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Abbott Government's Budget Cuts - 25/11/2014

BALLIS, Mr John, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Reclink Australia Limited

BUTTERSS, Mr Roderick, Director, Reclink Australia Limited

CULLEN, Mr Peter, Founder, Reclink Australia Limited

MILLETT, Mr Brian, Private capacity

Committee met at 10:09

CHAIR ( Senator Di Natale ): I declare open this third public hearing of the Senate Select Committee into the Abbott government's budget cuts. I welcome you all here today. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. We are also streaming live via the web, which can be found at that helpful website address

Before the committee starts taking evidence, I will remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice, if they intend to give evidence in camera.

On behalf of the committee I would like to thank all witnesses for appearing today. I would also like to thank my Senate colleagues, particularly Senator Lines, who I know has missed an important engagement for this—and I apologise for being late. I would also like Senator Smith for being here and Senator Rice. I appreciate you coming along.

Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses has been provided to you. I will now invite you to make a short opening statement and then we will move on to some questions.

Mr Ballis : I welcome the opportunity, on behalf of Reclink, to provide an overview of the Reclink national program and the impact of the budget cut handed down in June 2014.

The Reclink national program has been in place for the past five years, with an amount of $560,000 per annum. It was funded as a specific line item in the federal budget. The funding had not been adjusted with CPI wage increases since it was initially provided and, over the five-year period, the capacity of the organisation and the capability of the organisation have been outstanding in terms of scaling up the benefits of the $560,000.

As an organisation, we will always look for alternate sources of funding. We pride ourselves on being able to engage corporates and other means to try and supplement the funding that we have received from the federal government. We have been the beneficiary of receiving funding from state governments as well. However, the impact of the loss has meant that our national footprint, which has relied on this funding, has not only been diminished but significantly reduced. Keeping in mind that it was ceased in June of this year, many of our partner organisation have expressed concern at the impact of the loss of that funding to individuals and the communities that we have been participating with.

In particular, the funding has been targeted to improve the lives of people experiencing disadvantage, including homelessness, mental health, alcohol and drug addiction, and justice issues. Over the five-year period, we have been able to achieve approximately 90,000 participation opportunities across Australia, partnering with over 400 community organisations. The most recent count, in terms of the number of agencies that support us and that we participate with, is currently 380 community organisations; so there has been a reduction since the budget has been cut.

A four-year longitudinal study of the Reclink national program and its effectiveness has described the program as ' a catalyst for a better life for participants':

Breaking down the barriers to isolation

Encouraging self-esteem and self-confidence—reduced stress and anxiety

Improving physical condition—weight loss and increased cardio vascular fitness—

through participation in sports

Acquiring skills, training and pursuing employment opportunities

Providing a sense of community, greater connection

Establishing and maintaining friendships

When we look at the depth of opportunities and the demonstrated benefits of the program, it is a very unique program particularly across Australia. There are currently no organisations that have the expertise or the demonstrated capability of using sport recreation to engage so many disadvantaged communities across Australia Our hope and aspiration as an organisation is that the government will see its way clear to reinstate funding and hopefully provide sustainable funding for the program now and into the future.

Mr Butterss : A big thankyou from Reclink for the opportunity to come and present our evidence to you. My experience and involvement with Reclink dates back 10 years ago when I first met Peter Cullen. I was the president of one of the AFL clubs in Melbourne and Peter would ring me incessantly, and I learned very quickly that you do not say no to Peter Cullen. All he wanted was jumpers and footies and equipment for homeless people—that is all he wanted—and fortunately we were in a position where we could support.

It was not long after that that Peter invited me to come and present some medals. Reclink ingeniously runs a grand final series in Melbourne at the aptly named Peanut Farm, where every team gets to play in a grand final—there is no discrimination, there is no bottom of the ladder for these people. I went along this particular day. I had grown up in a middle-class environment and had never seen firsthand the effects of disadvantage, but I saw it that day. I also saw what Reclink did for these people. I saw people who were homeless, disadvantaged, underprivileged, alcoholics and prostitutes playing together in games of AFL in that particular instance. I saw people laughing, and I had it pointed out to me that some of these people were living rough and had not had communication with another person for, in some cases, weeks. You could see them laughing and you could see them just getting a flicker of self-esteem. That, for me, was enough to embed myself emotionally within the organisation, because it just does such amazingly good work.

Years later when I finished my term as the president, I had a breakdown. I turned to alcohol and drugs and I ended up on my backside—I lost my family; I lost my business. Reclink at that point said, 'Why don't you come and get involved in Reclink?' Because of my experience, they asked me to sit on the board, which was tremendous because, when nobody else in the community thought I was worth talking to, Reclink reached out and said, 'We think you can add some value.' It was really important for me to be given that opportunity. So I have seen firsthand both sides of the street and both sides of the thing that Reclink does and the madness—you have got to be mad to do what Pete does.

Earlier this year we lost our government funding. That is just not fair because the work we do saves lives—and, if it is not saving lives, it is certainly giving people a chance to re-engage in a meaningful way. You will hear stories later about people who have actually come out of the situations that they have been in—the hopelessness; the bottom-of-the-rung existence—to retrain through Reclink programs, play sport, engage, learn to laugh, get some self-esteem and go on to become active members of society. It is a remarkable achievement.

We have lost our funding and I do not think enough people up here understand the importance of what we do. Whether we have to beg or you can guide us, I do not know what we have to do, but we are here to ask for your help, and we certainly appreciate the opportunity present our case. Thank you.

Mr Cullen : Thank you for the opportunity to speak. Obviously it is extremely important to us but also extremely important to disadvantaged people right across Australia because of its reach and also its potential reach if it is appropriately supported. As was said before, Reclink is the only organisation in Australia doing what we are doing, so it is quite unique in that structure. We use the word 'disadvantaged' in many communities across Australia, but we are looking at complex disadvantage. We are looking at people who do not frequent regular sporting clubs, so it is unique in the structure in which we are able to reach people. These people have never been reached in this way, because there has never been a structure to reach this group.

The way this is done is through a simple but unique model. What I did and other recognised was that, in doing street outreach in St Kilda and seeing people living destructive lives—you see ambulances being called people who overdose and suicide as common conversations in that community, particularly at that time—was that you could think how to respond to this and what these people actually do with the day that gives purpose and structure. We found that people need something they can immediately get involved in. The lack of purposeful involvement—or some involvement—means is actually an achievement in itself to get people involved, and that becomes the starting point for so much else. Beyond the counselling, support and funding that governments give, Reclink brings together all these groups who are funded and supports their work. Before this there was no vehicle in existence. This vehicles comes together through a membership model and through agency membership—there are 380 members presently, and I think we had up to 500 at one point.

This is essentially a volunteer model, but it needs a resource to make it work. The welfare agencies get involved. Peak sporting bodies see it as a vehicle to work through for their very particular individual sports. Sporting clubs get involved. We have had one club in Victoria over a period of 10 years or so that has had over 100 people involved because they specifically opened their doors. The impact of that club through the vehicle of Reclink provided a whole lot of off-field roles which were critical to those people on weekends and a wonderful opportunity for many people because they got employment through that pathway that was created through this Reclink model.

Community police groups find it very helpful to work through the Reclink model. Some of the media people have really embraced Reclink and almost partnered with Reclink. Elite sporting clubs like the Collingwood Football Club, who put on our presentation of our league medal in Victoria, find a place to get involved. Schools and corporations use it. One of the things people say is they would like to support and help disadvantage but do not know how to do it in this particular way. It opens up a plethora of opportunity.

There are also a lot of individuals in the community who want to champion a particular area, whether it be boot camps, choirs or whatever. We provide that vehicle, meet with them and help resource them to be able to deliver that opportunity. As you can hear, the money that we were receiving was $560,000. Do you have a copy of our annual report?

Senator RICE: We have it.

Mr Cullen : In that annual report you will see towards the back the amount of member agencies that now embrace it across all those states. It is critical to say this. They have put their hand up to say, 'We want to work cooperatively and become a silo breaker.' Would you believe that there are over 150 different styles of activities: cultural, women's activities, sporting competitions, health and wellbeing—and you might just want to quickly read a few—and general recreation. I am actually staggered that we can achieve that much reach with such a minimal amount of money—such is the power of this model. We talk about value for money.

This group is the most vulnerable to suicides, overdoses, CAT Teams call-outs and potential prison sentences. We want to be and are a circuit-breaker within that by giving people the power of involvement—the power of purpose. Some of the things that people have said to me at Reclink this year are: 'What I like about Reclink is that people call me by name'—such is the power of that. John or Rod referred to that when they said that people might not have had a conversation of any quality for a few weeks—'I felt like a door opened inside me'; 'It has given me my spirit back'; 'It has given me my heart back'; 'I have had a reduction in suicidal feelings'; 'It has kept me alive, really; 'I would not be here if it were not for Reclink.' That is some of the feedback that we get. That is a bit of an overview from me and we would welcome questions later.

CHAIR: Mr Millett, did you want to add anything?

Mr Millett : I started with Reclink in, I think, 2005. I met a chap called David at a 12-step recovery group. I had had major issues with drugs and alcohol for about 20 years. My life was not travelling that well. After the meeting we had a bit of a chat and he said to me: 'Why don't you come down to Salvo Hawks?' which is an agency which provides football in the leagues in Melbourne. I said, 'Oh yeah, why not.' I was not working, so I had plenty of time on my hands. Recovery is tough when you are doing it by yourself, so I went down there. He wanted me to umpire. He was going to pay me, which was good, as I was short of cash. I umpired this game and was blown away by these guys, these knockabouts, with tattoos—there were some girls playing—and I really loved it. I felt like I could fit in there. It was a great game.

The next week they were short for the Salvo Hawks, and I played. He said: 'Listen, I'll umpire, and you play. We will still pay you.' And I thought that was pretty good. So David said 'play', and I had a good game. I felt I was connected. I really could not go to a mainstream footy club. There was too much of a gap because of my self-esteem and the way I thought about myself. Reclink filled that gap for me. I instantly fell in love with these people, who had no pretence. They were who they were. They had some mental health issues, and drug and alcohol issues, which I had and was recovering from. I was doing quite well. I was really vigilant with my recovery, because I had wrecked my life. I was 35 and I had done nothing with my life.

They had a run-walk, which Peter organised, around the Tan in Melbourne—a 3.8-kay run. We went to that with the Salvo boys. I did pretty well. Dave said to me at the end of that season: 'Listen, do you want to coach this team next year'—because he was a businessman and he had other stuff going—'and we'll pay you?' And I said: 'Yeah, that would be great.' So I started doing that. I just had a purpose on one day a week, Wednesday, coaching this footy team, ringing these guys, meeting with them, training with them and all that sort of stuff. I think the Salvation Army saw I was doing such a good job getting these guys together, because I was one of them. I knew where they were coming from. I had empathy for them—they offered me three days a week working with their clients. So I had four days a week. It was fantastic.

I was also getting into my sport. I had done a triathlon many years ago. It was while I was drunk and I did not do really well. But I wanted to get back into that. I knew it was possible because I was getting better. I started training for this triathlon. I got a coach at the Fitzroy pool. He said: 'Why don’t you do this ironman coming up?' and I said: 'What's that?' He told he told me the distances and I thought, there was no way—I had just started these Gatorades down there.

I suppose I had a bit of purpose with the Reclink and with the footy. I had a job and I was getting my life back together. I did an ironman up at Port Macquarie. I did not know what the hell I was in for—it was the toughest day I have ever had. I do not know whether you know about an ironman—it is a 3.8 kay swim, so it is the same distance as that run I started. I suppose my motto was 'Failure is not an option anymore,' and I had people who supported me with this. I did my calf in the run on this marathon on and I thought, 'I have to keep going. I can't go back now.' I ended up qualifying for Hawaii. I went to the Hawaiian Ironman that year, 2009.

Senator LINES: I hope the calf got better.

Mr Millett : The calf got better—it took a bit of time. Anyway, that was a tough day. Just a moment, sorry.

Senator LINES: You are inspiring us.

CHAIR: We can have a short break, if you like.

Mr Millett : No, it's all right. I ended up doing Peter's old job at Sacred Heart Mission. I got my life back. I proved to myself that I am not a failure and that I can do stuff. That was really hard. Physically I could do stuff, but the mental and emotional stuff—it took a long time to get well. I am still getting well today. I worked at Sacred Heart Mission. I was their full-time sport and rec coordinator from the offset that I had done with Reclink and with the Salvos. I was there seven years working with homeless people. It was the toughest job I have ever done, but it was the most worthwhile job I have ever done. We had footy teams, and I got these guys to do a triathlon—homeless guys doing a triathlon. Sorry.

CHAIR: Brian, it is very inspiring. You have moved us all close to tears right now. I am really inspired by your story. The reason we wanted to bring you here today—all of you—was to hear exactly that experience. We know what it means. We know how important this program is, we know its capacity to transform people's lives, and you are a living embodiment of it. Do not be ashamed of shedding a few tears—you have moved us pretty close to it. Why don't we go to questions? We have heard a range of terrific statements—I take the liberty as the chair to provide a bit of editorial on that. We are very keen for people in this place to hear about the work that you do, to hear about it both in the technical sense—what is involved—and, Rod, your experience; Peter, as founder; and Brian, the embodiment of what this does to people and how important it is for people in just being a circuit-breaker and in being able to transform people's lives. I will throw open to questions and we will start with Senator Lines.

Senator LINES: Half a million dollars—$560,000—is nothing in the scheme of things. Did you get any notice you were going to get chopped? What happened?

Mr Ballis : We understand that there may have been some discussions with the previous CEO. I guess at that particular time it was certainly not clear the scale of cuts that would be undertaken by government. There was hope and aspiration that the funding would continue because the $560,000 is not a lot of money, but in the scheme of things it is a lot of money.

Senator LINES: It is for you.

Mr Ballis : Because we were able to scale-up the benefits of that, we have been privileged to have had very positive feedback from the office of sport about the efficacy and impact of the program. As an organisation, I think there was a hope that the government would see the benefit of that and maintain it. The reality is, of course, that it did not. You asked if we were advised. We were not advised that it was going to occur. However, when I had the opportunity of meeting with the advisers to the minister for the office of sport, it became reasonably clear that it was unlikely that it was going to be maintained. While the adviser was unable to confirm one way or the other—because the budget had not been handed down and, from their perspective, they could not tell us one way or the other—we as an organisation were preparing for possibly the worst but also hoping that there might be an opportunity for reflection on the program.

Senator LINES: I want to ask you a couple more questions, but just along those lines—why Reclink? Presumably the department of sport and rec—or whatever the name is—is a big department, with lots of stuff funded. Why did you get picked out? Have you been given any rationale for that? Was it that the department had to take a five per cent hit? Why you?

Mr Ballis : I do not think we received any detailed explanation, although we were provided with some broad information—that is that the program we provide, which you have heard a little bit about, goes well beyond just sport and rec.

Senator LINES: Yes.

Mr Ballis : So sport and rec is an important part of the engagement of people with disadvantage and their participation in that. Of course, if we were just simply to engage people through participation, we would probably be like many other organisations and community groups. But, because the program cuts across funded programs within government—mental health, drug and alcohol, disability, homelessness—there was certainly some level of uncertainty as to where we best fit. So part of the journey that I undertook as a CEO in liaising with government advisers was to seek their thoughts about how best to reposition the Reclink national funding and the possibility of having it funded by different components of government—maybe mental health, maybe community services and the like. Those discussions have been had. However, at the end of the day, it was still a budget cut issue and that is where we fell.

Senator LINES: You said you were being funded for five years. I know that you are now the acting CEO, but what was the philosophy or thinking behind the establishment of Reclink in the first instance. Do you know?

Mr Ballis : It was taking the model that has been demonstrated by Peter and Reclink in Victoria—

Senator LINES: So there was a state body?

Mr Ballis : This program has been around for 24 years. The program has been funded through the Victorian state government. It is the learnings and the recognised benefits of that program within Victoria that became the catalyst. Last night we had the privilege of meeting with the senator who was involved in initially putting up the program, Senator Kate Lundy. She explained, from her perspective, the power of the program in terms of the social inclusion, the engagement of people with disadvantage and the diversity of people we were able to engage—seeing the benefits over many, many years within Victoria and then taking the program nationally. So this is not a program which has only been in existence for five years. It has been in existence for many, many years, and the demonstrated benefits of this program have been recognised by government and, more recently, by state governments. But, because we are a national program, the national funding has been the glue which enables the organisation to scale-up our partnerships with state governments, local government, community agencies, corporates and donors. It is the absence of that glue that makes certainly my journey as chief executive far are more complex and far more difficult to engage national corporates who are willing and interested in supporting us. So we are seeking the support of the Senate and, of course the government to try to reinstate the funding.

Mr Butterss : If I could maybe add to that. I have been on the board coming up for five years. My observation about Reclink is not unlike other situations you come across in life where your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. Reclink just has such a focus because of Peter's passion for the underprivileged. Reclink's corporate overhead is really weak because every opportunity where there is a cry for help Pete is gone and it is like, 'Righto, we'll do our best.' But it has hurt us. As a group, we have come up here and spent 24 hours in this place and learnt, I think, a great lesson that we have to get better at telling our story and engaging stakeholders. Whilst the work we do is critical, no question, there is another side to it—that is, we have to engage.

Senator LINES: Do not beat yourselves over that. You could have the best corporate outreach model and the government would still cut you. We are dealing with the harshest and cruellest budget we have ever seen from this government. There is no rhyme or reason and you have demonstrated that this morning in your evidence as to what you were cut—when you hear stories such as Brian has told and that is replicated right across the country. You were cut because it was convenient to save $560,000—no other reason. Yes, it is important to get your message out there but that would not have saved you. The government has also cut Youth Connections, which has an amazing record.

Brian, everyone who needs support has to find their own way and for you this was your way. Obviously, it is the way for a raft of other people. Is that a fair comment?

Mr Cullen : We believe we found a particular need, something that was actually missing in welfare and not utilised. I think governments, I would assume across the world, almost have to provide a crisis responses. There is a lot in welfare that stops people from drowning but not a lot that helps people to swim. It is movement, activity, involvement and connection. If you can get people passionately involved in one thing and they can create belonging in their life, that gives them inner power to be a catalyst to move forward around other opportunities. As simple as it is, it is still a unique program. As a matter of fact, nobody else has picked this area up. It is not your regular welfare—in a way, I do not even call it welfare; I am just using that word. We want people not to fall into deeper and deeper isolation. If we can break that cycle, we can empower people to move forward through involvement. We see something of that in our own lives and it is a very exciting thing to be a part of. 'It was another great Reclink day,' Brian said to me on the phone, when he umpired the new team in Frankston. 'What was it like?' 'The sun was out. It was another great Reclink day. People were involved.' People wander the streets of Frankston. We gather up all sorts of people who give their time. To roll Reclink out across Australia comprehensively, done properly, if we were to really move this, it would need $5 million. I guess we would not dare ask for that, but we should be asking for that.

Senator LINES: You should be.

Mr Cullen : There are a lot of communities that we do not reach. We can reach people in the most positive way who are not normally reached. A lot of people do not have positive structure in their life. Hopefully, that answers your question.

Mr Millett : Basically, it is about getting your body moving. A lot of these guys, including me, did nothing for a long time. You just get into the habit of doing nothing, because you are fearful or think 'No-one will like me, anyway'—all that negative thinking that you get when you are inside four walls by yourself, in a boarding house or on the street. So it is about being with people. Just being there, straightaway there is probably a 20 per cent rise in your mental health. It is also about harm minimisation. While they are with Reclink, they are not knocking off their CD's area house. That is the bottom line. I used that as a stepping stone, just to stay there so that I could just get myself well slowly. That is how I used it and a lot of people do use it. Wednesday is football and they cannot wait for Wednesday. They belong there; they have a connection there. That is what I needed. I needed that gap filler to get me there. I am now going okay. I am married with a couple of kids. It was a long time ago although, every time I tell that story, I cry. I do not want to, but it is part of my journey. That is the bottom line. It just gets people moving, it gets people going. Then there are offshoots.

Mr Butterss : What was that story you mentioned over coffee about the fellow who recalled he had a game of cricket?

Mr Millett : Before the match I was talking to a guy from Western Storm, which is another club. He had a mental illness, mental health issues. Months previously his worker committed suicide through different circumstances. We were just talking about that, just as you do. He said to me, 'I feel like killing myself today.' I sort of looked at him, and he said, 'I knew I had cricket on, so I'm not going to do it today.' I was blown away by that. I could tell my story and, for me, I see it all the time. He had something to look forward to at 11 o'clock. But at eight o'clock in the morning he is probably sitting in a bedsit thinking about how he is going to do it. Then the bus comes, the fellow picks them up, they go to cricket and they feel great after the game.

Mr Ballis : Over the years we as an organisation have adapted and used sport and recreation and arts programs as a means of engaging people. At the moment we are developing and delivering some very innovative programs in Queensland using sport and recreation as a means of engaging but now moving to employment-readiness programs, quite innovative programs, within the ACT. We are using our skills of engagement to deliver high-quality, high-density housing and security and safety programs with ACT Justice. It is a program that has received national recognition for excellence.

We have got some fantastic programs with Indigenous communities. I note that you mentioned about the level of incarceration of young people. As an organisation we are one of the very few organisations that have actively engaged Correctional Services to enable Indigenous people to be engaged with sport and recreation, and then creating a link for those people as they transition out of correctional services into communities. Recently Peter and I were in the Northern Territory participating and supporting the Reclink Community Cup, which is an annual fixture of Indigenous community football teams. The thing that I left with after that visit was a clear indication of the power and value that we provide as an organisation, in partnership with correctional services, to create those pathways for people currently incarcerated within correctional services to be engaged in sport and rec, and to create those links so that as they transition out of those correctional services into their communities they can maintain other activities which would obviously distract them from the destructive paths that they might have adopted.

In Victoria we have gone beyond just sport and rec. We are using sport and rec as a means of engaging people but we are also using it as a pathway to create opportunities for learning. We run alcohol and drug certificate IV programs in partnership with RTOs.

I guess the point that I want to make to you as senators is that we as an organisation have shown our skills, capacity and capabilities to be innovative and how to use those limited dollars that we receive from government wisely. What we are seeking to do at the moment is to try to reinstate our capacity and capability as an organisation. When we look at who we are, we see that we have certainly well and truly punched beyond our level and weight. To bring a national icon like the Choir of Hard Knocks to the Australian psyche is an unbelievable feat for any organisation. For a chief executive coming in and seeing the diversity, it is about managing the diversity and also seeing how we can scale up our capabilities. Our passion is sport and rec, but we have a wide range of diversity as an organisation that we offer the community, and we want that to continue and to grow.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator SMITH: Just to be clear: Mr Ballis, you are the interim chief executive officer?

Mr Ballis : That is correct.

Senator SMITH: When did you take up your position?

Mr Ballis : I took up the position in January of this year.

Senator SMITH: In your previous evidence you said that you were not sure whether there had been any discussions between the government and Reclink about the ending of the funding because there had been a transition in the chief executive, so there is a chance that the government might have been discussing the ending of the funding with Reclink under the previous CEO?

Mr Ballis : I had spoken to the previous CEO as part of my transition in. There was a handover process and while there had been a meeting there was no indication at that time that the funding would cease. However, because we had only received a one-year extension to the previous four-year funding, there was a risk that the funding would not continue beyond June, and that was the context of my discussions with him.

Senator SMITH: Let us be clear. When was the funding commenced? In which budget did you receive the funding?

Mr Ballis : It was the 2009-10—

Senator SMITH: Federal budget.

Mr Ballis : The five-year—

Senator SMITH: The total budget allocation was $560,000?

Mr Ballis : That is right.

Senator SMITH: That was for each year over the four years?

Mr Ballis : Each year over the four years plus an additional year.

Senator SMITH: What is the total annual operating budget for Reclink?

Mr Ballis : It has been sitting at around $2.4 million per annum.

Senator SMITH: And a fifth of that was coming from the Commonwealth?

Mr Butterss : About that.

Mr Ballis : Roughly, yes.

Senator SMITH: How much money was coming from states and territories? If I were to list the states and territories, you would be able to tell me how much annually you were receiving from them?

Mr Ballis : It was about $1.6 million or $1.7 million from various states and territories—

Mr Butterss : And local—

Mr Ballis : and local government as well.

Mr Butterss : plus private funding through our activities such as the community cup.

Senator SMITH: The $1.6 million or $1.7 million is state and territory money, local money and then private money?

Mr Butterss : Yes.

Senator SMITH: What is the state and territory contribution of the $1.6 million or $1.7 million?

Mr Ballis : Are we saying the Northern Territory?

Senator SMITH: No, the states and territories—what is the total? If you have the individual amounts that they have allocated, that would be handy.

Mr Ballis : Okay. I can certainly—

CHAIR: If you have not got that, you can take it on notice.

Mr Ballis : I do not have that information at hand, but I will be happy to provide the Senate with that information.

Senator SMITH: Just to be clear: you had a four-year funding agreement with the previous government?

Mr Ballis : With an extension of a year.

Senator SMITH: You had a four-year funding agreement, and then the extension was given when?

Mr Ballis : It is my understanding that it was given prior to the end of the contract—

Mr Butterss : About a year ago.

Mr Ballis : a year earlier.

Senator SMITH: A one-year extension was given. Did the former government commit to beyond that 12-month extension?

Mr Ballis : It is my understanding that the former government provided a one-year extension based on the fact that they were unable to commit beyond the term of their government.

Senator SMITH: They were not able to commit that if they were elected they would actually continue the funding?

Mr Ballis : I am not sure whether that was the case. I believe that the commitment was only made for the term of their government.

Senator SMITH: I am interested in how the program works. I absolutely agree—giving people an opportunity to find belonging and purpose is critical, particularly for those who are suffering complex disadvantage. How does the program identify someone or how does someone reach the program? What is the interface?

Mr Cullen : The state managers work with the various recreational workers, or workers who are open to picking up the Reclink opportunities. We try to get a sense of the various needs through what we call Reclink networks. So we create networks. The agencies become a part of the Reclink vehicle. That is why we are able to scale up resources, because one can provide a bus or something. Very often they are planning meetings. So the football in Melbourne, Queensland or wherever will have their own subcommittees that break off to create those leagues that—

Senator SMITH: When you say 'agencies', you mean state and territory—

Mr Cullen : I mean welfare agencies working with various forms of disadvantage.

Senator SMITH: So that is the interface with the community, and those entities then interface with Reclink.

Mr Cullen : That is right, yes. They are actually Reclink as well. It is a membership based organisation and they can also put their hand up to run a program. So the worker is chasing resources and opportunities on behalf of the agencies, with peak bodies or sporting clubs, or they may be an individual who we identify under what we call Transformational Link. Brian, for example, has done a Transformational Link program on public speaking, identifying that this person is making a commitment to his life. Between the worker and the Reclink worker, they identify that commitment to their life and try to bring in an opportunity at that point, because at that point it can be a real catapult forward.

Senator SMITH: It must be a very good program, because Mr Millett was very articulate, so congratulations. I am curious to know what you have seen in the last five years. In terms of the people who are coming and getting services, what change have you seen in the nature of the disadvantage, in the demographics of the individuals?

Mr Ballis : I made reference to the report that was undertaken by La Trobe University. It was a four-year longitudinal study that tracked the lives of 274 of the many participants that the Reclink national program included. Importantly, what it found was that there was clear evidence from the external review that there was a transformational approach to the person. So people were not only engaging and participating in sport and rec but moving on to be more connected with the community.

I spoke about individuals moving towards training, skills development and employment. The importance of this program is that it goes beyond just sport and rec participation. It is a program that strengthens the person's capacity to move on and be more engaged in the community. The stories that I have heard as interim CEO and the stories that have been expressed by community agencies continue to resound the same observation, that it creates these pathways for people to be more engaged in their communities.

Mr Butterss : Ten weeks ago we organised a football game, AA versus NA—alcoholics anonymous versus narcotics anonymous. The NA boys won, by the way. The thing I saw was that the NA demographic has altered massively. They are now 18-, 19-, 20-, 21- and 22-year-olds, young people getting clean from ice and methamphetamine. It is awfully difficult for AA to compete against that backdrop, because the AA midfield has an average age of 50!

CHAIR: Do you do any performance enhancing drugs testing?

Mr Butterss : We will leave that to the club on the other side of the Yarra. No.

Mr Cullen : There are impacts on such a range of levels. A lot of teams lose players to employment—and getting people moving, getting people connected, getting people connected to support. If they move to a mainstream club, that is where people most get employment. That is one of the things that we are realising. If we can get someone to join a bowling club, inevitably—100 per cent at Middle Park Bowling Club—they will pick up a part-time or full-time job, if you can get someone to transition to a mainstream club. Under the normal vehicle through which many of us get work, through networks, there are people they would not normally meet. There is that kind of transition, or you could call it transformation or opportunity. Also there is a team called the Salvo Hawks, for example. Every player on that team has a drug and alcohol issue, at various stages. But within that group there are people who are mature in recovery who can mentor other people. They use that team as part of their tool of recovery. They have people they can phone 24 hours a day. It is a unique footy team. At Odyssey House it is different again. You have a team that is residential.

CHAIR: Mr Cullen, Senator Rice has to leave soon and she has not had an opportunity to ask questions, so I might just interrupt you for a moment.

Senator RICE: Thank you so much for your powerful stories on the whole issue of giving people meaning through social inclusion and engaging people. I have a really straightforward numbers question. What is this cut in funding going to mean in terms of the numbers of people that are going to be able to participate in your program?

Mr Ballis : With the programs that we have been delivering, scaled up over the five years, we estimate that somewhere around 10,000 people would have had some experience or some participation opportunity with Reclink. It may be simply a single participation event—swimming, soccer, a whole range of activities, and Peter mentioned those. Last financial year we were able to achieve about 90,000 participation opportunities, and that is the real potential loss for us—the fact that we are not able to deliver those year on year. That is the impact.

Senator RICE: So the loss of this funding would put how much of that at risk? What will you have to do—scale down your program? Will you lose 20 per cent of those participation opportunities or more?

Mr Ballis : In Queensland, for example, we just do not have any dollars to do that. Some of the community agencies have been trying to maintain some of these programs, and we will encourage them to do that. In South Australia we have had to scale back our programs and the level of participation. With the absence of those dollars, the only funding in South Australia, for example, is through the South Australian government. In Tasmania it is nonexistent. Yet, through our fundraising, we are seeking to try to maintain that. Similarly, in New South Wales, there is very little funding.

Senator RICE: So tens of thousands of participation opportunities will not be there with the loss of funding?

Mr Ballis : Yes. And in Western Australia there is the same sort of impact. The loss has been felt by community agencies, mental health associations, mental health community groups. It is the absence of that additional specialist skill that we bring as an organisation that has been felt by many community agencies, many organisations and individuals.

Mr Millett : And the quality of events as well, and the quality of workers.

Senator RICE: Exactly, enabling people to get onto that pathway. It is too big a loss.

Mr Butterss : Also, while there are 10,000 people missing out on opportunities to participate, probably another 10,000 will miss out on the opportunity because we cannot grow. We cannot keep rolling out services. We are stuck.

Senator RICE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. I know that people have engagements. It has been a really productive hour. I am very, very thankful to all of you for presenting today. I would like to thank my fellow senators—Senator Lines, Senator Smith and Senator Rice—for making the time to make this event possible.

Committee adjourned at 11:04