An incomplete guide to social sector and the way the Uniting Church plays

After reading my ROS posts, Dr John Flett asked me to provide some background social information for his German academic colleagues who are contributing to the Rescuing Our Soul Conference in September 2016.

Most of our welfare system is Federal (i.e. Commonwealth).  The Federal Government accepts that it has a responsibility to provide welfare for the citizens of Australia.  There is always an argument about how much welfare (see research institutes at the bottom of the email).

What I have created here is a list of the main social services with links.

If you apply for assistance  (i.e. go to the doctors and you show your medicare card) then you get your service for low cost (or free if you are on a low income. bulk billing).  If you are not on a low income you will pay a gap as the medicare contribution won’t cover the whole cost of the service.
The doctor then claims money from the government for providing a service to you.  Most of our welfare is like this.  You ‘apply’ and a professional provides the service.
The contemporary issue in Australia is that competition is being introduced to the welfare system (in a way completely unheard of 5 years ago) by the current conservative government.  Particularly in two areas
  • Disability services (National Disability Insurance Scheme NDIS)
    Instead of being given someone to provide you with disability support from govt/ or service provider (such as ourselves) now people who have disabilities will be able to choose the service provider themselves.  They might choose a government department (unlikely) or a not for profit like us (Uniting Communities) or a competitor, or a private company or even a family member…
The Uniting Church agency I work for has a contract to provide services to people for a set amount of funds in a geographic area over the year (known as block funding).   We were the only provider in a particular geographic area.   So people had no choice about who they used.  Now their are multiple providers where we have to win clients as a business and we only get paid when the service is provided.  So when you look at the links below the place of competition is in some of the discussions.
Peak Bodies – social policy writing
  • Australian Council of Social Services
    This is the national peak body for the social sector which most (Baptist, Catholics, and all NFPs are part).  On most issues we align with ACOSS’s social policy perspectives.
  • UnitingCare Australia
    The Uniting Churches national lobby group made up of most Uniting Church service providers.  Based in Canberra, it is an agency of the the National Assembly with its own governance body but is paid for by the agencies via a levy.  This is our first interesting governance point which I will come back to in blog #6  a guide to UCA governance.  The advocacy uniting Church agencies do is often pursued by the peak body which is whole funded by church agencies and not by the Assembly.
Research Bodies  – I’ve listed two, but there are many.
  • Australia Institute
    This is a progressive research body which is congruent with UnitingCare Australia’s approach to social policy, which would be characterised as focussed on disadvantaged and isolated people.
And finally a plug for the organisation I work for as we have our own advocacy unit which monitors about 20 topics in the social sector.
What I”ve tried to do is provide a quick scan of the social sector.  Those who work in the sector will recognise how incomplete the text is.  But with this foundation we can begin to answer the following;
Could you try to explain in your own short words for me
          how the Australian social system functions? 
          how it is financed?
          what is the role of the churches in society and social systems  (how much are the directed by state rules, finances, fees etc.)?
Could you explain in your words the word
          ‘church agency’ and the word ‘church affiliated organisations’?
          How are they financed and how much are they directed from governmental rules and laws, how is the connection to church or parishes organized (structural)?


This blog was originally an email response to John Flett’s request for help (4th July 2016).  Since that email I’ve improved the text which you have found here on FiA.

peter mcdonald

Rev Peter R McDonald is the Executive of Advocacy and Community Relations at Uniting Communities as well as the Minister in placement.  His profile is here and he will be attending the Friday and Saturday of the ROS conference.


Catalogue of work prepared for “Recapturing our Soul”  Melbourne 2-4th Sept 2016

Beginners Guides – Background information written with our visiting German scholars in mind.
After reading Parts 1-3 Dr John Flett asked me to prepare a brief description of 1) the Australian social service sector, 2) Uniting Church agencies, 3) Uniting Church governance, and 4) The relationships between the three.

Hence my “Incomplete Guides” written for beginners. The guides are ‘incomplete’ as they do not describe the whole system.  Rather they pick one or two issues as an example of what can be found within it.

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