New Catholic social services body for NSW and ACT

Robert George (Centacare Bathurst), Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Terry Brady, Anne-Marie Mioche (Centacare Wilcannia Forbes), Michael Austin (CatholicCare Wollongong), Anne Kirwan (CatholicCare Canberra Goulburn) and Mark Philips (CatholicCare Sydney). Photo by Jacqueline McCormack/CatholicCare Wollongong.

A new peak Catholic social service providers’ group for New South Wales and the ACT aims to enhance collaboration while renewing their mission focus.

Speaking at the official launch at Mary MacKillop Place recently, inaugural chair Michael Austin said the association had replaced the original branch structure and now represented 16 Catholic social service organisations from dioceses and congregational orders.

The association’s deputy chair is CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn CEO Anne Kirwan.

Mr Austin said the association would continue to work collaboratively with the national Catholic Social Services Australia body, but would provide targeted collaboration for issues specific to NSW and the ACT.

Mr Austin, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the Catholic social services network in New South Wales and is the current director of CatholicCare Wollongong, said services are operating at a time of great disruption in the sector.

“In this environment, social service organisations are no longer managing block grants. They are largely operating more commercially oriented enterprises where they need to now know their unit cost per hour to deliver services, and be able to provide services within either very stringent pricing set by government or, increasingly, the open market,” he said.

“New players are entering the space, including for-profit providers, especially in aged care, and not all of these are necessarily motivated by values similar to ours, and the media is reporting incidents of exploitation by some providers.

“Our context now presents very new challenges and dangers for leaders in Catholic social service organisations – to operate viable and sustainable organisations and services in highly pressured, more volatile commercial environments, while being led by mission.

“The extent of these changes and their implications are the moment we are now in. None of us really knows where this will lead.”

However, Mr Austin said Catholic social services had a very rich heritage to draw from and urged providers to not lose sight of their collective mission.

“We comprise the next generation of leadership and it falls to us to assume this important task of being the carriers of the heritage, the bearers of the story, the champions of the mission,” he told the group.

Mr Austin said Pope Francis provided a vision of radical engagement and call to mission when he said: “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”

The founding story of Catholic health and social services – the Parable of the Good Samaritan – was essentially the founding story from which all services derived their inspiration, Mr Austin said.

“That is where our new association, Catholic Social Services NSW/ACT, takes up its important role – in providing a forum for all our different organisations for connecting, for collaborating and for advocacy here in NSW and the ACT,” he said.

“This significantly enlarges the range of possibilities that are available than if we acted solely alone. We will work in partnership with CSSA, but our role here in NSW/ACT is a different and complementary one.

“This coming together is also very much about relationships. The good news is that we have some expertise in this area. We know that relationships have tremendous power for connection and positivity and truly great endeavours are always the work of people joining together.”

Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Terry Brady, who officially launched the new association, said: “The work of Catholic social services agencies in communities throughout New South Wales and the ACT is a powerful expression of the Church’s ministry to the poor and those on the margins.

“I’ve been observing the evolution of the Catholic social services context in New South Wales and ACT over a number of years, and it was with great pleasure, that I launch CSS NSW/ACT, as a new association in its own right, bringing together Catholic agencies in New South Wales and ACT, and heralding the beginning of a new and exciting era.”

Mr Austin said all Catholic social service bodies in NSW and ACT were very welcome as members. Those which hadn’t joined yet could find out more by contacting Trish Cooney at