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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 3993

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (2:04 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment Participation and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Government Service Delivery, Senator Arbib. Minister, can you confirm to the Senate that since the global downturn that began late last year, the Rudd government has been taking action to support jobs and to cushion Australia from the full impact of the global recession by stepping in early and taking decisive action? Can you also confirm that, following the government’s stimulus packages last year and the Nation Building and Jobs Plan announced in February, the government also announced in April that seven priority areas would receive additional assistance through the appointment of local employment coordinators, and that this involved experienced Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations staff working in the role immediately, until the permanent coordinators were in place? Minister, can you please update the Senate on the progress of this very important initiative?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —I thank Senator Collins for that important question. It is important because obviously Australia is facing the worst economic downturn since the Depression. Importantly, there are some Australian communities which are doing it worse than others and have been more affected. These communities need extra support to avoid the misery that often comes with long-term unemployment. That is why in April the government announced it would provide additional assistance to seven priority areas which have been hit hard by the global recession.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator ARBIB —Senators on the other side may not want to hear this, but it is important because it is regarding local employment strategies. Maybe the Liberal Party do not care about jobs—they have no jobs plan—but I would hope that they would want to hear some of the good news that is going on in communities. Given that there was no time to lose, the government put in place seven priority areas that have been hardest hit by the global recession. We immediately started the search for local coordinators who could be involved in local plans and strategies to pull together job opportunities with local business, small business and, of course, government departments. To get things going, straightaway we put in place interim local employment coordinators. They have been working hard over the past months.

Today I can announce to the Senate that we have appointed seven permanent local employment coordinators. They are: Canberbury-Bankstown, Mark King; the Illawarra, Jane Robinson; Ipswich-Logan, Samantha Wilson; South Eastern Melbourne, Keith Pimblett; Northern and Western Adelaide, Pippa Webb; South West Perth, Jon McLlhone; and Northern Tasmania, Geoff Speers. We are also in the process of making appointments in the Richmond-Tweed and Clarence Valley and also the mid-North coast of New South Wales. I would like to congratulate those coordinators who have been appointed and I commend them on the work that is going to be undertaken over the next 12 months. (Time expired)

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer. It is certainly pleasing to note that these coordinators will be on the ground from now on. But, given the significant challenges that they will be experiencing in these difficult economic times, can the minister provide any further information for the benefit of senators on the kind of work these employment coordinators will be engaged in?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —Thank you again, Senator, for that question. You are 100 per cent right: the work they will be undertaking is absolutely significant. The key at the moment for these coordinators is to take a whole-of-government approach. While senators from the Liberal Party have no plan for jobs—their leader has been in place now for 280 days and there is no plan for jobs—we do have a plan for jobs. On one side, these coordinators will be working with government departments on the stimulus package—working with local builders, contractors and small business, who are putting together those new libraries, new classrooms and new halls. At the same time, they will be working with local councils. A big section of the stimulus package, which the other side of the chamber do not want to talk about, are the local community projects that are underway right now—the projects that some members of the Liberal Party, like Joanna Gash, give the thumbs up to but which Liberal senators voted against. (Time expired)

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for his response but I wish to ask a further question in relation to the local employment coordinators and the Nation Building and Jobs Plan. Given that the Nation Building and Jobs Plan is providing work opportunities across our nation, with construction work at schools, houses, road and rail projects, and installing ceiling insulation, and noting that this comes on top of the action the government has taken in doubling and tripling the first home owners grant to stimulate the building and housing construction industry, can the minister explain to the Senate how the work of local employment coordinators will link with all of these government initiatives?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —Thank you again, Senator, for that question. As I was saying before I was interrupted, the local employment coordinators will be working with the schools, with the local state departments of housing, with small business and with big employers in the regions. This is what the jobs plan is about. At the same time, they will also be working to establish Jobs Fund projects in those areas. There is also the $41 million Innovation Fund. In addition, they will be working within the Jobs and Training Compact, ‘learn or earn’, which the government has put in place for young people. On top of that, there is the redundancy compact to ensure that people who lose their jobs get immediate access to Job Services Australia. Under the previous government, it took months to get access to personalised service; now you get it automatically—direct access to stream 2. On this side of the chamber, we the Labor Party have a jobs plan. The other side has no plan. (Time expired)