The Canberra Goulburn council of the St Vincent de Paul Society has been blindsided by a massive drop in Federal emergency funding.
$335,000 of funding for crisis assistance on food, rent and electricity across the region – comprising the ACT and most of southeastern NSW as far west as Lake Cargelligo – will be slashed by 25 per cent from 2020.
Warwick Fulton, president of the Canberra Goulburn Vinnies Council, said the defunding had come as a major shock to the organisation, which is fully compliant with all funding requirements. “It came completely out of the blue and our CEO thought there must be a mistake,” he said.
“We have been doing this for 20 years and never had a problem before, so we asked what had gone wrong. But all we’ve received from Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Families and Social Services is a response saying there’s no mistake and the cuts will go ahead. No reasons or explanations were given.” The charity is now seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister for clarification.
The cuts come on the back of a year in which Vinnies has already reached deep into its pockets and those of its donors to support Tathra bushfire victims and provide drought relief to rural areas in crisis. While the ACT government provides some additional emergency funding, the NSW government only donates electricity vouchers, which Mr Fulton says are useful but limited.
This is likely to mean that the cuts will be felt most severely in rural and regional areas. Mr Fulton said that the funding is generally used for people in desperate straits who cannot pay their rent or power bills. About 60 per cent will also need food for their families.
“This is not optional support, it’s key work and if we can’t get the decision reversed, the only option is to look at cutting other support services. It’s a real Hobson’s choice,” Mr Fulton said. The charity is also concerned that the new arrangement could be embedded in future funding contracts if not overturned.
St Vincent de Paul has noted a significant rise in demand for emergency assistance in recent years, which they believe is related to the Newstart allowance. At $272.90 per week, the charity says that it’s increasingly difficult to make ends meet in Canberra where the median house rental sits at $540, and little better in rural and regional areas.
A significant proportion of the charity’s funding comes from donations and shop sales, but Mr Fulton said that a difficult year made Vinnies loathe to turn to donors for further support. He added that the Tathra bushfire appeal and drought appeal had exhausted donors and that giving for the annual Christmas appeal is down around 30 per cent this year as a result.
“The whole thing seems quite chaotic,” Mr Fulton says. “If there are sound reasons for cutting our funds, then tell us and we’ll try to fix it. We’re not asking people to put their hands in their pockets. Instead, we would appreciate them lobbying their local politicians.”
Within government ranks, the rural and regional parts of the Canberra Goulburn branch’s footprint are largely represented by the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack and energy minister Angus Taylor, while the coastal and Monaro regions are represented by Labor MP Mike Kelly.
“I think we’ve got to go and hit the government pretty hard and that’s what we’d doing,” he said.