Whittlesea Community Connections budget cuts

 

This evening I rise to speak about the important work being done by an organisation in my electorate that is also active in the electorate of my great friend the member for McEwen. That is Whittlesea Community Connections. I would like to talk about the need for this organisation to retain an appropriate level of funding and the support it needs to continue doing the great work it does in providing services and, equally importantly, building community. While I have spoken about this organisation on several occasions in the House, I rise to speak about it now as the organisation is about to go into its annual general meeting and also because it is facing some particular challenges at the moment. I want to take this opportunity to place on the record my strong support for the work it does.

I will start by talking about Fahimah. This is just one example of the lives that have been positively affected by Whittlesea Community Connections. Fahimah is a permanent resident of Australia. She and her husband have two children. Her husband is physically and emotionally abusive towards her in front of their children. Recently, Fahimah's husband left her and took the children interstate. He retained her visa documentation. She visited Whittlesea Community Connections for information about family violence and to help get her children back. The settlement service referred her to the police and the legal service referred her to Victoria Legal Aid. The children were returned. There are some other matters that are ongoing. The situation has been very distressing. She is awaiting court hearings to determine custody and other issues having received the support that has enabled her to navigate a system that is foreign to her and complex. This is just one story of many across settlement services, casework, legal services and other client services that Whittlesea Community Connections provide. All of them are important. Many of these stories are testament to the importance of an organisation that does not merely provide high-quality services to people in need but is firmly anchored in community.

Over 42 years Whittlesea Community Connections have met the changing needs of residents of the city of Whittlesea. They have identified and responded to service gaps to build resilience. WCC provide community legal services, emergency relief services—sadly, much in demand at the moment—settlement programs, community transport services and more. They have been developed in and by the Whittlesea community and therefore have a particular ability to close service gaps and promptly respond to emerging needs.

This is a very significant point. The role of smaller focused providers is too often overlooked and left in the shadow of larger charities and service providers. This week will see White Ribbon Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of well-funded community delivered and legal services. As well, women's groups and support services are invaluable in helping to break the cycle of abuse as community support and information hubs.

Whittlesea Community Connections assists seven people a week with family violence issues. It has faced a significant cut to women's services, which means these services will disappear and will not be picked up by other providers. As has been discussed in this House today, the links between such services, gender equality and family violence are all too clear. In areas where women are isolated there is an increased likelihood of these things being significant, as is the case in many of the growth areas that I represent and which are represented by the member for McEwen. Providing vital services in disadvantaged areas that face challenges is important, but equally important is having these services delivered on the ground by the community for community. The funding cuts that Whittlesea Community Connections is facing mean significant holes in the budget. Hundreds of volunteers have racked up thousands of hours, but we cannot rely on them digging deeper to provide these services.

When recognising the exciting possibilities for growth in the community and some of the new challenges, such as that the city of Whittlesea will be welcoming many Syrian refugees in the near future, we also must recognise that there is more complex work to be done. In recognising the quality of work that Whittlesea Community Connections has done, we cannot be blind to the realities that these changes mean for support. So I acknowledge the work that has been done by: Jemal Ahmet, the CEO; Maureen Corrigan, the president; and all the staff and volunteers. Many staff and volunteers were previously clients of the service, which is a real testament to the resilience that has been built. I stand here also acknowledging that more needs to be done on the ground to provide this organisation with the support to keep doing the work that has been done—not only to provide services for people who need support but to provide the glue that makes strong, successful, growing communities in particular. That is something that the people of Whittlesea have been able to rely on for 42 years. Without intervention, I fear they may not get the same service that they deserve and often desperately need.


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