Local organisations make our community stronger

By Julie Owens

18 May 2021

Last week was packed with Budget announcements from the Morrison Government.

The Prime Minister told us his Government had set Australia on the path to recovery and that new measures in the Budget would see this continue.

It’s true that measures like JobKeeper, and top up payments for people on unemployment benefits like JobSeeker – both of which Labor called for at the beginning of the pandemic – made a big difference during the darkest days of lockdown.

But credit must also go to our community sector, which did much of the heavy lifting, especially for groups like temporary visa holders and international students, who were completely left out of the Government’s response.

A 2020 ACOSS survey of community sector workers found 61% had seen increased demand for services after COVID restrictions were introduced in March of that year. More than half reported more people seeking help – rising to 86% for migrant and multicultural services.

At the same time, 36% reported that they were worse off financially due to falling donations and loss of other types of income.

Many of the local community organisations I talk to are run by a small number of committed volunteers, who often contribute both money and time to provide essential services to our community.

A small amount of money can make a huge difference to these organisations – funding things like technology upgrades, new equipment and fuel vouchers to help volunteers travel for important community work.

So one of the most important things I can do as the Federal Member for Parramatta is make sure our local community and volunteer organisations are well informed about grants and other funding opportunities.

There are lots of different sources of information out there – some more reliable than others – but searching for grants takes time that busy, often overstretched volunteer groups simply don’t have.

For the past 17 years I’ve been sending out a monthly grants bulletin to make it easier for locals to find the right grants – like the Powering Communities Program, which helps community organisations fund projects that can improve their energy efficiency practices and lower their energy bills.

You can subscribe to my Grants Bulletin and find more information about the Powering Communities Program for organisations in the Parramatta electorate by scanning the QR code above.

Of course, finding grants is just the first step. To get funding you need to know which grants to apply for, and how to write a successful application.

I’ll be hosting a grants forum on Monday 12 July to explain the ins and outs of the application process and how organisations can maximise their chances for success – click here to register now to attend in person or on Zoom.

If your organisation needs funding but you’re unsure how to get it, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office. Thank you for the work that you do to make our community stronger. I hope I can help you take it further.

It’s un-Australian to leave citizens stranded

By Julie Owens

11 May 2021

India is in the grip of one of the worst humanitarian crises of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At time of writing there are more than 20 million confirmed cases and more than 220,000 people have died. The second wave has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system, which is facing a critical shortage of medical oxygen.

Last week Scott Morrison abandoned the almost 10,000 Australians who have been caught in this crisis when he made it unlawful for them to return to Australia.

This unprecedented decision means that an Australian citizen who attempts to return from India faces heavy fines and up to five years in prison.

There has been an enormous outcry in Australia and around the world at this decision, which the Prime Minister justified on the grounds that it would ensure “our quarantine system can remain strong.”

And there’s the rub. Despite the fact that Australia’s borders are the responsibility of the Federal Government, Scott Morrison has been AWOL on quarantine since the beginning of the pandemic.

His failure to deliver on quarantine has left too many Australians – 35,000 at last count - stranded overseas for far too long.

Now, instead of coming up with a plan to help them all get to safety, the Morrison Government has totally abandoned nearly a third of these Australians in an escalating crisis.

I’ve started a petition calling on the Government to:

  1. Cancel the ban on and penalties for Australians returning from India.
  2. Ensure travel restrictions are based on health advice and time-limited.
  3. Establish safe, national quarantine to ensure the safety of Australians at home and overseas.
  4. Take immediate action to help stranded Australians in India and around the world to return to safety.

You can add your voice to the call by signing the petition and sharing it with your friends and family.

Scott Morrison has already walked back threats of jail time and stressed that repatriation flights will resume on 15 May.

But it’s long been clear that the Morrison Government needs to set up national quarantine to ensure the safety of all Australians, both at home and overseas.

It’s also clear that the Australian Government should be doing everything it possibly can to help Australians come home – like ensuring sufficient flights, including additional repatriation flights; looking at options to vaccinate Australians left behind in the high-risk situation in India; and providing extra financial support to those most vulnerable.

Anything less is unacceptable – and un-Australian.

Locals fighting to make Parramatta a better place to live

By Julie Owens

04 May 2021

One of the best parts of my job is seeing the fantastic work that people are doing to make out community stronger, and to make Parramatta a better place to live.

Save Willow Grove

I’m sure most of you are aware of the long running fight to Save Willow Grove.

The NSW Government plans to demolish the 1880s Italianate villa, the only one of its kind in Parramatta, to make way for the new Powerhouse Museum.

The grassroots campaign to save this valuable heritage site and build a world class museum elsewhere in Parramatta has won overwhelming community support, with more than 1,200 people and organisations making submissions objecting to the Government’s plan to demolish the building.

It’s also won support from the CFMEU, which has placed a Green Ban on Willow Grove and moved its annual May Day march to Parramatta this year. Past Green Bans saved The Rocks, Centennial Park and a local bushland site which is now the Central Gardens Nature Reserve Merrylands.

In response, the NSW Government has agreed to ‘move’ Willow Grove to an unspecified site. The reality is that heritage buildings like Willow Grove can’t be moved, and the fight to save it continues. You can find out more about how you can support the campaign on their Facebook page.

Westmead Push for Palliative Care

Another campaign you may have read about in the pages of the Parra News is the Westmead Push for Palliative Care.

Palliative care aims to give people with an advanced disease and little or no prospect of survival quality of life at the end of their lives. It’s provided by specialists who are experts in pain management and compassionate and spiritual support.

Despite being one of the biggest hospital precincts in Australia, Westmead Hospital has not had a dedicated palliative care ward for many years.

This means that locals are not receiving specialised care at the end of their lives, and are forced to choose between palliative care at home, which is not an option for people with complex medical conditions; in a ward that is focused on providing care to recovering patients; or in a different hospital with doctors unfamiliar with their medical history.

I think our community deserves much better. If you agree, search ‘Westmead Push for Palliative Care’ on Facebook to find out how you can help.

Save our Local Buses

The NSW Government recently scrapped a range of local bus services without consulting the community, including the M52 express service to the City. Other local services including the 525 to Strathfield have been cut in half.

On top of this, the NSW Government is pushing ahead with plans to privatise all of Sydney’s remaining public bus services – despite reports from the NSW Auditor General and Transport NSW showing that privatisation of bus services in Sydney’s inner west and Newcastle has led to slower, less reliable services and fewer bus stops.

Local activists have started a petition to Save our Public Buses and they need more signatures to trigger a debate about these changes in the NSW Parliament. If you’re concerned about how these changes will affect you and your family, you can add your name to the petition here.

Honour fallen Anzacs by supporting our veterans

By Julie Owens

27 April 2021

Anzac Day in 2020 was very different for all of us.

The ceremonies and marches were cancelled, but people in Parramatta still found ways to pay our respects under COVID restrictions.

I joined people around Australia reflecting on the sacrifices made by our veterans and those who continue to serve by holding my own dawn service on my balcony as part of Light up the Dawn.

While we lit candles in socially distanced safety, defence personnel worked tirelessly to support the pandemic response.

Their efforts contact tracing, in quarantine and at state border checkpoints helped stop the spread and make community commemorations possible this year.

On Sunday I was honoured to be part of services held by the City of Parramatta RSL Sub-branch, Granville RSL Sub-branch and the Consortium of Tamil Associations NSW in Wentworthville.

This is important – but our support for veterans shouldn’t start and finish with symbolic recognition on Anzac Day.

Since the start of the Afghan war, we have lost many more veterans to suicide than soldiers killed in combat.

Veterans have been telling us for years now that we need a Royal Commission into this unending tragedy. The Morrison Government resisted their calls – proposing a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, despite veterans’ concerns that it would not have the independence, scope or resources of a Royal Commission – before finally calling a Royal Commission last week.

Labor is disappointed this has taken so long, but we are ready to work with the Government to make sure this Royal Commission has the strong and broad powers and Terms of Reference that it needs.

Unfortunately, early reports indicate that it will not cover the role of departments like Defence and Veterans' Affairs, previous reviews and inquiries like the 2019 Productivity Commission report, veteran homelessness, or the impact of anti-malarial drug trials on veterans' mental health.

The Morrison Government needs to do better – and the first step is to consult widely on how the Royal Commission should be run. This means listening to the voices of the veterans’ community and the families of veterans who have tragically died by suicide and can no longer speak for themselves.

One of the best ways to honour the service of our fallen diggers is to look after our living service men and women and their families through a strong veteran support system. Listening to the voices of veterans and their families through this Royal Commission is a crucial step towards building one.

If you need to talk to someone, Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support on 13 11 14 or at lifeline.org.au

Rising child care costs are hurting working families

By Julie Owens

13 April 2021

Australian families pay some of the highest child care costs in the world. And the cost of child care keeps going up.

Since the Liberal Government was elected in 2013, child care fees have gone up by 35%. According to the Government’s own estimates, fees will increase on average 4.1% each year for the next four years.

Over the same period, wage growth has slowed to a crawl, and wages are only expected to rise 1% this year.

This means child care is increasingly unaffordable for working families in Parramatta – one local mum told me recently that her child care fees were higher than her mortgage repayments!

In many cases, parents who want to work full time are forced to work part time because the cost of child care would see them actually lose money for working extra days.

This isn’t just hurting local families – it’s hurting the economy.

Research from the Grattan Institute and KPMG has highlighted the ways our child care system dampens productivity, and the Government’s own Budget papers point to the drag on the economy caused by lower workforce participation rates and a declining population.

But there’s a silver lining in all of this. If we fix our broken child care system, we can boost our economic recovery so everyone benefits – whether they use child care or not.

Labor has a plan to make child care more affordable by scrapping the annual cap on the child care subsidy, which often sees parents – usually mothers – lose money if they take on extra days at work.

We also plan to lift the maximum child care subsidy rate to 90% and increase child care subsidy rates for every family with a combined household income less than $530,000.

Under a Labor Government, 97% of families with children in child care will be better off. Research from KPMG and the Grattan Institute estimates that similar reforms could generate GDP growth of between $4 billion and $11 billion every year.

Parramatta parents should be free to choose between staying home and quality child care – not penalised by higher child care fees when they take on extra hours or days at work.

Nationally, more than 100,000 families are locked out of our child care system because they simply can’t afford it. Our policy will open the door to child care for these families and make it more affordable for virtually all families with children in child care now.

If you’ve got children in child care – or you’ve been locked out by rising fees – click here to find out how much you could save under this policy.

And if child care reform matters to you, or you need help navigating the complex child care system, please get in touch with my office.

The Government has been silent on this issue, despite predicting a rapid rise in child care costs – so it’s critical that voices in our community are heard.