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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1580

Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (11:14): I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that:

(a) there is a significant, ongoing and growing need for emergency relief, financial counselling and related programs, to support the most vulnerable Australians;

(b) local organisations play a critical role in the delivery of these programs around Australia; and

(c) volunteers are a crucial and valued part of this network;

(2) condemns the Government for:

(a) cutting core social services to the most vulnerable Australians, while increasing demand for those services through other elements of their unfair budget; and

(b) the covert way in which funding decisions have been made and implemented; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) restore funding to social services; and

(b) provide clarity and funding certainty to affected housing, homelessness services, neighbourhood centres, advice bureaus and other community service providers around Australia.

The Springvale Benevolent Society have been serving the people of Springvale and surrounds for 53 years now. They are an essential, integral part of the social services network in my electorate. Through a team of long-term, hardworking volunteers, they deliver food vouchers, blankets and other essentials to the people in my community who are doing it the toughest. Around Christmas Eve last year, the Springvale Benevolent Society received some bad news: their entire budget of emergency relief had been cut.

The Springvale Benevolent Society is just one of a number of groups I will talk about today who are amongst those at the pointy end of a $270 million cut to front-line social services. Right around the country, the community sector is being ravaged by these cruel cuts. Last month, the member for Isaacs, Bruce and I held a forum to bring together these service providers and try to piece together what we could about the situation on the ground. What we know is that emergency relief, financial counselling, parenting programs, support for bushfire victims, housing and homelessness organisations and organisations that support people with disabilities have all had their funding slashed. These organisations have seen their funding cut and they serve literally the most vulnerable people in our country.

This is going to particularly hurt in my electorate of Hotham. I represent one of the most multicultural places in Victoria. Many, many families in the region I represent have no-one else to turn to. We have high numbers of recent refugees and recent migrants, who have limited support networks. We have large amounts of affordable housing and caravan parks. We have a lot of people in our community who are affected by a life of disability. The organisations that deliver emergency relief in this community are the last stop for these people when they have literally nowhere else to go.

Governing and budgets in particular are about priorities. In the last budget, the government decided to give tax relief to big miners and big polluters, while taxing the sick and increasing the burdens on those who can least afford to pay. In doing so, the government made a decision that it would expand the group of people who will ultimately be relying on these last-port-of-call services.

This decision to cut the funding going to the most vulnerable Australians, though, I have to say, is taking this terrible prioritisation to new heights. This is a funding cut that is directed to people who have been at the back of an unemployment queue for years. This funding cut is directed at the homeless. It is directed at Australians with mental illness. All of these people, believe it or not, in this wealthy and prosperous country of ours, do not have food in the cupboard at certain points in the month. These are the most vulnerable Australians.

There are other organisations that serve my electorate that have a specific ethnic focus, and they have had their funding cut. I want to refer to some of the work that these organisations do. One organisation is the Vietnamese Community in Australia. They deliver support specifically to Vietnamese families and they have a special focus on families with a person who has a disability. I am sure I do not have to explain the deep cultural elements of the particular type of challenge that these families face. It is appropriate that a Vietnamese organisation supports these families. What I hear from the organisations is that a lot of their work is about helping these families get connected into mainstream services that they would not know existed without these organisations with specific expertise in these ethnic communities.

One issue that should not go undiscussed is the ham-fisted way in which these funding cuts were administered. First, there was the notification on Christmas Eve. Second, there was no information or explanation of why these organisations that have served their communities for decades were having their funding cut, just a cold letter saying that funding had been refused. The letter, believe it or not, was not even addressed to individuals or individual organisations. Is this any way to treat organisations run by diligent volunteers who have given up so much?

There are lots of other providers in my electorate who are losing funding, but they have asked me not to name them today, because those that have been given a little bit of funding under the program, after seeing their funding savagely cut, have been told that, if they tell anyone about the funding amount that they have been given, that funding will be taken away. These are the types of tactics that we see again and again from this government. I have written to the Minister for Social Services to ask him how these arrangements are going to be transitioned and to ask him to restore this funding. I have not received a response, but these services will not give up the fight and neither will I.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): Is the motion seconded?