact of a price on Carbon in low income and vulnerable households, including appointment to the Federal Government Household Compensation Advisory Group which reported to the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change and provided advice on the carbon price legislation, compensation package and program measures to mitigate cost impacts in the community.
  • We played a key role in the Productivity Commission’s report on the Care of Older Australians.  UnitingCare Australia was represented on the Minister for Ageing Expert Advisory Group that informed the Government’s analysis of recommendations from this report.  UnitingCare Australia was a leader in the Campaign for Older Australians in 2010 and the 2011-12 Age Well campaign. UnitingCare Australia is a member of the National Aged Care Alliance Sponsors group that led development of and agreement to a National Aged Care Reform Blueprint that has been endorsed by 28 national Peak Bodies and was presented at Parliament in February 2011.
  • UnitingCare Australia is an active member of the Coalition of Organisations Committed to the Safety and Wellbeing of Australia’s Children that led NGO engagement with the federal, state and territory governments on development and adoption of a National Framework for the Protection of Australia’s Children. This Framework commenced implementation in 2009, and UnitingCare Australia has been a significant contributor to the action plan for 2012-15, which is currently being negotiated through COAG.
  • We have maintained a firm stance against widespread, untargeted compulsory income management, which is part of the Northern Territory Emergency Intervention and has been widened to all people living on income support in the Northern Territory and specific communities in the 2011 Place-Based trials of compulsory income management.  The National Director has been appointed to the Ministerial Advisory group on Place Based Measures, and is using this forum to argue against ineffective and punitive income support policies.
  • The UnitingCare network and Uniting Church advocates had a clear voice in the debates about disability service reform and development of the proposal for a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).  This voice was represented in a UnitingCare Australia submission to the Productivity Commission, a meeting of network leaders with the lead Commissioner for the Inquiry into an NDIS, service and congregation engagement in the national community-led campaign in support of an NDIS, and development of worship and advocacy resources in partnership with the Victorian Tasmanian Synod.
  • UnitingCare Australia developed comprehensive election material and government relations and media activity aimed at influencing public policy during the 2010 election year. Our advocacy efforts focussed on Children Young People and Families, the Care of Older Australians, Cost of Living Pressures for Low Income and Vulnerable Australians, and Sustainable Social Services. We partnered with UnitingJustice Australia to contribute material and resources for their Election Resource Kit, with a focus on aged care, gambling and disability reform priorities.
  • We are taking a lead role on the services sustainability reform agenda, including the national not for profit regulator and the definition of a charity. UnitingCare Australia is represented on the Not for Profit Tax Concession Working Group.
  • We have met with the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, all relevant Ministers and Shadow Ministers, members of the cross benches, and all relevant Department Secretaries. This high-level engagement continues to strengthen our relationships with key decision-makers.
  • Capitalising on advocacy opportunities around the Federal Budget, including pre budget position statements, comprehensive briefings to the UnitingCare network on budget night, media appearances, briefings and commentary.
  • Parliamentary briefing and advocacy activities. In the past three years UnitingCare Australia has convened Parliamentary Forums and advocacy days, including one in 2011 to test the appetite across Australian Churches for strategic action on poker machine reform.  Other topics addressed in Parliamentary Forums include aged care and children, young people and families.  UnitingCare Australia supported parliamentary advocacy led by partner organisations on the National Rental Affordability Scheme, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the adequacy of Income Support.
  • Continuing our influence to shape and implement the National Social Inclusion agenda via engagement with the Australian Social Inclusion Board , the Prime Minister’s Office and the Minister for Social Inclusion and as a member of the National Place-Based Advisory Committee.
  • Maintaining a voice in the national media through commentary on current affairs, publication of UnitingCare Australia positions on policy reform, opinion pieces and releasing research and analysis that informs public debate.

Government Working Groups

UnitingCare Australia is active on a number of government working groups including:

  • Minister for Ageing Expert Advisory Group on Aged Care reform
  • Minister for Ageing Aged Care Consultative Advisory Committee
  • Minister for Human Services National Place-Based Advisory Group
  • Community Sector (Gender Equity Pay Claim) Working Group
  • Paid Parental Leave Implementation Working Group
  • Nor for Profit Council’s Working Group on the establishment of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC)
  • ACNC Implementation Taskforce to examine the regulatory and reporting requirements on social services providers
  • Department of Immigration Residents’ Determination Reference Group (community detention)
  • The Carbon Price Compensation Peak Stakeholder Liaison Group
  • ATOs Charities Consultative Committee

2.2.2 Advocating within the church & community policies & practices which enhance dignity of people

UnitingCare Australia’s participation in policy forums and political processes over the last triennium has included involvement with other church and peak bodies to discuss and act on aged care reform and ageing more generally, gambling reform, community detention for asylum seekers, homelessness and housing affordability for low income households, welfare and income support justice and reform, taxation reform, issues related to children’s services including child care, disability and promoting the right of all Australians to live a life of dignity free from poverty and exclusion.

The agency has recognised expertise on social policy and practice as it relates to community services.

UnitingCare Australia has appeared at parliamentary inquiries, and attended and presented to national conferences, seminars and roundtables, and national strategy meetings with the other churches and community service peaks concerning a wide range of issues. The agency also contributes via its involvement in forums such as the National Aged Care Alliance, which it has sponsored.

UnitingCare Australia encourages its wider networks to utilise UnitingCare policy materials, developed with extensive input from the agencies, to enhance their own advocacy work in their own context, and uses stories from UnitingCare agencies to support the national advocacy and policy work. Policy materials, position papers and other documents are posted onto the UnitingCare Australia website to support this approach.

UnitingCare Australia has recently embarked on developing an online facility to engage service providers, service users, congregations and the broader community to ensure their expertise can inform decisions on social issues. We are active on gambling reform in our own network, but also as part of the national church coalition: The Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, and the broader civil society coalition Stop the Loss.

2.2.3 Seeking to enhance the quality of advocacy and community service provision by the Uniting Church

We continue to build the capacity of UnitingCare Australia and its network by focussing on and strengthening a range of enablers, including: better articulation of our identity; strengthening relationships and a culture of trust and collegiality across the network, wider Uniting Church, and other organisations; continually improving our communications with and engagement of the network in the national work; and developing a rational and sustainable approach to funding.

UnitingCare Australia’s work in support of this area of its mandate includes:

  • supporting reflection and research on service provision issues;
  • communication of good practice across the network; and leadership in key areas such as services sustainability;
  • actively promoting policies and practices which enhance the dignity of people;
  • representation and liaison with the Commonwealth Government on specific resourcing, compliance and accreditation issues;
  • increasing the capacity of the National Office to advocate directly and to support the wider UnitingCare network to advocate for enhanced social services and better outcomes for people who are disadvantaged and vulnerable; and
  • engaging with the Government and other major providers in a regulatory reform agenda to reduce red tape which diverts resources from service delivery.

2.3. Communication

UnitingCare Australia works at the interface between government policy, funding, and regulation of service provision; the UnitingCare network; and the wider life of the Uniting Church.

We work cooperatively wherever possible with other UnitingCare and Uniting Church agencies; other church bodies such as the Major Church Providers and the National Council of Churches in Australia; and community service agencies, including peak bodies.  This approach has been facilitated by UnitingCare Australia representing primarily the interests of our service users rather than the industry concerns of the UnitingCare network service providers, as these interests are served by other industry bodies with whom we coordinate. This minimises duplication and allows us to focus more effectively on issues of justice and social policy.

The Major Church Providers group (Anglicare Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia, The Salvation Army and UnitingCare Australia), represents the vast majority of social service provision in Australia. The group meets formally four times a year, with the three Canberra-based participants meeting monthly.  These collegiate relationships are strong, supportive and productive.

UnitingCare Australia continues to work with national community sector bodies including with ACOSS (the Australian Council of Social Services), and ACSA (Aged and Community Services Australia).

Recent communications highlights include:

  • An audit and rebuilding of UnitingCare Australia’s database including conclusive lists for UnitingCare network CEOs, communication staff and staff engaged on particular policy issues; comprehensive list of over 2,500 contacts from the National Assembly to individual congregations nationally (including Synod, Presbytery and congregational contacts). A document outlining protocols for communication with all levels of church hierarchy have also been prepared in consultation with the relevant bodies.
  • A growing and increasingly comprehensive list of media contacts: regional, major metropolitan and Federal Press Gallery.
  • A conclusive list of all Federal politicians and their advisers, including electorate, seat margins and other strategic information.
  • Collaboration with Uniting Church and UnitingCare Synod communicators around the country, primarily through involvement at annual Uniting Church communicators meetings days, hosted by the National Assembly. These working relationships with synod communicators are very valuable to the work of UnitingCare Australia, allowing us to hear from and communicate across the work and life of the church, and to contribute from an agency perspective to broader Uniting Church communication matters.
  • The creation, growth and maintenance of a UnitingCare Australia presence on social media channels. At present the National Office manages two twitter accounts and two Facebook accounts, adding a further dimension to the way in which we can influence public debate, distribute our media statements, and interact with people interested in the work of the UnitingCare Australia.
  • The National Office manages four websites – the UnitingCare Australia website, the new Uniting for Change online engagement tool, and two advocacy specific websites. Our hosting is provided externally, but most of the initial design work, and all the editing and content management is done in-house. The UnitingCare Australia website is a key entry point for people looking for social services. At the moment the website gets between 700 and 800 page views per weekday. The top 15 pages visited- which make up about 90% of our total traffic – are linked to three broad areas:
  1. oSearching for a local agency (the find a service and contact pages)
  2. oLooking for a job (contacting state offices, looking for employment services & aged care)
  3. oFinding out more about UnitingCare Australia (about us, our staff, our publications).

3. AGENCY ACTIONS ON TWELFTHASSEMBLY RESOLUTIONS

65 That the Assembly resolve:

To write to the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, to express serious concern over the shortfall in Commonwealth government subsidy funding to approve aged care providers and request the Minister to consider options for increasing subsidy funding to approved aged care providers.

Rationale

In the report from UnitingCare and Frontier Services reference has been made to this funding and the possible consequences if subsidy funding does not increase. Aged Care Services Australia, the national peak body of which UnitingCare is a member has taken a strong stance of trying to have the Minister consider increasing subsidies, so far to no avail. Subsidies are the funding that approved aged care facilities receive dependent upon the classification of the resident. The classification of a resident means the level of care a resident receives. In Victoria two UCA aged care facilities are to be closed due to the inadequate funding. Aged care is a major area of the Church’s mission. It would be an indictment on the UCA if the UnitingCare has to close down facilities due to it being unable to ensure viability of its facilities.

Action

The National Director, UnitingCare Australia wrote to the then Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, to express serious concern over the shortfall in Commonwealth government subsidy funding to approved aged care providers and requested the Minister considered options for increasing subsidy funding to approved aged care providers.

The broader issue of inadequate funding for aged care services was, and continues to be, a core element of UnitingCare Australia aged care advocacy.

4. FUTURE DIRECTIONS

UnitingCare Australia, like the church generally, faces a number of significant challenges and issues that impact on our agenda and mission priorities and shape how we engage with our key stakeholder communities.  A range of social policy issues must be addressed this coming triennium as a matter of priority, including: services sustainability; equity and sufficiency of income support; and working with people and communities experiencing multiple, complex and sometimes multi-generational disadvantage and vulnerabilities.  A set of demographic challenges confront us in the effective delivery of social services, including: structural ageing; locational disadvantage; increasing unemployment in some locations and age groups and underemployment in many industries and communities, and an increasing gap between people who are managing and people who are marginalised both economically and socially.

UnitingCare Australia aims to lead a strong, united, effective, compassionate and creative national network to influence for better quality of life outcomes for those most disadvantaged and deliver social services that make a positive difference.  As we speak with one voice nationally, our capacity to influence and interface with government, business and the wider Australian community to ensure that more Australians have the means and opportunity for a decent life is enhanced.  UnitingCare Australia will continue to adopt a strongly ecumenical approach, and will continue and deepen its partnership with other community service bodies who operate with shared values in championing the interests of and working with disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians.  In doing so, we will give expression to God’s inclusive love.

UnitingCare Australia aims to be one of the key organisations that government is influenced by, and to be seen by key stakeholders (government, media, the community, the UnitingCare network, and Uniting Church members and leaders) as a thought leader and key influencer of public policy and system change.  We aim to further develop our capacity to engage, empower and activate individuals and communities in our advocacy work, through a “drive to web” approach and other communication strategies.

5. AGENCY CONTACTS AND FURTHER INFORMATION

Postal address
PO Box 518
Dickson ACT 2602
Phone: 02 6249 6717
Fax 02 6249 8715
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website: www.unitingcare.org.au

National Director: Lin Hatfield Dodds

Office Manager and EA to National Director: Nikki Roberts

Director, Services Development: Susan Helyar

Director, Services Sustainability: Joe Zabar

Director, Public Affairs: Judith Tokley

Project Manager: Claire Barbato

Senior Policy Analyst: Alison Inglis

Policy Officer: Nina MacKenzie

Communication Officer: Gareth Beyers

Communication Support Officer: Ani Lamont

Project Support Officer: Hannah Walker

Peter Bicknell
Chair

Lin Hatfield Dodds
National Director

 


 

APPENDIX A

UNITINGCARE AUSTRALIA
MANDATE

Agency/Committee UnitingCare Australia

Responsible To

Assembly
Reporting Arrangements To Assembly Standing Committee and the Assembly
Mission Statement UnitingCare Australia’s Mission is to express God’s love for all people through the Uniting Church’s commitment to supporting individuals, families and communities through advocacy and the enhancement of community service provision.
Mandate
  • To take up community service issues within the theological framework of the Uniting Church, particularly the Church’s social justice perspectives. 
  • To develop and reflect on the policies and practices of the Uniting Church in community services. 
  • To pursue appropriate issues within the Uniting Church, with Government and the community sector, with the Australian community and with other parts of the church
Guiding principles and values Jesus’ ministry challenges us to give more serious attention to the nature of service to one another. Engaging with the world through community services provides the opportunity to live out a Christian vision which is inclusive, all encompassing and which looks for equality of opportunity for individuals, communities and peoples. UnitingCare Australia will bring to all aspects of its work and ministry the theological framework that God’s love is extended to all people, with no discrimination on the grounds of age, gender, sexuality, ability, class colour, creed or cultural origin.
UnitingCare Australia will work co-operatively and ecumenically, giving expression to the unity of God’s love for the world, and the church as a loving agency.

UnitingCare Australia will constantly seek to develop national best practice supporting and giving focus to its work in the areas of policy and practical outcomes.

Key Responsibilities

Therefore, acting within guidelines set by the Assembly or the Assembly Standing Committee, and grounded in the experience of UnitingCare service providers, UnitingCare Australia will:

  1. Encourage theological reflection on the Church’s      community services work.
  2. Advocate to Government and within the Church and community those policies and practices which enhance the dignity of people, especially those who are most disadvantaged and marginalised.
  3. Enable exchange of information across Synods and Uniting Church service providers.
  4. Seek to enhance the quality of community service provision by the Uniting Church.
  5. Represent the views of Uniting Church service providers to governments.
  6. Work as appropriate with other churches and peak organisations in the community services field.
  7. Act on requests and referrals from Synods and the Assembly.

The responsibilities include:

  1. Focusing the activities of the agency on the vision of the Assembly as a whole.
  2. Advising the Assembly and/or the Assembly Standing Committee on policy matters within their areas of responsibility.
  3. Making policy decisions where the Assembly or the Assembly Standing Committee has delegated authority, either through UnitingCare Australia’sMandate or by resolution.

 

Relation with other agencies UnitingCare Australia will maintain regular contact with other Assembly bodies, to ensure coordination of the Church’s actions and advocacy in community service matters.
Power to delegate UnitingCare Australia has the power to delegate responsibilities.
Organisational Structure UnitingCare Australia will operate through the National Committee, its Executive, the National Office, and its national working groups and networks as determined by the National Committee and the UnitingCare network.
National Committee The National Committee is the key governance body of UnitingCare Australia and is appointed by the Assembly Standing Committee.
Role and Responsibilities The role and responsibilities of the National Committee as delegated by the Assembly are to:
  • develop and ensure the implementation of strategic directions for UnitingCare Australia
  • discern and determine key priorities
  • give oversight to the work of UnitingCare Australia, including the National Office and national working groups and networks
Membership It comprises up to nine ex-officio members as follows:
  • the Chairperson, appointed by the Assembly
  • the National Director of UnitingCare Australia
  • the Assembly General Secretary or nominee
  • the Director of UnitingCare or equivalent in each Synod
  • five (5) additional persons appointed by the Assembly Standing Committee with advice provided by a nominating group comprised of the Chair, the National Director and the Assembly General Secretary or their nominee. These persons will be appointed so that the overall skills mix and composition of the Committee reflects the following experience/competencies:
    - strategic thinking across the wide range of the Church’s community services;
    - research and evaluation;
    - senior executive management experience;
    - policy development and advocacy;
    - business development; and
    - theological reflection.

Tenure of membership is for the Assembly triennium.

Frequency of Meetings The National Committee will meet at least four times each year.
Executive

The Executive of the National Committee shall be appointed by the National Committee and is empowered to act on its behalf between meetings of the National Committee in respect of any of the responsibilities of the National Committee except such as the National Committee may determine.

Membership The Executive comprises:
  • the Chair of the National Committee
  • the National Director of UnitingCare Australia
  • the Assembly General Secretary or their nominee
  • two (2) other members of the National Committee, one of whom shall not be in an ex-officio position
National Office The National Office is the staff team of UnitingCare Australia.
Role Its role is to:
  • provide strategic leadership in the operations of UnitingCare Australia
  • to provide a range of executive, administrative and management services to the National Committee
  • to implement decisions made by the National Committee
Membership The National Office comprises
  • The National Director of UnitingCare Australia, appointed by the Assembly
  • Such other staff as determined by the National Director to be necessary or appropriate to further the work of UnitingCare Australia
Accountability

The National Director is accountable to the National Committee in respect of the responsibilities delegated to the National Committee by the Assembly and is accountable to the Assembly and General Secretary in all other matters.

Working Groups and Networks The National Committee may establish or endorse such working groups and networks as required.
Role The role of working groups and networks is to
  • develop, review and reflect upon the policies and practices of the Uniting Church in its community services ministry with people;
  • contribute to the advocacy of UnitingCare Australia;
  • assist in the development of national positions within the area of focus of the particular working group or network; and
  • provide a means at a national level through which the agencies that form the UnitingCare network can network, support, grow and develop their community services work.
Membership The membership of working groups and networks shall be open to UnitingCare members with relevant expertise.
Nature of Agency Permanent

 

Original approved by Community Services Australia November 1992

Submitted to and approved by the Assembly Standing Committee September 1993

Amended and approved by UnitingCare AustraliaMarch 2000

Approved by Ninth Assembly July 2000

Amended and approved by UnitingCare AustraliaFebruary 2005

Submitted and approved by the Assembly Standing Committee March 2005

Amended and approved by the Assembly Standing Committee July 2008

Approved by the UnitingCare Australia National Committee September 2008