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Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Page: 153

Ms OWENS (9:53 AM) —The New South Wales Working Women’s Centre provides an invaluable service to people in Sydney, including in my electorate of Parramatta. It provides legal advice to women in the workplace, particularly on their rights in the workplace. It has been providing this service for the last 11 years. Yet at this point, in the first week of June, DEWR has once again failed to assure its funding for the next financial year, which is 3½ weeks away.

The centre is once again in crisis, as it is at this time every year, due to the lack of advice on its funding position for the following year. Is it going to be receiving any funding? If so, how much? When will it be told? Should its staff look for other jobs? Should it plan to shut its doors, give notice on leases and plan the garage sale? Will its clients be left in an increasingly unfriendly work environment without its support? If the government finally does decide to fund the centre and finally tells it, will the government be even vaguely aware that a small group of people at this time of year every year risk their own financial security by hanging on and keeping the centre open without any idea of its future?

Even more importantly, given that the government is ripping away well-known and tested support structures for the most disadvantaged workers, the majority of which are women, will the government assist workers to deal with this changing environment by increasing the funding to the centre to a respectable level? Is the government even vaguely aware of, let alone concerned about, the position that our valuable community based infrastructure is placed in at this time every year when funding decisions are made this late? Is this lateness of decision a case of incompetence, a display of power and arrogance or just a general lack of care about an extremely important community organisation? Does the government even know if it will be giving any funding post-June, let alone the level of funding?

The centre has endured real reductions in funding levels over the last 11 years. Given that women are the most disadvantaged in the workplace, receiving lower salaries and being far more likely to be working in casual and unskilled positions, the advocacy role of the centre is essential and growing. Yet, while the demand for the service is growing, financial support is not. The initial allocation that established the centre in the 1993-94 budget was $297,062. It has dropped in real terms by 37 per cent, to around $240,000. Yet, since 2000 alone, the centre has received a 70 per cent increase in clients and expects that trend to continue with the new industrial relations reforms. Despite staff reductions in 1999, the service to clients is quite extraordinary. The centre operates a telephone advisory service that opens three days a week. Staffing is at a 3.1 full-time equivalents but with over 20 voluntary staff. (Time expired)