It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the enormity and importance of the work of new advisory board member Samantha Edmonds when she describes her role with NCOSS, the New South Wales Council of Social Service (NCOSS). Operating on a tight budget, the organisation goes in to bat for some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people across the state on issues including health, transport, housing and human rights by providing independent and informed policy development, advocacy, advice and information.
Samantha is passionate about social justice and equity and this has been one of the driving factors for her work at NCOSS. She sees working at the policy/political level as the best way in which systemic change can be pursued and made. She is also committed to the environment and has pursued this through voluntary work and membership of many environmental and animal welfare groups.
Appointed to the Institute’s Advisory Board last November, Samantha sees it as vital that NCOSS develops relationships with universities as it’s impossible for them to do all the research needed to adequately inform policy development. A strong focus of NCOSS is disadvantaged people and Samantha says they want to bring that to the fore in discussions and research in the broader community. “What we find is often decisions are made by government and organisations, but consideration is not necessarily given to the ramifications on certain communities, many of whom fight to be heard,” she says.
In her job as Deputy Director of Policy and Communications at NCOSS, Samantha looks after policy for transport, women, environment, human rights, and domestic violence. In the transport area she is putting together a public advice group to look at the issues around different types of transport including community transport which is essential for vulnerable groups like older people and people with disability. Under the human rights portfolio, NCOSS works with the NSW charter group who are lobbying for a NSW charter of rights, and the Federal Government has now shown an interest in a national charter of rights. She says an ongoing issue is the elimination all forms of discrimination against women and NCOSS will once again be actively involved in the NGO Shadow Report to the Australian Government’s report to the UN on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in Australia.
Samantha agrees one of the critical issues facing regional and rural communities is climate change and the ensuing flow on affects will be difficult for many. She attended the ILWS ‘Peak Oil’ Forum held in March 2008 and got to know the work of Prof Ian Gray and his colleagues who are looking at this issue in relation to transport, drought and social services. “We need a broader perspective around issues including climate change and the environment, so this is an opportunity to link into work CSU is doing,” she says. “How will regional and rural communities survive?” She is looking forward to working with Prof Julian Hine, a visiting scholar from the University of Ulster, UK, who has done work in this area when he visits later in the year.
NCOSS plays a key coordination and leadership role for the non government social and community services sector in NSW and this includes channeling their concerns in a response to the NSW Government ‘State Plan’. “NCOSS has an interest to make sure it’s effective and we respond to government by suggesting changes which represent the interests of many of the states vulnerable people,” Samantha says. Every year NCOSS puts forward a pre-budget submission and suggests where money should be allocated. This is followed by lobbying ministers about priority areas. One area of importance that the government has finally acknowledged is homelessness, and NCOSS is lobbying for consistency rather than the ad hoc approach of the past. “We negotiate to get our points across and try to have an open dialogue with all sides of the political spectrum,” she says.
Each year NCOSS does consultations with local community members
through their representatives round the state, which feeds
into policy development. The big issues are in the provision of adequate
and affordable housing, food security and the impact of the
centralisation of government services on smaller communities, especially
in health. “There is a tendency for governments to centralise
services into major towns, but this impacts outlying communities
who may only have a doctor visit fortnightly. So we have to ask the
question is that enough for rural communities?” Samantha says.
As well as the ILWS Board Samantha also sits on the NSW Department
of Corrective Services Women's Advisory Council Consultants
Group, the Board of the Women's Rights Action Network Australia
and is a director of Ostara Australia - a national consortium of specialist employment agencies that assist people with a mental health issue to obtain and maintain employment.