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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1527

Mr JENKINS(12.30 p.m.) —-In speaking to the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1991-92 and the Department of Employment, Education and Training estimates, I wish particularly to talk about program 4: labour market program assistance. In my speech on the second reading, I commented about this matter and, whilst there was some $600m allocated in this year's Budget, I queried whether that was sufficient. I just wish to make some remarks that will reinforce those comments I made earlier.

In that speech I talked about the needs of those who had been working in manufacturing industry, who had found themselves retrenched and were then going into training courses to try to give them the capacity at some later stage, as the economy picks up, to be able to compete in what is going to be a very competitive labour market. At that time, there had also been some concern expressed in my electorate that, whilst we had identified the need for industry plans, especially with the textile, clothing and footwear labour adjustment package and the PMV--the passenger motor vehicle--labour adjustment package, given the way the work force was scattered especially throughout, in my case, the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the impact of job losses in those industries might be hidden.

Several weeks ago, I had discussions with the local CES office and was pleased to find that, whilst it may be somewhat belated, there was an exercise being carried out especially to identify those on the registers who were from those industries. The problem was that many of the factories in those industries were not in the local area, whereas the employees and ex-employees were. So I was pleased to see that steps were being taken which would ensure that those people were identified.

I was more than pleased, then, last Thursday to be involved in a graduation ceremony conducted by the Northcote library, which conducted a language and literacy program for textile, clothing and footwear retrenchees. Some 11 people graduated that night. They came from the northern suburbs of Melbourne, from Northcote right through to the suburbs of Lalor, Bundoora and Mill Park in my electorate. Many of those who were involved in this program had been previously employed in TCF industries, in some cases for over 20 years. They had the difficulty of not having had formal training for some 20 or 30 years. They were all from non-English speaking backgrounds, and in a number of cases they had very little English.

Seeing those people at the end of their 17-week course, and the increase in confidence, their apparent improvement in self-esteem and their keenness to go on to further training, I think makes it worthwhile. In my speech on the second reading I emphasised that it is not just a matter of looking at the different literature that we put out with the Budget and seeing the dollar figure that is allocated; it is very much a matter of talking about outcomes--not only for the individual, but in the national sense. In this case, whilst it is anecdotal, seeing the outcome on the individual basis and the effect on the people who were involved in that program was very satisfying.

But, as a result of this topic having been raised, the difficulties that confront many of the people about whom we are talking have been illustrated. I quote from some briefing notes that were provided to me by Julie McQueen, the coordinator of adult literacy and basic education with Northcote library. She said:

The students have shown amazing dedication and effort. Many have not been at school for 20 or 30 years, and moving into full-time education is a difficult step. Students were asked to try new things and take chances. In class, they no longer saw themselves as the experts that they were on the job, and they were not sure where "education" was leading them. As well, they had to come to terms with the frustration, anger and bruised self-image they have as retrenched workers. Now students see themselves as learners, they are recognising their strengths and their gains.

All of those whom I talked to after graduation indicated that they were going on to further training. They indicated that they were still of course seeking full time employment but understood that their job opportunities would be increased by entering into further training.

The Northcote library has an extensive adult literacy and basic education program. It has both part time and full time courses that are funded from a number of sources, including the State Government and the Commonwealth Government. The course that it conducted under this TCF package money ran for 17 weeks. It was a 20 hours per week program which included literacy, numeracy, computer skills, work skills, community access, and communication skills.

The students produced for their graduation a booklet entitled Stories of Hard Workers and Retrenchment, and it contains some very moving comments about their early times when they first migrated to Australia and their feelings toward their present predicament. There are some very sad stories about the circumstances in which they found themselves unemployed. One person arrived at work to find literally the factory had closed down. He had no access to any wages owed to him, he had difficulty in chasing up his group certificate and he had no employment separation certificate to show the CES and therefore found difficulty in qualifying for unemployment benefits. People who have gone through that sort of trauma need the large degree of support that is provided by such programs.

As was emphasised to me, the Northcote library prides itself on giving a community base for the work it is doing. I would like to say to the two Marias, Fotini, Jeya, Frances, Sonia, Effie, Voula, Vesna, David and Kiriakos, who graduated last week, that I wish them all the best and every success in their future endeavours. It was interesting to me that, without any prompting, Kiriakos, who turned out to be one of my constituents, said not only that there was need for courses such as the one that he had been through in the city of Northcote but also that he hoped there would be courses provided in the city of Whittlesea, where he lives. That is what I wanted to reinforce about where we are going with these types of training programs.

There is one sour note to the experience of these 11 people. The Government provides a formal training allowance to assist with the added costs that these people might incur in undertaking the training. Unfortunately, nine of the individuals experienced delays of up to 12 weeks; that is, they got their allowance in the twelfth week of the 17 week course. We have centralised the payment of these benefits through an office in Indooroopilly and it was hard for these people to understand, while going through a community based training program, that the benefit they were eligible for was being paid through an office some 3,000 kilometres away. I think that is something we should be looking at.

It was not the first instance of problems of this nature being brought to my attention. Another constituent, from Watsonia, came to see me. She is a sole parent who was going through a pre-apprenticeship training program. She started the training on 31 July and filled out the forms prior to commencement of the course. She completed the course on 20 September but had not received any of the training allowance. I think her comments to me put this in context. She said:

May I say, it is costing me an extra $70 per week for child minding and travelling expenses.

She was applying for $30 retraining allowance. She continued:

The government seems keen to get people like me off the pension and into the workforce.

She saw that delay in the allowance as being very much a disincentive towards the achievement of that. (Time expired)