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THE HON MICHAEL DANBY MP
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION,
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR MELBOURNE PORTS

Reclink was founded in St Kilda in my electorate of Melbourne Ports in 1990. It is a not-for-profit organisation that enhances the lives of disadvantaged people by providing them with sports and arts programs.

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (12:41):  I move:

That this House:

(1)   notes:

(a)    that the Reclink National Program (RNP) has delivered over 100,000 participation opportunities to thousands of people experiencing disadvantage across Australia, in partnership with over 450 community organisations;

(b)   that there is no other organisation in Australia with the expertise, capacity and capability of effectively and efficiently providing over 100,000 participation opportunities every year to the most disenfranchised, disadvantaged and forgotten Australians; and

(c)    widespread community concern at the diminishing resources to support people experiencing disadvantage, many of whom have relied upon the RNP for social participation and social inclusion through engagement with sport and recreation programs; and

(2)   calls on the Government to reinstate funding to the RNP.

Reclink was founded in St Kilda in my electorate of Melbourne Ports in 1990. It is a not-for-profit organisation that enhances the lives of disadvantaged people by providing them with sports and arts programs. Peter Cullen, the imaginative and passionate life force of Reclink, explained its origins when he was an outreach worker in the late ‘80s on the streets of St Kilda:

… you saw people living in a lost world, where there seemed no clear pathways to opportunity … I thought a form of crisis intervention may have been missed … The street people needed another way of being supported or reached … What could act as a circuit breaker?

Typically, Reclink program participants suffer from social isolation, drug addiction, mental health issues, problems with the law, homelessness and even sexual abuse. One of the things we must not forget in Australia is that sometimes there are people who cannot work. Reclink gives people dignity, as an example sent to me by Peter shows. It is pleasing to see Peter Cullen and John Ballis, Reclink’s CEO, here in this Federation Chamber today:

One man was twenty-one when I met him and living in special accommodation. The man was wandering around the streets of St Kilda, and he had severe schizophrenia, and as such found finding employment a challenge—nevertheless, he had a life to live. At this time, he would never have become involved with a mainstream sporting club …

I can imagine this scene on the Peanut Farm Oval in St Kilda. At quarter time this bloke came up to Peter and said:

“Peter, I got three kicks!”

Reclink became vital to this man’s life and provides him with some experience of normality in his life. As Peter Cullen’s letter said:

This model has brought welfare agencies to successfully work together …

It is the ultimate silence breaker with proven capacity to synthesise existing programs and sporting leagues.

Without this model of inclusivity, there would never have been a football league at Yulura, near Uluru. After a call from an indigenous leader, Reclink Australia was able to bring together resources to bring the league into existence. The 2012 league’s grand final won Community Event of the Year. Around that time, a social worker was amazed to pass a local roadhouse usually filled with a big group of drinkers. It was empty. She then passed a football ground which was full of the same usual drinkers training for football.

A success for Reclink.

Reclink is an organisation that I have always supported and which was seen by the previous government as having national applicability. Julia Gillard, Kate Lundy and Kate Ellis thought, as I do, that what worked on the streets of St Kilda could work in Adelaide, Brisbane and anywhere around Australia. Forty-seven per cent of participants of the pilot Reclink Work for the Dole program in Queensland were able to return to work—a much higher return-to-work rate than was achieved in other programs. Because of its success, MAX Employment has made the Reclink Work for the Dole program its flagship program and other employment providers have requested Reclink’s help in partnering with them. Reclink’s whole raison d’etre is that sport and other inclusive activities help people directly involved with Reclink by giving them services that prevent them having to access mental health facilities or, indeed, return to prison.

Budget cuts have hit Reclink hard. Reclink now has over 150 types of recreational opportunities across Australia but in the period preceding the funding cuts it had over 500 member agencies. Reclink Australia provides enormous support to many government funded organisations, particularly supporting their workers.

Last week the Senate Select Committee on the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts released its first interim reports. Amongst nine recommendations the committee recommended—I will use the words from the report—that the government ‘immediately reinstate Commonwealth funding for Reclink’. As the French say, ‘exactement’—exactly. I think the lessons of the last few weeks are that the current government’s destruction of programs like this is precisely the reason they are in the political trouble they are in. It is cold and heartless to affect the people all around Australia who need this Reclink program the most.

Inclusivity in sport has created such a wonderful atmosphere for people who are challenged. I have seen it myself. I have seen its worth. I remember, as a new member of parliament, standing with Peter around the Botanical Gardens sporting Tan as we gave medals to people who had never participated in competitive sport in their lives—all from our electorates and all improving their lives by participating in some healthy, physical activity. Congratulations to Reclink; more strength to their arm.