Gladesville Community Aid Centre

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SpeakersBurnswoods The Hon Jan


The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS [6.53]: A controversy which arose in the past few weeks involving the Gladesville Community Aid Centre has done a great deal of damage already to that worthwhile community centre and to its group of very hard working people. The controversy started late in March when one of the two local newspapers published a letter from Reverend Stuart Mason. The writer's point was not really very clear but he was obviously bitter about something and he made some rather nasty remarks about bureaucracy and power coming at a tremendous cost. After that it was as if the floodgates had been opened.

A great deal was reported in the local papers about a number of people who had complained about what was going on at the community centre. These included another Minister and also the local member, Mr Petch. What became clear very soon was that the two newspapers, the Northern District Times and the Weekly Times, rushed to produce enormous headlines and to handle the whole thing most irresponsibly. They totally ignored the fact that the management committee and the co-ordinator were unable to speak out because of legal matters; two members of staff had been suspended and police investigations were continuing.

The management committee acted very responsibly in not speaking of these matters. However, most unfortunately, the names of the staff members were mentioned eventually in the newspapers, but not because of the management committee. Indeed, the statement put out by the management committee had attached to it statements of support from three funding bodies, that is, the Department of Community Services, Ryde Council and Hunters Hill Council. That statement was
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ignored almost entirely by the local papers, and so were the statements of support, as they continued with what indeed became a witchhunt against some of the people in the Gladesville Community Aid Centre. This amazing performance by one local newspaper in particular culminated when the rather eccentric man who owns and runs one of them decided to run a story in large headlines that I show to honourable members, saying "Turmoil At Community Aid Service", and inside the newspaper, under the headline "TWT Inquiry Into Community Aid":
      The Weekly Times special team of investigative reporters - TWT stir - will be headed by the Weekly Times editor and Australia's pioneer ombudsman, John F. Booth, A.M.

The article continued in a similar manner. The editor has since gone incredibly quiet because it has become very clear that the story is far more complicated than was thought when this most unpleasant scandalmongering and attempt to divide the community started. The story has died down slightly, although both newspapers continue to deal with these unpleasant statements that are being put out. The honourable member for Gladesville at one stage announced that it was all an internal power fight and that he could do nothing about it. Perhaps that was true. "I can only refer it to the Chief Secretary", he said. Indeed, as one of the members of the management committee has pointed out, the member for Gladesville, who is in fact the patron - some patron! - of the Gladesville Community Aid Centre has made no effort to attend a management committee meeting, nor has he made any effort to speak to the majority of management committee members.

Why all this is happening is obviously one of the questions that needs to be answered. Here we come to a worrying aspect. In the original complaint made by the Reverend Stuart Mason the thing that struck me at the very end of his letter that seemed to set the whole thing off was when he said, "I am a member of this management committee although I don't know how long my conscience will allow me to remain so". I also have my worries about the Reverend Mason's conscience because, apart from the fact that I regard it as grossly irresponsible for him to have released this nasty mess to the public, I find it hard to understand how it fits with his position as the Minister of the Uniting Church in Gladesville. I was even more worried when I realised that in fact the Reverend Stuart Mason is a member of the Gladesville branch of the Liberal Party. I then began to understand some of the links that he had with Mr Petch, the honourable member for Gladesville.

I call on all those people basically to keep their mouths shut, to take notice of the very sensible comments that have now been made by the police, who have said that their inquiries have been slow and difficult. In fact, Detective Sergeant Bett said, "It takes time but we are getting to the end of it". While all of those police investigations are going on it is certainly totally irresponsible for the member for Gladesville and for fellow members of his party in the Gladesville area to be raising these matters and causing concern particularly to pensioners. [Time expired.]