Date published: Monday 11 December 2017
One year ends and another begins. As I write this, I feel both extraordinarily thankful for a full and productive year, and full of hope for what’s ahead. It’s time to take a breath, take stock of what 2017 has brought, and reflect on our hopes for the future.
Not only did I arrive in 2017, but so did the rest of our current staff team. Ashleigh Ralph and Margaret Wood quickly became indispensable to our work, and we are all blessed to have them in the team.
We said goodbye to two employees, two Baptist Care Australia Board directors and hello to two acting directors.
I’ve visited all our state and territory member organisations to meet staff and clients, and see the important work being done. (I wrote a comment piece and a brief news article about some my experiences on these visits.)
I’ve met and come to know politicians, advisors, public servants, people from other peak bodies and charities, academics, subject matter experts, people from across the Baptist movement and many more. In fact, I’ve met more people than I could possibly imagine. There are 24 million people in Australia and I feel like I met nearly all of them this year.
Our ability to be a positive influence for change is reliant on this complex web of human beings and our relationships with them. Understanding and negotiating that web has been one of the most important aspects of my first year in the role.
Looking back over the year, some key progress in the national social agenda included:
- The Federal Government accepting a leadership role in our housing crisis with key announcements in Budget 2017-18 such as the housing bond aggregator scheme
- A parliamentary inquiry that recommended in favour of a modern slavery act for Australia
- A continued focus on domestic and family violence that saw some changes to the Family Law Act introduced to parliament, a parliamentary inquiry and a full review of the Act by the Law Reform Commission.
Sadly, we also saw the Government continue to advance harsh and punitive measures on people receiving income support, sending social progress backwards and inequality forwards. Perhaps in response, there is increased communication from social justice advocates and political parties around growing inequality and what we might do in the future to work towards a fairer and more equitable society.
There were several attempts by the Government to limit the ability of charities to advocate for change. So far, none have become a reality, but these signs are concerning for the future of not-for-profits who need to advocate for their clients and better policy solutions to social problems.
The Public Debate
There was significant public attention on the issue of domestic violence in churches due to ongoing coverage by the ABC of research undertaken by Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson. This work has been an important catalyst for change, prompting two denominations to issue statements of apology (the Anglican Church of Australia and the National Council of Australian Baptist Ministries). Many church leaders have also written and spoken about the issue in churches, online, and in the media.
The housing affordability crisis has gradually taken centre stage this year, with growing and widespread acceptance that we have a serious crisis on our hands. Political parties and the general public alike now understand that concerted and expensive action is required across all governments to address the issue.
The public debate was dominated by the same sex marriage issue for much of the year. Never before has there been a public poll on a single-issue policy consideration, and the advocacy before and during the survey was very divisive within Australian communities. It remains to be seen how the policy and political issues pan out following the conclusion of the parliamentary debate.
We enjoyed the first small steps towards an increased media profile for Baptist Care Australia. Federal Budget coverage included two media mentions in relation to aged care policy (here and here), one on housing announcements, and one on the drug testing pilot trial for welfare recipients. We have also been quoted in stories on tax deductible gift recipient regulation, homelessness funding, and domestic violence in churches.
The Policy Agenda
Consumer-directed care hit the aged care sector in February, and the marketisation of social services remains a focus of government policy. Baptist Care Australia made a submission to a Productivity Inquiry on human services policy reform, and appeared at a public hearing.
There is an increasing focus on client outcome measurement in government contracting for social services. Improving government and sector access to data on the provision of social services and their impacts on clients has also been a focus.
Quality in aged care was a hot topic throughout the year, with repeated media coverage, and multiple government and parliamentary reviews. The recommendations of these reviews will be considered alongside ongoing policy reforms in the aged care sector.
The Procurement Circle of Excellence finalised six new national procurement contracts, which use the collective buying power of members to save money and help fund their missions in their communities.
And one of the more exciting developments of 2017 was a brand new visual identity for Baptist Care Australia. The roll out of our new brand, which positions us as ‘a voice for hope’, will be completed during the first two months of 2018. We’re looking forward to a brand new website that showcases our work, our values, and our issues to people both inside Baptist Care Australia and beyond.
There is so much to be thankful for in all that’s happened for Baptist Care Australia in 2017! Thank you to members of the Circles of Excellence, the Board, staff, and expert advisors for all your help and support during the year. I’m looking forward to the next instalment of our work together.
I wish you a happy and holy Christmas, a restful break, and a wonderful New Year. I pray that each of us will find opportunities to express God’s love in action to ourselves, loved ones, neighbours, and strangers across the globe.