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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28383

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) (10:35 AM) —I would like to briefly take up the points that were made in relation to employment matters. I addressed the issue of the report of the electoral committee earlier. There are a number of programs in the area of the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business which do promote self-reliance for indigenous people—Australians Working Together— and they are under various headings, such as community participation agreements and capacity building, better support to get a job, increased education and training assistance and remote area servicing. It is the case that the funding is incremental—there is no doubt about that. In total, it involves in the first year, $4.4 million; in the second year, $15.1 million; in the third year, $27.5 million; and in the fourth year, $35.7 million. Of course, when you have an initiative which involves moving in a new direction, it does take some time to put in place those arrangements to ensure that the funds are properly spent and acquitted.

The shadow minister makes the point that some of this funding is intended to support the CDEP schemes that are able to provide pathways to other employment opportunities. The reason for this is that the CDEP scheme, as it now operates in many communities, provides what is the equivalent of a work for the dole arrangement. When one looks in many of the more remote areas, one finds that the other sorts of employment opportunities to which you might wish to see people move are just not available. In many of these communities I recognise that there are opportunities for other Australians to work.

I have been to many communities where 600 indigenous Australians are living. Few are in employment other than through the CDEP scheme, and probably 70 or 80 other Australians are working there. They are the schoolteachers, the officers who are supporting the community council or, sometimes, the employees who are working in the shop, which is often community owned. The question you have to ask yourself is: how can a CDEP scheme be developed to provide a pathway into those sorts of positions where people need to be highly trained? In reality, without looking at the educational achievement of young people at a very early age, CDEP schemes provide the opportunities for secondary education and post-secondary education and are the pathways for those sorts of jobs. It does not come readily from providing what are often essentially community services—landscaping, garbage services, road maintenance and so on. Regrettably, they are not the pathways to that sort of employment.

One needs to look at the way in which one can improve—which the government is seeking to do—educational levels to get better outcomes that get people into secondary education and post-secondary education, to provide those sorts of opportunities which indigenous people can go back and take up. Community employment schemes are working in other situations as well. If you have had work experience and it has been demonstrated that you can hold down a job, there can be other employment opportunities which are meaningful rather than seen to be make-work schemes or, as has often been described, `payment of sit-down money'. It is our objective, where possible, to see those pathways developed. That is the reason for this change. (Extension of time granted)

We looked at the Department of Finance evaluation of the CDEP schemes and, when we had to prioritise the funding that we had, we looked at whether it was better to boost the funding for what were oncosts and incidentals in relation to running those schemes, which are matters that people can discuss, and whether that ought to be a priority over and above the pathways. Our view was that the pathways to more meaningful employment were a better route to follow.

I have been asked about the regional conference that was held recently by the Murdi Paaki Regional Council, which the member for Grayndler attended, presumably in his role assisting the shadow minister. I was not able to go but I was invited to that summit in Walgett and my parliamentary secretary, Chris Gallus, attended along with my adviser, Russell Patterson. I agree that the regional council is providing a very worthwhile role in terms of discussing and advancing initiatives in relation to employment. I understand the chair, Sam Jeffries, recognised that within the budget CDEP initiatives there may well be an opportunity for them to look at following those matters up with a view to seeing how they can constructively integrate within those initiatives. That is a matter for which the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business has responsibility, but I will ensure that they are aware of my interest, the shadow minister's interest, and the parliamentary secretary to the shadow minister's interest, in seeing ways in which we can work very constructively.

There have been very significant changes in New South Wales in areas where the broader community and indigenous Australians have been able to work together. I have seen that particularly in Moree, which I saw 20 and 30 years ago and which presented as a very dysfunctional community. I have seen very significant change where people have come together and worked to create employment opportunities and to provide effective pathways. I have seen confident, young, indigenous people going abroad to get further experience, particularly in the cotton industry which has been playing a very positive role in that area. I am sure that there are many other areas of Australia where there are employment opportunities and where working together to get people out of the CDEP into more meaningful employment will be a very significant move. I want to assure the Main Committee that this is an area in which the government is very seized of the importance to be working constructively with those who wish to be involved in it, because we see employment opportunities as being absolutely crucial to being able to shift the level of disadvantage which we all know indigenous people in Australia face.