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The Asquith Group Case Study: Eleven themes

  1. Policy

Whilst there is always overlap between the responsibility of the Commonwealth and the states, the

Federal Government is generally considered to have the upper hand in this division of power, with the providing services in health, education, justice and the like, whilst the Federal government still

oversees pension and benefit arrangements (sometimes referred to broadly as “welfare”). Our Constitution has, over time, evolved to deliver the Commonwealth greater constitutional and fiscal power than the states, giving the Commonwealth the scope to choose between:

 

- excluding the states from policy determination and implementation

- co-opting the states, as agents of the Commonwealth

- cooperating with the states, as partners

- leaving matters entirely to the States.

 

It has been said that under the previous federal Labor government of Rudd and Gillard, the government largely opted for the third choice, ie co-operation with the states.

 

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, has amembership including the Prime Minister, State as well as Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers, and its role is to promote policy reforms that are of national significance, or which need co-ordinated action by all Australian governments. COAG has previously initiated reforms to increase productivity, raise workforce participation and mobility and improve the delivery of government services, including health policy changes; early childhood, education and training reforms; and commitments to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.

A COAG meeting, 2 July 2009, did agree to a “National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions” and this Agreement covered the period up to 31 December 2013.20

 

This Partnership aimed to increase participation of young people in education and training, increase attainment levels and improve successful transitions from school. It contained a package of elements, including:

 

- strengthened participation requirements to encourage young people aged 15-20 to be engaged in education or training as a first priority

- lifting qualification levels with the aim of 90 per cent of young people nationally attaining a Year 12 or equivalent qualification by 2015 (Victoria’s target was 92.6 per cent) with an accompanying education or training entitlement for young people aged 15-24

- support for successful transitions through the provision of youth career and transition programs.

 

Programs to support youth transitions were delivered through four broad streams:

 

- Maximising Engagement, Attainment and Successful Transitions – focusing on multiple learning pathways, career development and mentoring

- Youth Connections – case management and support for at risk young people to remain engaged in, or reconnect with, education and training.

- School Business Community Partnership Brokers – networks to improve community and business engagement with schools

- National Career Development – including current national resources such as Job Guide and the myfuture website that will continue to be an Australian Government responsibility.

 

(When the Youth Connections and Partnership Brokers programs were rolled out nationally, in Victoria, the Partnership Broker Program was delivered by Local learning and Employment Networks).

As per the Agreement, it’s now been two and half years since this Partnership ended. Since then federal and state governments seem to have agreed we have a crisis in youth unemployment. Yet it’s a challenge to identify the policy measures and monetary investment that point to a full, effective and co-operative response to such a crisis. During this period it would appear that policy thinking and practice (in relation to young people, to educational engagement, transitions, and pathways) could again benefit from genuine agreement and co-operation among all levels of government.

There have also been worrying signs around federal policies, including federally-funded benefits, programs and services, and access to them. Last year’s Federal Budget proposal to make young unemployed people under the age of thirty wait six months for income support was, fortunately, not passed by the Senate. However, as announced in the most recent Federal Budget, there’s still a proposed waiting period, which is to be reduced to one month, and applied to a younger cohort (ie under 25 years of age). This measure remains unjust, and would certainly be counter-productive.

We note that the 2015/16 Federal Budget did announce a Youth Employment Strategy, with an investment in school to work transition programs to help vulnerable young unemployed people. This suggested that the Government had “listened to community concerns about the ending of the Youth Connections program.”

 

However, as of July 2015, no details were available regarding this budget announcement. It does appear unlikely that services under this Strategy will have national coverage, and suggests that young people in areas not deemed as having high unemployment may miss out.

Concerns also remain around the Work for the Dole in the new federal employment services “Job Active” system, and the scrapping of specialist (including youth specialist) providers. Only generalist providers have been contracted in the new system, whilst Work for the Dole (WfD) has been described as a “centrepiece” of the federal government’s new Employment Services program.

Significant levels of funding have already been allocated to the WfD initiative, but as Jobs Australia, a peak body, has stated “successful implementation of WfD relies to a considerable extent on the availability of sufficient numbers of genuinely work-like placements. In areas with limited employment growth opportunities and with low numbers of small to medium-size enterprises it may be difficult to find adequate numbers of eligible placements to achieve the programme’s outcome of providing a genuinely work-like experience”.

The 2015/16 Victorian State Budget announced significant spending in the areas of education, health, job creation and social services as well as $22 billion of funds earmarked for major infrastructure projects, including public transport. There’s also clearly a commitment to bettering the lives of some of Victoria’s most vulnerable children and young people.

Labor has vowed to make Victoria "the education state" and the 2015/16 Budget locks in $3.9 billion of funding “to fulfil ambitious election promises for schools, TAFEs and disadvantaged students”

 

More than 60 state schools will be upgraded and renovated at a cost of $325 million, and $111 million will be spent on 10 new schools in some of the state's fastest growing areas. This includes a new government secondary school in the City of Stonnington, a welcome announcement among many.

Among the many measures included in the 2015/16 State Budget - all of which are welcomed - are: $300 million to further strengthen the TAFE sector, in addition to the previously announced $50 million TAFE Back to Work Fund; $148.3 million for the Camps, Sport and Excursion Fund;

 

An additional $15.7 million for the State School Relief Fund for affordable school uniforms; $13.7 million for Breakfast Clubs in the 500 most disadvantaged government primary schools; $8 million for youth participation and engagement, helping reconnect young people to education and employment pathways and $1.6 million for a mentoring program for disadvantaged students; $48.1 million over four years for Child FIRST and family services, and extending the funding for Springboard, a program that supports young people to transition from residential out-of-home care into independent living.

Whilst an “education state” is very much a worthy aspiration, it should be noted that a previous (2012) report from the Victorian Auditor General’s Office (Student Completion Rates) did have some criticism of one of our own key departments. According to the report the state DEECD (now the Department of Education and Training) had “failed to significantly improve student completion rates in the past 10 years”.

 

For example, “DEECD did not provide comprehensive evidence-based information to decision-makers to inform recent funding changes to the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) and

Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VETiS) programs.26 Important commissioned research was ignored, and stakeholders, including schools, were not consulted about the likely impact of the changes. DEECD also “did not have sufficient evidence to assess the impact of funding changes on schools' ability to meet the growing demand for VCAL, and, in turn, on the impact that this would have on future completion rates”.

 

“The issues highlighted in this audit (relating to DEECD’s advice on VCAL) “raise broader concerns about its ability to gather and use sufficient evidence to assess the potential impact of policy changes and provide comprehensive, informed advice to decision-makers to improve student completion rates”.

 

Although the Department had a “range of strategies for schools to assist students to complete Year 12 or equivalent” … ”these are no longer improving student completion rates”.

In this section we have only referred to two tiers of government. Some might argue that all three tiers need more effective and consistent strategies and policies to help address youth disengagement and unemployment. At the very least LGAs could have a greater role to play in supporting young people.

In fact a 2013 report found that all Victorian LGAs believed they could play a key role in the delivery of universal prevention and early intervention programs for young people. Almost every Council (43 of 45) reported already providing ‘Generalist’ Youth Services (i.e. to the general youth population).

This report also identified a number of themes that are in common to role/position descriptions for generalist youth workers including:

 

- individual support to young people

- planning, development and implementation of programs and activities for groups of young people

- advocating for young people and youth services to ensure appropriate service options, and

- liaison with other service providers —including education and employment, as well as specialist and general youth services —to promote sharing of resources and opportunities for collaboration in the delivery of services to young people.