22 March 2024

Address to ChangeFest 2024, Mildura, Victoria


A national focus on local change

I am so pleased to be joining you today on the lands of the Latji Latji and Ngintait people and I pay our respects to Elders and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here with us.

I also acknowledge the Barkinji (bar‑kin‑gee) across the river and recognise their custodianship of their lands and their care of this wonderful region.

Thanks to the ChangeFest organising group, community leaders in the room who have travelled from all across Australia to be here – and my colleagues Linda Burney and Amanda Rishworth who lead so much of the government’s work in this area.

And the ChangeFest National convenors who make sure the precious ChangeFest flame is safely passed from community to community over the years.

Over the last few days you’ve heard about the need for economic development as the key to First Nations self‑determination, about the desire for bipartisan support for place‑based and community‑led approaches, and from Stan Grant on working together across our differences.

This is not my first ChangeFest, I had the privilege of joining many of you at the first ever ChangeFest in my home town of Logan in 2018.

It was at ChangeFest that I first properly understood that community‑led, place‑based transformation that was building in my community was not a one‑off.

It was not an isolated example nor a short‑lived experiment.

It was part of a new and powerful way of making change in communities across Australia.

Ever since then I thought that if the government had the opportunity to grow this way of working –

To help those of you here today to lead the change in your communities –

To bring government to the table in a meaningful way and as a respectful partner –

Then we would grab that opportunity with both hands.

So I have come back to ChangeFest and come here to Mildura today to say:

We believe in what you do.

We believe it is important for Australia.

We believe that community‑led, place‑based approaches are a massive part of the answer both to the challenges – and the wonderful opportunities – that exist in our suburbs, towns and regions.

Your work needs to be better supported, accelerated and celebrated.

It needs to be recognised as best practice in social policy and in service delivery.

It needs to be the way we do things to get the outcomes we are all seeking in communities like the one I grew up in and am raising my children in.

So I’ve come here to tell you that I get it – and that I'm a believer.

To understand why place‑based approaches are so important, it’s handy to put them in the wider policy context of government.

We pay close attention to measures like unemployment, inflation, and interest rates.

We are making encouraging progress on inflation and we got a very good jobs number yesterday, and real wages are growing again for the first time in ages.

Those issues affect millions of Australians and are important considerations for any government.

But those measures only tell part of the story.

You may have seen our Measuring What Matters framework, which was a way we can start to broaden how we understand progress and disadvantage in society.

We are proud of the efforts across a couple of budgets now to boost income support and make medicines and early childhood cheaper and provide extra help with electricity bills and rent – targeting the most help to those who need it most.

But we know social and economic disadvantage in Australia is not evenly distributed, it is concentrated around certain places.

I’m sure you’ve seen this in your community as I have in mine.

The contrast between suburbs in different parts of a city, or towns in different parts of a state, can be stark.

Disadvantage is easy to identify, but more difficult to fix.

That is why place‑based approaches are so important.

They are designed to address disadvantage based on the needs of a particular place.

Here in Victoria in 2021, 5 per cent of all communities accounted for 29 per cent of the most disadvantaged positions across all indicators.

In my home state of Queensland, 1 per cent of all communities accounted for 11 per cent of the most disadvantaged rankings.

But we also know that the work that many of you do –

Place‑based initiatives with community leadership –

Have had great success in helping us make inroads on these statistics.

You know that tackling entrenched disadvantage requires solutions tailor‑made for your communities, not just national programs.

The key to grasping the opportunity of community leadership is sharing decisions with local people, local experts and local holders of knowledge and cultural authority.

This morning I had the opportunity to visit, together with Hands Up Mallee and Connected Beginnings Mildura, the HomeBase Youth Hub.

This is an inspiring example of how youth can be connected and supported when community leads change.

In Logan, collaborative work over the last decade or so has seen child vulnerability fall significantly –

From about 37 per cent of kids not doing as well as we would like in 2009 down to 29 per cent in the last Australian Early Development Census.

29 per cent is still too high – but I think you’ll agree it’s a very significant improvement on 37 per cent – and that is in a city of over 350,000 people.

We aren’t short of success stories here.

In Bourke there’s been some progress in the areas of youth offending and domestic violence.

At Doveton College in Melbourne’s south, NAPLAN results are trending towards the State average against all odds – a place‑based initiative driving change for an entire suburb.

These successes are why your work – the work of all of you here – needs to be better supported, accelerated and celebrated.

It needs to be recognised as best practice in social policy and in service delivery.

It needs to be the way we do things to get the outcomes we are all seeking in communities like the one I grew up in.

Because the key to grasping the opportunity that place presents is community leadership.

Devolving and sharing decisions with local people, local experts and local holders of knowledge and Cultural authority.

So that the people who live here, in this place, are in the driver’s seat.

In a productive and respectful partnership with committed public servants and the expertise they bring.

In last year’s Budget we made an important start, bringing the Commonwealth Government to the table in the right way to more enthusiastically support place‑based change.

We announced a $200 million package to target entrenched disadvantage, including through place‑based approaches.

Part of that package provides $64 million to extend the Stronger Places, Stronger People (SPSP) program.

Which includes a 5‑year funding boost for Hands Up Mallee here in Mildura.

The work of the community here in Mildura, including service providers, to enable equity in COVID‑19 vaccine outreach services won a Victorian Public Healthcare Award two years ago.

In preparing to come here to Mildura I was told about how shared decision‑making, a key focus of our package to extend SPSP, is being taken forward in practice.

The Red Cliffs Early Years Hub has been awarded $6 million from the Victorian state government and will include a re‑build and expansion of the kindergarten, maternal and child health facilities, allied health consulting rooms, a toy‑library and a large community space.

I understand the first sod was turned on this project last week.

What’s different about this infrastructure is that community shared in the decision making, having a genuine say about what the build needed to include.

Now we’re working on a framework to deliver more shared decision making in more places – and to coordinate investment to better direct the money coming into local communities.

Recent work by Treasury and the Department of Social Services has revealed over 300 existing Commonwealth place‑based programs across Australia.

These investments come with little system‑level coordination – between Commonwealth agencies let alone with our jurisdictional counterparts.

That’s what we hope to change through a more strategic approach to place‑based work, which includes involving Treasury more substantially –

Breaking down silos and guiding how government works in partnership with communities.

We acknowledge that these ideas are not new.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have been calling for better co‑ordinated and localised reforms for a long time.

They are at the heart of the newly reinvigorated Closing the Gap agenda that our government has negotiated with communities since 2022.

Earlier this year we committed to a new Remote Jobs Program which will fund community organisations to create 3,000 jobs in remote areas –

Supporting remote communities to determine local projects and job priorities to increase economic opportunities.

And in the Northern Territory we’re working to halve overcrowding, by building 270 houses each year.

We know that community consultations, local decision‑making and community priorities will be central to ensuring these investments deliver and succeed.

These steps are integral to our core business of building human capital and sharing opportunities, and a theme of our White Paper on jobs and opportunities we released last year.

These approaches are not only good social policy, they are good economics too.

Approaches like the one I am so familiar with in Logan, and the new Red Cliffs Early Years Hub here in Mildura Shire Council I’ve already mentioned, are about action in the early years which pay dividends later in life.

Last year we struck a partnership with the philanthropic sector to create the Investment Dialogue for Australia’s Children – which will help to better align investments from across the system behind your work – focusing on place, kids and community‑led solutions.

Here I also acknowledge the work of my colleagues Amanda Rishworth and Anne Aly who are developing the first ever whole‑of‑government Early Years Strategy to guide our work into the future.

Treasury has also been looking at how we build on the community‑focused work on remote jobs, housing and investment to support a policy agenda which puts economic self‑determination at its centre.

It will be clear to you by now that we believe in the work you do –

But our offer is that at a future ChangeFest we’ll be able to stand here and say we believe in the work that we do together –

That we will have formed a powerful partnership – local community leaders, elders, the government, leaders from the not‑for‑profit sector, philanthropy –

Pursuing both long‑term aspirations and concrete plans for change in our communities.

Sharing decision making, poring over the latest local data.

Directing together, the investment that flows into our communities towards our highest priorities and the best locally designed solutions.

With strong teams that are well supported, well skilled and terrific at what they do.

So that’s the offer, that’s what’s at stake as we try to line up all the pieces of the puzzle.

From the grass roots to the highest levels of government and everywhere in between –

And in the years to come we make community‑led, place‑based ways of working the norm.

That’s what’s in our mind as the potential for this work.

There’s a lot that needs to be done to turn those ideas into reality.

A lot of hard work over a long period of time.

So we’re hoping to continue a conversation with you today about how we go forward together.

Thank you, I look forward to the panel.