HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.34 pm]: I rise to draw attention to the really precarious financial situation that the community organisation Living Proud has found itself in with a significant portion of its funding ending on 30 June, which is in only nine days. I have asked questions in this place in the last couple of days about what is going to happen with the funding and, unfortunately, I have been left with absolutely no comfort about the future of this organisation. Based on the answers that have been given to date, it appears that it is quite likely that this award-winning organisation that has been going for 43 years will not have its funding continued. This not-for-profit organisation that is providing really import ant services for some of the most vulnerable members of our community is about to effectively go under as a result of what is really a bureaucratic funding gap. I think that is an absolute travesty.
I will give members a little background to Living Proud. Living Proud has gone through a number of different names over the last 43 years. A lot of people may remember it as Gay and Lesbian Community Services. It has been providing support, and information and resources to WA’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex community for a very long time. Its main focus is on providing essential services to the LGBTI community. It includes a lot of mental health and suicide prevention services, which is one of the main reasons that I have such a keen interest in w hat is going to happen, including a peer counselling phone line. Living Proud provides health and wellbeing initiatives and capacity building for the community. It offers heaps of training options for professionals. Some members here may be aware of the Opening Closets mental health training, which is about supporting members of the LGBTI community.
There is a reason this organisation came into being in the first place. It was recognised that members of the LGBTI community can have a high incidence of mental health issues and, due to homophobia and transphobia, face greater challenges than members of the general population. There is no doubt at all that there is still an urgent need for this sort of specialised agency for LGBTI people and their families. Our suicide prevention strategy recognises this need and explicitly identifies LGBTI people as a priority population, which means it is recognised that they are at significantly greater risk of suicide than the general population. We know that LGBTI people are routinely discriminated against in our community and we see this on display all the time. We have seen it most recently in the really appalling response to the Safe Schools campaign. The whole community has seen the response in our inability to pass marriage equality laws. Research shows us that big public discussions whereby LGBTI people are constantly reminded that many people in our community — far too many for my liking — still think of them as second-class citizens has a massive detrimental impact on rates of mental health issues and also on suicide and suicidality.
If anything, right now we should be doing more, not less, to support LGBTI people. We should not be looking at eroding these services. To date, Living Proud has had three principal sources of funding. It has been funded by the state Department of Health on a three-year service agreement. That service agreement was for services and groups focused on supporting and fostering inclusion of LGBTI people. The Mental Health Commission has been funding Living Proud for two projects under the suicide prevention strategy. The federal government also provides money to run the peer counselling phone line. But, as I said, in nine days two of those three sources of funding will end. Instead, Living Proud has been told that the Department of Health’s strategic direction has changed and that the work that Living Proud does no longer fits in with its new direction. That means that it is not even eligible to apply to the department for ongoing funding through a three-year service agreement. I refer to the answers that were given in this place. I am pretty unimpressed with the response that simply states —
The Department of Health encourages all organisations to have a strategy in place to ensure their organisation is sustainable and viable, and not reliant on grants for ongoing and day-to-day operations.
That is the nature of the organisation. It is a community-managed service. It runs on the smell of an oily rag. It has gone for so long to date because it has been recognised that the service it provides is so specialised and so necessary within the community. That sort of pat response absolutely does not cut the mustard. We also know that even if Living Proud were successful in its reapplication to the Mental Health Commission in the next round of suicide prevention grants, they will not be out until September, which means that Living Proud will not be able to take advantage of them until November. That is four months after Living Proud’s other funding will run out. It is a catch 22, because we also know that the Mental Health Commission will not be open to providing grants to organisations that do not have underlying financial viability. Living Proud really has been put in an absolutely invidious position.
This sort of situation highlights a number of issues for not only this particular agency, but also the community sector more broadly. We will just have to get better at how we integrate the procurement of community services, particularly across multiple government agencies and service providers. These sorts of community services do not always fit neatly into government silos. We need to find a way to make sure that these sorts of services can remain viable. The lack of certainty is obviously having a huge effect on t he organisation at the moment. It has a very big volunteer base, but it still requires a very minimal amount of an ongoing staffing arrangement to be able to stay open. That has obviously now been completely threatened.
From comments made during the election, I know that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex community has been identified as a priority community for the current government, yet we seem to have been caught in a stalemate, with a number of questions left unanswered. Basically, I was unable to get a proper answer from the Department of Health about where Living Proud can go to try to get additional funding if it does not fit within the current structure. If it will fit solely under the Mental Health Commission, surely there needs to be a procurement strategy that will allow for service agreements. The big question will be who will fill this gap if Living Proud has to cancel its operations and close down. I have to say that this organisation is real value for money for the taxpayer. It is a community-managed service that operates on an absolutely minimal income, and it has managed to harvest a huge amount of expertise and volunteers. Some of those volunteers have been there for 30 years. These people really know this community and have a great deal of expertise. How can the government allow this to go under while we have a good suicide prevention strategy that identifies that we have to put investment into this particular community? This very important service will potentially go under be cause of what has happened with this funding arrangement and a whole range of scenarios that really should not have occurred. I, for one, am not happy to see really important organisations that provide critical suicide prevention strategies compromised this way and I urge the government to look at this again, take it more seriously and come up with a solution. We have to keep this service open.
House adjourned at 6.43 pm