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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1584

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (11:30): Once again we have seen a member of a government that has cut $270 million from community services to some of the most vulnerable people in Australia stand up and make a speech that is actually all about us. There are thousands of people all around the country that depend on this emergency relief. Small organisations that have been delivering it and delivering it well for decades have had their funding cut, and the member for Dawson thinks it is about us—not the people it is hurting, not the government which is making the decisions, but the opposition. That is truly extraordinary. There is one government speaker on this motion, and he spent the whole time talking about us.

I am going to speak about the motion and about the issues. It is hard to know where to start—whether with the brutality and ignorance of the policy itself or whether with the incompetence in its delivery. But I am going to start with the brutality. This $270 million cut to community services delivered in the budget last May reduces the level of emergency services, the services to people who find themselves literally without a bus fare to get to Centrelink, without nappies or food or formula for their child, without money to pay the parking fee when they take their child to Westmead Children's Hospital. This is called emergency relief because it is. The government have ripped away funding to those services. At the same time, just to add to the brutality, they have done things in the budget that will make it more likely that people will need these services. They have announced that young people under the age of 30 will receive no financial support for up to six months every year if they find themselves unemployed—these are quite a few more people who are going to need emergency services. They have announced cuts of around $6,000 to a family with two kids on a salary of $60,000—these are a few more people who are going to need emergency services. They have announced reduced indexation, which will see pensioners up to $80 a week worse off—these are a few more people that are going to need emergency services. At the same time, they have cut funding to the services that these people will need.

On top of the brutality is the ignorance. When the government announced the cuts they also announced that they would be opening up the remaining funds to a competitive tender on a five-year basis, effectively opening the door to very large organisations, because it becomes viable on those sorts of terms. They introduced a tender process which is really beyond the capacity of the small volunteer organisations that have been running these services. And in flooded some 5½ thousand applications, which has effectively squeezed out the service providers that have the history and the local knowledge and that have been delivering these services to people with whom they have relationships and corporate memory for many, many decades. These organisations are not inefficient. The usual theory that bigger is cheaper is not true when you talk about these organisations. Holroyd Community Aid, for example, which has lost its funding, received $184,000 last year, with $6,000 going to the audit and the remainder going entirely to members of the community in food vouchers, nappies, medications et cetera. You cannot get more efficient than that.

The incompetence is also worth talking about, incompetence in the process itself. In October 2014 the government announced that they had too many applications and that they would not be ready to enter into funding agreements on 1 January, which was the proposed start date. So, in October 2014, they extended the funding agreements to 28 February 2015. Then, between 22 and 24 December 2014, tiny organisations that had closed for the Christmas break received emails saying their funding had been cut and that they would be closing down on 28 February. In my electorate of Parramatta, one of the casualties is Holroyd Community Aid, which has been operating for 48 years. They will close down at the end of February and early March. Then, on 30 January, the government announced further delays, because they still were not ready, and offered extensions to emergency relief to 31 March. Meanwhile, small organisations were trying to tell their customers where they should go when they closed down at the end of February or March, to find out that no-one knew who had got the funding. The secrecy is extraordinary. No-one knows who has got the funding, because if organisations who are getting the funding say they are, they have been told they will lose their funding. So the organisations that are closing down in just four weeks cannot even tell people where they are supposed to go. It is incompetence and brutality from this government. (Time expired)