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Informing your community

By Amy Lawton, Social Research and Information Officer, WESTIR Limited


The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) recently held a community briefing session in April 2018 to provide an update on the major metropolitan planning strategies that will guide the development of the Greater Sydney region in the next forty years. The strategies include Greater Sydney – A Metropolis of Three Cities and District Plans, Transport for NSW’s Future Transport 2056 and Infrastructure NSW’s State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038.


The full community briefing session (followed by a Q&A session) can be watched at the GSC’s Facebook page or website. The session had three speakers: Rod Simpson (GSC Environmental Commissioner), Tim Raimond (Executive Director, Future Transport, Transport for NSW) and Kirstie Allen (Head of Strategy and Planning, Infrastructure NSW).


Rod Simpson began the session providing an overview of the Greater Sydney Commission, its regional plan and its long-term vision. He highlighted that by 2056, Greater Sydney will be home to around eight million people and will require an additional 725 dwellings and 817,000 new jobs. The aim of the GSC regional plan is to rebalance the city, with a greater emphasis on the west and ensuring people can access jobs and services within thirty minutes of their place of residence. The community consultation process undertaken for the Region Plan found the following areas to be of importance: transport, job opportunities, infrastructure delivery, open space, affordable housing supply, an industrial lands policy and the need for coordinated and collaborative implementation. The Commission is starting implementation work in several areas including Greater Penrith, Liverpool, Rhodes East, Randwick and Camperdown-Ultimo. More sites will be announced in the near future. The GSC Regional Plan can be viewed here.


The Regional Plan is also affected by the recently announced Western Sydney Deal, which was a response to the announcement of Western Sydney Airport. The commitments under the Western Sydney Deal include connectivity, skills and education, planning and housing, jobs for the future, liveability and the environment, and education and governance. There is $30 million that has been set aside for sustainable growth and $150 million set aside for the liveability program. The deal has a clear emphasis on the need for all government levels to work closely together to ensure strong integrated place-based outcomes are achieved. Information about the Western Sydney Deal can be viewed here.


The next speaker was Tim Raimond from Future Transport. Tim spoke about the Future Transport 2056 strategy, which is building upon Transport for NSW’s 2012 masterplan. The strategy is a living changing document to adapt to government decision making. The intended outcomes of the strategy include customer-focused, successful places, growing the economy, safety and performance, accessible services and sustainability. The strategies community consultation (using face to face and digital methods) found that the community wanted stronger transport connections to their local services and regional areas such as Newcastle and Gosford. There was also a push for more alternative transport options and quicker implementation of transport projects. The Future Transport 2056 strategy can be viewed here.


The last speaker was Kirstie Allen from Infrastructure NSW (an independent body providing advice to the government on infrastructure issues). She spoke about the State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038, its vision and its goals. Some of the recommendations of the strategy included the increasing importance of evidence-based decisions and collecting and sharing data in an ethical way. The State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038 can be viewed here.


The session finished with a Q&A session with all speakers, plus two commissioners from the Greater Sydney Commission.




By Amy Lawton, Social Research and Information Officer, WESTIR Limited


WESTIR Limited had an opportunity to attend a two day Social Return on Investment (SROI) course run by Social Ventures Australia in February 2018. This is in response to a number of our clients requesting us to place a value amount on activities when evaluating their community-based programs or projects. A summary of the two day SROI course is below. Please see www.socialventures.com.au for more SROI resources and training opportunities.


Day 1 – Introduction to Social Value and SROI analysis

The first day of training outlined the concepts and principles of SROI. SROI is a framework for measuring and accounting for a much broader concept of value that is not often undertaken in society. SROI is about value rather than just money and looks at the social, cultural, environmental and economic impact of an activity. SROI is a framework, not a tool which helps us structure our thinking and put meaning and purpose to what we do. There are a number of principles that SROI practitioners use to guide their decision making process, including:

  • Involve stakeholders: the process is stakeholder informed not stakeholder led.
  • Understand the changes: positive/negative, intended/unintended, short term/long term.
  • Value the things that matter: different stakeholders value different things.
  • Only include what is material: items that are tangible, quantifiable, relevant and significant.
  • Don’t overclaim the impacts.
  • Be transparent: walk people through how you got to the end point.
  • Verify the result: think about reviewing and validating your work through an independent peer review process.

There are two types of SROI – evaluative (looking back at the value of a previous or existing program/project) and forecast (predicting the value of a future program/project).

The second half of the first day of training saw participants start the process of SROI analysis on real life examples, specifically Steps 1 and 2. The main stages of the SROI analysis include:

  1. Establishing scope and identifying stakeholders
  2. Mapping outcomes
  3. Evidencing outcomes and giving them a value
  4. Establishing value
  5. Calculating SROI
  6. Reporting, using and embedding.

Real life examples used included out of home care support programs, mental health programs, affordable housing and homelessness initiatives, Indigenous land projects and social infrastructure developments.


Day 2 – SROI measurement, evaluation and reporting

The second day of training focused on finishing the SROI analysis process by creating the indicators for a program/project’s outcomes and determining the value placed for those indicators. This ultimately allows the measurement of SROI for the program/project. An indicator was defined as information that allows change to be measured (which is directly related to the outcome). The indicator needs to measure how much change has occurred, not just count the occurrences (for example, the amount of self-confidence rather than just the number of users who feel more confident). Once the indicators have been decided for the program/project’s outcome, it is important to put a value on it. Money is often the best proxy for measuring value. There are a number of methods that are used to measure value, including changes in money and/or resource availability, stated and/or revealed preference and life satisfaction. Ultimately, it is the stakeholders that determine value. Once a value of indicators is determined, it is also important to judge the following factors:

  • Deadweight: percentage of the outcome that would have happened anyway.
  • Displacement: percentage of the outcome that has just moved around outputs rather than creating net change.
  • Attribution: percentage of the outcome that is attributed to someone else.

Once you have determined all these factors, you can calculate value. The value calculation is the outcomes (defined as quantity multiplied by financial proxy) minus the deadweight, displacement and attribution). SROI is then calculated by dividing the total value calculated by the total input calculated. Once you have your SROI calculated, you must also account for drop off or the future value of the program/project – in other words, you need to determine whether the outcome is worth the same in future years and if not, what percentage does it drop each year.

The training concluded with tips on how to report your SROI analysis findings. It is important that the final report should include much more than the SROI calculation – it should tell the story of change and explain the decisions made in the course of your analysis. 


Becoming an accredited SROI practitioner and important links

In order to become an accredited SROI practitioner, you must undertake the following tasks:

  • Complete the SROI training run by Social Ventures Australia (or similar)
  • Be a member of Social Value International or a similar national network such as Social Impact Measurement Network Australia (SIMNA)
  • Complete a SROI analysis and get it assured


Some important links to further your knowledge of or training in SROI:

The staff at WESTIR Limited had the opportunity to go to several conferences and seminars in 2017. A brief overview of each conference/seminar is provided below.


Australian Social Value Bank Masterclass

Staff from WESTIR Limited attended a masterclass on Australia’s first Social Value Bank in May 2017. The Australian Social Value Bank is aiming to help social organisations and not- for-profit companies put a well-researched economic value on the services and programs they deliver to individuals and communities. More information about the Australian Social Value Bank can be found through the following link: https://asvb.com.au/


Overturning perceptions: migration, renewal and the new Western City – UNSW City Futures Research Centre Seminar

The UNSW City Futures Research Centre hosted a seminar in June 2017 on the perceptions and reality of ethnicity and migration in Western Sydney. Visiting Professor Ryan Allen from the University of Minnesota examined whether ethnicities in Sydney are mixed or have formed enclaves. He noted that the perception of enclaves in areas of Sydney are somewhat reflected in reality for some religions, but not when various ancestries are examined.

Dr Hazel Easthope from City Futures at UNSW looked at the impact of escalating housing costs in 'gateway' suburbs. These 'gateways' have provided traditional first stage housing for new arrivals, especially in private rental housing. These areas, although often high on the SEIFA Index of Disadvantage, have provided notable benefits for new arrivals in Australia. Her investigation found that these areas were losing their efficacy and attractiveness as arrival housing.

The presentations were largely based on 2011 Census data and the following link provides the two presentations from the evening: http://bit.ly/2yaj7B6


Keep Them Safe Evaluation - Australasian Evaluation Society (AES) Seminar

The AES hosted a seminar on the Keep Them Safe (KTS) evaluation process and reporting in June 2017. KTS was the NSW Government's five-year reform of family and community services to improve the safety, welfare and well-being of children and young people. The evaluation cost $5 million and won Evaluation of the Year in 2015.

The evaluation process implemented a range of methods and approaches including: indicator analysis, unit record analysis, economic evaluation, workforce survey, stakeholder consultations, case studies, consultations with Aboriginal community organisations, audit of other initiatives in NSW and a literature review.

Peter Ryan and Kylie Valentine for UNSW Social Policy Research Centre presented on the success and limitations of the evaluation process. The factors that made the evaluation success included long term inclusive planning using multi-agency steering committee; indepth knowledge of the subject matter; demonstrated flexibility and adaptability; necessary technical competence; good will between contracting agency and evaluators; robust project management; and good, detail data tracking tools.

Overall, the evaluation found that KTS resulted in a reduction of risk of self-harm (ROSH) reports in children and young people, and a lower chance of system receiving a new ROSH report or children entering out of home care. The full evaluation report of the Keep Them Safe report can be found at the following link: http://bit.ly/2y9p5lA


Language and Census seminar, Macquarie University

In July 2017, Macquarie University researchers presented their work on using Census data to understand multilingualism in Australia. The three presentations focused, first, on understanding the mix of languages across Sydney’s suburbs, secondly, on intergenerational language retention for the generations born in Australia, and finally, on the understanding of multilingualism in schools. Further information on the research group and projects can be found through the following link: www.multilingualsydney.org


Western Sydney 2016 Census Data Seminar, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Western Sydney University Parramatta

The Australian Bureau of Statistics held a 2016 Census Data Seminar in August 2017 at the Western Sydney University Parramatta CBD campus. The seminar presented the recently released 2016 Census data on a local and national level. A copy of the seminar presentation can be found through the following link: http://bit.ly/2kaQfmb


Investing in communities: NCOSS Regional Conference Parramatta

NCOSS hosted a regional conference in August 2017 at Parkroyal Parramatta. The conference brought together stakeholders from across the sector to discuss policy areas such as housing and homelessness, gender equality and domestic violence, justice, children and youth, families, disability and health. More information about the conference can be found through the following link: http://bit.ly/2fwefe7


AES International Evaluation Conference

The AES International Evaluation Conference was held in Canberra in September 2017. The conference theme, Evaluation Capital, encouraged presenters and conference delegates to reflect on what evaluation can offer as an asset for sound governance, as well as pointing to the inherently political nature of evaluation.

Keynote and invited speakers provided insights from many years of experience working in both local and international contexts. Speakers urged conference delegates to capitalise on the power of evaluation, through the information it can provide to communities as much as to decision-makers. In and of itself, evaluation is not democratic, but if evaluators focus on including marginalised voices, environmental impacts, social costs and so on in their evaluations, rather than focusing narrowly on the terms set by the commissioners of evaluations, it can be made to serve democratic aims.

The rich program of presentations was organised under the themes of ‘Diverse Identities’, ‘Learn from Practice’, ‘Insights from Theory’, ‘Use Findings’, and ‘Build Systems’. There was a strong presence of Indigenous researchers and evaluators, as well as non-Indigenous researchers who have worked with Indigenous communities. Many presentations also spoke about ways to overcome the disconnect that can happen between evaluators, evaluees, and decision-makers, while others focused on innovative approaches to evaluation research that would take into account the needs of communities and program participants, and make the knowledge generated by evaluators relevant to wider audiences.


Local Community Services Association (LCSA) Conference

The Local Community Services Association (LCSA) hosted its Connecting Communities Conference in September 2017 at the Australian Technology Park, Redfern. The conference explored the essential role of building strong communities in implementing successful early intervention strategies, with a particular focus on inclusion and diversity as integral in building connection and resilience. There were three main themes woven through the keynotes, concurrent sessions and masterclasses – that being, achieving inclusion, leadership in times of change and uncertainty, and building strong connected communities. More information about the conference can be found through the following link: http://bit.ly/2k4Q1g4


Australian Social Policy Conference, University of New South Wales

The bi-annual Australian Social Policy Conference was hosted by the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre in September 2017. A staff member from WESTIR Limited attended the Wednesday of the three-day conference.

The first plenary was taken by Professor Jill Manthorpe from the King’s College London. The talk was entitled ‘Money matters: how social policy studies are linking up money with new social problems’. Professor Manthorpe talked about examples from UK social policy to highlight how social welfare practice may need to be more financially literate (for example, consumer directed care). The financing of care assumed prominence in the most recent UK General Election, illustrating the need for greater focus not only on public expenditure but on combining understandings of old-style notions of public administration with family and individual perceptions of fairness and entitlements.

The second plenary was taken by Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM who outlined the Research Program of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission’s research program was unprecedented in scope and achievements, working with over 30 institutions to produce 101 projects, 59 of which will be published at the end of the Royal Commission. He outlined the Commission’s findings on perpetrator, survivor and institution profiles and research into memory.

Other special sessions on children were attended, including the Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study currently being undertaken by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services.

The conference’s program and abstracts can be found through the following link: http://bit.ly/2yu2D2A


Sustainable Communities Conference, The Hills Shire Council

The Hills Shire hosted its fourth Sustainable Communities Conference in October 2017, with the theme ‘Change is coming: are you on track?’.

Dr Paul Porteous from the Centre for Social Leadership was the first to speak about the leadership required around creative community collaboration. He spoke on topics such as change fatigue, increasing our problem-solving capacity, the importance of missed conversations and living in an era where we are shifting from a market economy to a market society. He challenged people to shift their thinking from ‘what’s in it for me and my organisation?’ to ‘how does this build my community?’. Can Yasmut, Executive Officer from Local Community Services Association NSW spoke about how we get the theory of change to translate into actual change. He emphasised the importance of defining your community, actively engaging with your community, balancing expert and community evidence, identifying the stage of community life and taking effective community action.

Bernard Salt, Lead Demographer of The Demographics Group, spoke about ‘What’s The Future for The Hills?. He argued that in order for Australia to be a socially cohesive, resilient and prosperous nation, we need to embrace entrepreneurship. He also highlighted the story of The Hills, which is increasingly culturally diverse and losing their faith in big institutions, and is seeing an increase in singles, teenagers, families and retiree and those experiencing inequality. He suggested we need to future-proof our careers through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and skills, entrepreneurship and enterprise, and agility and resilience (being fluid and embracing change).

A workshop about making your community group or not-for-profit organisation a success by Bruce Manefield from Rapport Leadership International was also attended.

The conference presentations can be found through the following link: http://bit.ly/2hf9Ctn


2016 Census Second Release Data Webinar, Australian Bureau of Statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics in Canberra livestreamed a webinar on the 2016 Census second release data in October 2017. The topics covered in the second release Census data include labour force/employment, higher education and population mobility. The themes that were coming out of the national Census data are as followed:

  • Top industries of employment for 2016: health care and social assistance, retail, education, childcare.

  • Biggest growth in 2011 coming from arts and recreation services, health care and social assistance, education and training. Biggest declines in manufacturing, wholesale trade and retail trade.

  • Part-time work is becoming more common.

  • Women still do more unpaid domestic work than men.

  • Older Australians are working longer. The industry with the highest median ages is agriculture.

  • Post-graduate qualifications are rising rapidly, including in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

  • Top fields of study: management and commerce, engineering and related technologies, society and culture, health and education. Strong growth in accounting, nursing and aged care.

  • More in the overseas born population (59.8%) have a non-school qualification than Australian born population (54.2%).

  • We are still a nation of car commuters, but 500,000 people are working from home.

The webinar is available through the ABS YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/AustralianBureauOfStatistics


Employability and the Future of Work: Embracing Western Sydney, Western Sydney University

Western Sydney University’s School of Business and the Centre for Western Sydney hosted a forum entitled ‘Employability and the Future of Work: Embracing Western Sydney’ in October 2017. The session allowed key stakeholders from government, community and industry to discuss the complex and changing nature of the labour market, the key technical drivers of labour market change and skills that future workers require.

Professor Phillip O’Neill from the Centre of Western Sydney spoke about finding jobs for the 300,000 workers in Greater Western Sydney in the next twenty years. He spoke about the challenges the region faces including an increasingly educated workforce, a young population, the loss in demand for unskilled workers and the spatial distribution of jobs. Dr Jane Bye spoke about the challenges around employability for a disadvantaged suburb in Western Sydney called Miller. She suggested there is a need for practical and holistic community engagement and strong partnerships with local government. Finally, Dr Wayne Fallon spoke about employability in the context of curriculum change. He suggested that future workers will need to be taught enterprise employability skills – this includes communication, team work, critical thinking, presentation skills, resilience, curiosity, digital literacy, creativity, problem solving, financial literacy, emotional intelligence and lifelong learning.

The three presentations were followed by a panel discussion. The panel included David Borger (Western Sydney Business Chamber), Eddie Jackson (Director Community and Culture, Liverpool City Council), Natasha Lay (Western Sydney Program Officer, Youth Action), Vanessa Paterson (Workplace Gender Equality Agency), Billie Sankovic (Western Sydney Community Forum) and Martin Stewart-Weekes (PwC Australia). Discussion centred around social partnerships, obsession with work placement, importance of networks in getting a job, gender and work-life balance and seeing young people as assets and not risks.


Food Governance Showcase, University of Sydney Food Governance Node

WESTIR Limited attended the Food Governance Showcase hosted by the University of Sydney Food Governance Node at the Charles Perkins Centre in November 2017. The showcase covered food specific laws and regulations as well as other areas of law and policy that facilitate or impede access to a nutritious, equitable and sustainable food supply. The showcase also featured a case study looking into the development and implementation of the Healthy Food and Drink in NSW Health Facilities for Staff and Visitors Framework. The showcase program and abstracts can be accessed through the following link: http://bit.ly/2gLgpHr


TEI Linker Network Session, Lead Professional Development & NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS)

WESTIR Limited attended a Targeted Earlier Intervention (TEI) Linker Network Session run by Lead Professional Development (formerly Family Worker Training and Development) in December 2017. The Linker Network project is an initiative of FACS Western Sydney Nepean Blue Mountains District that is designed to improve the services system by placing the child and their family at the centre of what we do, rather than individual types or models. The training session informed participants what The Linker Network is all about and how to be a part of an integrated service delivery model. More information about the FACS Linker Network is available through the following link: http://www.linker.org.au/

“The role of law, regulation and policy in meeting 21st century challenges to the food supply”


Attended by Amy Lawton (Social Research & Information Officer, Westir LTD)

1 – 4 November 2016


The inaugural Food Governance Conference was held at University of Sydney by Sydney Law School and The George Institute for Global Health from 1-4 November 2016. The conference explored the role of law, regulation and policy in promoting food security and safety as well as improving nutrition and preventing obesity and non-communicable diseases. It also engaged with issues related to equity and justice in the food supply, with a strong focus on diet-related health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The conference aimed to highlight the interrelationships between the main challenges facing the global food system in the twenty first century and create new opportunities for collaboration and debate between researchers, practitioners and policy makers across all disciplines to debate this important topic.

The conference program can be viewed here: http://sydney.edu.au/law/health/food_governance/conference_program.shtml


Keynote Speakers

Day 1: Food and cancer: A game of give and take

(Dr Alessandro Demaio, Medical Officer for non-communicable conditions and nutrition, World Health Organization)


Dr Demaio spoke about the United Nation’s work in the field of nutrition, with an increased emphasis on the field with the recent launch of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. He highlighted that policy was now considering all forms of malnutrition, from underweight to obesity. With nutrition having a major impact on the likelihood of developing cancer, Dr Demaio argued that this is a powerful narrative for engaging the public and other influencers on non-communicable diseases. He also outlined policy responses by the food industry and highlighted the growing interest in public policy for advancing public health.


Day 1: The three biggest challenges facing the food system, and how we fix them (Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director, Centre for Food Policy, City University, London)


Professor Hawkes’ talk was based on the argument that the biggest challenge facing our food system was that our decision-making processes are not fit for purpose for developing food solutions. The three core challenges were that (1) policies are disconnected and incoherent so decision makers are multiplying the problems rather than solving them and are disconnected from people’s lived experiences; (2) The language of decision-making is confusing and exclusionary with different languages used in different spaces so decision makers cannot understand each other; and (3) Leadership lacks curiosity and courage to identify the noise of solutions and make decisions about how to manage this diversity. She proposed some simple steps towards decision-making processes, including:

  • Appointing food policy connectors to connect and cohere decision-making,  
  • Create spaces of deliberation where policy-makers, civil society, industry, people affected by problems discuss, define, reflect, learn and redefine decisions about the food system (reflexive governance).
  • Work together to develop a common language to talk about people’s experience of problems in context, their drivers, their solutions, as the basis for decisions.
  • Humanise the food system with inclusive leadership that starts with people’s lives for a people centred approach.


Day 2: The governance challenges and potential solutions for obesity prevention (Professor Boyd Swinburn, University of Auckland and Deakin University)


Professor Swinburn outlined the governance challenges and potential solutions for obesity prevention. He outlined that every region in the world is trending towards the obesity epidemic, with obesity prevention policy implementation being patchy. The reasons for the patchy implementation included food industry actions, lack of government leadership and weak governance systems, conflicts of interest, belief in market solutions and lack of sufficient public demand for policies. He suggested that all stakeholders need to hold each other to account and proposed a model where governance systems were at the centre to increase balance, accountability and transparency.


Day 3: Learning from failure: why good food policy needs good food governance

(Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director, Centre for Food Policy, City University, London)


Professor Hawkes outlined that food governance are the structures and decision-making processes that affect and shape the food system. Using her experiences of developing policies on food marketing for children, she suggested that good food governance requires the following elements: connection and coherence, learning and listening, inclusive leadership leading to effective decision-making and a shared vision of knowing what you want to achieve.

Paper Sessions


Amy attended the following sessions throughout the three-day conference:

  • Chilean anti-obesity initiatives – what Australia can learn (Andrea Western, National Health Foundation WA Branch)
  • Understanding obesity prevention policy decision-making: A case study of Healthy Together Victoria using political science and complex systems theory (Brydie Clarke, Deakin University)
  • HealthyLaws: Community views on the role of regulation and law in obesity prevention for children (Jackie Street and Annette Braunack-Mayer, University of Adelaide)
  • Managing conflicts of interest in food policy making and implementation (Katrin Engelhardt, WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific)
  • Regulation and policy to reduce salt in Samoa: Process evaluation of an intervention research project (Jacqui Webster, The George Institute for Global Health)
  • Food policy: What informs its development at the local level in remote Indigenous community stores? (Megan Ferguson, Menzies School of Health Research)
  • Providing incentives to promote healthy food purchasing in a remote Aboriginal community (Cara Laws and Melinda Hammond, Apunipima Cape York Health Council)
  • Opportunities and challenges in positioning food regulatory systems to protect and promote public health (Mark Lawrence, Deakin University)
  • From the ground up: An analysis of the public international regulation of agriculture (Hope Johnson, Queensland University of Technology)
  • Advancing the right to food: Reconciling food and nutrition security with food sovereignty (Bill Pritchard, University of Sydney)
  • Are charitable food services meeting recipient’s needs? (Sue Booth, Flinders University)
  • Governing food security in welfare capitalism (Carol Richards, Queensland University of Technology)
  • US food welfare law and policy as public health governance: The paternalism question (Liesel Spencer, Western Sydney University)
  • Actors, ideas and actions: Governance for healthy and sustainable food systems (Sharon Friel, Australian National University)
  • Food system governance for the common good: A research agenda to better understand current food governance in Australia (Bill Bellottti. University of Queensland)
  • Towards food policy for the dual burden of malnutrition: An exploratory policy space analysis in India (Anne-Marie Thow, University of Sydney)
  • Generating sustained political priority for nutrition and NCDs: Towards a suitable governance model (Carmen Huckel Sneider, University of Sydney)
  • Generating political priority for nutrition: What do we know? How do we move forward? (Philip Baker, Australian National University)


The abstracts for these sessions can be viewed here:



Debates on the second and third day of the conference were also held, focusing on the food futures for Australia’s First Peoples and the role of business in improving nutrition and preventing disease.


Masterclass: How to be an effective food policy advocate

A masterclass with Professor Corinna Hawkes was held on Wednesday evening. The purpose of the masterclass was to encourage debate about the role of advocacy in food and nutrition policy, what it is and how to use it more effectively for the public interest.  Professor Hawkes began the session with a brief overview of food policy history and then class members were split into groups to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with developing and implementing food and nutrition policy. At the end of the masterclass, Professor Hawkes shared her seven top tips for moving the political agenda:


  1. Find out what political interests are at play and understand the political processes designed to manage them.
  2. Find out where the most powerful interests lie and leverage them to serve your own interests.
  3. Repackage the language of those you seek to influence to serve your own interests – and make your language their language.
  4. Work with others in advocacy coalitions based on shared interests and shared objectives.
  5. Use evidence to give your political friends something to work with.
  6. Remember the most powerful force for change is the power of ideas.
  7. Find your voice – and encourage others to use theirs.


Overall impressions of the conference

The inaugural food governance conference brought together 170 professionals to discuss the role of law, regulation and policy in promoting food security and safety as well as improving nutrition and preventing obesity and non-communicable diseases. It is clear that good food policy needs to be coherent, connected and facilitates inclusive leadership, partnerships and a shared vision. This needs to be underpinned by good governance models that prioritise accountability, transparency and innovation.

“Rights and Entitlements in Times of Austerity”


Attended by Amy Lawton (Social Research & Information Officer, Westir Ltd)
28-30 September 2015    


The annual Australian Social Policy Conference was hosted by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW from 28-30 September 2015. Celebrating its 35th year, the conference theme was “Rights and Entitlements in Times of Austerity”, focusing on the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis and its impact on the welfare sector. Since the Global Financial Crisis, the overall direction of social policy has been towards a more targeting, more user-pays, more activation, less entitlement and more punitive sanctions for those who default on their obligations. Growing inequality is increasingly accepted as an immutable characteristic of the modern welfare state. These trends are a matter of grave concern for the more vulnerable members of society and for those working with them. At the same time, austerity could potentially spur creativity, forcing the development of new ways to harness social resources to address poverty, marginalisation and exclusion. The importance of learning from each other’s experience is therefore crucial for addressing the challenges of maintaining rights and entitlements in the face of global austerity. This year’s conference brought together researchers, practitioners and policy makers across all disciplines to explore and debate this important topic.  

The conference program can be viewed here: https://www.aspc.unsw.edu.au/program-0  


Keynote Speakers

Day 1: Robert Manne (Emeritus Professor and Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, LaTrobe University) – Climate Change: Crisis for humankind, Crisis for the Social Sciences


Robert began the conference discussing climate change and why the international community collectively have not been able to coordinate an effective response to this urgent issue. He suggested some reasons for this, including the rise of organised denialism, climate change beyond the capacity of current political systems characterised by extreme political polarisation, and the nature of industrial society. Robert suggests that physical scientists have been able to come to a consensus on the catastrophic consequences of climate change yet the social sciences are still struggling to come to a point of collective policy action, leading to a crisis for both humankind and the social policy sphere.


Day 2: Jane Waldfogel (Compton Foundation Centennial Professor of Social Work and Public Affairs, School of Social Work, Columbia University) – Understanding and reducing inequalities in child development


Jane presented findings from her latest co-authored book ‘Too Many Children Left Behind’. The book compares child achievement outcomes from low and high socioeconomic status families across United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The socioeconomic status of families were measured based on the level of parental education. Overall, the United States had comparatively worse scores for child development than comparative countries, particularly Canada and Australia. There was also considerable inequality already present for children at school entry, therefore schools cannot be fully responsible for this increasing gap. Jane concluded her talk with a discussion on policies to reduce inequality in child development, including more early learning support, raising family incomes and addressing increasing income inequality, and improving the quality and incentives associated with teaching and learning. 


Day 3: Guy Standing (Professor of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) – The expanding precariat: Reviving empathy and universalism 


Guy drew on his recent book ‘A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens’, highlighting that the neoliberal global market has severely affected the precariat (a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability and security. The utilitarian politics of the era has resulted in a regressive social policy mix of means-testing, behaviour-testing and an increasingly casualised workforce. As a result, a new authoritarian moralism has also taken hold, whittling away social solidarity, public commons and all precariat rights. Above all, it has eroded the vital human sentiment of compassion and empathy, calling for a magna carta based on republican freedom, equality and fraternity.


Conference paper presented from WESTIR Limited

Amy Lawton from WESTIR Limited presented a paper on Day 2 of the conference entitled ‘Healthy food as a human right: effective food security policy in an ever-changing political environment’. The paper’s abstract is below and the full conference paper is available upon request.

Food insecurity has become one of the biggest global issues of the twenty first century, with the global financial crisis alone pushing millions of people worldwide further into poverty and less able to adequately feed themselves. Developed countries participating in the self regulated global market are not immune to food insecurity, particularly amongst their socially disadvantaged populations. As a result, there continues to be growing pressure on First World governments to develop social policies and plans dedicated to advancing the ‘food for all’ agenda. This paper provides an overview of innovative food security policies and plans being implemented across all government levels in developed countries, including Australia. It also discusses recent research undertaken for a local government in Western Sydney to expand their food access policy into a more robust, multidisciplinary food security plan underpinned on social justice principles. Overall, the paper highlights major factors that impact the ability for food security to be successfully embedded into the agenda of developed governments. Based on the case studies discussed, the paper also suggests the key tools practitioners require to develop and implement strong evidence-based food security policy as these are vital to realising the right to food for all citizens in an ever-changing political environment.


Other attended sessions (for other abstracts, please refer to conference booklet)


Day 1

Psychological wellbeing and social participation of recently arrived humanitarian migrants Ben Edwards, John De Maio (presenter), Michelle Silbert, Diana Smart


The Building a New Life in Australia study is a longitudinal research study that aims to provide a broad evidence base to assist policy development and program improvement and better understand the factors that influence humanitarian migrant settlement outcomes. The study population comprises almost 2,400 refugees and asylum seekers, whose settlement journey from arrival in Australia to eligibility for citizenship will be followed. The paper described preliminary findings from Wave 1 and 2 data, focusing on psychological wellbeing and social participation in the early years of settlement. It found that most humanitarian migrants has experienced trauma and persecution before arriving in Australia, had spent time in refugee camps, had low levels of trust for the government and low levels of English proficiency. In particular, around a third of the cohort had experienced cumulative trauma (3 or more trauma events) and around a quarter may have had or were experiencing post-traumatic stress. 


Redress for adults harmed in out-of-home care as children: Social policy in times of austerity Suellen Murray (presenter)

Internationally public inquiries have demonstrated that many children brought up in out-of-home care have experienced abuse and other harm, which have had long-term and ongoing impacts. Redress schemes are in place in a number of countries to provide compensation and reparation. These schemes vary according to the scope of harm addressed, population groups targeted, the nature of validation, and the forms of redress. Ireland’s redress scheme for people who grew up in care has been one of the most comprehensive, including an apology, relatively generous financial compensation, resourcing of mental health and other services, and more recently a program of targeted individual care services. In Australia, there have been modest financial redress schemes in some states, state based and national apologies and some resourcing of support services. A national financial redress scheme, as well as additional resourcing of targeted and community support services, continue to be sought by advocates. Such responses were recommended by the three national Australian inquiries into out-of-home care held in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is the most recent inquiry to demonstrate evidence of harm to children in care, with this group being the largest of all those coming forward to the Royal Commission.


Day 2

Is the glass half full or half empty? Food security and social safety net programs in rural Bangladesh K M Kabirul Islam (presenter) 


Since its declaration as an independent nation, Bangladesh has been fighting for food security as an approach to combating poverty. Soon after birth, the nation encountered a famine that accounted for a loss of several million lives. The issue of food security arguably occupies the major research agenda in Bangladesh. In order to combat poverty, governments have initiated Social Safety Net Programs (SSNPs) to address the issue. This paper captured the impact of five important SSNPs on ensuring food security of the rural poor people. The research revealed that the support provided by the selected SSNPs is very meagre and none are able to ensure food security of the beneficiaries for a whole month; they can only offer partial support. It also unveils some of the governance issues: bribes, leakages, politicization, nepotism and overlapping. Overall, the majority of the poorest people are excluded from the poverty alleviation programs, with both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries realising that charity is not the answer to poverty as it creates dependency. Policy interventions should focus on providing work opportunities for those who are physically able and those who are disabled need to be provided an appropriate amount in order to maintain food security.


Day 3

Contextualising trauma and resilience: Recovery responses Charles Waldegrave (presenter) 


This paper presented the findings of a trauma and resilience survey carried out during recovery work in Samoa immediately after the 2009 tsunami, follow-up work two years later in Samoa and after the Christchurch earthquakes. Interview data was collected from 470 families from the villages directly impacted. The survey included questions from the Child Trauma Screening Questionnaire and these were set alongside other questions about wellness and recovery. A significant correlation between wellbeing and trauma was found. However, many of those who scored highly for trauma also scored highly on wellbeing measures, indicating that even when experiencing trauma, individuals are able to maintain wellbeing. The ‘double results’ heighten the possibilities of enhancing resilient recovery responses from people with trauma symptoms. The trauma and resilience programs initiated in Samoa and New Zealand focused on promoting a sense of safety, promoting calming, promoting sense of self and collective efficacy, promote connectiveness and promoting hope. Overall, resilience will become an increasingly important factor in increasing occurrence and intensity of natural disasters as a result of climate change.


Overall impressions of the conference

It appears that a climate of austerity is having a major impact on the rights and entitlements across society’s most vulnerable populations in Australia and abroad, including refugees, migrants, children and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. The redefining and redesigning of welfare systems in the neoliberal paradigm is causing increasing inequality for current and future generations. It appears that for the gammit of social issues discussed throughout the conference, the likelihood of a holistic social policy response underpinned on human rights, empowerment and collective action is unlikely at this point in time. There are many reasons for this, including the rise of organised denialism impacting current political and governance structures (particularly around evidence bases) and the decline of social solidarity. The conference also highlighted the need for empowerment and resilience to be considered in social policy circles, particularly as social systems create environments that are more unpredictable and insecure.

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