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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1587


Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (11:45): This government has taken many decisions that have been met with disbelief in the broader community. They have been decisions which have been argued strongly by both sides, and decisions where sometimes you can argue there is a case one way or the other. I have to say that of all the decisions this government has taken, the decisions that have been taken on community grants are the most indefensible, are some of the most cruel, and have had impacts on real people in electorates all over Australia. It is something that the government needs to think about.

It is easy to cut community grants. You do not have to get legislation through the Senate, you do not have to worry about having a regulation disallowed—you can do it with the stroke of a pen. This government have done exactly that, but they have done more—not only have they used the stroke of a pen; they have used subterfuge and confusion to camouflage the extent of the cuts and the nature of the cuts and how they are impacting on the community. We have heard from other speakers the nature of the process that has been followed, if you can call it a process. Applications were sought—applications which required onerous detail in the paperwork—and then there have been the various bureaucratic mechanisms deployed over the last six to 12 months to ensure the people do not know what is happening. We have a situation where the government has had to extend funding because their own processes were not working. We have had a situation where community groups have been asked not to say a word about what they had been told because other matters were still being resolved. They cannot even go out there and tell their story about the people they care for. Some groups have had the courage to come out, and frankly, because so many groups have been cut completely, the circumstances are such that they have nothing to lose. I will tell you who does have a lot to lose, and that is the people that they look after.

I commend the member for Hotham for putting this motion forward. I was involved in a community summit with her and with the member for Isaacs and the state member for Clarinda, and we heard from groups in our local areas about what is happening to them. As I said, some of those groups were not keen to talk because they were concerned about how that might be interpreted—that was the sort of word they had got back from government bodies with respect to what they could and could not say. I am going to identify a couple of them but I will particularly go to the overall view. These groups are overwhelmingly volunteer groups. They are people who put their time in to provide a service. They advocate for people and help them to deal with the problems they are facing—it is people involved in things like financial counselling, which can ensure that people do not get into the financial trouble that would require additional government assistance down the track. They are people involved in organisations like Dads in Distress, who help people going through severe domestic trauma to deal with their circumstances and to ensure that the situation does not end up in the need for police, incarceration or further financial deprivation. There are organisations that provide emergency relief to people who are really doing it hard—people who are refugees but who are unable to access formal assistance from government in any real sense. The local paper quotes one of the representatives of the Springvale Benevolent Society, who says that 'some of our clients will starve' as a result of the changes that have been made. These organisations provide services that are intrinsically important to supporting government. One says:

Centrelink refers to us. They're a Federal Government agency and they refer to us. But the Federal Government won't fund us.

It's an inhumane decision. No one will look after the families we look after. They're struggling. Some are disabled. Some are refugees. People will starve and it will be on their heads.

The society president, Joe Rechichi, has nearly 650 people on his books, including 500 children. He says:

I've lost some sleep. I can't even sleep at night. I know what it's like …

These changes are inhumane. These are cuts that will affect the most disadvantaged in society. It is interesting to note that, for a motion for which there would normally be an equal number of speakers from both sides, the government have not been able to get enough members up to defend their action. They ought to be ashamed.

Debate adjourned.