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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16484

Mr SCIACCA (9:10 PM) —Although the budget papers predicted employment growth will fall from 2½ per cent this financial year to 1¾ per cent in 2004-05 and drop further to 1½ per cent in the following year, there has been virtually no additional investment in the labour market training or regional development programs needed to stimulate job growth and improve the prospects of the more than 4,300 job seekers in my Brisbane electorate of Bowman.

The government is often heard crowing about how wonderful its Work for the Dole program is—about how it gives job seekers the opportunity to develop new skills. Yet, on submitting a series of questions on notice to the minister inquiring about the employment status of Work for the Dole participants in my electorate after they had left the scheme, I was disappointed to discover that the department is so superficial in its interest in improving the job prospects of scheme participants that it cannot even be bothered to collect follow-up data. It certainly makes you wonder if the answer would have been different—and if the figures would have been readily available if they were good—if the government were able to boast about the high rate of employment amongst former Work for the Dole participants.

The imminent closure of Wynnum based employment service provider Youthco in my electorate due to lack of funding is a disturbing development that speaks volumes about this government's commitment, or lack thereof, to job seekers in my electorate. Youthco's closure at the end of this month is directly related to the changes to the configuration and funding of Job Network announced by the government in May 2002.

Youthco is the trading arm of BABI, Bayside Adolescent Boarding Inc., a community based youth services organisation that has assisted young people and their families in the broader Wynnum-Manly area for many years. Youthco operates as a Job Network member contracted to provide job matching services. Youthco has always strived to provide an excellent employment service to the local community, with a particular focus on meeting the needs of young people. Most local job seekers will tell you that Youthco is the only agency where job seekers are invited to sit down and talk to an experienced consultant about their employment needs. Youthco provides a caring, personal service that routinely goes well beyond the terms of its contract. This is important in building the confidence and self-esteem of its clients and is genuinely appreciated.

By the government's own reckoning, Youthco has excelled as an employment services provider. The job matching performance of all Job Network providers is rated by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations on a five-star scale. Performance indicators include proportion of contracted placements achieved, proportion of full-time placements, proportion of long-term unemployed people placed in jobs and proportion of placements from at-risk groups—that is, people with disabilities, people from a non-English-speaking background and Indigenous people.

Between February 2000 and February 2003, Youthco was given a four-star rating, second only in the south-east Brisbane region to large operators Mission Employment and Salvation Army Employment Plus. It is worth noting that some 62 per cent of Youthco placements went into full-time jobs. This is 15 per cent above the average for south-east Brisbane, and nine per cent above the national average. In addition to servicing the needs of local job seekers and employers, Youthco contributes significantly to BABI's financial viability as a provider of accommodation, parenting, youth justice, youth support and counselling programs. Yet in late 2002, when BABI and Youthco submitted a tender to provide Job Network services to the small number of clients remaining in south-east Brisbane after the rollover of most intensive assistance contracts, they were unsuccessful. While they have been offered a job placement contract, management estimates their annual income under job placement would drop to as little as 60 per cent of income earned from job matching over the past year.

Youthco has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to meet targets and deliver quality services on a shoestring. Its excellent performance was achieved by just three staff—two full-time, one part-time—based in one small office at Wynnum. But accepting the job placement licence offered would not be viable without cross-subsidisation and would mean risking BABI's overall financial position. Understandably, it does not consider this to be an acceptable risk.

In closing, on behalf of Wynnum-Manly residents, I extend my very best wishes to the dedicated staff at Youthco, headed by Ann Chandra, whom I have known and respected for many years. Youthco's closure will be a tremendous blow for the Bayside area of my electorate. Job seekers in the area will be denied access to an excellent employment service provider that has a proven record of delivering results, and the flow-on effects for BABI's financial position may force BABI to reduce other important services it provides to young people in our community.