Vicious cuts threaten vital community services and centres

Protest outside NSW parliament house, Oct 23.

Feminists from various organisations and groups gathered outside NSW Parliament House on October 23 to protest the severe cuts the Barry O’Farrell government has proposed for several community organisations.

Some of the centres and services that face an uncertain future include the Liverpool Women’s Resource Centre, which provides information and support to disadvantaged and abused women, and the Margaret Jurd Learning Centre, a non-government school that caters for children with disabilities.

The proposed cuts were leaked and reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in August, prompting the Barry Cuts, We Bleed Campaign, which aims to gather information about the cuts and raise awareness about how they will affect the services and centres.

Vital resource centres and counselling services, such as Twenty10 — the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service — have not been guaranteed funding for the coming year and could face closure. Just over a month after the cuts were reported, the government announced it would spend $20 million on an alpha-numeric road signage system used by other states.

Sydney Feminists, the Socialist Alliance and UTS Women’s Collective supported the parliament protest.

It was organised by F-Collective, which put on a dramatic display of street theatre that included giant cardboard hearts, fake blood and pantomime acts that mocked community services minister Pru Goward and O’Farrell.

Protesters with megaphones denounced the cuts and drew the attention of the media. After a half-hour of slashing hearts and chanting, Shadow Minister for Community Services Linda Burney took the megaphone and gave a speech in which she promised to fight the cuts.

"These cuts are nothing short of mean, nothing short of short-sighted and nothing short of being economically irresponsible,” she said.

The Sydney Feminists visited the Liverpool Women’s Resource Centre (LWRC) four days before the protest to hear firsthand what the centre does and what would happen if it was defunded.

Sonya Smith said the centre provides resources and support for women who have slipped through the cracks, or cannot access mainstream services. Located in a disadvantaged area, the centre offers programs, support, groups, referral, drop-in counselling and advocacy. It is home to a Hindu/Urdu support group as well as Sisters for Sisters, an Aboriginal women’s group. It is the longest-running centre for Aboriginal women in NSW.

Women too afraid to go to a women’s refuge or similar service, sometimes because their abusive partner will not let them, have an excuse to go to the LWRC as they provide sewing and art classes.

This helps break down social isolation and provides women from many different backgrounds and experiences a safe environment to talk, listen and create. The centre also runs groups such as Drug and Alcohol Recovery, Self-Esteem, Overcoming Depression and Domestic Violence Support.

Smith said it has been a long battle trying to get clarity from the government about the cuts. In January this year, the LWRC, along with other centres and services, were asked to fill out a survey — which left out many important areas — for the Department of Community Services.

Their understanding was that the survey was part of a review process, set in motion by the Labor government in 2009, designed to work out how services could do better and how they could increase their core funding.

But in reality, the survey was used to inform the government which services should be defunded. Fourteen services are now at risk, and the wording of the leaked document seems to indicate that yet more services may be cut in the future.

The Coalition government has not responded to the protests or the questions being asked by these centres. Until the government comes clean on its plans, the campaign will continue.

[For more details visit barrycutswebleed.com.]

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