WA News News & Reports Big Ideas Filling Big Shoes
Big Ideas Filling Big Shoes
Written by Peter McClelland
Thursday, 27 April 2017

Stepping into the shoes of a high-profile CEO is never easy. The new head of the WA Council of Social Services (WACOSS), Louise Giolitto admits it is a little nerve wracking. But she’s both pleased and proud to be taking the reins of an organisation with a long commitment to serving the most vulnerable members of our community.

“I was working here for about 15 months before Irina Cattalini [former CEO] left and I reported directly to her. Irina was a wonderful mentor and I learnt a lot from her. It’s no secret that WACOSS punches way above its weight, so it is a little daunting stepping into Irina’s shoes.”

“There’s that feeling of not wanting to let down people who’ve come before you.”

“I’d really like to improve the level of collaboration across the sector so we can speak with a more powerful collective voice. Nonetheless, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s great diversity across community services and we don’t want to dilute that either.”

Dealing with government

The vicissitudes of dealing with government departments is always interesting, says Louise.

“It’s a fluid and sometimes problematic relationship. But, having said that, I think it should be a little tricky because if we were all sitting on the same page and patting each other on the back we wouldn’t be doing our job. We had a pretty strong relationship with the Barnett government through the Partnership Forum but it wasn’t what I’d call a blue ribbon outcome every single time.”

“We intend to build on the positives with the new Labor government. The important thing to realise is that what we want and what the government wants is essentially the same thing, and that’s a healthy, happy community with plenty of opportunity for every West Australian.”

“The best way we can achieve that is by building trust through open and honest relationships.”

Louise has had a long career in the social services sector stemming back to the values imbued within her own family.

Raised on values

“I have to give credit to my parents, which sounds corny, I know. I had two very loving parents and we did a lot of travelling so I came to realise quite early on that we aren’t all living on a level playing field. A lot depends on where you’re born and who your parents are.”

“My mother worked in the highly demanding area of child sexual abuse in the Kimberley. She had a big influence on my thinking and we both share a belief that the world could be changed for the better.”

“There’s certainly no doubt that the social services sector is changing in terms of its intrinsic professionalism. It’s now a recognised qualification that requires three years of tertiary study and, in the past five years, the level of required skills has increased considerably.”

“The face of the sector is changing, too. People working in community services – from youth support to social workers – come from increasingly diverse backgrounds.”

More having hard times

Louise pinpoints a couple of critical social justice issues currently affecting WA.

“We’re all too aware that we have high unemployment at the moment. That fact, combined with a leaning towards deficit State budgets, produces knock-on effects that impact on a large number of people, particularly those living below the poverty line.”

“And, sadly, there are an increasing number of people doing that. It stands at more than 240,000 at the moment.”

“It’s clear that it’s more economically efficient to catch people before they fall off the ‘poverty cliff’ rather than trying to haul them back up the slope. It’s a challenging time and we need effective long-term planning at a political level. We have a huge divide between the haves and the have nots, particularly in regional WA.”

“If we’re speaking in specifics, the lack of available social housing is one such critical issue. If a person doesn’t have secure housing and you combine that with mental health and/or domestic violence issues, they will struggle to make positive changes.”

Housing shortfalls

“There are more than 10,000 people on the waiting-list and that translates to about three years in the queue for a place to live.”
When it comes to Closing the Gap, Louise is cautiously optimistic.

“It’s so important for young Aboriginal people to finish Year 12 and go on to tertiary studies because it’s a well-known fact that education is a vital precursor to social mobility.”

“I’ve lived in the Kimberley and worked in the Pilbara and the poverty levels are alarming. We need to listen more closely to Aboriginal leaders in these communities so we can foster the skills needed for employment. There are about 60 differentservice providers in Roebourne but some of them are just not culturally appropriate.”

“Ideally, we should be training and employing local people to address that problem and increase the level of mutual trust. WACOSS has a strong focus in this area but it’s a long journey.”

Political courage needed

“The short election cycle doesn’t help the situation. These are entrenched and long-term problems that require courage, honesty and political integrity. When just over half the children taken into care are Aboriginal, and they represent just 6% of our population, the solution is not just around the corner!”

“More broadly, there needs to be improved levels of consultation. We continue to have political decisions made at both state and federal level that result in unintended and seriously flawed consequences. And so often, it’s the most vulnerable people who are left out of the discussion.”

By Peter McClelland

While communication is one thing, investigation of notifications is another. We believe good doctors want the bad ones weeded out but they don’t want to be part of a witch hunt or get buried in lawyers, politics or paperwork.

The national Medical Board can respond to a complaint or act on the advice of the WA Medical Board to establish an assessment panel to either examine the health or performance and professional standards of a doctor. Health consumers are represented on panels along with medical practitioners.

The Medical Board and AHPRA have undisclosed lists of doctors who are approved by them as panellists and probably as expert witnesses. Many of these people, we believe, were ‘grandfathered’ across when National Law first came in (2010). Their impartiality is as unknown as they are. Then we have expected biases of the legal assessors, chosen by AHPRA, possibly thrown into the mix.

Is there a problem, Houston?

It is important this is sorted to everyone’s satisfaction as 42% of doctors in our survey thought panellists could lack impartiality to a serious extent.

In fact, only one quarter of doctors we surveyed (n=195) were happy with the impartiality shown by AHPRA or the Medical Board in processing a complaint (with 36% unhappy and 39% undecided). Nearly all of those who were unhappy said they were concerned that unfairness will be seriously damaging to someone. Investigation is a very confronting experience.

If someone is being investigated by a panel, either the panel or the person being investigated can opt for a more out-in-the-open State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) judicial hearing – the panel usually refers because it feels the evidence before it constitutes more serious professional misconduct.

What Fair Doctors Want

Talking to doctors, they appear to want an apolitical system of investigation that is fair and timely. They want to be treated reasonably. Unlike the legal profession, their work is mostly built around trust and honesty. They do not want a return to the ‘good old days’ where those with a political bent in the medical profession could influence what the Medical Board did.

While this is a very difficult area for us to investigate, with arguments and counter-arguments at every step, we cannot understand why the Medical Board would turn to arguably the most political organisation, the AMA, for its counsel (the national Board Chair met earlier this year with “senior leaders from AHPRA and representatives of the AMA” to workshop doctor complaints).

Why? Our e-Poll responses raise a question mark over the AMA’s involvement (and we don’t think AMA members have been polled on this issue.)

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