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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 6012

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (20:12): Like the previous speaker I also want to commend the minister on the Local Connections to Work program. Ipswich was a pilot site for that program and it is doing a great job there. I am very pleased with the work of Jenny Wright, team leader at Centrelink in Ipswich. In fact, Jenny is in Parliament House—I saw her an hour or so ago—and I will be catching up with her tomorrow morning.

I wanted to take this opportunity to personally thank the minister for the assistance that my electorate received during the recent floods, particularly for the wonderful support from Centrelink. Those people in dark-green shirts with 'community recovery' emblazoned on their backs and with their iPads were greatly appreciated and did a great job. Since and before being elected to this place, I have always thought that mobile offices were particularly important. I did 190 mobile offices personally last term and I have done 76 already this term. I represent a regional and rural seat. I have got all the Somerset region, which is our country area, and most of Ipswich, 60 per cent of which is rural as well. I get around to all the country shows doing mobile offices once a month. I notice that Centrelink is taking up that task. I am not sure whether they are replicating my work! Indeed, Jenny Wright, the team leader for Local Connections to Work in Ipswich, and Kylie Stoneman, one of my electorate officers, who does a lot of community development work, have been going out to various places. I want to put on record that on 27 June they will be in Lowood, on 28 June in Laidley, on 29 June in Toogoolawah and on 30 June in Esk.

Lowood, Toogoolawah and Esk are in my seat in Somerset, and Laidley is in the Lockyer Valley. They are all areas which were badly affected by the flood. The flood went straight through Esk. Laidley was cut off and a lot of the sites we saw on TV, where people were being evacuated by helicopter, were in Laidley and the surrounding area. Lowood had whole farming districts destroyed. In fact, 3,000 homes in Ipswich and 500 homes in Somerset were inundated. Whole farming areas, like Brightview, were completely destroyed. I know that Centrelink workers went out to those places at the request of the minister and, locally, at the request of Jenny Wright, to evacuation centres and recovery centres. They went to places like Fernvale, Toogoolawah, Lowood, Esk and Ipswich, and suburbs like Leichhardt-One Mile and Riverview—just getting out into the local communities.

I was very pleased to see in the budget that the government is investing $24.5 million of new funding to continue this important service for another four years, as well as providing more mobile offices in 2014. I am very interested in the role of Centrelink social workers, because, as a number of them said to me, a lot of people were stoic and resilient during the recent floods; but, if you sat down with them for a while and earned their trust and respect, they shared their travails and troubles, and the Centrelink workers were able to give them important emotional and psychological support. So I am pleased to see the budget includes new funding to support more Centrelink social workers over the coming years. I think that is absolute crucial, Minister, and I commend you for that. Those workers do very important work. I think the assistance given by the mobile offices in terms of customer document information, payment and service options, and rural payment entitlements are particularly important, as is processing new claims in an expeditious way.

So, Minister, I would like to know more details about this budget measure—how it is going to be delivered in rural and regional areas, and why it is as a particular priority for you in the Human Services portfolio. I think this is a good initiative; it will help seniors, families, students, carers and self-employed people. But it does need to be publicised well, because in some of these areas people rely very much on the rural newspapers, so it is important that that information goes out in various different ways—through the rural press and not just on TV. For a lot of people, it is that rural weekly throwaway that is so important. It is not just their TV guide; it is their source of local information—and it should be the source of information about Centrelink mobile offices. I am happy to hear any information from you, Minister.