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Friday, 31 May 1996
Page: 1543

Senator MARGETTS(12.36 p.m.) —I thank the parliamentary secretary for that answer, but the questions that we are asking now are about programs, some of which have actually been frozen—not some time in the future, not in a previous government, but now. It seems to be reasonable that there perhaps should have been a commitment to either make that announcement at some stage or provide a means by which these questions can be asked. We can continue asking them question by question, and certainly we will put a number of these questions on notice, but I would certainly like to know how many of the current programs have been frozen.

We have heard, for instance, that tertiary tutorial assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been frozen. We have heard about contracts by the government with providers of English as a second language for those people who you have announced you will not assist with social security, newly arrived immigrants. Funds for contracted courses for English as a second language have been frozen for people who have signed contracts. Is this our imagination? Where is the press release that has announced these programs? When will it be legitimate for this Senate to ask why some programs have been frozen now—not in the future, not in the budget and not in a past government?

I have had a letter passed on to me today from Wanneroo accommodation and support services. I have had indications that there are unemployed people being denied support and that 13,000 unemployed people will not be assisted following a decision by Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Senator Vanstone, to reduce the level of funding to skillshare projects to 30 per cent between July and September this year—not in the future, not in the budget.

People know these things because they are in the community. The people involved in those programs that are having their funds frozen have not, in many cases, been given any explanation or been officially advised by anybody, and they cannot get any details. Where is the accountability? If you can tell us—if you are going to—we would be very happy to get a full list of the staffing cuts to departments now. We would be happy to get a list of departments which have had current programs frozen. We would be very happy to see that, and, therefore, our concerns and some of the community's concerns about not knowing what this government is doing now—and it seems that in your case you do not know what your government is doing now, or you are not prepared to say it—might be allayed. At least people would know, in relation to that level of uncertainty, what their future is.

I am happy to put a number of these questions on notice, but some of them are not small changes. At section 4, under local government programs, there seems to be an allocation 48 per cent below the proportion which would indicate that the funding would be maintained at the current level. That is a pretty large decrease. Why are local government services being cut in this way? Are programs going to be cut and introduced and implemented at a reduced level? Local government in fact did get some serious underspendings from the previous government in areas where their regional economic development organisations were not ready to be set up.

What programs are going to be cut? What are the staffing implications in this appropriation? How many staff in this area have currently left employment without being replaced? What portion of total staff in the local government area do they represent?