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Thursday, 16 May 2002
Page: 2425

Ms GEORGE (12:47 PM) —On behalf of the workers in the community sector in my area and, very importantly, the broad range of people who depend on community services for their wellbeing, I take this opportunity to raise a matter of concern. As most members of this parliament would be aware, that community sector, together with the union that covers the workers, has been running a campaign for some months now to try and get the federal government to provide its fair share of the commitment to funding the long-awaited wage increases that were finally granted by the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission in November last year.

We know that the people who work in this sector are very dedicated and very concerned, and their wage levels have not properly and historically reflected the value of their work. My concern now is that a number of these organisations are stretched to the limit, and we are facing the prospect that not only are staff feeling very vulnerable but also a range of community services will have to close, unless the federal government provides its fair share of the salary increase that was properly awarded by the Industrial Relations Commission.

Let me give some examples of services in my area that will be affected. Southern Youth and Family Services runs six emergency accommodation services for the homeless, especially looking after young people in their youth refuges. In the last 12 months this service has looked after 672 young people. I am told by their chief executive officer that, unless the federal government makes its commitment under the SAAP program to its share of the funding that is required, one of those 24-hour services will have to close. Shellharbour Youth Activity Services, also in my electorate, has been living since November on surplus funds. These will be expended very shortly, putting that service in a position of potentially losing one position and one outreach service for young people—and they do a wonderful job with indigenous youth. The housing trust in my region and a number of disability residential service providers point to the same problems that they will experience or are contending with at the moment.

There is one service that is totally federally funded. The ones I have mentioned to date are jointly funded by state and federal governments. The state government has done the right thing; the federal government has not. But some of the services are totally dependent on federal funding—one of them being the Illawarra Legal Centre. It is the only legal centre in our region of the Illawarra. It is totally reliant on federal funds and, again, is facing the anxiety of paying the wage increases without the commensurate commitment from the federal government. That will mean a cut in services and positions not being filled at the Illawarra Legal Centre.

The demand for community services among disadvantaged people is rising. ACOSS last year reported a seven per cent increase in the number of people requiring services. Certainly in the Illawarra, the community sector and church and welfare agencies tell me that people are being turned away. The government's failure to provide a matching increase of funds to implement the award that was brought down in the New South Wales commission means that it is the homeless, the unemployed, the aged, young people and people with disabilities who will continue to suffer.

So, coming on top of the pretty mean-spirited attack which was made yesterday evening on some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our community, I am yet to receive any glimmer of hope that these small local organisations performing such a wonderful job in my community will be looked after. These organisations are stretched to the limit. I appeal once again to the federal government to do the right thing and make sure it puts in money to fund the much needed wage increases for which people in this sector have waited such a long time. If the government does not do that, then it must understand that a lot of valuable services will be cut and we will have a lot of disaffected community members.