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Thursday, 11 March 1999
Page: 3871

Mr PRICE (12:38 PM) —I do have some sympathy for the honourable member for Parramatta. I have been trying to have a licensed post office reopened at the Tregear Shopping Centre. I have written to the minister. I have had meetings with Australia Post. Here you have a businessman who wants to conduct a business at Tregear Shopping Centre. There are aged pensioners all around it. There is nowhere for them to do any money transactions at all, other than travelling to Mount Druitt, and the government says no.

Let me say to the honourable member for Parramatta that I really do think that the government needs to have another look at Australia Post because I believe they deliver an essential service. It is an area where the deprivation of it is harmful to some people, as he says. We ought to not only have processes that allow these things to open or re-open, in his case and in mine, but also examine possible closures from a community interest basis. I do not think market forces are the best determinant of those.

I do not want to get sidetracked, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I want to mention a couple of things. Firstly, of course, the Howard government is really attacking young people. Right throughout Australia if you are eligible to go into year 11 and 12 and are unemployed, you do not get unemployment benefits unless you go back to school. In my electorate that has forced a number of people back to school. I do not know with what motivation and I do not know at what disruptive cost. The thing that really hurt me was this initiative about people who are illiterate. The Prime Minister said that you will not get social security benefits if you do not fix your literacy problems, suggesting that there are people in Australia who have actually made a conscious decision to be illiterate. I have not met one of them. I have a high proportion of people who are either illiterate, or functionally illiterate, in my electorate, as you would have in yours, Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, but I have never heard of one who has chosen to be.

This is the point that I want to make. At Mount Druitt TAFE there are 18 positions available for people to have their literacy problems dealt with. Seventy people applied. I know of a couple who were not able to be successful at Mount Druitt TAFE, so they went back to the school system and the school system assessed them as being year 9. Because they are two years older than the year 9 cohorts, they were refused entry into the school.

A government that wants to tackle illiteracy I think needs to be applauded. But we also need to have the programs to deal with it. Let me give you this warning; I have given it before in the House. Usually you only get one opportunity to deal with illiteracy; that is, if you get people up to the mark, but fail to get them literate, it is almost impossible on subsequent occasions. We certainly need to have decent programs.

The other thing is that you are often dealing with a whole range of other problems with people who are illiterate. The idea that you can create, in a marketplace, literacy providers that deal with literacy and solve the problem I think is very wrong. In my own state, there are very few re-entry centres. For example, other states like Western Australia and South Australia have re-entry centres where young people who have dropped out—in my electorate they drop out from grade 6—can go and catch up on what they have missed out on. I certainly would like to think that, if the government is genuine about literacy, we could see some national or federal government initiative that develops a role for re-entry centres in schools. I think it is really tragic that we are dealing with this problem of illiteracy amongst young people in a very partisan way.

I guess the other point that I would make is that it costs you $2,000 a day if they end up in juvenile justice and we are happy to pay that and build more centres. I just wish some of that money would be paid to actually help them overcome their existing problems, certainly getting them literate and certainly getting them a full and decent education. Whilst I applaud tackling literacy, the methodology I object to strongly. (Time expired)