In a world where technology is continuing to expand at a rate of knots, the number of authentic connections being made within our local communities appear to be decreasing just as fast.
If you then add into the mix those people who are already physically isolated due to their location in rural areas - it's not hard to see why the rates of loneliness, depression and suicide are on the rise in Australia.
This is where the role of our State's community resource centres (CRCs) comes in.
The services offered by Western Australia's CRCs are often wide-ranging, but their central purpose - to act as a hub for local members of their community to connect, has been relatively constant over the years.
It was recently revealed in parliament the State-funding total for WA's CRCs has decreased from $14 million in the 2015- 2016 financial year to $13.2m for the 2022-23 financial year.
Divided equally between the 101 CRCs scattered across the State, this equates to $130,693 per centre, per year.
Boyup Brook's CRC manager Jodi Nield said it had become increasingly difficult to "stretch the State government funding" provided to help run the centre, with everyday overhead costs such as electricity, internet and employees' wages increasing at a higher rate than the State government's level of indexation.
Since Boyup Brook CRC first opened its doors 28 years ago, the centre has continued to adapt and diversify its services in order to meet the changing needs of the local community.
Some of the services provided by the centre today include a public library, a community based care program to help people to stay in their homes longer, as well as health and wellbeing projects, such as two senior exercise classes being held for local residents each week.
In addition to putting on workshops, information, training, education and business sessions and providing a space for community events to take place, including the likes of art awards and school holiday activities, the CRC also acts as a Services Australia access point (providing local access to government services).
In more recent years the centre has also played an increasingly significant role in offering digital literacy and technological support to the community's more senior demographic.
Commenting on the amount of government funding provided to the State's CRCs, Ms Nield said restrictive budgets were making it difficult for many of the centres to attract and retain quality staff.
"Many CRC staff across the network are part-time, meaning the level of under-employment in regional communities is quite high, and the risk of losing staff who may want full-time work is high," Ms Nield said.
"Over the past few years, there has been quite a high turnover of managers/co-ordinators in the network, which could possibly be due to the labour market and more attractive wages that can be found elsewhere."
In order for the State's CRCs to be able to continue to operate, they are often required to generate other income streams individually.
These streams often include charging fees for services and activities provided by a centre, the creation of advertising revenue through the production of community newspapers, seeking out sponsorships, donations and grants as well as sourcing additional funding through other government departments when a centre offers additional services such as licensing.
As vital services including banks continue to be stripped from many of WA's regional and rural towns, Ms Nield said this challenge also represented an opportunity for the government to better utilise the State's CRC network, which has an incredible reach and long-standing footprint in WA's regional communities.
With the support of additional government funding, Ms Nield said the centres could do a better job at filling in the gaps often found in regional towns, as it would enable the centres to build the capacity of their staff to provide quality services as well as create new opportunities for engagement within the community.
Despite being happy that Boyup Brook had been successful in securing a five-year State-funding contract, Ms Nield said not so great was the fact that the centre's level of funding throughout that period would remain the same, only being indexed annually.
Linkwest, alongside Western Australian Council of Social Services (WACOSS) and Community Employers WA has continued to advocate for a review and update of the State government's indexation policy.
Linkwest chief executive Jane Harwood said while indexations like the Non-Government Human Services Sector Index (NGHSS) have increased, the funding of the State's CRCs has been reduced.
"Linkwest advocated (alongside with WACOSS) in August 2022 to increase the 2022/23 State government contracts from 2.55 per cent to 5.1pc," Ms Harwood said.
"The State government conceded an increase in the 2022-2023 financial year to 3.53pc.
"This still leaves a differential of 10.7pc between the NGHSS and the National Wage Case (a decision resulting in an increase in the minimum wage) that centres must account for.
"This has been further exacerbated by the rise in award pay rates from July 2023."
Ms Harwood said she was optimistic the State government would be sympathetic to the issue and the need for it to be addressed in WA.
Liberals MP for the South West Region Steve Thomas said the State's CRCs had been doing a great job for regional communities, but every year were being asked to do more with less.
"They are getting less now than they were in 2016-17, with five years of stagnation under the Labor government followed by a pitiful, below inflation rise of 1.5pc last year," Mr Thomas said.
"Over the period the State Labor government has had $18 billion in surpluses, much of it generated in the regions."
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