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Thursday, 26 May 2011
Page: 4895


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (10:18): I do like the member for Fadden. He will be disappointed that I am not wearing my bootstraps as I stand to speak about this very Labor budget. I want to let the member for Fadden know that my electorate is very pleased about the benefits that will come from this very Labor budget, to this very Labor and indeed very needy electorate, which is what Labor budgets tend to be about. They are about assisting those people in our community who are probably more disadvantaged than others and who are in greater need of services. In a moment I will talk about my community and how this budget will be of benefit to them. Firstly, however, in relation to how the previous Howard government dealt with illegal entrants, the infamous Pacific solution—and though I will say this and it will go into Hansard, I stand to be corrected—border protection might have cost about $100 million but I remember the figure of about $1 billion as being the cost to the Australian taxpayer for running the Pacific solution.

Mr Robert: $70 million.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I do not think that it was $70 million. I remember that there was a lot of debate at that time about the enormous amount of money that was being spent. I have a recollection of some serious criticism of the government in relation to its insistence on spending a lot of money maintaining one individual on Nauru. I say this because this issue of illegal entrants is a very important issue to this country and it has been for a long period of time. It is an issue that carries many costs, one of which is a financial cost. So if we want to play politics with who is spending more and who is spending less and who is doing a better job of managing this, my view is that we need to look at the global situation and put our problem in the context of what is going on internationally. We might find that other regions in the world, especially in Europe, shoulder a greater burden of illegal entrants than this country does. I do not want to downplay the significance of the problem for Australia, but I want to make this point because we talk about it all the time without thinking. There are other places in the world that are dealing with this issue where the problem is 20, if not more, times worse than ours. So we need to keep it in perspective.

Back to the budget: this very Labor budget is of great benefit to my electorate and I am very pleased to speak to it today. I am particularly pleased to speak to it because the budget has introduced a very significant initiative aimed at assisting people back into the workforce. I know that we talk about this all the time. All governments talk about their desire to help people get back into the workforce, and lots of programs are devised and lots of money is spent to help people, whether they are from the disability sector, young people or mature age workers. This is a problem that has been with us for some time. We spend a lot of money and a lot of words on trying to get people back into work. We do that because it is very important for people to be working. Having a constructive life—one in which you are responsible for your day-to-day living—is very important. The dignity of work adds to the dignity of self. There are a whole series of other important psychological factors there, so we talk a lot about getting people into work.

But there is always one group of people who, for whatever reason, seem not to be able to avail themselves of these programs, and a lot of those people live in my electorate. My electorate has a very high rate of unemployment for young people—probably one of the highest in the country. It has been like that for a long period of time. There are a lot of reasons why that is the case. Over my years as the member I have always been perplexed—like a lot of our service deliverers—as to why we cannot succeed in reducing that unemployment level. One of the reasons is that, while there are a lot of services provided, at some point people are not getting the best information regarding how they can either get a job or get the relevant training necessary to get them into long-term employment.

Someone has finally decided to acknowledge this and try and do something about it. The government, through this budget, has announced a $304 million package that is aimed squarely at the unemployed and in particular the youth unemployed and those on long-term income support, the most vulnerable people and the people who need the greatest assistance and support to get into the workforce. The $304 million package involves 10 locations in the country. This is a package that requires the local communities to develop a structure. My electorate of Calwell is one of those 10 locations. The Hume City Council, which shares, as I have said many times before, the same borders as the federal seat of Calwell, is one of the local government authorities to have been chosen. I make the point that the package is an initiative of this budget, it is a very important initiative and it is part of the budget's aim to build a bigger workforce. We do this through more targeted investment in skills and training and through all sorts of measures to encourage participation. But, more importantly, through this program we will do it by actually helping people to learn about the prospects and those things that are available to them in the community so they can actually be helped. Not too much attention has been paid to that aspect of it in the past. We do this at a time—and, again, I speak very much about my electorate—when it is expected that, nationwide, unemployment will fall from its current level of about five per cent to about 4.5 per cent during the next two years. It is expected that half a million new jobs will be created. I know that they are only figures but, obviously, the people that cast the economic trends have a fair idea of where the employment prospects are in this country. There is no doubt that we have great potential for growth in Australia. We acknowledge that a shortage of participants in the workforce will be one of our drawbacks if we do not address it. We need to do that at a time when people, such as those in my electorate, are experiencing higher unemployment than the national average.

The intention of this $304 million initiative is to not only assist those people in my electorate but also provide a structure that they themselves create, not one that is imposed from above but one that is developed from the ground and responds specifically to the issues that prevent people from availing themselves of programs. It is the local community on the ground that will decide how it creates a pathway for its community. Of the $304 million funding, $38.2 million over four years will be allocated to support this local workforce participation through what will be called the Community Innovation through Collaboration initiative. Collaboration, I think, is the key word here, because it will work with all the stakeholders and the service deliverers.

The sum of $25 million has been allocated for a Local Solutions Fund for community organisations to deliver the programs, as I said, to help access educational and employment options, and a further $13.2 million has been set aside to provide service coordinators and community based facilitators. Whilst it is important for the community to be brought together to actually develop a structure to assist itself, it is necessary to have an overall coordinator who is not necessarily attached to any of the major bureaucracies but who is there to assist the community and help them work their way through the plan of action that I am looking forward to my community putting together in the next few months.

I was very pleased about this announcement. When I got back to my electorate last week I thought it would be absolutely important to hit the ground running on this one. I recognise that we have an opportunity to shape and mould this program. I am happy to report to the House that we called together some of our major local stakeholders to brief them about the government's package and to discuss how they saw this potential and how they thought we could bring it all together so that it could maximise the benefits for our people.

Local members will have a significant role to play in this, and I think that is a very good thing—local members know their community better than anybody else does, so we have a very important role to play in setting up this local advisory group. I decided that I would invite a core group of people from my electorate—the key stakeholders—who I thought would serve as the initial consultation group. I want to list them because they are very important people not only to me as a member of parliament but also to my community. I want to start by mentioning Mr Tony Coppola, who is the senior manager at Northern Melbourne Regional Development Australia. They are responsible for building partnerships between all levels of government, local business, community groups and key regional stakeholders in order to provide responses to economic, environmental and social issues affecting all of Melbourne's north. Mr Coppola is also a representative of North Link and its executive director, Mick Butera, assists him in this role.

I also invited the founder and executive officer of the Bridge of Hope Foundation, Mr John Walsh. Bridge of Hope is a registered charity that specialises in training and providing job opportunities for troubled youth and those in juvenile detention. The group of young people who are referred to as juvenile offenders—I have a very large number of those young people in my electorate—is one that we tend to forget about. We do not even talk about them, let alone try and devise opportunities for them. These are a particularly vulnerable group of young people because they have special needs. Many of them will end up in juvenile detention for a whole series of reasons which I will not go into. The key is what happens to them when they get out. Many of them will only be 16, 17 or 18—young people who need to be assisted back either into education or into some sort of training and given an opportunity. Often people do not want to deal with juvenile offenders, they do not want them.

We all face discrimination. I would probably face discrimination if I were suddenly to become unemployed—the discrimination that comes with being a mature-age person. It might mortify me to think that, but my age might be a problem for me in the workforce. These young people have all sorts of other problems. They are not as empowered as I or someone else may be. They need a fair go and they do not get a fair go. We need to change attitudes towards them before we can even help them. So I want to commend John Walsh and the Bridge of Hope, which hopes to do a lot of work in this area but needs to partner with government. I invited him to this meeting because I think they have a very important role to play.

The CEO of Brite Services, Margaret Ruff, was also invited. Brite is one of those extraordinary organisations that I have had the pleasure of representing. Brite is probably the only Australian disability enterprise in this country. It is an organisation that specialises in the employment of people with disabilities. I say it is unique because it started off being a sheltered workshop some 25 years ago when we did refer to these organisations as sheltered workshops. Thankfully, we all learnt that that was not very flattering language to use. These are people with special needs but nevertheless they like to work and Brite offers them long-term employment and they have become a thriving business. I am very proud of Brite because they have managed to win contracts for their people and there is a long future ahead for the people who work at Brite.

Another person who I invited was Ian Adotey. Ian is from the Broadmeadows Community Neighbourhood Renewal Project, which comprises another set of people who specialise in assisting the most vulnerable. Finally, I invited the CEO of Spectrum Migrant Resource Centres, Mrs Rosemary Kelada. Spectrum does an incredible amount of work for new immigrants in my electorate. They implement Australia's very successful settlement services. Unfortunately, I am running out of time, but I want to thank them for coming to that meeting and I look forward to working with them in the next few months to implement the government's program. (Time expired)