Social Services Newsletter #1

11 March 2016

Minister’s foreword

Welcome to the first edition of our Social Services Newsletter. It’s an opportunity to update you on some of the issues inside the portfolio.

Special refugee intake

I recently had the privilege of sharing Australia Day with the first family to arrive under the additional 12,000 special humanitarian refugee intake.

It was the Kujah family’s first Australia Day and they spent it in a typically Australian way – at a community BBQ in Perth.

Originally from the war-torn city of Homs in western Syria, the family had been living in a camp for several years before being issued their Australian visas.

So far, five families comprising 26 people have arrived as part of Australia’s response to the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian disaster. More families will arrive in the next few months but this is a process that cannot be rushed. Most applications will take months to process and rigorous security checks are being conducted.

Before a visa is granted, applicants are required to meet all criteria for a Refugee and Humanitarian visa, including health, character and security checks.

Processing times also vary depending on the circumstances of the individual applicants.

Due to the complex and changing circumstances in the Middle East, it may take a number of years for all arrivals to be settled in Australia.

We are still talking to state, territory and local governments about where the refugees will be settled. While thousands of generous Australians have offered support to the 12,000 refugees, existing Humanitarian Settlement Services are fully equipped to settle these groups. In many cases, the humanitarian entrants are traumatised and need specialised support, and the specialised services are best placed to provide it.

With Premier Colin Barnett and new Australians, father and son Bashar and Mohamad Kujah
With Premier Colin Barnett and new Australians, father and son Bashar and Mohamad Kujah.

No Jab, No Pay

The latest figures from the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register suggest that the Government’s No Jab, No Pay policy had an impact on vaccination rates even before it was rolled out in January.

Twelve months ago, around 40,000 children were registered as vaccination objectors. Now the figure has reduced quickly to around 30,000.

This is good news for public health and community safety, but there is obviously still a way to go. Scientists measure best outcomes by the existence of ‘herd immunity’, where immunisation rates need to be around 95% to prevent the communicability of diseases. Australia currently has a childhood immunisation rate of around 92%.

Under No Jab, No Pay parents need to have their child immunised if they want to receive a number of family payments.

Vaccination is free for children under 10 years and free vaccinations are currently being offered for children between 10 and 20 whose families were receiving these government payments before 1 January 2016.

The benefits for the broader community from high rates of immunisation are too important for the Government not to take this action designed to maintain and improve rates of immunisation coverage in Australia.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

I have just returned from visiting the Barwon (Victoria) trial site for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). It was a powerful and positive experience to see so many lives being improved – even transformed – by one of Australia’s largest social policy reforms.

The NDIS represents a significant increase in funding for disability services. By 2019-20, the Commonwealth, states and territories will be jointly spending around $22 billion to implement it, helping around 460,000 Australians with disability.

Agreements have been signed for full scheme roll-out with South Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, and Australian Capital Territory, and negotiations are continuing with the other jurisdictions.

Over the trial period, NDIS costs have continued to track within the funding levels determined by governments when the scheme was established. Costs do vary across the different trial sites, but as the National Disability Insurance Agency advised in its latest report (January 2016), the NDIS is being delivered on time, on budget, and with high levels of satisfaction among recipients.

As at December 31, 2015, there are 22,281 participants across the trial sites who have approved plans and $1.5 billion of support has been committed to these participants.

With Sarah Henderson MP and NDIS participants in Geelong, Victoria
With Sarah Henderson MP and NDIS participants in Geelong, Victoria