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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1729


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (21:20): The federal Liberal government's cruel and chaotic cuts to community service funding have hurt community organisations across the country and reduced the help they can provide to the most vulnerable Australians and certainly older Australians. There are about 350 community organisations in Blair. The federal Liberal government has unleashed enormous uncertainty across the community sector with its $270 million cut to the Department of Social Services discretionary grants program since the last budget. There have been further cuts to the sector, particularly in the Allowances, Concessions and Services for Seniors Program, often refer to as Broadband for Seniors, which is a program providing about 2,000 Broadband for Seniors kiosks across Australia where seniors can have free access to computers, training and the internet.

The government compounded this apprehension across the sector with its chaotic restructuring of the grants program. The government's bungling has caused significant delays in the processing of applications and in advising applicants of outcomes. Just before Christmas, in an act that can only be described as worthy of the Christmas Grinch, the federal Liberal government cut funding to many organisations around the country. I want to talk tonight about two in my electorate in relation to the uncertainty created, the problems in relation to continuation of funding and the challenges that these organisations currently have.

The new social services minister was forced to provide bridging funding to organisations while the government scurried to sort out its mismanagement—the third of such bridging funding that was required. The government's grants process has been shambolic, and I welcome the forthcoming Senate inquiry into this process and the impact it has had on the community sector. What is clear now, though, is that the federal Liberal government has diminished the capacity for a whole range of community organisations to deliver emergency relief, financial counselling, volunteering and settlement services in their communities.

Care and Concern is a charity based in the town of Esk in the Brisbane Valley—often now referred to as the Somerset region. It provides practical, often short-term support to people in need in the Somerset region. The assistance that Care and Concern provides is personal and discreet. It helps those at their lowest ebb. It gives families a hand to get back on their feet after natural and personal disasters. It does so without fanfare.

The organisation traces its origins to the two Catholic sisters who began St Vincent de Paul support in Esk, over thirty years ago. Some years later, the sisters secured Commonwealth emergency relief funding to begin Care and Concern. When the sisters retired after their long service to the community, a team of local volunteers took over the organisation. It remains separately managed and audited.

I have been deeply appreciative of the work of Care and Concern for many years, even before I was the federal member for the area. I witnessed Care and Concern's exceptional effort to assist residents who were devastated by the 2011 and 2013 floods.

Mr Reg Mills is the secretary-treasurer of Care and Concern. He told me his organisation—run by volunteers —relies on the annual Commonwealth emergency relief funding it receives. Last year the government cut the funding. Mr Mills told me that most grants are project oriented and do not fit with providing short-term support to a person with no cash whose car has broken down in Esk, or a woman whose domestic circumstances have deteriorated. The reality is that the Abbott government's cuts will force a significant reduction in the services Care and Concern can provide. I call on the government to reverse this decision. I wrote to the minister last week, asking him to reinstate the funding.

The second organisation I will mention here is SeniorNet, based in Ipswich and operating the Broadband for Seniors kiosk at the University of Southern Queensland's Ipswich campus in my electorate. When we were in government, the Labor government established close to 2,000 Broadband for Seniors kiosks. Broadband for Seniors helps seniors get better access to online services. SeniorNet Ipswich has performed admirably. I want to commend President Ken Curwen, Vice-President Gordon Timbs, Jenny Greaves, Errol Elliott, Colleen Freeman and many others.

However, like so many Broadband for Seniors organisations, their grant is now in limbo. They have now received their second transitional extension and their funding runs out at the end of April. The government mentioned this to them a number of times, and they have been in touch with the government. The government has left organisations like SeniorNet in the lurch.

Worryingly, Broadband for Seniors may be another program tangled up in the government's bungled restructure of the Department of Social Services and its many programs. I call on the government to sort this mess out, to give certainty to these two wonderful organisations, Care and Concern and SeniorNet in Ipswich. They are two wonderful organisations that need their support.