Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -
That the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Public Accounts into the Community Support Levy be considered and noted.
Mr President, I will speak briefly to this report because it is self-explanatory. The committee received a request to look at the distribution of funds from the Community Support Levy under the Gaming Control Act 1993 from the Government Administration Committee B which raised this concern during some deliberations in the budget process.
It came down to the question of whether it is appropriate to provide base funding for the Neighbourhood House Program from the Community Support Levy fund. It was not apparent initially whether that was the case and we have had briefings from the Departments of Health and Human Services, and Treasury and Finance, to get to the bottom of how the decisions were made and what funding had been provided for what purpose. Hansard is available for members to review it in more detail. The information that was provided during those briefings was essentially that because Neighbourhood Houses provide a range of services, including support for people with problem gambling, technically, according to the view of the department, it fitted under this.
It is questionable in some respects, but the PAC did not believe it was within purview to question a policy decision like that because it was not the spending of the money. The committee recognise and commends the work of Neighbourhood Houses generally because they provide a fantastic service in the communities they are in. They are often in areas of disadvantage, where there are people with many socio-economic problems. I acknowledge that gambling can affect any family, anywhere. It is not just in the lower socio-economic regions of our state that it is a problem. For those people where it is a problem, it has the capacity to have an even greater impact on their families. Even in a well-to-do family, problem gambling can have devastating effects on the families.
The committee decided not to conduct a full inquiry into the policy position of government and referred it back to Government Administration Committee B which has the capacity to investigate that further, if they wish to. It is a matter of policy, I believe, and the committee believes, as to whether it is appropriate to provide base funding as opposed to targeted funding or project funding, specifically for issues related to gambling, which is what the money for the Community Support Levy is targeted at, or whether in providing services through the Neighbourhood House programs, because they are inclusive and provide a range of services, it does fit. It is a question that I do not really have an answer to. Again, we may hear from the Chair in a moment whether the committee intends to proceed with a further consideration of that.
As members would know, there is an expectation that the money received through the Community Support Levy is split into research for gambling, services for prevention of compulsive gambling, treatment for rehabilitation of compulsive gamblers, community education concerning gambling, and other health services. Twenty-five per cent of the Community Support Levy is for the benefit of a charitable organisations. Technically, in terms of the services that are required for the 50 per cent of the Community Support Levy, in provision of those services around gambling, clearly some of those services are provided through Neighbourhood Houses.
Mr President, there is no right or wrong here, in terms of a value judgement and a policy position. The most important thing is that we provide those supports, whether it is through Neighbourhood Houses or through a whole range of other services, non-government bodies as well. Should we be using the Community Support Levy for base funding for Neighbourhood Houses? Good question. That was not a matter for the Public Accounts Committee to question. Hence the report makes that one recommendation.
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I would like to make it really clear that this is not about the value or benefit of Neighbourhood Houses and there is absolutely no question about the services they provide. It is really important that message is loud and clear. Sometimes these things, unfortunately, are taken out of context.
What was of greater concern to me and other members, was the security of the base funding and whether it is appropriate to base fund out of a Community Support Levy that is raised through the proceeds of gambling, which is potentially volatile and could change.
Regardless of that, a government, by a stroke of a pen, can change its policy and say it is not going to fund it from that Community Support Levy anymore, it is going to fund it from consolidated revenue or some other bucket of money it may find somewhere under a hollow log. The point is, concerns were raised and one was, was it appropriate that the Community Support Levy be used in this way? Does the legislation provide for that? In the strict sense of the word, it is loose enough to allow that. That was ascertained and clarified in the report.
The other issue is, is it an appropriate model to use for base funding as opposed to targeted program funding? The discussion at the committee level was about, and the honourable member for Hobart raised it, that people come into a Neighbourhood House for a variety of reasons. They may have a gambling problem but do not necessarily want to put their hand up and say, 'I have a gambling problem and that is why I am here'. They may come to access other services and to also access gambling problem support there.
Mrs Taylor - It might be their family that comes rather than the gambler himself.
Ms FORREST - That is right, so the benefit can be achieved through multiple entry paths and not one specific way. I accept that they might have a targeted program but the Neighbourhood Houses Program overall provides support to people to access services that meet their needs. If there is a need with problem gambling that may be presenting through other needs, then that is good. There is no question about that.
The honourable member for Montgomery mentioned that the 25 per cent going to sport and recreation was not mentioned. That is because it was not about that. It was about the appropriateness of Community Houses being funded through the Community Support Levy. It is just that it was not part of the consideration.
The point still remains that the base funding model being used is uncertain and can change at any time, as we saw in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 when there was a surplus of funds in the CSL. It was not because Community Houses had an excess left over in their budget - clearly they did not. They cost that much to run, probably more. It shows that at different times different circumstances prevail. It is a policy decision that can change at any time, and it potentially makes it a bit unstable or uncertain. That was the concern that was raised.
I note that the honourable member for Montgomery in her contribution noted that the current Treasurer, Mr Gutwein, has approved another four-year approach to it continuing under this model. In four years' time it may change, but this is the point. Security of base funding is important if we are going to see the Neighbourhood Houses continue, and to be able to plan for the future to a certain degree as well.
One thing concerned me a little in the honourable member for Montgomery's contribution, which, as she said, was provided by the department. One of the reasons that informed some of the decision-making about how to fund things was an increased level of unspent CSL funds, and that bothers me. I have asked questions in the past about this in Estimates when Committee A has had the responsibility for this area, about demonstrating how the 50 per cent allocation for research into gambling, services for the prevention of compulsive gambling, treatment and rehabilitation of compulsive gamblers, community education concerning gamblers and other health services, how that money is actually spent and giving us a breakdown of it - what is being spent on research? What research is being done? What are the results of that research? It seems it is really hard to get. There has been a build-up in the CSL fund that has meant that we will now use it to base fund the community houses. Is it not being spent on these other areas in the way it should be? That is the question I asked a number of years ago, and it still remains relevant.
It is important that research is done if we are going to have targeted and appropriate programs that make a difference. That question still remains, and it is outside the purview of the Public Accounts Committee - really, it needs to be on the agenda for Estimates next year. To provide some more detail, we could ask a question here another time about the breakdown of how the 50 per cent funding under the Community Support Levy has been spent across those allocated areas and what have been the outcomes. What research do we have to demonstrate whether we are doing the right thing or whether we need to change tack in some of those areas?
I thank members for their contribution. It has been an interesting debate. Even though it is a very short and succinct report, it is important that we look at these things. It is a policy decision and a policy question. I will be interested to know whether in the future Government Administration Committee B will follow it up any further. We have had a reasonably informative debate today, which is helpful.
Motion agreed to.Go Back