Ripple of Disbelief: State Budget Reflections

Last week when the Tasmanian 2023-24 State Budget was handed down, I described it as a ‘mixed bag’ of some very small wins, some omissions, and some things that we needed more information about. I also descried the funding environment as ‘exceptionally tough’, and not one to celebrate. 

One week on, this view has not changed but instead strengthened. 

The 2023-24 State Budget is simply insufficient and continues to enforce the perception that the Tasmanian Government isn’t listening and doesn’t value the work of the community sector.  

I write this critique as someone who has worked in both the Tasmanian government, and in the community sector for many years. As someone who has been involved in the management and review of hundreds of funding agreements between government and the community sector. 

The issue of insufficient indexation for community sector organisations isn’t new. It’s an issue that the community sector has flagged for many years alongside repeated concerns about a looming ‘crisis’, perpetuated by chronic underfunding of community sector services. I have seen the government lurch from one short-term solution to another, and in many cases simply not respond. There’s no doubt the challenge is complex, but I have often pondered if the government’s silence or lacklustre action was a strategy to see if the community sector was ‘bluffing’. That our concerns were overinflated, or a money-grab and not ‘real’ unless services were being closed. I have formed the view that part of the issue is that the government has a firm view on our sector that, unlike our other industrial counterparts, we don’t complain and when our issues are deprioritised, or partially addressed that they know the community sector is more likely to put up with it, rather than push back.   

In the aftermath of the 2023-24 State Budget, it saddens me that this is becoming a reality, despite the strong advocacy of TasCOSS, and the provision of modelling and case-studies supporting the call for increased investment. The provision of a once-off indexation ‘uplift’ of just $2.1 million is simply insufficient, and the announcement has sent a ripple of disbelief through the community sector. This includes the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs (ATOD) sector including our organisation that is desperately attempting to avoid cutting staff and reducing services. 

It’s not just the lack of sufficient indexation that is contributing to this issue in our sector. Several requests for additional funding support to enhance existing or introduce new ATOD programs were not supported in the budget so there is no increased capacity sector to respond to demand. 

And while the community sector organisations delivering our state’s residential rehabilitation beds were refunded, it was only for 24 months and with no reported additional investment to address rising operational costs. Consequently, service reductions, or closure of services is now on the cards. 

The government’s decision to cease funding for the Alcohol and Drug Foundation will also see a sharp decline in the government’s investment into ATOD preventative health programs (an area already significantly underfunded) with these funds not being reinvested back into this space.  

And while the decision to provide funding to further the work of lived experience should be chalked up as a precious win, this is proving to be difficult when the funding provided was significantly less than what was requested and what is required. Rather than celebrating, we find ourselves in the all-familiar position of attempting to ‘tack’ together a service in the knowledge that, like a house of cards, the funding structure is so fragile, it could come crashing down at any moment.  

The 2023-24 State Budget is simply insufficient and will see a retraction in the services and programs being delivered in the Tasmanian ATOD sector. This is not acceptable for the tens of thousands of Tasmanians who drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, vape or take other drugs including pharmaceutical medications.  

It’s also not acceptable for the hardworking Tasmanians delivering these services, who consistently go above and beyond in the knowledge that their jobs and their ability to help people in need, are at risk because of the government’s inaction on this longstanding issue.  

It is also not acceptable for those working in the emergency departments and other frontline services who will have to manage increased numbers of Tasmanians seeking support due to the community sector not being funded appropriately to provide the programs and services the community requires. 

It can’t be ignored any longer, and the ATDC will stand beside TasCOSS and our fellow community sector organisations to insist on a solution. Not next year, not in the next budget. Now, because it’s everyday Tasmanians who are the ones being impacted the most and we will actively engage with government and TasCOSS to address this issue immediately.

Alison Lai
Chief Executive Officer