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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11870

Ms VAMVAKINOU (9:52 AM) —I want to bring to the attention of the chamber what could be the first casualties of Australia's financial contribution to a war in Iraq. It is quite obvious that the cost of war will be borne not only by our soldiers and their families but by other Australian families as we face some serious budget cuts to pay for our ultimate involvement in a war in Iraq. With a war budget to be tabled in May of this year, the Treasurer has signalled that hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars will go into the coffers to pay for our involvement in the war and out of services and programs for ordinary Australians.

Abercare Family Services in my electorate of Calwell runs a highly successful Home Start program, which is basically an early intervention and prevention volunteer home visiting program that reaches out currently to some 20 families. That number is growing as the need for these services expands. Unfortunately, not all families have the support of families or friends to help with the care of young children and, in many cases, the burden of poverty can limit opportunities for assistance and relief. This program involves volunteers between the ages of 21 and 64. They are given eight weeks of training and are supported by a coordinator who has social work qualifications. The service offers voluntary training that includes information on postnatal depression, child protection guidelines, the impact of domestic violence, the role of fathers as parents, and speech and language development. It also provides invaluable support to recently arrived migrants who often become very isolated and disconnected.

The program offers outreach support to socially disadvantaged families, with a referral service which is often critical for families who have difficulties in the care of their children. As I said earlier, currently some 20 families, two with sole parents, are availing themselves of the services that are provided. Under the Home Start program, the Commonwealth currently funds the service, with some $95,000 in funding, which allows for the employment of a coordinator to provide the training for volunteers and to cover overheads. However, the Department of Family and Community Services recently informed Abercare—pre-emptively, I might say—that funding for the next financial year is not guaranteed. In fact, Abercare has been told that only 25 per cent of similar programs will be funded in the next financial year.

Last year we contacted the support services manager for Abercare, Kathy Leenaerts, who, quite frankly, is perplexed as to why this very successful program is about to have its funding cut. She and I want to know why a program which is so very successful and addresses a very serious need—that is, the care of our children—faces the chopping board. I have written to the relevant minister and have put a number of questions to her in the parliament and I and Abercare look forward to some answers. (Time expired)