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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1485


Senator SIEWERT (3:34 PM) —I am going to take note of only one of the answers, and that is about the issue of SIHIP and the Aboriginal employment program. I am very concerned and want to clarify the employment and working conditions for Aboriginal workers employed under SIHIP. We want to know under what conditions participants in CDEP, traineeships or Work for the Dole programs are being employed. We have received some very disturbing reports from communities in Central Australia of inconsistent and in fact exploitative treatment of Aboriginal workers. This, surely, should not be happening in what is supposed to be one of our premier infrastructure programs in this country.

The minister proudly proclaimed the meeting of a 30 per cent target of Indigenous or Aboriginal employees. But under what conditions is that 30 per cent target being met, and how many of those are real jobs? We have heard allegations of Aboriginal workers on CDEP or on income management being promised top-up pay that they did not receive or did not fully receive. There are allegations of inconsistent and diminishing rates of top-up pay for workers, so that workers continuously employed to do the same work for the same number of hours a day receive less pay in subsequent pay packets. We have heard allegations of a failure to provide pay slips, employment contracts or other documentation to Aboriginal workers. We have heard allegations of a failure to report on employment outcomes to JSA providers and minimal training for extended periods of work—for example, one day for three or four months of full-time work, and they are still supposed to be trainees.

We have heard of Aboriginal contractors being asked to include CDEP places to reduce costs and receiving less work when they refuse to do so. We have heard of Aboriginal contracting organisations who are fully able to employ full-time people in real jobs being told, ‘No, we want you to do CDEP,’ and when they refuse because they are committed to real job outcomes, they do not receive the work and are cut out of the work. We have heard of different workers doing the same work side-by-side but receiving vastly different pay. We have heard of oversubscription of CDEP workers for the amount of work required. For example, there will be 15 or 20 employees on CDEP work where you would normally have five or six full-time workers—in other words, the figures are being skewed, and maybe that is where some of that 30 per cent so proudly boasted of as being over target comes from. We are concerned that if some or in fact all of these allegations are true, they are undermining the positive employment outcomes that could be achieved by the significant opportunity provided by SIHIP.

Minister Arbib, in answer to my questions around CDEP, claimed that part of the rationale for employing CDEP people under the SIHIP program was to provide long-term training to help aboriginal people get into real jobs. As I have said, the reports coming from Central Australia are that a single day’s training is provided before somebody works full time for three or four months on the job without any further training. I fail to see how this is justifying employing people on CDEP under so-called training when they are not receiving any training. That could be about cheap outcomes for the employer. By any account, we believe that that is in fact real work they are doing. It is not trainee work. These are real jobs and they should be paid as real jobs.

One of the other issues here, of course, is that the people who are working on these jobs are still being income quarantined. Here you have Aboriginal people who are supposedly in real jobs, but they are still getting income quarantined. What is that all about? How is that teaching people to get a job? It was supposed to be about encouraging people into employment; that is about still demonising people and the government having its cake and eating it too. They changed CDEP in the first place so they could income manage people’s work for the dole payments. Now you have people supposedly working full time in real jobs and still getting income managed. It is no wonder Aboriginal people get so discouraged when again they see the promise of real jobs disappearing for more CDEP training, more exploitation, people not getting paid for the work they do and working alongside people who are getting paid full, proper wages. They are working alongside people doing the same work and not getting those wages. That is not fair.

I appreciate the government undertaking to investigate that. It needs to be investigated immediately. I would hope that they have already started investigating it, seeing as these claims came out last week. I hope that the government would have instantly started investigating it. I am disappointed that the minister could not tell us how much of the 30 per cent of jobs that were supposed to have been for Aboriginal employment were full time. How many of those were real jobs? The government has told us time and time again that they are creating real jobs, but the minister could not tell me how many out of that 30 per cent were real jobs. That is unacceptable.

Question agreed to.