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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7285

Senator MARSHALL (2:54 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Family and Community Services. Is the minister aware that Highlands Personnel in Ballarat, which is a specialist employment service for persons with disabilities, have received just 11 new places under the first round of funding from the Australians Working Together initiative and that they currently have a waiting list of 100 people? Is the minister aware that, with the current funding levels, someone applying for assistance today would not receive help before January 2004? How are people with disabilities in Ballarat expected to access specialist employment assistance with funding levels and waiting lists like this?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank the senator for the question. Obviously, I do not have the details with me of each disability employment service. I do not suggest that if you were genuinely interested you might have come to me and asked me to look at this matter and get you some detail on it. I do not know why you have chosen to raise it when you would not expect to get a detailed answer. Nonetheless, I will not take that in bad faith; I will get you a detailed answer on that service. There are a number of services that would have a waiting list; it is a difficult situation. But all of these people work extremely hard to get the right people in the right placements. I will have a look at it. If they have a funding problem it does not mean it cannot be fixed. I am not suggesting this is the case in Ballarat, because I simply do not know how many services there are. Let us not forget that in the community sector the people who are the most committed are probably the ones who are working in the disability area; people who run these services are not dropping out of the Deutsche Bank for a year to do a bit of community service. They are very community minded. They are not out there to make a buck and get ahead themselves; they are genuinely motivated to do the best in this area. But even amongst those groups there is, of course, competition for funding and competition to get people to go to one employment service versus another one. I will get you an answer and get back to you as soon as I can.

Senator MARSHALL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that the government intends to reintroduce legislation that will force 103,000 Australians with disabilities onto Newstart payments—that is, they will receive $54 less a fortnight than those on disability support pensions? How can the minister justify shunting thousands of people with disabilities onto a lower payment when the government cannot even provide sufficient employment and rehabilitation support to those already on pensions?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I can confirm that the Australians working together bill is coming back—I think it might already be here. You are asking about the other bill in relation to disabilities. It is my view that the government will bring the bill back. That bill—if you have looked at it—will not take any money from any existing disability recipients. But what it will do is give you the opportunity to tell Australians whether you would pay a bloke in a wheelchair who has to be tube fed and who cannot possibly work the same amount of money as a guy who can work 24 hours a week at award rates. Your answer to that is yes; our answer to that is no. Yes, we might make you tell the public that that is your view—that you would pay someone in a wheelchair who cannot possibly work the same amount as a bloke who can work 25 hours a week.