Post State Budget Commentary

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Written by Samaritans CEO, Brad Webb

The NSW Government handed down the 2019/20 state budget on Tuesday 18 June.

As I wrote before the budget, we were hoping to see three specific commitments in relation to housing, disability advocacy, and mental health.

Last week I went to Parliament House for the NSW Council of Social Services (NCOSS) Budget Breakfast, to hear from Hon Damien Tudehope MP, Minister for Finance and Small Business, the Hon Gareth Ward MP, Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, and the Shadow Treasurer Ryan Park MP.

NCOSS also provided an analysis of the budget, which can be downloaded here.

So how did we go?

Well it is fair to say that the budget, together with a range of other interesting developments in the NSW Parliament over the last month, has been quite a mixed bag for our sector.

When it comes to social and affordable housing, there are no new measures or increased funding in this Budget to support people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. However, last week the Premier announced three key social areas that the government will focus on during their current term. One of these priorities is the reduction in street homelessness by 50% by 2025.

When pressed on the lack of new funding at the Budget breakfast, the Minister for Finance and Small Business pointed to increased consultation with the sector about the current budget allocation and how it should be spent. This drew some criticism from peak bodies including Homelessness NSW and Domestic Violence NSW, who highlighted that detailed consultation had already taken place and there were clear needs already identified. This includes the current shortfall of social and affordable housing stock.

Homelessness is an area to watch and will continue to be a key focus of our advocacy.

When it comes to disability, there was no budget allocation for disability advocacy. Subsequent to the Budget, on 20 June the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Bill 2019 was debated, including an amendment recommending $20 million for advocacy funding. This amendment was voted down.

However, the passing of the Bill paved the way for the appointment of the new Robert Fitzgerald AM appointed as NSW’s first Disability and Ageing Commissioner from 1 July. Mr Fitzgerald was a former commissioner for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and his appointment is welcomed by Samaritans as a positive step towards protecting vulnerable older adults and people with disability.

The need for advocacy supports for people with disability remains a pressing issue, and there will be ongoing pressure applied by the sector to securing funding for this service.  

In relation to mental health, there were modest increases in the Budget towards recurrent mental health costs, with a focus on providing additional support to young people in high school and increased capacity for Lifeline and the Kids Helpline.

There was no specific response in relation to the RANZCP call for multidisciplinary community-based mental health teams dedicated to support people with an intellectual disability who have mental health conditions. The Budget has also overlooked the ‘missing middle’ of community based mental health services between primary care and hospitals.

However, on the positive side for people with disability, a range of health supports will now be funded by the NDIS following the June meeting of COAG’s Disability Reform Council. The NDIS will fund health-related supports if they are a regular part of the Participant’s life and a result of their disability. This includes supports for dysphagia, diabetes management, continence, wound care, respiratory, nutrition, podiatry, and epilepsy.

The NDIS is continuing to evolve and there will no doubt be further changes ahead. It was pleasing to also hear the Hon Gareth Ward MP, Minister for Families Communities and Disability Services, acknowledge that the NDIS is only available to a relatively small proportion of people with disability, and that this means there will be continued need for the NSW Government to support this gap.