A new federal government scheme to provide security for faith-based communal buildings has been welcomed by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ).
The Albanese government program – announced by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus – will open for applications from July.
“The ECAJ has been making representations to the government since last year about the community’s need for assistance with funding for our ever-growing security costs”, said ECAJ co-CEO Peter Wertheim.
“Australia has not been immune from the global surge in antisemitic activity in recent years, so the announcement is timely.”
Under the new program, all Jewish institutions will be eligible for funding, not only for security infrastructure but for the recurrent costs of security guards. “Funding for recurrent costs was previously only available for Jewish schools, but now synagogues, museums and other Jewish communal institutions will also be able to apply for this,” Wertheim said.
The ECAJ co-CEO noted that full details have not yet been finalised, but said ECAJ is “hopeful that the government will accept the representations that we have made, and continue to make, about the need for operational security funding to extend to our centralised security organisations”.
Member for Wentworth Allegra Spender spent the the past few months strongly advocating for the funding to be restored and said she is “deeply committed to ensuring that Wentworth’s Jewish community can keep itself safe and practice faith freely”.
Dreyfus announced that grants under Securing Faith-Based Places will be available for places of worship, religious schools and organisations to support safety upgrades, such as fencing, lighting, security cameras, traffic barriers, alarm systems, access controls and security guards.
“Australia is a proudly diverse country that values and welcomes people of all faiths and none. The Albanese government is committed to ensuring people of faith can practise their beliefs free from violence and discrimination,” he stated.
Describing the new program as “open, competitive and merit-based”, Dreyfus alleged the previous Safer Communities scheme – initiated by the Coalition government but not renewed in this month’s federal budget – was “discredited due to the rorting of public funds by the previous government”.
He said the Auditor-General’s findings on the former program were that grants were only “partly effective and partly consistent with the Commonwealth grant rules and guidelines”, and “funding decisions were not appropriately informed by departmental briefings”.
However, prior to Wednesday’s announcement, Dave Sharma, an MP in the former Morrison government, last week slammed the current government for abolishing Safer Communities. “I am deeply disappointed by Labor’s decision to abolish Safer Communities funding,” he told The AJN after last week’s budget.