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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 3585


Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development (Senator Wong) to a question asked by me relating to Indigenous employment.

The answer that we received during question time in relation to Indigenous employment just shows us that the government are continuing to take responsibility for what is just abysmal management of Indigenous employment services in this country. The Remote Jobs and Communities Program will start in 10 days time, on 1 July. At estimates hearings we spent a lot of time talking about which providers were already in place and which providers would be ready to go. That was on 7 June. We find ourselves today, on 20 June, just 10 days before the start-up date, with three providers still, as yet, unannounced. They are the three providers in Queensland: western Cape, central Cape and Cook. Another three in Tiwi, Galiwinku, Yirrkala and the Torres Straits islands have only been announced in the past few days.

If we were dealing with the centre of an Australian capital city CBD and we were talking about announcing providers that needed to be in place in the next 10 days, we might pause and think: 'Are they going to be ready to go in 10 days?' But we are not. We are actually talking about three of the most remote regions in Australia where Job Services providers have yet to be announced in a $1.5 billion program that this government intends to roll out in 10 days time. How can providers who have yet to be announced—we do not even know whether they have been confirmed or not—possibly have adequate infrastructure, adequate staff and adequate offices ready to help job seekers in the most remote areas of Australia within the next 10 days? It is simply beyond the bounds of credulity. In fact, based on the government's current performance, whether you are talking about the IEP or the Remote Jobs and Communities Program, their target of halving the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment outcomes by 2020 is going to go the same way as their commitment to halve homelessness by 2020: we have actually seen homelessness increase by 17 per cent on their watch. They are never short of targets, they are never short of rhetoric, but they are very, very short on delivery.

This story sounds terrifyingly like that of the Indigenous Employment Program, a very worthy initiative that Labor has effectively mismanaged so badly that it is almost at the point of being dismantled—by a government that claims that it is a leader in this particular area. It is mind-boggling. In fact, it would be funny if it were not so terribly serious. Under the IEP, we had job placement providers who had their funding frozen midway through last year. Some even had to close their doors at the end of last year, and others are still trying to stay afloat, because there was no certainty provided by the government on the IEP under its bureaucratically entitled 'pause on funding'. So the minister, Minister Julie Collins, has been desperately trying to save face. She has announced a new streamlining of the IEP—because, if you keep making announcements about streamlining and you review and you have a 'pause', then hopefully you can confuse everybody so completely that no-one can see that it is a completely dysfunctional operation.

I think, and I am very concerned, that the Remote Jobs and Communities Program is out of control before it even starts. That is a very, very serious problem for the many thousands of unemployed Indigenous Australians in the most remote parts of this country. If you live in Cook, if you live in the central cape or the western cape regions of Far North Queensland, what are you supposed to do in 10 days time? Who are you supposed to turn to? The government have also announced a two-month funding extension this week relating to CDEP providers for the transition to the RJCP. But apparently they did not even manage to consult properly with the providers in that case because a number of them have reportedly closed their doors in anticipation of the winding down of the CDEP. So any extension is too little, too late, and useless to them.

It is just a patch-up job. It might get headlines; it might not—but it does not make any meaningful process on closing the gap on Indigenous employment outcomes. For the sake of Australia's Indigenous job seekers in our most remote areas and in those areas served by the continuing Indigenous Employment Program, the IEP, this farce just has to stop.