Mar 1, 2017

Protect Funding of Local Community Organisations Speech – 1 March 2017

I rise tonight to discuss threats to the work of essential community organisations in my electorate such as the Casey Cardinia Community Legal Service, the Peninsula Community Legal Centre, the Cranbourne Information & Support Service and the Casey North Community Information & Support Service. They provide indispensable support and assistance to local residents.

In the rapidly growing outer suburbs of Holt in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne there is an ongoing need for services provided by these local community organisations. In Holt, we have a constant challenge, with new housing estates being built. The Cranbourne East and Clyde area is the fastest growing region in Australia. However, social infrastructure often is not keeping up with this explosive population growth. So, at a time when local community organisations in Holt are crying out for additional support to deal with the growing demand for their services, I am incredibly disturbed to hear that the Turnbull government is actively threatening cuts to the funding of these organisations.

On 1 July 2017—in just three months—the Casey Cardinia Community Legal Service, led by Vera Hardiman, and the Peninsula Community Legal Centre, led by CEO Jackie Galloway, will be forced to turn away local residents due to the funding cuts inflicted by the Turnbull government. The Casey Cardinia Community Legal Service and the Peninsula Community Legal Centre help thousands of local residents in need of free legal advice and assistance. They are on the frontline in the battle against domestic violence and assist people with problems as diverse as Centrelink debt, CityLink fines, tenancy disputes and employment issues.

The Casey Cardinia Community Legal Service and its dedicated staff and volunteers have been assisting and supporting our local community for 40 years through its two offices in Dandenong and Narre Warren. The Peninsula Community Legal Centre has been working in the local community since 1977, particularly through its local office in Cranbourne. However, it is reported that both legal centres are now set to lose 30 per cent of their funding, which would seriously jeopardise their ability to operate. When in government, Labor delivered an extra $400,000 to the Casey Cardinia Community Legal Service over four years. Now, this government is taking the funding away at a time when there is growing need for the services provided by both legal centres. The Casey Cardinia Community Legal Service last year provided 15,000 forms of legal advice, 2,000 ongoing cases, 900 Family Court matters, 100 other court matters and 40 community talks and presentations. If anything, these centres need additional funding not less.

At the same time that our local community legal centres are about to suffer funding cuts, the Cranbourne Information & Support Service and the Casey North Community Information & Support Service are being asked by the Department of Social Services to respond to a discussion paper on the future redesign of the Financial Wellbeing and Capability activity funding, which they believe could lead to more cuts to their funding in 2018.

The Australian government provides about $100 million each year under the Financial Wellbeing and Capability activity to fund services like the Cranbourne Information & Support Service and the Casey North Information & Support Service so that they can provide much-needed advice and support to alleviate financial stress and hardship and improve life outcomes for people in our region. Under the plans to redesign the Financial Wellbeing and Capability activity funding, Leanne Petrides, for example, from the Cranbourne Information & Support Service, is concerned about how the centre will be able to continue to provide an effective and dignified service to extremely vulnerable people who live under intense financial hardship under the proposed new conditions or funding model. Leanne Petrides has stated that under these new conditions organisations are being asked how they will work to maximise people’s income and decrease their expenditure. However, for example, when someone is on Newstart and paying 80 per cent of their income on rent, this is difficult to achieve.

Leanne is concerned that when the local workforce is becoming increasingly casualised and families are suffering cuts to payments it does not take much for a family in our region to need financial support. If someone loses a part of their income and can no longer pay for their car registration or keep up with paying bills or rates, they are forced to rely on local services like Cranbourne for financial support. Over the last year the Cranbourne Information & Support Service has provided over 15,000 services or occasions to 10,000 households. Emergency relief was the most utilised service, with over 6,400 requests for assistance, with housing, transport and cost of living expenses driving most requests for support.

While the Department of Social Services has stated that the overhaul of funding does not mean an overall nationwide cut to funding, it also does not mean that individual local organisations like those in my electorate of Holt will not be receiving a funding cut in 2018. All of these services provide a much-needed support for the community. They need to be supported, not to have their funding cut. I urge the government to reconsider these funding cuts.

 

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