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RACHEL Stephen-Smith, the Minister for Community Services, is to be commended for reversing a decision the ACT government had taken to allow SHOUT (Self Help Organisations United Together) to wither on the vine and ultimately close.
The closure of SHOUT would have had a major negative impact on the capacity of a large number of vital community organisations, which support thousands of vulnerable people in Canberra, to continue to do so.
Politics can be a tough and unforgiving business and, oddly, one of the toughest things to do as a minister is to change a decision, even in the face of community concern about its integrity or merit. It might be assumed that it’s a simple thing to do but the reality is that, in light of how politics is played in Australia, it is not – and Ms Stephen-Smith’s actions should be looked at in this context
To be fair to the minister, it should also be acknowledged that she has not had the portfolio for that long and that she inherited the SHOUT funding fiasco.
On the subject of the Legislative Assembly’s response to the threat to SHOUT’s existence, shadow minister Elizabeth Lee has been a strong and effective advocate for SHOUT. Ms Lee is clearly very intelligent as well as articulate and energetic. Through her engagement with this issue she has been enabled to give a strong hint of her potential to be a very effective and successful politician.
However, at the heart of the SHOUT issue is the way in which the NDIS is being managed and the apparently irresistible opportunity it presents governments to play the blame game, cost shift and delegate or (in the case of SHOUT) abrogate responsibility for maintaining basic community services.
I have no doubt that the ALP and Greens members, in retrospect, must be questioning the political wisdom of facilitating the demise of organisations such as Friends of Brain Injured Children, Bosom Buddies and the ACT Down Syndrome Association. The more important question they should ask is how it ever came to this.
What were the administrative arrangements and policy settings that led the government to sleep walk into a scenario that risked the viability and future of dozens of irreplaceable Canberra community organisations?
The minister’s decision has been received with relief by SHOUT. However, the devil is always in the detail and if SHOUT harbours a single major concern about the minister’s announcement it is the lack of detail. SHOUT has nevertheless agreed that it will accept the minister’s personal assurances that SHOUT will be assisted to continue to provide its invaluable services and will work with her in good faith to achieve that outcome.
A further concern is the role the government has indicated it wishes ACTCOSS to play in working with SHOUT to develop a plan for the future.
It has not gone unnoticed that ACTCOSS chose, despite requests to do so, to not publicly support SHOUT in its dark hour of need. SHOUT is a fee-paying member of ACTCOSS and it had every right to expect that ACTCOSS would be its loudest and fiercest supporter.
The mystery behind ACTCOSS’ coyness has the same element as that faced by Sherlock Holmes while investigating the disappearance of the famous racehorse Silver Blaze.
During the investigation Detective Gregory, of Scotland Yard, has the following conversation with Sherlock:
Gregory: “Is there any other point which you would wish to draw to my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident”.
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly. He is the patron of SHOUT Inc.