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Queensland Community Services Peaks (including Community Legal Centres Queensland) – Joint COVID-19 Advocacy Statement

Posted May 25, 2020

People experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage must not be left behind. The following issues should be addressed:

Federal issues

  1. JobKeeper and JobSeeker should be made available to temporary visa holders (in addition to the existing inclusion of New Zealand citizens), including asylum seekers and international students.
  2. Extend the COVID supplement to those on the Disability Support Pension and Carers payment.
  3. The suspension of mandatory cashless debit and income management. There are many instances where people cannot use cashless debit cards for online shopping (for example, Woolworths online), which presents a risk to people needing to isolate.
  4. Cancel the repayment of all unlawful Robodebts, and relief for those who received overpayments due to their inability to report income during peak contact times for MyGov and Services Australia.
  5. Support for and reform of employment services to reduce long-term unemployment and ensure groups of people are not left behind in the economic recovery.
  6. A requirement that debt collectors suspend debt collection for six months and that Government work to address the risk of people being trapped in poverty through payday lending.
  7. A requirement that general and life insurers guarantee coverage for people unable to afford premiums and a freeze on premium increases.
  8. Development of a national disability response plan to enable a comprehensive and consistent approach during the pandemic. This should include clear guidance for people with disability and seniors living in shared accommodation having access to in-home supports and external community access.
  9. The prioritisation of marginalised groups, including people with disability, seniors and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for urgent elective surgeries.

State issues

  1. A clear plan to ensure supply of affordable food and other basic necessities to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities.
  2. Additional funding for mobile phones, smart devices, computers and associated applications, software and data to be provided to people experiencing vulnerability who need such equipment to access essential services. This request acknowledges the hard work already undertaken by services to provide this support to people and the previously announced measures that addresses these concerns for select cohorts.
  3. Provide further relief for energy and water consumers in the latter half of the year.
  4. Extend car registration concessions to jobseekers and asylum seekers.
  5. Provide additional funding to the Queensland No Interest Loans (NILS) Community Network.
  6. Provide funding to ensure that telephone/video interpreting services are paid at the same rate as on-site services to retain professional interpreters.
  7. Ensure Language Service Providers offer video interpreting and provide network data, training and technical support to interpreters.

Support for the community sector

The community sector has been required to rapidly adapt to delivering services during the COVID-19 crisis.

In a matter of weeks, organisations have transformed their operations and many direct services to be delivered off-site, primarily from the homes of employees. In addition, services have grappled with how to deliver face-to-face services in a safe way.

We acknowledge that some community organisations have received considerable practical and economic supports from government in the past few weeks, and thank the state government for their constructive engagement with our sector thus far.

In order to sustain the essential services the community sector collectively delivers during the COVID-19 crisis, organisations need the following additional support:

State government support package

Queensland Government whole of government Community Sector Support package that includes:

  1. The establishment of an industry fund to resource additional staffing to both respond to increased demand on services, and for additional leave entitlements for staff that may become ill or must provide caring responsibilities at home as well as ensure that community organisations can access technology and PPE that they may need to enable them to continue to do their work.
  2. The extension and flexibility of contracts for funded organisations so that they can respond to the crisis accordingly, beyond extensions already announced.
  3. The provision of PPE to all community organisations whose staff carry out face to face work regularly, and clear guidelines and training on the safe operation of face to face work. PPE should also be provided by the government to people with disability self-managing their supports, to ensure safety without additional costs.
  4. Equip the Care Army, through the expertise and experience of the social and community sector, to ensure volunteers in the program are able to make appropriate risk assessments and referrals for people who are not safe in their own homes, including older people experiencing elder abuse, women, and children.

Federal government support package

  1. A Community Sector Continuity of Service Enabling Fund to ensure continuity of service delivery, secure jobs, prevent loss of jobs or income, guarantee paid special leave for all workers, and enable ramp up of services for people in need as well ensure that services can adapt and remain viable to serve the interests of the community and assist with the recovery from the pandemic.
  2. An extension of all business-related COVID-19 support measures to community sector and not for profit organisations (beyond those measures extended to date).
  3. Extensions to all existing funding contracts, especially those ending on 30 June 2020, by at least a year to provide as much stability and risk reduction for existing services. This must include the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, with that current agreement to expire on 30 June 2020.

This list is not exhaustive but encapsulates urgent requests that are needed for our community organisations to continue service provision, and so that no Queenslander slips through the cracks or is left behind.