Public Services: Funding Cuts

Mr Wynne (Richmond) – I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the matter of public importance before the house, following on from my colleagues the members for Monbulk and Bellarine. I pick up one comment made by the Deputy Premier when he made a comparison between the job cuts being undertaken by the Queensland and New South Wales governments in some sort of pathetic attempt to justify the vicious job cuts by this government of 4200 public sector jobs. In my contribution I will indicate what this means to the lives of some ordinary Victorians who are going to be severely impacted by these cuts.

Firstly, in relation to the loss of 4200 public service jobs I have never seen such low morale in the Victorian public service as we have seen when we have been around and talked to people in the public service. Morale is at an all-time low. People are fearful in relation to their job security and fearful for the future. In the area in which I had the honour of being Minister for Housing, in effect there is no longer an Office of Housing because there has been a restructure of the Department of Human Services — a folly by the government. If I went into that department today and tried to find what used to be the Office of Housing, I would find that it no longer exists. All that corporate memory — all the extraordinary experience of so many dedicated senior public servants who devoted their lives to housing and supporting the poorest in our community — no longer exists in that entity. That is a very sad situation.

The cut to TAFE funding has already been amply canvassed by my colleagues, but what a vicious cut it is — a $290 million cut to the Victorian TAFE sector. In my own area we have two magnificent TAFE facilities — Kangan Institute of TAFE and Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE — which will in effect be looking at cutting 250 staff.

It is estimated there will be a $25 million cut to both Kangan and NMIT. Needless to say again, my colleagues have canvassed what is the impact of this in regional Victoria. This is a vicious cut, and we saw this when we were in Ballarat for the regional sitting of Parliament only last week.

This house has heard me speak previously about what it actually means for individuals. I remind the house of the extraordinary consequences of these cuts on programs like Auslan. The Auslan course at Kangan Institute of TAFE is the only program in this state which teaches people signing to support the deaf community. Deputy Speaker, you may recall that I spoke of a resident who came to see me devastated by the fact that she would be unable to complete her course here in Victoria. I spoke to her only 10 days ago, and then there was still no future for an Auslan course in Victoria. The government is scrambling around saying that maybe we can have some online program from Sydney or somewhere else, but as I stand here today those students who are halfway through their Auslan course will not be able to complete it in the state of Victoria. Shame on the minister and shame on the government. Shame on you and shame on your government. Don’t smile, Minister; don’t try to laugh this off.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member for Richmond, through the Chair.

Mr Hodgett — Through the Chair, you clown!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member for Kilsyth! The member for Richmond to continue, without assistance.

Mr WYNNE — I certainly don’t need assistance from that whacker over there.

Mr Burgess — What?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! I ask the member for Richmond not to invite interjections. The member for Hastings is out of his place and is disorderly.

Mr WYNNE — I said, ‘whacker’.

Mr R. Smith — Make him withdraw that. You are disgraceful!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! I advise all members that we have children in the gallery, and I ask that they respect the house.

Mr WYNNE — Those people will no longer be able to complete their Auslan course here in Melbourne, and that is a shameful thing.

It is a shameful indictment of this government, because surely there would be no more important action to take than to support a course for the deaf community in this state. I ask the government to reconsider this and to ensure that the Auslan course continues to be funded and that people can complete their training here in Victoria.

I want to turn briefly to this notion that there is no cut to front-line services in the vicious 4200 public service job cuts. Specifically I want to draw the attention of the house to a program that is relevant to my shadow portfolio responsibilities. Members may be aware that the social housing and advocacy support program (SHASP), which was funded by the previous government, actually provides support and advocacy to some of the most vulnerable people living in public housing. These are people who may have undergone extraordinary trauma in their lives, such as domestic violence, or may be suffering from profound mental illness and so forth.

This program was established to try to support such people with their tenancy. Many of these people have cycled through homelessness on multiple occasions, and the whole concept of this program was to ensure that with support these people were maintained in their tenancy. Supports were provided around them, and it was hoped they would get better and improve their life outcomes.

At a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee estimates hearing the Minister for Housing, Ms Lovell, not only snuck out a proposition that there would be a cut to this crucial front-line service but she did not even have the decency to inform the service providers prior to making the cut. This program will be cut by 24 per cent from $7.6 million at full funding to $5.8 million this year and there are further plans to cut it to $4.7 million in 2013-14. That is an effective cut of 40 per cent to a program that supports the most vulnerable in our community to maintain their tenancy. What sense is there in that?

In effect all of the commentary that has been provided by all of the service providers that facilitate the SHASP program is that inevitably these people will end up recycling again back through the homeless services. What sort of a social outcome can you expect when you cut such a crucial and fundamental service like the SHASP program?

Here is a brief commentary from a spokesperson for one of the major service providers, which is also one of the great service providers — that is, Wesley Central Mission. It said: It defies logic to cut this service – people struggling to maintain their public housing tenancies will be made homeless because of a lack of support. You’re going to save [money] here but six months from now you’ll be overwhelmed because the homeless crisis section is already overwhelmed.

This government promised there would be no cuts to front-line services. We saw this fiasco yesterday in question time, with the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security yesterday simply refusing to address the fact that there would be a cut of half of the staff of the marine research facility in Queenscliff. This government has to confront the reality that these sorts of cuts are impacting upon service delivery to the community. Whether you want to undertake and complete your Auslan course but cannot, whether you are a vulnerable public housing tenant who needs to be supported in your housing tenancy but is not or whether you are a TAFE student trying to pursue your course in regional Victoria but cannot, these are the sorts of impacts the cuts will have — and shame on the government for doing it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member’s time has expired.