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4.16 Social Services Portfolio

The Social Services Portfolio has been newly created following the change in government in September 2013. The new portfolio supersedes the previous Families and Community Services Portfolio.

Social security and welfare is the most significant area of Commonwealth spending in terms of size, expenditure growth and contribution to growth in government expenditure. In 2013‑14, social security and welfare spending is expected to account for around 40 per cent of total government expenditure (excluding GST payments).

The Department of Social Services is responsible for a large range of social service programmes and policy development, covering the following matters:

  • ageing research;
  • income security and support policies and programmes for families with children, carers, the aged, people with disabilities and people in hardship;
  • income support policies for students and apprentices;
  • services for families with children, people with disabilities and carers;
  • services for older people, including their carers;
  • policy for and promotion of active ageing, other than employment policy;
  • community mental health;
  • community support services;
  • family relationship, family and children’s support services;
  • social housing, rent assistance and homelessness;
  • child support policy;
  • housing affordability;
  • services to help people with disabilities obtain employment;
  • arrangements for the settlement of migrants and humanitarian entrants, other than migrant child and migrant adult education;
  • non-profit sector and volunteering; and
  • multicultural affairs.

Portfolio ministers administer 51 pieces of legislation ranging from the Social Security Act 1991 to the Housing Assistance Act 1996.

The Social Services Portfolio (excluding the Department of Human Services) receives total resources of $112.8 billion of which $708.0 million is departmental funding and $112.1 billion is administered funding. Around 4,700 people are employed in the portfolio.


Table 4.16.1: Portfolio resourcing: Social Services (excluding the Department of Human Services)

Funding ($'000)







Department of Social Services





Australian Institute of Family Studies





Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency










Source: Department of Finance. 201314 Budget updated for machinery of government changes.
(1) As individual entity resourcing includes inter-agency transfers and payments, total resourcing for the portfolio may be overstated by this amount.


The portfolio has undergone significant change as a result of machinery of government changes. The most significant being the acquisition of aged care from the Health Portfolio. Other significant changes include obtaining responsibility for working age payments, such as Newstart Allowance, and Disability Employment Services from the previous Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Portfolio.

The Department of Human Services is also technically part of the Social Services Portfolio. In practice, however, it operates as a separate portfolio with the responsibilities of the Minister for Human Services detailed in the Administrative Arrangements Order.

Income support for seniors and family payments account for around 50 per cent of the portfolio’s total administrative expenditure. Other areas of significant expenditure include disability support, working age payments and aged care. The programmes are administered by the Department of Social Services. The majority of departmental staff are based in the Australian Capital Territory.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is a statutory body established under the Family Law Act 1975. The Institute contributes to the portfolio’s goals by researching and analysing influences on Australian families, and by providing an evidence base for developing policy and practice related to the well‑being of families in Australia.

The Australian Care Standards and Accreditation Agency ceased to exist on 31 December 2013 and has been replaced by a new entity, the Australian Age Care Quality Agency. The new agency will retain the same funding and staffing as the former agency but has a new governance structure and has also taken on the additional responsibility for quality assurance of home care from 1 July 2014.

The Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) is an appeal tribunal for recipients of government payments, established under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999. The SSAT reviews decisions that are made by officers of the Department of Human Services employed in Centrelink offices and in the Child Support Agency.

The National Disability Insurance Agency is a new portfolio agency established to manage the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS commenced on 1 July 2013 with a roll out of services in a small number of locations in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The scheme is expected to be fully rolled out by 1 July 2019. In the first year of the full scheme the NDIA’s resourcing is expected to be around $1.5 billion. The NDIA’s operations will be highly decentralised, with coverage expected across all States, except Western Australia, which has yet to formally join the scheme. The NDIA will develop and fund disability support plans for eligible participants to service their current and future support needs.

Chart 4.16.1 is a graphical representation of the relative size of bodies within the Social Services Portfolio, including the Department of Human Services.


Chart 4.16.1: Social Services

This chart shows the Department and Portfolio agencies, as described above, diagrammatically.

This chart shows the Department and Portfolio agencies, as described above, diagrammatically.