Grievance Debate – Stronger Communities

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

Mr PITT: As they say: ‘Grievances? Well, I’ve got a few!’ It’s good to have this opportunity. My first grievance is this: the Albanese government has stopped funding the Stronger Communities Program. We have heard this program described in various ways as ‘rorts’, as ‘focused on particular electorates’, as ‘colour-coded spreadsheets’. I want to run through some of the programs that have received support, and the outrageous slurs that have been placed against them.

In my electorate I have a community panel of five who review all of the applications and then make recommendations to me about those that we move on with—on occasions there are some that we change, but it’s rare—so the idea that these people are rorting the system is just incredible. It has been an extremely successful program, and here’s why. We funded 92 projects through the first seven rounds of the Stronger Communities Program. You need to keep in mind that in a lot of cases the only way they have the capability to raise funds is basically by selling raffle tickets to the same people over and over and over and over through their volunteers at local hotels and businesses, or by arranging sausage sizzles or lamington drives. You have to sell a lot of lamingtons to raise $20,000, Madam Deputy Speaker Ananda-Rajah, as you well know. This time around we’ve had 18 projects come through in round 8. That’s what is being recommended. They are still being assessed.

On 27 March 2023, I wrote to Minister Catherine King to ask if the program would continue and if funding would increase. Round 8 of the Stronger Communities Program was funded by the coalition. That has been honoured by the Labor government, and I’m very thankful for that. Round 8 in my electorate saw the highest-ever number of expressions of interest, and the largest amount of funding that we’ve ever received under that program. We received 100 expressions of interest—100—seeking $1,436,108 in funding with an allocation of just 150,000. That says to me that they are desperate for help. This is a program that has been well-managed and delivered some incredible resources through volunteer organisations in particular. It is always oversubscribed—always.

I have asked the minister if there are plans to increase the funding for the Stronger Communities Program. I received a response on 11 April 2023. It said, ‘I’m pleased to hear you’ve had a strong community response for the Strong Communities Program and appreciate the positive impact these small capital grants can have for the local community.’ Tick. ‘Decisions on the Stronger Communities Program are a future matter for Australian government consideration,’ so that’s a no. That is a no; it won’t be continued. There is no funding in the additional rounds; there’s nothing in the budget. I think that is an absolute shame.

If we look at just some of the things that have been funded in my electorate, the idea that these can be even considered as rorts is outrageous. Absolutely outrageous. Outside broadcast equipment for Fraser Coast Community Radio—I mean, seriously? A new kitchen at C&K Oaks Beach Community Kindergarten providing additional services for children. Air conditioning at the Woodgate Community Hall. Madam Deputy Speaker, you might not have been to Woodgate. It’s a beachside community. It’s relatively small. There are not a lot of services, and the community centre is the heart of that community. They run an incredible art display every single year. They run a very, very strongly supported fundraising event for the Childers and Isis Orchid Society every single year. There is the Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre Community Cafe, which is used to provide training for those people looking for employment, to provide skills. There is a wheelchair-accessible bus for the Endeavour Foundation in Bundaberg. There are little libraries for Childers, built by the men’s shed. There is the installation of a Liberty Swing at Hervey Bay Special School. I have an extensive list; that’s not all of them. The idea that these are being provided in some sort of political way for political ends is just wrong. It is absolutely wrong. Everyone who is involved in these community organisations gets access to these.

There is a trailer for the Bundaberg Rowing Club, a club that has been around for a very long time, to transport boats to competitions. There are new scoreboards for the Woodgate Bowls Club. There are new change rooms and amenities at Diggers Football Club. Guess why: because they have more female players and they need more facilities. This helps them get them.

There is a kitchen upgrade at the Elouera Girl Guides campsite at Mon Repos. Deputy Speaker, you might not be aware that Mon Repos is one of the very rare places in the world where the loggerhead turtle nests each year. It is very well patronised by tourists from around the country and, in fact, around the world. The Girl Guides campsite just up the road has been there for many, many years.

There are coldroom condensers for Fraser Coast Meals on Wheels, a service that is providing food, particularly for our seniors who are desperate for support. There is a barbecue trailer for the Hervey Bay Amateur Fishing Club so that they can raise more money more successfully to help out the amateur fishing club at Hervey Bay.

There is an armoured personnel carrier on display at the Toogoom RSL. This is a Vietnam-era APC at a local organisation which is predominantly made up of veterans from Vietnam. In fact, I went there for the Delta Company reunion a number of years ago. We are coming up, of course, to Vietnam Veterans Day, and I was very pleased to see those who remain getting together with their mates from the Battle of Long Tan, including Harry Smith and the now-passed Buddy Lea, who were residents of Hervey Bay for quite some time.

There are freezers for We Care 2 in Hervey Bay to help provide low-cost groceries. What a rort that sounds like! There are amenities blocks at the Hervey Bay Woodcrafts Club. There is a shade sail for Burrum & Districts Men’s Shed. There are marquees for Woodgate Community Events.

There is a tamping machine for the Australian Sugar Cane Railway at the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. Guess what: they take kids for rides on an old sugarcane railway tram. There are not that many people in this building anymore who actually know what railway work looks like or how it gets done, but it was always done mostly by hand, with picks and shovels, and I have to say that the volunteers at the Australian Sugar Cane Railway at the botanic gardens are very experienced. I’m not sure they’d appreciate having to slug those around all day, so it’s been very warmly welcomed.

There are canteen upgrades at Bundaberg Touch and the Bundaberg Race Club. There are night vision goggles for the RACQ LifeFlight at Bundaberg. That sounds like a pretty important project to me, because, when you live in the regions and you have an incident a long way from anywhere, you are calling for the RFDS and for the LifeFlight helicopter out of Bundaberg.

There is a community bus for Woodgate residents. I want to thank Deputy Mayor Bill Trevor, who handed out some community support certificates for the volunteers down there in National Volunteer Week. I want to give a shout-out to Barb Marshall of the Woodgate community bus organisation. Barb is the most senior and experienced volunteer at 96 years old, still helping, still volunteering and still working. It’s a very well-patronised support for those individuals at the Woodgate community.

There is Angels Second 2 None op shop. There is the Olympic trap layout and bunker for the Bundaberg Clay Target Club. That sounds as if it could be helpful in coming years. There is a driveway and courtyard upgrade at Bundaberg Players, the local amateur theatre. There is air conditioning at the children’s cultural centre for the local karate club. There are fridges, freezers and washing machines for regional housing accommodation. There are kitchen upgrades for the Bundaberg Small Bore Rifle Club, Burrum Heads Bowls Club, Burgowan Bowling Club and Fraser Coast Artslink. There are a mower and a shed for Tennis Bundaberg and a patrol trailer upgrade for the Hervey Bay Surf Life Saving Club. These are all predominantly volunteer organisations who are embedded in our local community and who look forward to the ability to access these grants because they help them with their fundraising and deliver much-needed support for them.

In the last minute and a half I have remaining, I want to acknowledge Flora Barwick of Childers. Flora passed away in recent weeks. She was an absolute bastion of the community, and she was renowned for the work that she did with local schools and local kids. She was very well known, and the memorial service for her was held in recent weeks. Her daughters, Kate and Prudence, coordinated a lovely event in honour of their mother. Steve Hoffman from Childers attended as did the local state MP Stephen Bennett and Deb Leis, one of my former senior advisers. Flora was one of those individuals that sucked you into her vortex. She was always happy, always willing to lend a hand and was very well known in Apple Tree Creek and the Childers community.

She is a great loss for her family, particularly for her two daughters. She is a great loss for our party. She was a strong member for decades. In fact, I was told at the outset, when I won preselection, to forget everyone else, that if you haven’t got Flora Barwick onside you’ve got no chance. I certainly appreciated the advice. Flora always helped out. She was one of those hardworking regional people who just wanted to help her community.

She is a great loss, locally, for the Liberal-National Party and was a dedicated long-term servant of the Nationals before they merged in Queensland. Vale, Flora Barwick. You will be deeply missed in the local community, particularly by all of those kids you used to help.

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