FCRC 2019 Conference highlights

FCRC 2019 Conference highlights


The FCRC Conference this year took place in beautiful Ballarat. Our delightful MC, David Tennant, did not miss any opportunity to appropriate our host town into the punchline of a few jokes about the weather, while he kept the mood of the event light and the schedule running like clockwork.

Over 140 Victorian financial counsellors joined us on Wednesday for a full day of professional development and member networking. Our colleagues from Consumer Action Law Centre delivered the first training session of the day, which covered the topic of unregulated credit contracts. This was followed by another engaging session on effective referral practices, presented by Kat Lane and Bernadette Pasco.

At the conclusion of the training, we witnessed an historic AGM. The members voted in support of a new constitution for the Association, as well as a name change – the details of which will be announced fully in the near future. Our delegates were then whisked away to another time and place with a trip to Kryal Castle, where the “Kryal Players” provided the evening’s medieval entertainment.

We were honoured on Thursday morning to be welcomed to Wadawurrung Country by Indigenous Artist, Deanne Gilson, who shared details of her own personal exposure to financial hardship.

The Honorable Marlene Kairouz (Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation) was present once again to show her support for the sector, and officially open the conference.

This year we were thrilled to welcome back journalist Adele Ferguson to deliver the keynote address. In her speech, which focused on the Banking Royal Commission and its aftermath, Adele acknowledged the importance of financial counsellors. She highlighted that prior to the royal commission, the power of the banks had been secured in the relationship between the banking and political classes. Adele’s message was a call for a stronger media with people prepared to speak up.

Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, once again spoke about her role in making the system fairer for all – reminding us that the Ombudsman exists because of the imbalance of power between individuals and the state.

State Trustees CEO, Matt Carrick, took the opportunity to respond to the Victorian Ombudsman’s recent report into the public trustee service. State Trustees have recently engaged with FCRC and local financial counsellors in order to find ways of better meeting their clients’ needs, as part of their new Client First model.

FCRC provided a preview of the findings from its upcoming report into the levels of stress and burnout in the financial counselling sector. FCRC EO Sandy Ross and researcher Polly Bennett described an increasing trend of “moral trauma” among financial counsellors, which refers to an ethical desire to do good, but inability to meet the requirements due to the current demands and complexities of casework. The next steps in responding to this growing issue will be delivered as part of the soon-to-be-released report.

We were also pleased to hear updates from Financial Counselling Australia (FCA), Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV), and Consumer Affairs Victoria, as well as Bernadette Pasco, who spoke about her work as FCRC’s Project Lead in building financial counselling into health and aged care services as part of Elder Abuse response and prevention.

Transurban’s Jane Calvert made an exciting announcement: the launch of the toll-road operator’s first dedicated financial hardship assistance service, Linkt Assist.

Once again, we took time to share and celebrate casework success stories during our “Casework Conferencing” session. The celebrations continued as part of our annual conference dinner, where we recognised the work of our many long-serving financial counsellors who have dedicated more than 10 and 20 years of service to the profession.

We also presented our three conference awards. This year’s Jan Pentland Memorial Award recipient was Wodonga Financial Counsellor, Sandra Blake, for her tireless service to the wider community, particularly through her commitment to payday lending reforms. In her acceptance speech, Sandra spoke about the power of storytelling in creating change. We were fortunate to have Virginia Noonan in attendance once again to present the award named in her honour. This year’s Virginia Noonan Award recipient, Tracey Grinter from Bendigo, was recognised for her contributions to the profession through the development of our regional workforce. Tracey emphasised the importance of supporting student financial counsellors, and encouraged more agencies to engage in student placement. Our Rising Star Award, presented to an exceptional financial counsellor in their first three years of practice, was awarded to Kylie McLoughlin for her dedication to her clients. Accepting on Kylie’s behalf was colleague, John Hastings, who shared details of Kylie’s passion for paperwork which led her to becoming a financial counsellor…

In many respects, this year’s conference was a success. However, for many, the standout from the program was The Great Debate. Two teams went head-to-head to thrash out the topic: “The problem is consumerism, not credit.” While moderator, Dr June Smith (Deputy Chief Ombudsman, AFCA), awarded the final victory to the affirmative team, it’s fair to say that all involved were outstanding debators; passionate and entertaining.

We are grateful for the support of all of our conference partners in helping to bring together such a large-scale and successful event. We have set the bar high for ourselves for next year’s conference in Melbourne, and we are already getting ready to deliver. We looking forward to seeing you there.

Interview with Leanne Khan, SSRV

Interview with Leanne Khan, SSRV

Please tell us about your background:

I began my career in the community sector as a youth housing support worker at 25. At the time, I was a single parent with two children and I was a community development student.

Given the position was in regional Victoria and I was the only direct service youth worker in the 874 sq km area, with my life circumstances, my learning curve was steep and fast.

Before beginning in financial counselling,  I had a varied background including mental health, program coordination, case management and community development project roles.

What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I was working as a mental health support worker and Peter Gartlan and I shared a client. Peter told me that there was an opening for a financial counsellor and it just happened that the timing was right, as I was looking for a new challenge. However,  Peter did not really paint a fair picture of the role or indicate that the role could be quite challenging. I was particularly attracted to the position because it was solution focused and a role where case work and systemic advocacy meet, as well as being underpinned by community development principles and social justice, two of my very favourite things.

Please tell us a bit about your work within the Integrated Services Project with SSRV.

I have learned so much about Centrelink and the underpinning legislation, it has provided so much insight into Centrelink decisions and why they are made. It has been a really enjoyable experience- working so closely with lawyers on cases and seeing the advantages for clients that come out of integrated practice. The project to date has seen so many great outcomes for clients and now we have secured a second year of funding, I am excited to see what comes next.

What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

Like most financial counselling work, each case is very individual. However, I am enjoying working with the asylum seekers and refugees as this is not an area that I have had a lot of exposure to.

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I don’t think that I can pick one thing, however I am always impressed to see how debt waivers can change clients’ lives. I am always really amazed by how clients trust us with their lives and I always like to remember that it is a privilege to work with vulnerable people.

Essentially I am always proud of the awesome work that the sector does with the wider community.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

I can’t pick one, so my top two are:

Resources – there is just not enough funding or financial counsellors to meet demand for service.

The need for specialised financial counsellors to be available to provide service to people in hospitals and aged care facilities.

What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

Being non-judgemental is not about not having judgement, as without judgement we are unable to moderate our own behaviour. Being non-judgemental is being able to identify our own biases and treat people with the same unconditional positive regard, regardless of their values or behaviour. This allows others to make their own decisions and choices without fear of being judged; this is best practice and not just with our clients but also our colleagues, family, friends and the rest of the world.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I am currently listening an audio book called The Mabinogion, this is a collection of Celtic myths and ancient Welsh tales, some were written as early as the 11th Century.

What is your favourite podcast?

I usually listen to the podcast called Talking Health on 3AW hosted by Dr Sally Cockburn. She has a variety of different guests and the show is about demystifying medical issues.

EO’s report – October 2019

EO’s report – October 2019

As this issue of Devil’s Advocate goes to press, we see the end of a significant month for FCRC. At our Annual General Meeting on 9 October, the organisation resolved to adopt a new constitution, and a new name to go with it. From 2020 we will be known as Financial Counselling Victoria (FCVic). Watch out for more information about our rebranding and launch, probably to take place in March 2020. In the meantime, the fact of the change has triggered many to ask why we had the old name for so long, and why it seemed not to describe us very well. Our old name referred to the fact that in the late 1990s when it was adopted our organisation also represented Consumer Rights Advocates (positions that were defunded back in 2005). Also, there was a service organisation in SE Melbourne that had the name Financial Counselling Vic (Inc) that was only wound up last year, freeing the name up. It was a happy coincidence that these events all coincided with a constitutional review process that enabled the adoption of the new name.

The adoption of a new constitution, was the culmination of a long consultative process of development, guided by a constitutional review committee established by the FCRC Board. Members of that committee did an enormous amount of work scoping out issues, surveying members on constitutional options, then drafting and reworking and consulting further. The new constitution is not perfect (such documents never are), but it is an improvement on the old document, with more clarity and transparency over important principles and the role of the Board in establishing policies to guide our functioning. There are new member categories – including students as a separate category for the first time; the clauses on professional conduct have been substantially revised, along with greater clarity about the role of the Board.

In the meantime, the world keeps turning, and advocacy for improved hardship practices continues to be important. The State Government is running a review of Council rates at present, and FCRC will be making a submission, alongside WEstjustice, advocating for significant improvements in council practices via establishing more rigorous requirements for councils on how they treat citizens in hardship. Our submission will be on our website once it is finalised, and we are hopeful that the many councils with poor practices will (be required to) lift their game substantially as a result.