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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3291

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (19:39): I rise tonight to speak about an urgent matter that concerns many in my local community in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. In recent weeks I have heard from numerous local organisations and residents who are feeling very anxious because funding for critical social services in our region is under threat. Indeed, we have heard that the government has a choice. Today we on this side of the House are concerned that the choice made is somewhat twisted.

I want to start by highlighting the impact that savage funding cuts to legal assistance in my local community will have. Particularly, I would like to highlight the Southern Community Justice Centre that provides important high-quality legal services to individuals and families in the community, including free specialist child-support services and free alternative dispute resolution services for neighbourhood disputes. The decision by the Abbott government to slash funding across the sector means that funding for community legal centres will be reduced by approximately $19 million over the next four years. This will have significant detrimental effects on the ability of many Australians, including those in my local community, to access justice. Already, uncertainty caused by the decision has led the Southern Community Justice Centre not to proceed with employing additional staff in 2014, as was previously planned. Further, it has meant that work with family violence services, including the provision of staff for legal education within support groups, is now unlikely to continue. I urge the government to reconsider this short-sighted decision not to support community legal centres such as the Southern Community Justice Centre, and to continue to expand the important work that they do. My correspondence to the Attorney-General on this matter earlier this year remains unanswered. These funding cuts will hurt communities right around the country and they are a step backwards in a society that must value justice.

The cuts to community legal services is not the only example of this government's failure to reassure important social services in my local community. Locals have contacted me wanting to know whether or not they will be able to continue to access the Carer Support respite centre in the southern suburbs of Adelaide after 30 June 2014. Carer Support has been providing services to carers in our region for over two decades and currently receives federal funding to help ensure that our carers are well supported and able to continue in their important roles. They provide social events, groups for sharing and caring experiences, overnight trips for respite, information courses and counselling, often to people who are incredibly isolated because of their caring responsibilities. The response to my correspondence seeking urgent confirmation that the Abbott government will continue to fund this service has come as cold comfort to local carers who rely on this service and who have been left in the dark about whether or not they will be able to continue to rely on this funding. The Assistant Minister for Social Services has not been able to confirm, at this point, that funding will be extended past 30 June. This uncertainty around whether or not carers in the southern suburbs of Adelaide will have access to federal financial support in a few months time is simply unacceptable.

Social services on the ground are being affected by this government's retrograde decision to slash funding or not make decisions to extend funding contracts in our region. Last week in this place I also called on the Abbott government to extend funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which is due to expire very shortly. This uncertainty in funding, as I have previously said, has generated considerable anxiety amongst organisations who firmly believe that they should be able to continue their important work to assist some of our most vulnerable Australians escape things such as domestic violence or to find a home of their own. These organisations are saying they will be forced to cut up to 30 per cent of their services and reduce their workforce through redundancies if this funding is not extended.

I have also raised in this place the important issue of Commonwealth-funded financial counsellors in my community. This is essential assistance for people who find themselves in difficulty and ensures that we do not see more crime or the development of other desperate situations. This independent advice, negotiation services with creditors and assistance with budgeting is essential. Once again, the Abbott government has refused to commit funding past 30 June. We need these social services on the ground, yet the government continues to pursue their extravagant paid parental leave scheme. (Time expired)