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.