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Tuesday, 17 September 1996
Page: 3536


Senator ELLISON(3.25 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Senator Herron), to a question without notice asked by Senator Bob Collins today, relating to funding for the Community Development Employment Projects program of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

I bring to the Senate's attention the fact that in the area of the community development employment program, the CDEP, this government will be spending $337 million more in our first four years than Labor did in its last four years. If Senator Bob Collins is trying to say that this government is attacking the employment and training opportunities of Aboriginal people, then he had better think again. He had better have a good look at the budget because, in relation to education and training accounts, we have around $344 which will be spent in 1996-97, with a total of $1.3 billion over the next four years—a real increase of 12 per cent compared to the last four years.

There are four major programs which will be affected. The largest is Abstudy, essentially the equivalent of Austudy, which provides financial support to secondary and tertiary indigenous students—and that will allow $542 million over the next four years in the form of living allowances, assistance with fees and other educational expenses. There is the Aboriginal education strategic initiatives program, AESIP, which provides funding of $419 million over four years to educational institutions to improve opportunities and outcomes for indigenous students. This also includes additional funding of $143 million before the efficiency dividend over the four years from 1995-96 provided in response to a 1994 review of the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education policy, which found that indigenous people are the most educationally disadvantaged group in Australia. We have real programs with real increases in expenditure that deal with the training of Aboriginal people.

We have the Aboriginal direct assistance program, which provides educational support such as homework centres or tutorial assistance. For this program, $233 million will be provided over the next four years. ATSIC's major program is the community development employment project, with funding of $353 million in 1996-97. There are currently 262 communities involved in such projects, with a total of approximately 28,000 participants. CDEP participant numbers have been quarantined in the budget, so no CDEP jobs are at risk and no current projects are in jeopardy as a result of budget decisions. Additionally, current and future allocations provide some capacity for natural growth of around 50 new participants per month.

If Senator Collins is trying to say that there has been a cut in funding, a cut in the government's assistance towards Aboriginal training and employment, then he is mistaken. And he is not only mistaken; he is misleading the Senate in saying so because those figures are from the budget announced in August this year. This government is totally committed to the training of young Aboriginal people; it is totally committed to providing maximum employment for Aboriginal people. In fact, our policy of reducing the budget deficit is in turn going to offer more job opportunities to Aboriginal people.

With the native title committee I visited a training facility not far from the Marandoo mine site where Hammersley Iron was providing on the job training for Aboriginal people. That training program was indeed successful, and plant operators from the program were then eligible to go on and gain employment with annual earnings of somewhere between $35,000 and $50,000 a year. That was brought about by economic growth from the development of a new mine. That is what this government is going to do: it is going to create an economic climate where all Austral ians will benefit, where all Australians will have more employment opportunities. But in the meantime we have that increased expenditure. For Senator Collins to say that we are cutting back on that is just not right and he ought to have another look at those budget figures.

Question resolved in the affirmative.