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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2723

Mr STEPHEN SMITH(10.38 p.m.) —I urge the government to reconsider its cuts to skillshare funding and to end the uncertainty about the future of skillshare by guaranteeing that skillshare funding will continue at sensible levels after September this year. The Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Senator Vanstone) recently made the short-sighted announcement that the government will cut skillshare funding from September this year by 33 per cent. Despite recently amending the cut to 20 per cent, the minister has refused to give any guarantees that skillshare will receive any funding after September.

In my electorate, the federal seat of Perth, there are currently eight organisations which provide valuable support to local long-term unemployed people through the skillshare program. These organisations are Centrecare Skills Training Centre, Perth ITeC and Step 1 Skillshare in Perth, NERTA Skillshare and Employment 2000 in Morley and Midland Skillshare and Maylands Skillshare.

It is outrageous that the government has made such a major cut to a program that assists long-term unemployed people overcome barriers to employment, and appalling that the government is refusing to give any guarantee that the program will continue after September. Skillshare successfully assists long-term unemployed by providing vocational training, individual counselling and support. It also links in strongly with the local business community to place people directly into employment.

The Western Australian director of Skillshare, Mr Allen Blanchard, has pointed out recently that skillshare assists some 30,000 unemployed Western Australians each year. Almost 60 per cent of skillshare clients have either found employment or gone on to further training as a result of their contact with the program. The minister has described skillshare as one of the most cost effective labour market programs around. There seems little justification for destroying the skillshare program.

The local Perth community does not see any justification for the funding cuts or the lack of certainty about the future of skillshare. There has been widespread concern not only from local skillshare providers but also from local business organisations and the long-term unemployed who have utilised the program.

The President of the Midland Chamber of Commerce, Mr Ian Wright, is reported in the Hills Gazette on 8 June as saying:

The Midland Chamber values the service SkillShare has provided during many years, and is concerned at the potential negative impact on the local labour market that could result from a reduction in services.

A student of the Wearne Training Centre in Morley and a constituent of mine recently stated:

I would like to voice my disappointment at the recently announced decrease in funding the SkillShare Training Programme.

. . . The courses offered at SkillShare are offering people a chance to become an active participant in the work force again. Closing these opportunities can only mean more dependence of people on welfare benefits and less chance of being able to make a contribution of their own.

A constituent of mine who went to Maylands Skillshare wrote to me saying:

Maylands Skillshare has consequently been of enormous benefit to me since the Commonwealth Employment Service referred me there. Maylands Skillshare is accommodated at the Royal Institute of the Blind which I find particularly appropriate because my head injuries have severely impaired the sight in one of my eyes.

As a beneficiary of the significant long-term assistance I can proudly submit to you that the Skillshare program has provided some of the most significant employment focused rehabilitation which I have been the beneficiary of. . .

I have received, as no doubt many members of the House have, many similar letters of concern from skillshare groups, local business providers and individual constituents since the funding cuts were announced. There is no doubt that the cuts announced by the government will make it impossible for skillshare to maintain services at the current level. The people who will suffer most from these cuts are the long-term unemployed. The failure of the minister to give a commitment to continued funding after September is a worrying signal for the local community in Perth who are concerned about the future of skillshare. I urge the government to make a commitment to the long-term unemployed by guaranteeing the future funding of skillshare.