As Scott Morrison prepared to step in as Social Services Minister, his new department was contacting housing advocacy groups and other community services providers on Monday to inform them their funding had been cut and contracts with the Commonwealth would be discontinued.
Social Services posted letters responding to requests for grants from the community sector for ongoing and new funding streams after a process first announced in March.
The government has previously warned it could satisfy just $800 million of the $3.9 billion in grants requested by the sector.
Fairfax Media has learned that all funding to Financial Counselling Australia has been cut, while a number of other community services groups providing emergency accommodation relief lose their funding.
Highlands Community Centres in the NSW southern highlands, which has 450 families on its books and has been serving people in distress for 20 years will no longer receive any federal funding and does not know how it can continue to provide the same service.
National Shelter, a peak advocacy group whose mission is to create a “more just housing system, particularly for low-income Australian households” was informed by the Department of Social Services on Monday that it would lose its funding and its three-year contract torn up a year early.
The Commonwealth will only continue to fund agreements that it has a legislated duty to fund, such as the National Affordable Housing Agreement with the states under the Council of Australian Governments process.
National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski said it was a cruel blow coming three days before Christmas.
Previously the sector had received about $5 million a year to advocate for low-income households, social housing tenants and the homeless in the notoriously constrained and expensive Australian market.
“We have to consider this a Kevin Andrews decision,” he said.
“The big shame about this is that our organisation and some of our fellow organisations are genuinely trying to make things better for people at the bottom end. They [the government] don’t appear to want to hear from people at the bottom end of Australia.”
When the Howard government came to office in 1996 it stopped funding some housing advocacy services but retained commitments in relation to homelessness and community housing, Ms Pisarski said.
The department did not answer calls on Monday evening.
Fiona Guthrie chief executive of Financial Counselling Australia said her organisation had lost its entire $260,000 a year federal funding and had missed out on a request for $920,000 in new grants.
Total budget cuts to service funding are forecast at $240 million over 4 years.
Already in 2013 and 2014 a number of national sector peak bodies have been defunded. They include the Alcohol and Drug Council, the Refugee Council of Australia, the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has tasked Mr Morrison with getting more people off welfare and into jobs in an expanded portfolio that includes family support, seniors, aged care, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Mr Abbott’s signature paid parental leave scheme.
The Australian Council of Social Service said Mr Abbott’s reshuffle was a chance for the government to make good on its promise upon election to “not leave anyone behind”.