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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6385

Senator FORSHAW (3:27 PM) —I take note of answers to questions from Senator Vanstone, the Minister For Family and Community Services. I particularly want to focus on the answer, or the lack of an answer, that Senator Vanstone gave to the question by Senator Denman regarding the Job Placement, Employment and Training Program, often referred to as JPET. I might pick up on the last comments of Senator Johnston, when he was endeavouring to refer to the most vulnerable. One of the most vulnerable groups in our society, in this country, is homeless youth or youth who for various reasons—as a result of family breakdown and so on—are dependent on welfare. When the last Labor government was in power, the then Minister For Health, Housing and Community Services, Brian Howe, introduced the Job Placement, Employment and Training Program. It was specifically targeted at helping young people in desperate situations to get employment and to get access to accommodation rather than living on the streets.

When this Prime Minister, John Howard, came to power one of the first things he did was establish his very own Youth Homelessness Task Force. I recognise that the Prime Minister himself recognised the importance of this issue. There was a lot of concern in the community about the issue of youth homelessness and other issues affecting youth such as suicide and drugs. One would have thought that, as a result of that, Mr Howard and his government would be concerned about continuing to assist the young disadvantaged members of our community. His task force undertook its work. One of its main findings was that assistance towards employment was the key to pulling young people out of homelessness and away from a lifetime of being dependent upon welfare.

In particular, the Prime Minister's own task force recommended that the Jobs Placement, Employment and Training Program be not only retained but also expanded and the government supported the task force recommendation. Subsequent inquiries have reinforced that position. Indeed, most recently an independent review of JPET concluded that the JPET program is:

... competitive in achieving employment and education/training outcomes, and that it also offers a wide range of other physical, emotional and educational supports that assist young people with multiple barriers to employment, training and education make lasting transitions to sustainable and independent lifestyles.

You could not get a much stronger and more positive endorsement of this very worthwhile program—started by Labor and continued by this government up until now. This is the basis of the question that was asked of Senator Vanstone. What has happened is that Minister Vanstone wrote two weeks ago to 70 JPET services across the country and informed them that, as of the end of this year, 31 December, they would no longer be receiving any funding. That is more than half of the JPET services across the country. There are 138 JPET services; 70 of them received letters saying that their funding ceases at the end of December. Naturally there was an outcry about this, and representations have been made.

What is significant is that more than 50 per cent of these services that will lose their funding are in Victoria and New South Wales. What is happening in Victoria and New South Wales in the next couple of months? There are going to be state elections. The federal government woke up and thought, `This is not a good message to be sending prior to a state election,' so the minister has written back and said, `We are actually going to extend your funding to the end of March 2003'—taking it beyond the date of the state elections. They recognise the electoral backlash of this decision. But it is still going to cut out at the end of March, and that is only because they were cynical enough to try to delay the closure date of 31 December this year to March next year. This is a disgraceful decision by this government and it flies in the face of their own earlier recommendations. (Time expired).

Question agreed to.