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SACOSS defends Libs input on Government scorecard

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A leading welfare agency has sought Opposition input on a “mid-term report card” that critiques the Weatherill Government’s policy performance.

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An incomplete draft of the SA Council of Social Service (SACOSS) report – obtained by InDaily – measures Labor’s performance against a pre-election wishlist published by the lobby group.

It assesses policy areas including “a fair and sustainable tax base”, cost of living relief, community services sector support, health, housing, child protection and asylum seeker support.

But SACOSS insists its findings are not compromised by sharing its draft contents with the State Opposition – and seeking feedback. It says it has sought similar feedback from the Weatherill Government and merely wants to “embrace a number of different views”.

An email from SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley was sent to Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas and subsequently forwarded to various Liberal frontbenchers – one of whom inadvertently sent it to InDaily – inviting feedback.

“We are essentially scoring the government’s performance in terms of its progress against the proposals we made [before the election], as well as the election commitments that the government made in response to our platform,” Womersley wrote to the Liberals.

“In keeping with our pre-election approach, we plan to publish the full report on our website and place a simplified version in the Advertiser.

“I would like to invite you to provide us with any feedback on the draft report, particularly where you and your colleagues may have a different view of the implementation status of our proposals and the Government’s election commitments.”

Even before Opposition input, the draft report declares a raft of policy outcomes either not met or only partially achieved.

A proposal to “restore state government revenue to pre-GFC levels (as a percentage of Gross State Product) in the next term of government” was declared “Partially Implemented”, while the Government got a cross against its name on calls to provide free off-peak public transport between 9am and 3pm and to increase and index the Access Cabs Subsidy.

Also “not implemented” was “mandating universal aged-appropriate design standards for new developments to increase stock of appropriate housing for those with special needs”, “restoring funding to all primary health programs cut since the [2012] McCann Report unless there is clear evidence of Commonwealth funding” and setting “a target to reduce the prison population by 10 per cent of sentenced prisoners and 20 per cent of remandees”.

Womersley told InDaily the draft was “completely and utterly incomplete” and that “we haven’t come to a conclusion about [the Government’s policy performance] yet”.

Asked about the appropriateness of seeking Opposition input, he said: “The truth of it is we were keen to try and ensure that in coming to some sort of judgement about how the Government was tracking, we embraced a number of different views.”

“There were opportunities for a number of people to provide us with some commentary,” he said.

“We have always attempted to be apolitical [and] while we have a very political interest in the outcomes that get generated, we’ve always worked with both sides of politics to try and come to a view about what’s the best outcome we can achieve for people experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage.”

He said while SACOSS was “inviting the Opposition to provide some comment… we weren’t necessarily going to take them at face value”.

“We’re asking for particular input on particular issues; the Government had made a series of promises and we’re testing the questions as to the degree to which they’ve fulfilled those promises,” he said.

He said the Government had “definitely” been given the opportunity to respond as well.

“What we want to know is what’s the content they’ve actually delivered,” he said.

Womersley said the final report was still at least a fortnight away, and that SACOSS also intended to publish a snapshot of both parties’ election platforms before the 2018 poll.

The SACOSS email to the Liberals also contained an attachment of a letter from Premier Jay Weatherill, addressing the agency’s wishlist prior to the 2014 election.

It is addressed to Womersley at the “South Australian Council of Social Science [sic]” and begins: “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to responds [sic] to the SACOSS election platform.”

“For those in the social and community services sector, the choice at the coming election between Labor and the opposition could not be clearer,” Weatherill wrote.

The Premier added that the Liberals “in every state where they have been elected, have savagely cut funding to social and community services… it is in their DNA”.

“They have implemented gag clauses, preventing NGOs from speaking out on funding cuts or on controversial legislation,” he claimed.

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