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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2860

Senator McKIERNAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Is the minister aware of claims by a New South Wales government minister that the Commonwealth has slashed funds for the Adult Migrant English Service? Further, is the minister aware of threats of industrial action by the New South Wales Teachers Federation in protest against the alleged cuts? Are the funds to the New South Wales Adult Migrant English Service to be cut as claimed by the New South Wales minister, and is this proposed strike action in any way justified?

Senator BOLKUS —I thank Senator McKiernan for what is, I believe, a very timely question. It is time that the New South Wales government and the New South Wales Adult Migrant English Service got some pretty basic facts straight and stopped running erroneous scare campaigns in New South Wales about the level of English language services not only in that state but also across the country. It is true that one unfortunate victim of this disinformation campaign is the New South Wales Teachers Federation. As the honourable senator indicated in his question, the federation has already signalled that it is considering industrial action.

  The history of disinformation on this matter is recent. On 4 November this year, the New South Wales Minister for Industrial Relations and Employment, Kerry Chikarovski, put out a press statement making a somewhat astounding claim that the Commonwealth had cut funding to adult ESL programs in New South Wales by some 20 per cent. She also claimed that that would necessitate a reduction of jobs in the area of some 84 positions. The New South Wales Teachers Federation, ignited by this press statement, issued a press release protesting and signalling industrial action.

  The truth, of course, is different. If the minister, Kerry Chikarovski, and the journalists who ran her press release had bothered to check, they would have seen that her claims were wrong. Rather than decrease, Commonwealth expenditure on adult ESL programs for New South Wales residents has substantially increased as a result of 1992-93 budget decisions. ESL funding in New South Wales over the 1992-94 triennium is: 1992, $37.3 million, with $34.5 million coming from my department and $2.8 million coming from DEET; 1993, $43.1 million, with $25.7 million from my department and $17.4 million from DEET; and 1994, $42.1 million, with $20.1 million from Immigration and $22 million from DEET. Of these state figures, Commonwealth funding to the New South Wales Adult Migrant English Service over the 1992-94 triennium is expected to be: in 1992, $31 million; in 1993, $35.6 million; and in 1994, $31 million.

  There is a basic misunderstanding in the minister's press release. She neglected to recognise the contribution of the Department of Employment, Education and Training in this overall government program. Her decision to declare 84 positions redundant, when the Commonwealth's commitment to this area has actually increased, is somewhat astounding.

  The difficulty I find in this matter is that Mrs Chikarovski acted unilaterally. Negotiations had been continuing; I had been awaiting a reply from her; but the press statement came out regardless of those discussions.

  The other surprising aspect is that she put out a press statement at a time when she did not rely on accurate information. She has redressed that to a certain extent in recent days. On 12 November she wrote to me saying:

  I am pleased to note that the estimates on which we have been planning may not have been reliable and therefore that it is still possible that sufficient funds may be allocated to NSW AMES to avoid any job losses.

It is a pity that she did not go to her officers and check that out before she wrote the letter.

  Discussions will be continuing in the next few days between New South Wales officials and officers from my department. I hope those discussions will end those misconceptions about the Commonwealth's ongoing commitment to adult ESL services.

Senator McKIERNAN —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer and note that the New South Wales minister has indeed corrected herself to a point. I ask the minister whether he has taken any steps to ensure that the New South Wales Teachers Federation is aware of the facts of the situation.

Senator Bishop —What is her name?

Senator Schacht —Is she part of the uglies faction, Bronwyn?

Senator McKIERNAN —A bit of help from my frontbench parliamentary colleague would not go amiss on this matter. Can unwarranted strike activity be avoided over an issue which is really a non-event as a result of a misunderstanding, if not worse?

Senator BOLKUS —I am writing back to the Hon. Kerry Chikarovski and setting the situation straight. That letter, of course, will also go to the New South Wales Teachers Federation; it has already been notified by me of the level of funding. The other strange thing about this is that Chikarovski's letter was written despite the fact that—

Senator Bishop —Mrs Chikarovski's letter, if you don't mind.

Senator BOLKUS —Mrs Chikarovski's letter—and I am not so sure whether she is part of Senator Bishop's faction in New South Wales, but I am sure she will appreciate this degree of support from her; she may not reciprocate in the preselection for Mackellar, from my information.

  But, in any event, that letter was written despite an agreement which Mrs Chadwick, as senior New South Wales education minister, had reached in Perth earlier this year at a meeting chaired by my colleague Mr Beazley, a meeting which I attended and at which a formula was accepted in terms of Commonwealth contribution to funding in this area. Not only are we meeting that formula, we are exceeding it. It is a pity that communications between Mrs Chadwick and Mrs Chikarovski were not better. If they had been, we would not have had this sort of campaign fuelled in the community in New South Wales.