The Hon Shannon Fentiman MP talks to 200 representatives of community service organisations, peak bodies and government at the 2015 QCOSS Breakfast with the Minister.

The Hon Shannon Fentiman MP is the Queensland Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety and Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

Minister Fentiman spoke about her portfolio, her priorities and the future she sees for people experiencing poverty and disadvantage in Queensland.

Transcript

Good morning everyone. I would like to start the morning by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to elders past, present and future, and thank you Uncle Eddie for your welcome to country 

I would also like to acknowledge Mr Mark Henley, CEO of QCOSS, and thank you for hosting this wonderful breakfast, it's wonderful to see so many of you in the room this morning and thank you to all of you for getting up early, it's a very early start to the day.

I'm pleased to see so many of you here. Today's breakfast is really an opportunity for me to share with you the important work that sits across all of my portfolios, and of course the priorities that I am focusing on to address disadvantage here in Queensland. And this morning is also an opportunity for me to talk to you about the Palaszczuk government's new agenda, and new direction, in the community services sector.

But before I do that I did just want to pause and reflect on the tragic news that we all woke up to this morning, about the two Australians in Indonesia, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were executed overnight, and I extend heartfelt condolences to all of those who mourn their loss. I have no doubt that part of their legacy will be the way that Australians have rallied against the death penalty here in recent months, and have stood together for mercy, and their two lives may have been tragically wasted but I have no doubt they will not be forgotten. Thanks Lindsay, it's just really sad news to wake up to.

So in the short time I have been in this role I have already met with many of you, many community organisations, large and small, who have told me that it has been refreshing for them to be able to voice their concerns, and their

vision for the future. I have been to visit many neighbourhood centres, resource and research centres, community recovery hubs, youth centres, respite centres, child care centres and crisis accommodation shelters across the State, and these organisations know already that we are a government that listens.

I want to work with you, and collaborate on the best way forward to deliver the best services and opportunities to Queensland families. I can assure you that we won't be playing political football with the future of the social services sector, because our government cares about improving the lives of our most vulnerable. And the services we invest in and deliver have an impact on every Queenslander.

I'm here today because I want to hear your ideas on how we can work together in reaching out to those most in need and I want feedback from every one of you, because I believe it's important to hear from all voices, no matter how big or small. If we can work effectively together we will achieve strong and long-lasting reforms

Now I know that some of you in the room, I thought it was best to get this out of the way with early, I know that some of you are still waiting to hear about funding for your organisations and trust me, having worked in the community services sector myself I understand how frustrating this can be. But as I said before, I really am determined to provide certainty to the sector so I understand that some funding decisions have been delayed due to the election earlier this year, and I just want to say that if you haven't already heard from our department, you will be hearing from us very soon.

And I want to reassure you that a lot of the reforms that have been progressing are still continuing. I want to assure you that my department continues to work with organisations, like QCOSS for example, to roll out the next phase of the Human Services Quality Framework, and I also understand that being able to plan your budgets for the next financial year becomes difficult, when our budget is pushed back. That's why I have written to the treasurer, and I'm really pleased to advise that there will be an early announcement on the indexation rate for the 2015/16 budget, so you will be able to plan your budgets and provide certainty to your staff and clients.

I'm also committed to continuing the red tape reduction reforms, so that you can spend more time actually helping people, which is why I know you all do what you do and I've also asked the department to consider providing longer funding agreements for organisations, from three years to five years, so that certainty can continue into the future. A lot of smiles around the room.

And of course we're already in the process of simplifying and streamlining funding agreements, which means less forms, cutting out unnecessary monitoring and administrative tasks, but I do know there is a lot more work to be done here, and I want to assure you that I do believe that outcomes shouldn't be all about numbers. When I talk about outcomes, I'm talking about making sure that no one is left behind, and I want to continue to have that conversation with all of you over the coming months. 

You'll be pleased to know that our government has an election commitment to rebuild the social services sector and one of the first things we did when coming to office was remove the no advocacy clause from service agreements. There is absolutely no way a government can listen to and work in partnership with NGOs when they have been gagged, and are too scared to speak for fear of losing their funding. It doesn't matter whether you are our harshest critic or our biggest supporter, we want to hear from you.

Our government is committed to working respectfully in partnership with you to ensure that services are robust, diverse and viable. The premier and I have already had the opportunity to meet with many stakeholders and we do look forward to continuing that consultation and collaborating with organisations like QCOSS, the Community Services Industry Alliance, and other organisations small and large in Southeast Queensland, and across our regions.

And as I'm sure you all are no doubt aware, the health and social services sector is the fastest growing industry in our country and our workforce is predicted to grow by up to fifteen percent in the next few years. This is a significant statistic in itself, but for all of us it means an opportunity to foster real change as we grow.

The health and social services industry is one of our state's largest employers, and in fact is five times larger than the mining industry, and this is why we need a clear, targeted approach to how we intend to meet this workforce demand. And my department has already done some preliminary work with the sector about industry capability, and I intend to build on that work to ensure we deliver diverse and viable services in partnership with you, and I particularly want to focus on building capacity in regional Queensland, so that we can deliver services locally by locals, and inject some much needed employment opportunities into those communities.

The Palaszczuk government has a clear and unwavering focus on jobs because we know that employment is a critical pathway to improved outcomes for individuals and communities. Jobs and improved skills are the gateway to social and economic empowerment. Many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the State will benefit from enhanced employment opportunities that our government is providing and I was so pleased to see that the skilling Queenslanders for work initiative has been reinstated by our government, and will provide greater opportunities for young peoples' work readiness and employment. This initiative which really is tailored around community based support, will help those also from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and women, as you all know, who often have lower workforce participation rates, and sadly experience less economic security, will also benefit from our Advance Queensland initiative, which helps women to advance careers in the knowledge based economy, which supports highly-skilled workers in well-paid jobs.

Our industry as you know, is a feminised industry which is why I am also determined to address issues like the gender pay gap, inequality and the lack of women in leadership positions. The gender pay gap in Australia is higher than it has been in ten years, and I was shocked to read recently that there are more men named Peter in our top ASX 200 companies in the CEO or Chair position, than there are women. So it is easier for you to be in a leadership position on a company board if you're named Peter right now, than if you are a woman.

So obviously this is something I am incredibly passionate about, and I am determined to work with you to increase womens' leadership across government across industry, and in our communities. I don't just want to see more skilling or job opportunities for women, I want to see true gender equality in Queensland, because I believe when women are empowered society benefits. Economies grow faster, families are healthier, children are better educated and our communities become intrinsically fairer.

But there are still some big obstacles we need to tackle in addressing inequality and disadvantage at its source and one of the more devastating and costly issues in both economic and social terms, facing Queensland communities and indeed the entire nation, is violence against women. As you may know, as Mark mentioned, prior to being elected to parliament, I was on the management committee of the Centre Against Sexual Violence in Logan, on the board of Logan Womens' Health and the duty solicitor at the Beenleigh Neighbourhood Centre. So I have seen first hand the pervasive effects of domestic violence and sexual violence in our local communities.

Too many women are hurt and killed each year by domestic and family violence and sexual violence, and we know these deaths are preventable. As a result of the recent media attention on domestic and family violence, more and more women are reaching out, which is great news, but we have to make sure there is a safe place for them to turn, and this is a priority for me. I want to ensure that at the end of my term, we have far fewer women living in fear, and we have more places for them and their children to go, when they need help.

I don't simply want to reduce the statistics of domestic and family violence, I want them where they belong, the past. The work of Dame Quentin Bryce and her taskforce on domestic and family violence provides this government with a clear roadmap for how we can achieve these goals. An interdepartmental committee has been set up to prepare a whole of government response to the recommendations in that taskforce, and my department's playing a key role. The premier and my colleagues and I will be seriously addressing the recommendations in the taskforce report, and in fact we've already begun to identify those actions that require immediate action, and I was pleased to announce earlier in this term that we will be establishing two new 72-hour crisis accommodation shelters for women and children escaping violence, one here in Brisbane and one in Townsville. 

Speaking with people like Di Managan from DV Connect and Pauline Woods in the North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Centre, they stressed to me that right now we are in a unique position to make real and significant change for women and children who suffer from family violence. This change will in turn contribute to greater safety and equality in the long term across our communities. And of course this week on the first of May, domestic and family violence prevention month commences. It is a valuable opportunity to raise awareness about the issue and to challenge attitudes that enable violence to continue. I look forward to taking serious action on violence against women in partnership with all of you, and together we will move forward to prevent this national epidemic.

I am also determined to hear your views on how the reform of the child protection system is progressing. A large number of improvements have been made in recent times, through the Carmody Child Protection Commission and the enquiry recommendations, including the introduction of the Family and Child Connect services and the Next Step Aftercare services, which were launched last week.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with young consultants from CREATE Foundation, and never have I met such an inspiring group of young women. These CREATE consultants who were once in care themselves want to give back by mentoring and assisting younger kids in care. Programs like CREATE are an excellent model for capacity building and providing jobs for young people as the sector continues to grow. However, clearly there is a lot more work that needs to be done to improve the child protection system, and I'm committed to continuing the reforms started by the Carmody enquiry, especially with early intervention and prevention.

If we can keep as many children and vulnerable families from entering the formal child protection system, by giving them the support they need, we can improve outcomes for everyone. But we still have to continue to support those kids that are currently living away from home, and our foster and kinship carers play a crucial role in making sure these kids reach their full potential. I was really pleased to travel to Toowoomba earlier in my term and meet so many of the foster and kinship carers who do an absolutely fantastic job, really providing a loving home and support for some of our most vulnerable children.

The early intervention and prevention initiatives are also particularly important in reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care and as Minister, I'm keen to see some real progress on this issue.

Another key part of my portfolio is of course multicultural affairs, which has not necessarily had the attention in recent years that it deserves. I want to make sure that we genuinely engage with our many multicultural communities, especially those who may be feeling isolated or overlooked by the government. My first priority is to ensure the long-standing good relations between the Muslim community and the rest of Queensland are not jeopardised by the ill-informed comments and actions of a small minority. This is why we are driving a community engagement project with women in Queensland's Muslim community.

And I'm also looking forward to continuing to work with the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner on a project supporting the successful World Café program - it is a fantastic initiative which brings together women of all faiths to discuss issues facing their local community, over a coffee or scrambled eggs at the local café. It's a grassroots movement, it's a small project, but this program is an excellent example of community cohesion where locals take ownership and provide solution on community issues. Our government wants to continue to support programs like these and ensure that we do more to meet the needs of our culturally and linguistically diverse individuals and communities in Queensland.

Now I'm going to wrap up soon because I know a lot of you all want to ask some questions, but I did just want to say in closing that our government needs you, and we want to work with you and that is really the only way that we are going to achieve effective and positive change in this rapidly growing sector.

We are a government that is about listening, and I am here to listen to you. My colleagues and I are always looking for new ways to engage and for you to be able to reach out to us. And we are even looking at some dynamic ways to try and communicate online, to give us a greater opportunity to speak directly with you, no matter where you are in the state.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and say a few words about the direction that this government is heading, and as we rebuild the community services sector, and thank you again to Mark and QCOSS for hosting today's breakfast. I look forward to our shared future, working collaboratively together to improve their lives of Queensland's most vulnerable. Thank you.

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