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Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Page: 45

Senator BARNETT (3:36 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Community Services, Senator the Hon. Nigel Scullion. Will the minister inform the Senate of the government initiatives that are assisting employment opportunities for people with disabilities; in particular, assistance provided in my home state of Tasmania to the organisation Self Help Workplace and Encore Clothing?

Senator SCULLION (Minister for Community Services) —I thank the senator for his question and note his longstanding interest in employment opportunities for Tasmanians, particularly those with a disability. This government believes that every Australian has the right to a job. I note that under the previous Labor government close to a million Australians did not have the opportunity for that right. Over a million Australians were unemployed. At the time of the election in 1996 I think 45 federal electorates had more than 10 per cent unemployment. I am very pleased to say that now that figure has changed substantially—the figure is zero. There are no federal electorates with over 10 per cent unemployment. It is interesting to note that unemployment is around 4.5 to 4.6 per cent across Australia. In the Northern Territory it is down to two per cent. We are doing very well.

The government has introduced a number of employment programs ensuring that we can assist Australians into work with business services that directly assist people with a disability to participate in the workforce. Business services have transformed effectively from an employment and activity workplace to a genuine small business, employing over 17,000 Australians with disabilities. The government has assisted business services through their Business Services Assistance Package to make that transition.

One example—and I again thank Senator Barnett for bringing this to my attention—is Self Help Workplace and Encore Clothing in Tasmania. They have 46 supported workers in Youngtown in Tasmania. In 2003-04 their second-hand clothing outlet, Encore Clothing, indicated that they would benefit by being relocated to a purpose-built showroom. As part of the BSAP we got KPMG to assess the business—to go through a pure business assessment—to ensure they could make the transition from an employment and activity workplace to a true small business to get the sustainability that that sector really needs. They identified instantly some $17,000 a year in rental savings as well as a reduction in some supervisory and transportation costs. The BSAP invested some $166,000. Of that, $22,000 went to the relocation, as I have just indicated, of their clothing outlet; $36,000 went to the commercial kitchen fit-out to help their catering business; and another $7,000 went to a special miniforklift to ensure they could move the clothing bales that are fundamental to one of their business wings.

I suppose the real question is: has it worked? The business resoundingly said, ‘Yes, it has; it is the best business idea we could have come up with.’ There are a couple of other indicators. In 2003-04 Encore Clothing had sales of some $46,800 for the year. They have just had a two-week sale, ending last Friday, with sales of $10,000 for nine days trading. It is just fantastic. We estimated the relocation would increase sales to about $70,000 and save about $17,000 rent. The anticipated sales this financial year look like they are going to be over $150,000—a fantastic outcome for this business service. We have had a number of very significant benefits from this.

On the other side of this chamber, what is Labor’s policy? Of course, it is a policy-free zone, but they do like to criticise. Senator Wong, in a media release dated 15 February, talking about disabled people, indicated that we were not serious about helping people with disabilities. This evidence we have given to the Senate today clearly indicates that is completely incorrect. (Time expired)