Agencies fund abuse hearings

THE Ombudsman and NSW Family and Community Services are among agencies forced to find money within their budgets for work to help the royal commission because the state government has not provided any extra resources.
Nanjing Night Net

They have been told to find their own funds until at least next year, a measure Labor said contradicted the point of the commission.

Documents tabled to NSW Parliament show the Department of Family and Community Services, already under pressure to find millions in savings and meet the government’s labour expense cap while providing vital child protection and other services, has reallocated $5million a year to work related to the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The provision is listed under the heading ‘‘Internal budget pressures’’, on a paper that went before the department’s executive committee in late July and discussed difficulties finding savings to meet government targets.

But the state government has told departments and agencies to manage within their budgets the demands from at least the first six months of the royal commission.

An inter-agency committee, headed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, has been established to oversee the NSW response and associated resource requirements, a government spokesman said.

It was monitoring resource needs and would provide advice to the government early next year on how resourcing should be managed for the rest of the commission’s term, the spokesman said.

The royal commission, announced late last year, is expected to run for several years.

A spokesman for the NSW Ombudsman said the commission had already created a ‘‘substantial amount of work for the staff in our employment related child protection and community services areas, as well as other staff from across the office’’.

It is the only Ombudsman office in the country with an oversight role for employment-related child protection measures, and is also required to review the deaths of certain children on top of broader community and disability services responsibilities.

‘‘This will mean that much of our work will be of relevance and interest to the royal commission,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘We are a comparatively small office, and as such responding to the commission will involve some resourcing challenges.’’

A spokesman for Family and Community Services minister Pru Goward, criticised for the number of vacant child protection caseworker positions within her department, confirmed $5million had been set aside per year ‘‘over the coming years’’.

The funds had been ‘‘reprioritised’’, although not diverted from frontline services, he said.

But Labor leader John Robertson said making the department help cover state costs undermined the point of the commission.

It was forcing the department responsible for child protection to make budget cuts to cover the costs.

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