This evening I rise to acknowledge the impact of the global financial crisis on the community sector and the important role that these organisations are playing in supporting the community through this crisis. At times of economic downturn these organisations face even greater demands on their services and often with fewer resources.
Last week, I had the good fortune to talk to a range of organisations supporting people and communities affected by the crisis. I would like to thank Parliamentary Secretary Senator Ursula Stephens for coming to Western Australia to talk to these organisations and, indeed, the Prime Minister, who also visited WA and the Western Australian Council of Social Services. These organisations spoke to the parliamentary secretary, the Prime Minister and me about how much more difficult it is in the current economic climate to reach their goals. They have to work much harder now for every dollar raised and they are often simply not able to raise as much money as they could prior to the downturn. They are receiving less money in corporate and individual donations, and fewer people are attending fundraising events. The Barnett Liberal state government has also slashed community grant funding. All of this will take its toll on front line community services supporting those in need.
Demand for services is growing, particularly as many Australians face the difficulties that come with a reduction in hours or the loss of employment. The loss of employment brings with it not only financial difficulties but also feelings of disempowerment, which can result in significant psychological distress.
However, I am pleased to note that the Rudd government’s stimulus package takes account of the pressure on the community sector caused by the downturn. The Jobs Fund has a significant component designed to support the third sector in its vital work of helping people through this crisis. One component of this is the $11 million that is being provided through the temporary financial assistance grants program under the Getting Communities Working stream of the Jobs Fund. This fund is being used to support the important work of Western Australian community organisations and charities. They are getting $1.3 million from this fund. The organisations accessing this funding represent diverse sectors of the WA NGO sector servicing diverse parts of the Western Australian community sector.
I had the opportunity last week to talk to the Western Australian Association for the Blind, who told me how these funds would be used to support four positions within the association that will help others to gain and maintain employment in the wider community. One of the exciting ways the association does this is through adapting everyday software for use by people who are vision impaired. You can see that such small investments can do much to help build and support employment.
Youth Focus, another organisation, are using their funds to support their youth counselling service. Youth Focus provides this vital service to Western Australians with mental health issues, including those suffering from depression and who are at risk of self harm. Youth Focus, to their credit—they work incredibly hard to achieve this—get 90 per cent of their funding from non-government sources, but it is money that has been harder to find since the downturn. The funding for Youth Focus enables them to maintain these important services—services that are needed now more than ever as youth unemployment rates have risen making it harder for young people to find their way in the adult world. Support for these services is part of the Rudd government’s commitment to ensuring that a new generation of Australians is not locked out of a productive and rewarding place in our society because of an economic downturn over which they have no control.
Another organisation of note that is doing fantastic work is SIDS and Kids. This organisation supports bereaved parents and has felt the pinch of the recession. It was looking at having to reduce counselling hours as a result of reduced donations. Thankfully, the Jobs Fund is providing this organisation with some much-needed support.
The Western Australian Council of Social Services has also received funding for two great programs. The first is the Climate Change Readiness for Community Services project. One of the things we talk about a lot in this chamber is energy prices. What many people do not know is that Western Australia has experienced the biggest spike in energy costs in the last year—unprecedented—after energy prices were held artificially low for a great many years. There was a 15 to 20 per cent increase just this year, and there is a lot more to come. The Office of Energy has recommended a 52 per cent increase to make energy prices in WA cost-reflective. That is even before you introduce the CPRS. With price increases like these you can see how vitally important it is to have a skilled energy audit workforce in Western Australia. These price increases are hitting not only households and business but also community organisations that have very limited means. So this innovative project is going to recruit, train and employ greenhouse auditors, whose services are going to be available free of charge to community organisations. This is going to enable these organisations to improve their energy efficiency, save money and reduce their carbon footprint. It is expected that this project will support 48 jobs and more than 700 audits, and management plans will be delivered.
As part of this project WACOSS is also funding up to 20 retrofits for community organisations. So the economics benefits will include the development of robust, tested and affordable TAFE-level energy manager training plus the immediate injection of skilled energy managers into our workforce in Western Australia. This fantastic project is very much in line with the Labor government’s focus on building the skills of the future while stimulating the economy and creating the jobs of today. These are exactly the kinds of skills that Australia is going to need to take advantage of the economic recovery, including the skills that we need to meet the challenges of a carbon constrained future, particularly in a state like Western Australia, where we have such a significant spike in energy prices happening. This project builds on the fantastic work that has already been done by the Cool Communities program and Environment House, an organisation of which I am a great friend. They are providing fantastic advice to low-income households to help them reduce their power bills.
There is another great program that the Rudd government is funding, and it was great to be able to talk to this organisation: the Jobseeker2Communities project, supported by WACOSS. This project is about harnessing the skills of retrenched workers. It is about pooling their skills in management, human resources, information technology, quality assurance, administration, grant tender writing and marketing. This project is going to support jobs for up to 80 people, enabling workers to maintain their skills while injecting their business nous into the community sector.
These are but a few of the projects that are being rolled out as part of the Jobs Fund, investing not only in hard infrastructure but, importantly, in our social infrastructure—something that is absolutely vital when many Australians are doing it tough because of the economic downturn. The loss of a job, or even a reduction in hours, meaning the household budget cannot meet its outgoings, is a devastating blow. Being unable to pay your rent or mortgage and other bills is very distressing. The Rudd government’s stimulus is vital to supporting jobs, but it is also vital to helping the community sector help people through these very difficult times.