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Tuesday, 25 September 2001
Page: 31359

Mrs MAY (2:36 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Community Services. Would the minister outline to the House how Centrelink is helping workers affected by the Ansett collapse? Are there any special arrangements in place for affected employees?

Mr ANTHONY (Minister for Community Services) —I would like to thank the member for McPherson for her question. Indeed, as neighbours we share a concern for those Ansett employees who worked at Coolangatta airport. The reason she has asked this question is that, true to form, the opposition unfortunately has been spreading a lot of misinformation and, quite frankly, has been using scare tactics on those 16,000 employees. I would like to address this issue later on in my answer. What they need at the moment is support, and that is exactly what this government is offering them.

Centrelink does have an important role to play, particularly in helping those Ansett workers. I would just like to commend and also to thank the staff of Centrelink for their tremendous effort in responding to this urgent situation over the last three weeks. Certainly the Centrelink call network has been answering many questions. We have also been holding over 80 seminars now, right across the country, to inform people of the options that are open and particularly, of course, provide information about the claim for income support. As at 20 September, around 1,300 Ansett employees have already attended these sessions. Since Friday, 14 September, Centrelink has been accepting intentions to claim. This means that former employees will be paid from the earliest date possible.

We have been working with the ACTU and, of course, with the administrator to make this process as simple and as easy as possible for affected workers. Ansett employees applying for payments will not have to lodge a separation certificate to be eligible, by special arrangements with Centrelink. Obviously this saves considerable time, and what we are trying to do is to speed up the payments. To date, we have received over 3,500 claims. Another important point is that employees laid off because of the Ansett collapse who are not direct Ansett employees will be able to supply a separation certificate, as is the normal requirement.

I have to say that this government has been bending over backwards to ensure that we assist the Ansett employees. Of course, what we have already done is the major announcement last week by the Prime Minister and by the relevant minister to ensure that 100 per cent of statutory entitlements are met as a backstop by this government. You never did it. You never did it when Compass went under. You never did it with Adsteam, Bond, Bell—

Mr SPEAKER —Minister, address your remarks through the chair.

Mr ANTHONY —You never did it when Compass failed—Compass 1 or 2. You never did with Adsteam or Bell or Bond or Budget or Qintex or Hooker or any of the TV stations that went down in the halcyon days of the Labor Party during the eighties, and you certainly are not providing that support now. What we have been trying to do is provide a fair and equitable—

Mr SPEAKER —The minister has the call.

Mr ANTHONY —But, of course, what the Labor Party are doing—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Batman!

Mr ANTHONY —They are trying to use the Ansett employees as pawns in a political game to score their own points, which I think is quite regrettable, particularly in the situation where we see press releases being put out by the member for Lilley and also by the member for Dickson, knowing full well what the entitlements are that Centrelink can provide, but claiming that we are turning people away from Centrelink's office. That is absolutely incorrect. What this has shown is that this government and the Prime Minister 100 per cent—and John Anderson—have displayed impeccable leadership when it comes to trying to resolve this crisis that you never have; it is unlike the flip-flop attitude of the Australian Labor Party. The question you got to ask yourself is: can they govern themselves? Well, even in the federal seat of Richmond, the most important person, the head of the FEC of the Richmond Labor Party, has stood down and is running as an independent Labor Party person because she is fed up with the factional brawling and the incapacity of the Leader of the Opposition to govern. If you cannot govern your party—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Minister, resume your seat.