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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21773


Mr MOSSFIELD (5:11 PM) —In my grievance speech today I wish to discuss the need to invest in and to strengthen what we call social capital. I refer to groups, organisations and individuals who work within our local communities to provide social stability. It is simply not possible in this 10-minute speech to list all the groups that function in any community, but churches in particular stand out, as do service clubs, senior citizens organisations, Neighbourhood Watch, Red Cross, park committees and sporting clubs—to name just a few.

In my electorate of Greenway, we have local government-run community centres at Riverstone, Marayong South, Seven Hills, Toongabbie, and Dean Park, out of which volunteers and paid staff provide a vast range of services to their local communities—everything from Meals on Wheels for the elderly to youth services for the disadvantaged. We also have progress associations in Glenwood, Stanhope Gardens and Dean Park. They are fighting for the infrastructure needs of their rapidly developing residential areas. In Greenway the infrastructure needs—such as roads, transport systems and telecommunications—have simply not kept pace with the residential growth, and the communities are suffering as a result.

The New South Wales government has worked diligently to bridge this gap, with major works on Windsor Road recently completed and major work proceeding on Sunnyholt Road and the much needed Western Sydney Orbital—what is now known as the M7. Telecommunications, however, are still a major problem in the area of Greenway, where many people work from home and our large youth population requires fast Internet services to enable them to complete their homework and studies.

So the role of social capital ranges across all spheres—from providing meals to the sick and lonely to telecommunication issues. Financial support is provided at the federal, state and local government levels on an intermittent basis, but greater financial assistance from all levels of government would enable a better coverage of the needs of the area. To give an example, I have recently made representations to the federal government on behalf of two local groups for funding for sporting projects. I will mention each of these projects briefly to highlight the urgent unmet needs in this area.

The first of these projects was a request for financial support for the upgrading of Mickelson Reserve in Quakers Hill. Quakers Hill is an area of considerable residential growth. Many young families are moving into the area. The reserve is currently being used by the Quakers Hill District Junior Rugby League Football Club, Terra Sancta High School and the Quakers Hill and Kings Langley Cricket Club. The football club alone has 19 teams, involving 250 young people in their club activities, so you can see the need for providing appropriate facilities.

The second project is from an enthusiastic group of local residents from the suburb of Dean Park. This group is campaigning to establish a permanent youth centre in the area. Dean Park is a well-established local suburb with a large youth population. At the moment there are insufficient recreational activities for young people, which has resulted in an outbreak of antisocial behaviour. The local community works hard to provide for the social and recreational needs of the residents, with the Dean Park Community Centre and local schools in continuous use for youth activities. However, a centre is required to provide a permanent base for youth activities such as music, gymnastics and other passive activities for young people in the area. In each of these cases the relevant ministers, while being sympathetic to the requests, have been completely unable, or unwilling, to help these groups to invest in the social capital of the region.

In an electorate such as Greenway, with its high ethnic mix, there is a particularly strong challenge to bring together the various ethnic groups with the existing local populations. Many of the larger ethnic groups have established strong community organisations of mutual support, but the interaction between these groups and the general community is not always so well established. The Blacktown Migrant Resource Centre and the Macquarie English Language School are two organisations which are providing valuable assistance in this area. There is a need for organisations such as the BMRC, along with schools and workplaces, to be provided with specific resources to bridge the ethnic divide. In the last calendar year, the BMRC provided information to more than 24,000 migrants in Western Sydney. This information was delivered through 117 information sessions. These sessions were delivered at the centre's main office in Blacktown and on sites for key communities in Mount Druitt, St Marys, Liverpool and Auburn.

More than 70 different community groups and organisations regularly use the facilities of the centre, making a significant contribution to the social capital of the area. I know that the government is generally very pleased with the work that is being carried out by the Blacktown Migrant Resource Centre. But I believe that the bridge between our ethnic population and the wider local community is through the youth of the area, so I was very pleased to see that the BMRC has established a non-English-speaking youth project. This project has worked closely with the smaller emerging community projects, ensuring better delivery of outcomes for younger people from refugee backgrounds. The program includes tours of local youth services, career information seminars and anti-racism programs. It also looks at mental and emotional health issues and provides education on rights and the police system in Australia and cross-cultural sports programs where young people can interact with the broader youth community.

Only last Thursday, I attended the launch of the Blacktown Migrant Resource Centre's multimedia youth resource kit, which reflects the challenges faced by refugees, young people and communities as they settle into new lives in Blacktown. The launch featured oral and musical presentations from young people from Sierra Leone, Sudan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kurdistan. This is the very essence of why investment in social capital is so important. This was a very moving and well organised project, and it was interesting to hear the stories of the young people from these countries and to hear about the difficulties that they have to overcome in coming to Australia.

Our educational institutions such as universities and schools also make a contribution to the social capital of the region. The University of Western Sydney, which has a large number of campuses throughout the Western Sydney region, provides an invaluable service to the community of the greater west. This university services an area which is traditionally disadvantaged when it comes to educational opportunities. The participation rate in higher education in Western Sydney is only 3.2 per cent, compared with five per cent for the rest of Sydney—and the proportion of people with degrees is only half that of eastern Sydney, for example. More than 70 per cent of students at UWS are the first in their families to attend a university. The university's role in providing for the future of our area is incredibly important, which is why the $270 million funding cuts to it by this government are so abhorrent. I am pleased to say that the local councils are taking a very keen interest in this issue and have discussed it with the government, with a view to restoring the funding that has been taken away from the university.

I would like to talk briefly about how education—public education in particular—contributes to the social capital of a community. I will refer to an article written quite a long time ago—in 1909—by Professor W. H. Holmes. I believe it is still very relevant today. In that article, Professor Holmes, a Harvard academic, states:

Civilised communities undertake education as a part of their proper business, not as a charity, but as a necessary public function.

Further in the article he states:

The public interest is not met by merely elementary education. It is met only when every prospective citizen may secure without undue sacrifice that extent and kind of education which will make him most efficient in his fundamental social relationships, including his vocation.

In other words, do not limit public education to the basics. People need more than that; society needs more than that. Yet in the education portfolio we have a minister who is eager to cut courses from universities, so he says, because they do not fit his political agenda.

What makes a community a community? It is more than a mere collection of individuals thrown by circumstance into a particular suburb or region. It is an investment in social capital—links and networks—that creates community. The individual is important, certainly, but the community—the society—is just as important. When one becomes subservient to the other a great deal is lost. This government is focused consistently on the individual, with little or no thought for the community—for society. The balance is wrong. In a democracy, government exists to create the balance. (Time expired)