Parents win fight to save "Buster the Fun Bus"

By Justine Kamprad (from www.greenleft.org.au)

Local parents have successfully spearheaded a Fremantle community campaign to save a service called “Buster the Fun Bus”.

Buster is a van staffed by two community workers from the City of Fremantle. It makes stops at various parks in the Fremantle and Melville area, setting out activity tables and toys for children to enjoy outside.

The focus of the service is community building. It brings parents together and gives them relaxed access to community workers.

The service is co-funded by the Cities of Fremantle and Melville and the state government. In early June, the Department of Community Services announced it would cut its annual $60,000 contribution.

The service had been running for 26 years and has been a source of information, support and help to many parents who do not fit into traditional playgroup structures.

Coolbellup stay-at-home dad Mark Abberton, who regularly attends the service, told Green Left Weekly: “It’s a great thing for carers, an opportunity to relax while the kids play. It’s mostly mums, but I find it easy to fit into because it isn’t some pre-organised group. There’s no other service like it.”

Friends of Buster quickly took action, starting an online petition and notifying the local papers. Support for the service came quickly from local politicians including Peter Tinley (ALP), Lynn MacLaren (Greens) and Adele Carles (independent).

Unions WA secretary and ALP candidate for Fremantle Simone McGurk also offered support as did Socialist Alliance member and Fremantle councillor Sam Wainwright, whose resolution in support of Buster was supported unanimously by Fremantle council.

Wainwright told GLW: “Community services like these are priceless for the people who rely on them. Council should look at the huge level of community support for services like Buster and pro-actively pursue funding opportunities to expand and promote them. We need more support for programs like this, not less."

A week into the campaign, hundreds of people had signed the petition and the Fremantle Herald ran the story on its front page with the headline “[WA premier Colin] Barnett kills kids’ fun bus”. Pressure mounted on government backbenchers as the local Uniting Church, Catholic Church and the Maritime Union of Australia helped collect signatures.

After two weeks, the minister back-flipped. After first saying funding for the bus did not meet new guidelines, community services minister Robyn McSweeney told the June 23 Fremantle Herald: “I’m pleased to give the Fremantle community assurance that Buster the Fun Bus will be funded once a workable proposal is developed.”

This is a big win for the community. However, it is not the only service in the Fremantle area under a cloud. Other services co-funded by the City of Fremantle and the state government are threatened with funding cuts. Some may be cut altogether.

These include the Warrawee women’s refuge, Australia’s first purpose-built shelter for victims of domestic violence. State funding for the service has fallen in real terms as the government has refused to increase its contribution to cover inflation.

The state government’s contribution to the Fremantle Volunteer Service is also uncertain. The service provides information, support and coordination to people who want to volunteer for non-profit community groups.

The WA government is making cuts to all government departments, despite it being in Australia’s “boom state”. It imposed a 2% spending cut in its first budget in 2009 and has cut a further 1% every year since.

Wainwright said: “Hopefully the Save Buster campaign can act as an inspiration for other sectors of the community who need to fight to protect their services against government cuts.”

[Justine Kamprad is a Fremantle parent, a coordinator of the Save Buster Campaign and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]

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