Neighbourhood and Community Centres

(12.35pm 2 April 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

Today I acknowledge and commend the work of neighbourhood and community centres. There are about 300 centres across New South Wales and about 1,000 across Australia. They are independent organisations focused on a local area with a social justice framework that directs resources to people who do not have a voice or who have limited resources. They provide a wide range of health and welfare services such as emergency relief, family support, information and referral, and classes and courses.

These centres have a philosophy of community development and empowerment and a strong focus on building stronger communities, strengthening civil society and including marginalised groups and people. They provide a base for residents and local groups to learn about issues and to advocate for reform on issues that affect them. Neighbourhood and community centres are governed by local residents volunteering on committees and rely on large numbers of volunteers to provide services and run development projects to meet local needs. We depend on the contributions of these committed people who give their time and expertise to build stronger communities. Social researchers, and even the World Bank, find increasing evidence that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and sustainably. These centres are vital to building strong communities.

Inner-city centres do various things to meet local needs and I will provide some examples to demonstrate this diversity:

The centre at Surry Hills provides childcare and English classes for garment industry workers and runs a monthly market to help fund its services:

  • Walla Mulla in Woolloomooloo works with families and the local Aboriginal residents;
  • Echo in Bondi Junction runs neighbour aid programs and groups and classes, including for Russian speakers;
  • South Sydney Community Aid in Alexandria works with cultural groups, playgroups and computer access and provides tax assistance;
  • the Harris Centre in Ultimo provides a Chinese welfare service, playgroups and material aid; the Settlement in Chippendale works with the local Aboriginal community, particularly focusing on young people and after-school programs;
  • the Kings Cross centre focuses on isolated older people and those with a disability, provides information and referral, runs a community bus and conducts group excursions;
  • the Factory at Waterloo works with public housing tenants, runs after-school and vacation care for kids and has run community theatre, arts and mural projects;
  • the Newtown centre provides meeting space, immigration advice, shopping services, a boarding house support program and organises the annual Newtown Festival; and,
  • South East at Eastlakes provides childcare, fresh fruit and vegetable deliveries and respite care and has produced a cookbook.

Holdsworth Street Community Centre in Woollahra has been operating since the 1960s providing ageing, dementia, disability and carer support programs, family services and childcare and programs to reduce isolation and helps residents to make their community more supportive. I took my daughter to Holdsworth Community Centre playgroup when she was young and I know the value of these programs for families with kids. I am very conscious of the needs of older people in my electorate, many of whom live alone and have few family supports. Holdsworth works with young and old and those in between. It also provides home and community care programs to help people stay in their homes and communities rather than having to move into institutions when disability or frailty makes daily living tasks hard or impossible. Community transport and carer support groups also help.

I met with the Holdsworth board and heard about its vision for a strong inclusive community that encourages interaction across cultures and ages. The board and centre director have clear objectives and specific plans for developing the organisation and meeting emerging community needs. They were very aware of the increasing number of children in the area and are planning for that change. Their creative approach to food services will encourage isolated participants to come to a cafe where they can meet others and make new friends, as well as offering home-delivered meals. I was impressed with the Holdsworth centre's community space and offices following major building renovations to upgrade the facilities and improve access.

The Holdsworth board was very concerned about the low wages in the community support workforce, which is largely female. I have supported the call for women to be paid properly for this important work, which members of Parliament as well as local communities rely upon to help people in need. The Industrial Relations Court recently approved wage increases and it is vital that government funding bodies increase grants to cover those increased costs. Neighbourhood and community centres save the Government money that would have to be spent on institutional care and addressing crime and antisocial behaviour. I call on the New South Wales Government to provide adequate funding for community service organisations, which make such valuable contributions to the life of our community.