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Tuesday, 10 March 1998
Page: 908


Mr MOSSFIELD (10:40 PM) —I rise in this adjournment debate to express my concern about the forced closure of the Blacktown skillshare office and the alternative steps being put in place by the federal government to provide employment services in my electorate. This skillshare office has worked for the people of Blacktown and surrounding areas for 20 years in the task of providing training for our young and not so young unemployed people. The office is now to be reduced to about three people who will only be looking after the JPET program for the next few months. I am concerned about the loss of the talents of the team leader, Roger Mahey, and his team of experienced staff who have performed a great job for the Blacktown community.

I am rather surprised at this government's attack on the skillshare organisation. My sources tell me—in fact, it has been well reported—that many government backbenchers were appreciative of the role played by skillshare in assisting unemployed people with job applications, search and interview skills in their own particular electorates. I know from my own experience of attending graduation ceremonies the tremendous feeling of pride and self-esteem that graduates experience on successfully completing skillshare programs. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Mr Abbott) has on a number of occasions expressed strong support for skillshare.

The community based board of the Blacktown group, called Work Place, have over the years endured some ups and downs but this recent experience is the most down they have ever endured. For them to be faced with the need to so quickly reduce staff of such quality has been very traumatic for them. The Work Place, in good faith, lodged an application to be part of the new employment program. They have the skills and the obvious expertise and the willingness. More importantly, the office site is centrally situated to perform this service. What they got was no reply. I sent the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Dr Kemp) an urgent letter by fax seeking more advice and/or comment to enable the board to make winding up decisions if that was necessary. I did not get an acknowledgment of my letter. The board was therefore required to assume it would wind up its skillshare operation and valuable staff have been given notice to quit in the next couple of weeks.

The minister goes on TV lauding his new and wonderful privatised employment service, yet pays little regard to the valuable resources that he has so unceremoniously dumped on the job market. The federal government's new privatised employment services have not got off to a very good start in my electorate, although I admit the information at this stage is very sketchy. The CES people have been reasonably helpful. However, there is no official confirmation as to how the service will operate post privatisation. I am advised that the CES office in Blacktown will close on 28 March and there will only be a limited service provider until 1 May, when Employment National is due to begin. I am further advised that when Employment National does commence at a venue yet to be announced, it will have a staff of five compared to the previous staff of 20.

The private providers who have successfully tendered for the Blacktown area—Hospitality Horizons, CSA Training Services and Teldraw—are all still looking for premises in the area. I wish them luck. While I am sure that the Salvation Army, Mission Employment and indeed skillshare, if they had been successful in bidding for the employment program, would do a good job, I am not so sure about the commercial operators. I believe bringing the profit motive into placing unemployed people in jobs will remove the caring aspect and lay the foundation for the scheme to be abused by profit motive operators. Indeed, some of the biggest commercial employment placement firms, including Manpower Australia and Morgan and Banks, said that they would not put in a tender, describing the terms as `uncommercial'.

We on this side of the House believe there is going to be an overall drop in the level of assistance to the unemployed. We are concerned about the effect on special groups, in particular disadvantaged job seekers. The debate should be about people and jobs. The bean counters of Treasury should be relegated out of the whole debate. But this mean-spirited government is about money and profit and seems not to have any real feeling for the people they are hurting but are claiming to help.