The last three years have been a tumultuous period for Frontier Services.
In late 2012 the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing imposed sanctions on two large aged care facilities in Darwin. This was not the first time that sanctions or notices to rectify deficiencies in standards had been applied to Frontier Services. In early 2013 it became very clear that the Department had lost faith in the governance and management that Frontier Services had in place. Unless the Church established new governance arrangements and overhauled the way in which the management of aged care was undertaken then there was a real risk that the Assembly’s recognition as a provider of aged care under the Aged Care Act would be revoked. That would have had catastrophic effects on the finances and reputation of the whole church.
With hindsight it is clear that the warning signs were flashing before early 2013. What is also clear is that Frontier Services did not adequately address them and as such put at risk the welfare of the people who we were called to serve. Notwithstanding the goodwill and hard work of many, it is simply the case that Frontier Services got out of its depth in aged care. As a result of not recognising this earlier great burdens have been placed on many parts of the church. The financial costs associated with rectifying years of under-expenditure on plant and equipment, systems and training; as well as the costs associated with the exit from aged care have been enormous. This has not only impacted on Frontier Services but also the wider Assembly.
Equally as concerning to the Interim Board has been the confusion and hurt that has been caused amongst many long-time and faithful supporters of the ministry of Frontier Services. When an organisation that is looked up to fails then this causes great uncertainty to its friends and supporters and can lead to a sense of a breach of trust. Frontier Services owes an apology to its supporters and the wider church that it did not recognise and address the issues in aged care and community services earlier than it did. Its failure to do so has caused a lot more heartache than an orderly and earlier exit would have done.
As a consequence of addressing the governance and management issues that came to light as a result of the crisis in aged care, extensive changes have occurred in the life of Frontier Services, including
• the successful transitioning of all aged care facilities and associated services and staff in the Northern Territory to Australian Regional and Remote Community Services (ARCCS), a new Uniting Church body established by UnitingCare Queensland, and of all aged care facilities and associated services and staff in WA to Juniper, a UnitingCare agency;
• the appointment of an Interim Board from June 2013 to oversee the ongoing life of Frontier Services and to plan for the future;
• the reserves previously held by Frontier Services have been exhausted, and Frontier Services has been left with an operating debt of several million dollars;
• in March 2015 the Assembly Standing Committee determined that Frontier Services cease providing government-funded community service programs;
• negotiations are underway to transition the community service programs of Frontier Services to various UnitingCare agencies or other appropriate agencies from 1 July 2015;
• several properties, including the Frontier Services national office premises in Sydney, have been sold in order to reduce debt and support cash flow;
• new arrangements for national office accommodation in Sydney and accounting, payroll and human resources services;
• many staffing changes, including a the need to make a significant number of positions in the National Office redundant;
• the volunteer programs of Frontier Services, including Outback Links, Buy-a-Bale and Farm Rescue, are growing steadily in delivering assistance to people in remote areas, and these will continue;
• in March 2015 the Assembly Standing Committee determined that Frontier Services should no longer provide direct oversight and management of patrol ministries from January 2016, and that Frontier Services will continue to raise funds to provide for patrol ministries which will be delivered by other councils or bodies of the Uniting Church;
• a National Consultation on Remote Area Ministry will be held before the 14th Assembly meets, with participation from all Uniting Church bodies involved in ministry in remote areas.
From August 2012 to June 2013 the Frontier Services Board consisted of Jan Trengove (chairperson), Kirsty Bennett, Bruce Cornish, Helen McLaughlin, Ian Robinson, Richard Stewart and Storry Walton plus the National Director and Assembly General Secretary ex-officio. In June 2013 at a special meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee it was determined that the term of appointment of the Board members would conclude that month, and the members were thanked for their service.
A small Interim Board was immediately appointed. They served for just a few weeks until the regular July 2013 meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee appointed an Interim Board consisting of Gregor Henderson (chairperson), Rob Brown, Trish Brown and Jim Mein. Over the ensuing months three more Board members were appointed – John Baxter, Dianne Torrens and Gary Williamson. The Interim Board is also resourced by the National Director, the Assembly General Secretary, the Chief Financial Officer, plus Chris Budden as advisor appointed by the UAICC and Andrew Johnson as liaison with the Assembly Standing Committee.
While it was initially thought the Interim Board might serve for only 6 to 9 months, the ongoing uncertainty about the future of Frontier Services has meant that it will continue to serve until August 2015.
The Interim Board has found its role to be very challenging. Two or three times since July 2013 the Interim Board has felt that its role has almost been completed, only to discover that uncertainty about the future was to continue due to emerging financial information or the recurrence of a previously resolved issue or the discovery of another difficulty. Poor record-keeping from previous years on matters of finance and property added to the frustration.
Rosemary Young concluded her position as National Director of Frontier Services in July 2013. Rosemary served 13 years as National Director and a further five years prior to that as Community Services Manager. A minute of appreciation for her service to the people of remote Australia will be presented to the Assembly.
Frontier Services was then served by two interim National Directors – Dean Drayton for just two weeks, then Alan White from August 2013 to April 2014. Scott Kelly was appointed to the position of National Director in March 2014 and served from May until October 2014 when he resigned for personal reasons. Grahame Ryan, then National Development Manager of Frontier Services, accepted the role of Acting National Director and has served in those dual roles since October.
David Buxton concluded his position of Associate National Director at the end of 2012. Colin Batt commenced in the position in September 2013 and served through to December 2014, when the position was discontinued by the Board as it was recognised that in any future configuration of Frontier Services there would not be a need for the role that he occupied. The role of Associate National Director was chiefly to support and oversee the patrol ministers. In February 2015 Douglas Jones commenced in a part-time temporary position of support and oversight of patrol ministers.
Following the transition of all aged care services on 1 July 2014 a number of staff from the national office were made redundant. These included many long-serving staff members of Frontier Services, including Stephen Reddish who served around 20 years as the Finance and Administration Manager.
In December 2014, as part of a restructure aimed at matching the management structure with the income derived from the services, the Frontier Services regional office in Perth WA was closed. This meant the three positions were made redundant, including Regional Manager Trish Thompson-Harry. In April 2015 Karen Harvey concluded her service as Regional Manager Qld-SA.
As a result of the many changes in Frontier Services the executive staff team has reduced from six members three years ago to just two today – the Acting National Director and the part-time Patrol Ministry support and oversight position.
The Board and the church more widely are always appreciative of the work of its staff. However in this report it is fitting to make special mention of the way in which each of the persons mentioned here have served the ministry of Frontier Services in a time of great upheaval, uncertainty and change. It is not possible to convey in a brief report the enormity of the demands on the skill, professionalism, time and energy that have been placed on the leadership team in Frontier Services over the last three years. There has never been a time in the history of Frontier Services where so much has been required of the senior staff. On behalf of the church the Board expresses its gratitude for the service rendered. Particular acknowledgement is due to Grahame Ryan who as the Acting National Director has stepped out of his comfort zone and brought drive, energy and commitment to the task, while still overseeing the critical work of fundraising and promotion.
While more detail will follow later in the report on the exit from Aged Care and Community Services this seems the appropriate place to acknowledge the departure of approximately 1,000 staff from the ministry team of Frontier Services. Some of these people have been part of the team for up to forty years. The ministry of Frontier Services has been greatly blessed by the team that has been built around a shared vision and commitment to the care and support of vulnerable people in remote Australia. Thank you.
There is an inevitable sadness that these relationships have changed due to the reorientation of the ministry of Frontier Services into other areas of work. But while the relationships move into a new phase it is certain that the vision and commitment which was part of their time with Frontier Services will continue to find expression as they continue their service through other Uniting Church and other service providers.
4. TRANSITIONING OF AGED CARE SERVICES
Frontier Services has long provided aged care services in remote areas, most notably through the Old Timers complex in Alice Springs which commenced in 1949. At the request of local communities and governments over the years, Frontier Services accepted responsibility for the management and governance of more aged care services across the north, including services owned by Aboriginal corporations but operated by Frontier Services. In late 2012 Frontier Services found difficulty in maintaining the increasingly demanding accreditation standards required by the Commonwealth Government. Sanctions were placed by the Government on two facilities, meaning urgent action needed to be taken to correct the failings.
In April 2013 the Assembly Standing Committee required Frontier Services to delegate its responsibilities for the aged care services to a Transition Board. The Transition Board was tasked with reviewing the aged care services with a view to transitioning them to a new church-related body, working with the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing in this process, and employing an executive officer to lead the process. All costs of the review and transition were to be met by Frontier Services, with some support from additional Commonwealth Government funding.
In June 2013 a special meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee took further decisions. The Standing Committee came to a view that the nature of the tasks before Frontier Services were such that it was necessary to identify a Board with not only a commitment to Frontier Services and the people of remote Australia but also knowledge of community services and the ability to bring a fresh set of eyes to the challenges that were being faced. Consequently the term of appointment of the members of the Board of Frontier Services was concluded and an Interim Board was appointed. Specific directions were given to both the Interim Board and the Transition Board. It was expected that the transitioning of the aged care services would take place before the end of 2013. On 1st December 2013 UnitingCare Qld accepted responsibility for managing the aged care services while further investigation was undertaken about future management and governance arrangements.
In March 2014 final decisions were taken. The Transition Board’s negotiations with government, with UnitingCare Qld and the Synod of Qld, and with Juniper WA, enabled the Assembly Standing Committee to determine that on 1 July 2014 the aged care services in the Northern Territory would be transferred to a new entity to be established by UnitingCare Qld (Australian Remote and Regional Community Services – ARRCS), and the aged care services in Western Australia would be transferred to Juniper. The transfer included all staff of the aged care services and most of the properties and assets used for the delivery of aged care services.
Dealing with the Government-imposed sanctions, upgrading oversight, addressing years of significant underspending on plant and equipment, improving the administration and systems of the aged care services and transitioning those services has been an expensive business. All funds available from Frontier Services were expended. All staff entitlements and accommodation bonds were transferred to ARRCS and Juniper on 1 July 2014. In order to maintain liquidity Frontier Services has taken loans from the Assembly Fund and Uniting Financial Services NSW.
The services transferred to ARRCS on 1 July 2014 are:
Old Timers and Flynn Lodge in Alice Springs, Terrace Gardens in Darwin, Rocky Ridge and Katherine Hostel in Katherine, PulkaPulka Kari in Tennant Creek; plus the Juninga Centre in Darwin and Hetti Perkins in Alice Springs, both of which are owned by other bodies but operated now by ARRCS – in total 385 residential beds.
Associated aged care services, under the programs Respite Options for Senior Territorians and Community Care:
Services in Alice Springs, Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Docker River and Mutitjulu, amounting to 268 places/packages.
The services transferred to Juniper on 1 July 2014 are:
Residential facilities: Marlgu Village in Wyndham, Numbala Nunga and Ngamang Bawoona in Derby – in total 52 residential beds. Associated services in Wyndham and Kununurra were also transferred.
This transitioning of aged care services has provided a good outcome for the residents of the aged care facilities and for the church. The establishment of ARRCS in the Northern Territory and the willingness of Juniper in Western Australia mean that the Uniting Church is still meeting the needs of hundreds of aged people in the remote areas of Australia.
At the instigation of the Assembly Standing Committee and the Interim Board, a number of reviews have been conducted into the administration and management of Frontier Services since mid-2013.
UnitingCare NSW.ACT Children, Young People and Families conducted a review of the continuing community service programs of Frontier Services (other than aged care), in 2013-14. The Board records its appreciation to UnitingCare NSW.ACT for carrying the costs of this review in support of Frontier Services. The review identified several ongoing vulnerabilities in community services, including “financial management and health, quality assurance, sound and structured staff support and supervision, sustainability of the role of Regional Managers, cultural considerations, policy development and implementation”. The review offered five options for the future of Frontier Services, ranging from Frontier Services continuing as a stand-alone organization, to various arrangements with UnitingCare agencies, to closing down Frontier Services altogether. While the Interim Board was inclined to accept one of these options – for Frontier Services to continue in close co-operation with UnitingCare agencies in the delivery of community services – the Assembly Standing Committee asked for further work to be done on each of the options. This led to the Alcorn Consultancy Review, outlined below.
Several reviews were conducted in 2013 and 2014 into the financial administration and management of Frontier Services. Payroll services and HR services were included in these reviews. The transfer of all aged care services meant that change had to take place, as the aged care services comprised almost 70% of staff and financial turnover. These reviews led to a decision by the Interim Board to out-source all financial administration, payroll and HR services to the Assembly Secretariat from 1 July 2014.
A Review of Patrol Ministry was conducted by Chris Budden and Meg Evans, with some assistance from Gray Birch, in 2014. The continuing importance of patrol ministry was strongly affirmed. A fresh theological reflection on the foundation for Patrol Ministry was warmly received. The need for a detailed audit of each patrol was recognised, and various policy reviews were initiated.
From November 2014 to March 2015 Bruce Alcorn & Associates undertook the project of providing a business case and risk analysis of each of the five options for the future of Frontier Services outlined in the UnitingCare NSW.ACT review. The terms of reference for the Consultancy were finalised by the Interim Board in consultation with UnitingCare Australia, and a Consultancy reference group with representatives of both Frontier Services and UnitingCare Australia was appointed. The Consultancy report “Frontier Services: Future Options” was presented to the Interim Board in February 2015. It recommended a 6th option for the future of Frontier Services. But at the same meeting of the Interim Board reports on the financial position for the year 2014-15 called the viability of the recommended option into question. Accordingly the Board reviewed the business case and risk analysis for each of the other five options, and ended up recommending an Option 7 to the Assembly Standing Committee. This recommended option proposed that a National Consultation on Remote Areas Ministry be held in 2015, that Frontier Services continue until 30 June 2016 providing patrol ministry and volunteer programs, that the current community service programs all be transitioned to UnitingCare agencies or others, and that decisions about the future of Frontier Services beyond June 2016 emerge from the National Consultation.
At its meeting in March 2015, the Assembly Standing Committee approved two elements of Option 7 – the holding of a National Consultation and the transitioning of community service programs – but did not accept the recommendations on patrol ministry. The Assembly Standing Committee determined that from 1 January 2016 patrol ministries will be delivered by synods and presbyteries or other Uniting Church bodies, supported by the funds raised by Frontier Services. This leaves the functions of fundraising and the delivery of volunteer programs to Frontier Services.
6. THE FINANCIAL POSITION
The major costs involved in dealing with the reasons for the aged care sanctions and transitioning of aged care has left Frontier Services in a very difficult financial position. After the transfer of aged care services in July 2014, Frontier Services had a loan from the Assembly Fund of $5million. In addition an overdraft facility of up to $3.5million was arranged with Uniting Financial Services NSW in order to enable the necessary cash flow for the continuing operations of Frontier Services.
The Interim Board had thought that with the transfer of aged care services from July 2014, ongoing financial stability would soon be achieved. However, the legacy of debt, the constant payment of interest, poor budget preparation which meant that costs were not accurately aligned to income, and several unresolved matters from poor administration in the past have meant that financial stability will not be achieved until at least July 2015.
The largest unresolved matters from the past are:
• having to repay some unexpended government grant funding;
• a substantial Fringe Benefit Tax liability in relation to patrol ministry;
• a dispute with the indigenous owners of Juninga Aged Care in Darwin over the payment of utilities and rates.
A property retained by Frontier Services in Darwin is on the market for sale. By decision of the Assembly Standing Committee a major portion of the proceeds from this sale will go to ARRCS and Juniper to assist with their projected losses over the first three years of operating the previous Frontier Services aged care services, and the remainder will be available to Frontier Services. It is anticipated that the proceeds of the sale of this property will make a significant contribution towards the reduction of the debt of Frontier Services.
Frontier Services is also seeking to sell several other properties in order to assist cash flow and to reduce debt. The national office of Frontier Services in Kent St Sydney was sold in 2014, and the staff was relocated into 222 Pitt St on the same floor as the rest of the Assembly. Other properties that are surplus to the ongoing needs of Frontier Services have been sold or will be sold in the next year.
One bright spot in the finances is the ongoing success of fundraising. Were it not for the steady and generous flow of donations received from individual donors and congregations the financial position would be completely untenable. One new initiative in this triennium is the partnership with Buy a Bale, a farm rescue campaign for farmers in NSW, SA and Qld suffering from prolonged drought. This partnership has involved Frontier Services in the delivery of thousands of hay bales and other means of support for struggling farmers. As the charity sponsor Frontier Services receives significant financial support through this project and makes contact with a new generation of donors. The Interim Board is particularly appreciative of the continuing efforts of the fundraising staff headed by Grahame Ryan.
7. PATROL MINISTRY
Despite these major challenges and difficulties Frontier Services has continued to support patrol ministry throughout Australia. From 30 June 2015 there will be 14 patrol ministries operating and seven vacancies. Vacancies are being deliberately held at this time because of the financial situation. The patrol ministries filled at this time are:
Cape York – Rev Ron Watson
Centralian – Rev Colin Gordon
Cobar/Nyngan – Rev Jo Smalbil
Cunnamulla – Rev Sunil Kadaparambil
Flinders – Rev Craig Mischewski
Midlands Glamorgan – Rev Dennis Cousens
Murchison – Rev Mitch Fialkowski
Parkin – Pastor Gary Ferguson
Pilbara – Rev John Dihm
Snowy River – Rev Rowena Harris
Sturt – Pastor Paul Glazbrook
Tennant Barkly – Rev Peter Wait
West Arnhem/Jabiru – Rev Lindsay Parkhill
West Nullarbor – Rev Rob Dummermuth.
The patrol ministries held vacant at present are Broken Hill, Burke and Wills, High Country, Katherine, Kimberley, West Coast/Circular Head and the Mobile Aboriginal patrol in SA.
Over the last three years Frontier Services has farewelled a number of ministers who have served in patrol ministry – John Case, Meg Evans, Bruce Gallacher, Gay Loftus, Alison McRae, Jenny Swanbury, Jorge Rebolledo, David Shrimpton, Bruce Slater and Ian Tucker. Some of these have worked as patrol ministers for many years, others for only a few. Thanks are due to them all for their service to the people of remote Australia.
Regrettably the financial position facing Frontier Services means the number of patrol ministries will have to be reduced from January 2016. The Interim Board is now commencing negotiations with synods and presbyteries in accordance with the decisions of the Assembly Standing Committee, with a view to reaching mutual decisions as to which patrols will continue from January 2016. When the financial position improves with the reduction of debt, it’s expected that patrol ministries held vacant will again be filled. Depending on the availability of funds, some vacancies may be able to be filled as soon as the second half of 2016.
Like many persons serving within Frontier Services the Patrol Ministers have had times of great uncertainty over the last three years. This is no more so than in the current period. The Patrol Ministers continue to offer pastoral care and support in times of change and crisis while they themselves also live in this space. The Board and management recognise that this is not an easy setting in which to minister and assure them of appreciation and respect for the ministry they exercise.
8. COMMUNITY SERVICES
Frontier Services has continued to operate community service programs over the past three years in Qld, SA and WA, with just one service in the NT (Mutitjulu child care centre). In Qld there are 14 services, in SA 4 services and in WA 14 services. Nearly all services are government funded.
One of the reasons for the ongoing financial difficulty has been that in tendering for government funding, Frontier Services has achieved only around 8% as the management fees to support the accounting, payroll and oversight services, when the average throughout Australia for community services management fees is around 15%. This deficiency was detected in 2013 and steps taken to address the issue, but increasing the management fees has not always been feasible.
Finding staff to be able to serve in remote areas is a constant difficulty. This has been particularly true in WA. After determining that Frontier Services needed to close the regional office in Perth it became clear to the Interim Board that the services in WA were not operating well. Therefore in the best interests of the communities and people for whom Frontier Services was delivering services, the decision was taken in January 2015 to seek to transfer the WA services to another provider commencing negotiations with UnitingCare West. At the time this report was prepared it is not clear which, if any providers, will take up the WA services.
The Alcorn Consultancy Report recommended that Frontier Services retain the community services in Qld and SA. However at the meeting in February 2015, when the report was received, the Interim Board also received information that the services in Qld and SA were not covering the full cost of the regional office in Brisbane nor contributing to the accounting, payroll and HR services provided from Sydney. Again with the primary concern being how best to provide sustainable quality services to the people of remote Australia, the Interim Board resolved to seek to transfer the government-funded services in Qld and SA to UnitingCare agencies or other appropriate agencies. The intention is to transfer all community services no later than 1 July 2015. Discussions with UnitingCare in Qld and SA commenced in March.
The Interim Board is very grateful to the UnitingCare network for its willingness to assist in implementing the transfer of services. In March 2015 UnitingCare Qld began to manage as an interim measure the community service programs in Qld on behalf of Frontier Services. In April 2015 a Transition Working Group was established to provide advice and support on the transitioning of services. The Transition Working Group comprises senior staff from UnitingCare Australia, UnitingCare Qld and UnitingCare West and a representative of the Interim Board.
In December 2013 the volunteer program, Outback Links, was temporarily suspended and the office in Charleville closed down. The decision was taken that it required an operational overhaul and to be placed on a more secure financial footing. In the ensuing months this work was done and earmarked donations were received and promised into the future, which enabled Frontier Services to relaunch Outback Links in July 2014.
Outback Links provides volunteers to help with day-to-day work on remote properties around Australia when families need an extra pair of hands – while a farmer recovers from injury, while harvest or muster is on, on the birth of a new child, loss of a family member or disaster recovery from floods or bushfires. Management of the program is now from the Sydney office, and volunteers have been provided over the past months in NSW, Qld and WA.
9. THE FUTURE
The ongoing Frontier Services beyond 2015 will have two main functions:
• raising funds for patrol ministries in remote areas and distributing those funds to synods and/or other Uniting Church bodies on an agreed basis;
• delivering volunteer programs which assist people in need in remote areas, and raising the funds to support these programs.
In addition, the Interim Board believes that Frontier Services will always be open to new ways of serving the people of remote Australia. Ever since Frontier Services was established through the leadership of the Rev John Flynn in 1912, it has been open to innovative ways of serving.
The National Consultation in June 2015 will be a key event for the future of Frontier Services. The Consultation may recommend new priorities for the Uniting Church’s mission and ministry in remote Australia or new forms of collaboration across the church. Frontier Services looks forward to participating in the Consultation and to its ongoing role in serving the people and communities of remote Australia.
A revised Mandate and Constitution for Frontier Services will be recommended to the incoming Assembly Standing Committee in August 2015 and a new Frontier Services Board will be appointed then.
Chairperson, Frontier Services Interim Board
APPENDIX A FRONTIER SERVICES MANDATE
Responsible to: The Assembly
Reporting Arrangements: The Assembly and Assembly Standing Committee
Vision Statement: In the remote areas of Australia –
Reconciliation will become reality
Hope will replace anxiety and despair
Justice and equity will build community
Everyone will have access to the services they need
As we journey together…….
Purpose Statement: To offer service and ministry in the name of Christ to the people of remote Australia through compassionate care, justice and nurture of the spirit.
Frontier Services will:
• Work with Synods, Presbyteries, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and relevant UnitingCare organisations to facilitate ministry and mission in remote areas of Australia, particularly through the provision of a broad range of community services other than residential aged care services.
• Act in accordance with the Frontier Services Constitution as approved from time to time by the Assembly or the Assembly Standing Committee.
• Within its own life and through its ministry and services, act for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in remote areas of Australia.
• Operate and coordinate public benevolent activities which provide direct relief for those in the community who are isolated and/or subject to poverty, distress and other disadvantage.
• Develop services to meet established and emerging needs.
• Ensure services are provided without discrimination, with due regard to the dignity of the individual and with cultural sensitivity.
• Cooperate with other organisations to enrich and extend our work together.
• Develop ecumenical relationships for pastoral planning and cooperative action in remote areas.
• Maximise access to funds within and beyond the Uniting Church to support ministry and mission in remote areas.
• Advocate with and on behalf of those in remote areas, where appropriate in cooperation with other agencies of the Uniting Church and with other organisations.