Cuts to community sector groups

February 18, 2019

View my speech in Parliament here

The community sector is at the heart of how Australia delivers social services. Community organisations deliver important practical services to the poorest and most vulnerable in our community. But these services are under attack by this government, and they have been since the horror budget of 2014. Funding has been cut to the tune of $1 billion, according to ACOSS. Grant processes have become chaotic: delays are common; certainty has disappeared. Some organisations have missed out on growth funding that would allow them to meet increasing demand. Some have received only short-term transitional funding. Others have lost funding altogether. These are organisations that are well established and have been providing services to our community for decades.

I want to talk today about organisations in my electorate whose futures are under a cloud because of the cuts by this cruel and heartless government. The first is Swansea Community Cottage. Swansea Community Cottage has been helping people in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle with emergency financial relief for 30 years. Last year the cottage was advised by the Department of Social Services that its bid for funding for the next five years had not been successful. Perplexed and desperate, the cottage asked the department to reconsider, and it was successful in gaining funding for one more year—just one more year. But that funding is only transitional. It offers no security for the future. There are no services on the eastern side of Lake Macquarie that do what Swansea cottage does. If it is lost, people in need of emergency financial relief will have to travel up to an hour for help, further stretching their strained budgets and their capacity to cope.

Swansea Community Cottage help people who are in financial crisis from right across Lake Macquarie and Newcastle. People are referred to them by Centrelink, neighbourhood groups, schools, doctors, community groups and charities. My office refers people to them. The cottage helps 500 people a year—300 women and 200 men. Most people visit the cottage four times. One in five identifies as Indigenous. One in six have a disability. One in 25 are under 19. They are low-income earners, single parents, people with a disability, Indigenous people, young people and vulnerable people. Importantly, people can just drop in to the cottage and don't need to make an appointment. They can get clothing, bedding and household items through the Freecycle program and food from SecondBite and OzHarvest. The cottage also refers people to housing services, playgroups, vacation care, out-of-school care and support groups such as AA. It helps with TAFE, Centrelink and Work for the Dole. All this helps improve people's financial resilience, health and wellbeing. It helps families function and reduces social isolation. Many Indigenous families seek help when there is a death in their extended family, to travel long distances to attend a funeral or host large numbers of family. This is critical to their social structure. This service is so vital in so many ways.

A second group in my electorate with a question mark over its future is the Charlestown Caring Group. This group has been caring for mostly older members of our community for 50 years. For just over 30, they have received federal government funding under the Commonwealth Home Support Program to help older Australians live well at home, with services such as shopping and transport to medical appointments, activities and bus trips. They help 120 older Australians every year under the Commonwealth Home Support Program. And, although they aren't funded for it, they help another 15 NDIS clients and 40 'private clients', whose services such as house cleaning and lawn mowing are not subsidised.

The Charlestown Caring Group have not lost their ongoing funding—let me be clear about that—but they have missed out on the growth funding they were hoping for to allow them to meet increasing demand, a demand that will increase as our region, like many in Australia, gets older. Growth funding has gone to other groups in the area but not to Charlestown Caring Group. The group are concerned because they are a small organisation and one of a few small providers left, as many have been forced to fold or merge. They want equality and fairness in growth funding and the chance to ensure their organisation, which fundraises $6,000 a year, and relies on 58 volunteers to support its handful of paid staff, continues to provide the caring services our community has come to rely on.

This government does not take the community sector seriously. There have been four ministers in five years and cuts of $1 billion. We have also seen the centralisation of grants to large, national organisations that do provide good services but don't provide the location based services that are so vital. A few years ago we had an extreme low-pressure system devastate my region, and small community centres provided relief, such as the Swansea Community Cottage. The community sector and groups like Swansea Community Cottage and Charlestown Caring Group deserve so much better. The people of Shortland deserve so much better from this out-of-touch federal government.