Financial Counselling Australia Conference 2024


Good morning.

I'm sorry I couldn't join you in person today. With the Budget last night it's a busy time in Parliament House, but I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address you through this video.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in which I'm on, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respect to elders past and present. I extend this acknowledgement to all First Nations people attending the conference today.

Thank you to Financial Counselling Australia for bringing everyone together for this important conference and for inviting me to speak once again.

I would like to particularly acknowledge Fiona Guthrie, the former CEO of Financial Counselling Australia for nearly 15 years. I'm sorry, I won't be there to hear your final word to close the conference.

You have been an outstanding advocate and representative of the sector. I've appreciated your dedication and work in partnership with the government to realise some of the key recommendations from the Sylvan review. I wish you all the best in your new role.

The theme of this year's conference is the ripple effect. I think it's a great representation of the value of financial counsellors.

We know that many Australians, often through no fault of their own, end up in financial difficulty.

You provide a real lifeline for people; your impact can be far reaching and transformative.

It doesn't just benefit the individual you're working with, but flows on to their children, their family and local community. Often creating long-lasting positive change.

Coming together as a collective, this year though, I think we've made waves.

At last year's conference, I said the time for talk was over. I made clear our Government's expectation for the full sign-on from industries that contribute to demand for financial counselling and benefit from these services.

A year on we have secured industry contributions totalling $35 million over three years.

This is expected to help around 30,000 extra people each year to access financial counselling and support they need. I'm excited to see what impact this will have.

A year on we've also established the Financial Counselling Industry Fund.

This will be the independent body to oversee the model and be responsible for collecting and dispersing the funding.

The body will receive $1.2 million in seed funding from the Government by the end of June, fulfilling our commitment to support the initial setup.

I thank everyone in this room who has supported the model and want to highlight that we are not done yet. The Government is still working with industries to secure more funding.

It's also been a big year for the National Debt Helpline with over 130,000 calls answered in 2023, the highest since 2020 when we were grappling with life during a pandemic.

Demand is predicted to grow again this year, with 50,000 calls made in the first four months.

When I addressed you last May, I announced an additional $1.2 million to expand the National Debt Helpline Appointment Booking Project which allows the Helpline to triage clients and book directly with a counsellor on their behalf.

For the client, this simplifies the process and reduces the stress of having to call multiple financial counselling organisations to get an appointment and risk not getting connected with support.

A year on more than 7,000 appointments have been built for clients, expansions in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia are underway and the rest of the country will follow in coming months.

I'm very pleased to advise that last night’s Budget included additional investment to further strengthen the Helpline. With approximately $1.6 million in annual funding for the ongoing operation of the appointment booking system and the live web chat function. Now while it's important to celebrate progress, we know economic conditions remain challenging.

With cost of living, bill-shock and natural disasters. more people are experiencing acute financial crisis, which is putting pressure on services struggling to meet demand.

And while there's a need to respond to this acute demand, we also need to build capability and resilience over the long term.

Over the last 12 months, my department has undertaken a review of our Financial Wellbeing and Capability programs. For those who contributed to the review - thank you for your insight and expertise.

The review demonstrated the clear need for cohesive investment along the continuum of support from prevention and early intervention to response and recovery.

To ensure we support clients across this continuum from the 1 July. 2025 we will be restructuring our programs to operate under two streams, Financial Capability and Resilience and Financial Crisis Response and Recovery.

Stemming from this review, in January I announced the Government is providing an extra $114.8 million over five years to assist with frontline services, including those delivering emergency relief and financial counselling to meet the increase in demand along with our significant boost in annual funding.

Last night's Budget included funding to expand the food relief programs to also supply cost effective material aid to Commonwealth funded Emergency Relief providers. It will allow localised and targeted footprints for some food and material relief providers to address service gaps, particularly in regional and remote areas.

We are also strengthening another critical crisis support, so that victim-survivors of intimate partner violence do not have to choose between safety and financial security.

The Budget commits $925 million over five years to permanently establish the Leaving Violence Program, which will provide up to $5,000 in financial support for victim-survivors, along with referral services, risk assessments and safety planning.

As I've indicated, and as you well know, it is also important to build financial capability and resilience to prevent people from reaching crisis point and support longer term well-being on the capability and resilience side.

The Budget includes $11.2 million over three years to expand the Saver Plus program on an ongoing basis, a matched savings and financial education program.

We're also adjusting the Money Support Hubs to focus more on early intervention and moving along the continuum.

And the Budget includes an extra $6.3 million over three years for the ongoing operation of the No Interest Loans for vehicles program, which helps vulnerable people purchase a vehicle for essential use across our financial wellbeing programs.

We are determined to provide greater certainty and stability as part of our commitment to build a stronger, more diverse and independent community sector.

That is why the Budget also includes continued support for STEPS, a virtual workplace that helps financial counselling students complete their work placement to meet their diploma requirement.

It’s also why from 1 July 2025, all Financial Wellbeing and Capability grants will be five year agreements. This will give the sector the much-needed certainty to plan attract and retain staff.

At the end of the day, we can invest the money but it's you doing the hard work.

Whether that is being responsive in times of crisis or supporting people before they get to that point.

I want to thank you for all that you do.

I want to wish you a successful conference and look forward to working in partnership with you over the next year.