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Employment services contracts

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 18 Mar 2009

I rise to take note of the answer about employment services that I received from Senator Ludwig, the Minister representing the Minister for Employment Services, today. The Greens received on our website an anonymous tip-off about this particular issue. The minister reaffirmed at the end of question time that he could not tell me anything more about the process because no final decisions had been made, although he did confirm, when answering my question earlier, that preferred tenderers had been notified. As we understand it, the unsuccessful tenderers have also been notified. At this stage, as far as we can tell, there is a range of not-for-profit community and church providers among them. As I alluded to in my question, we know of one large provider that will have to lay off between 400 and 500 people; that is one provider alone.

We do not know yet who has been given those contracts, because the minister cannot tell us because the process has not been finalised. But we have had suggestions and we have had that tip-off that large for-profit organisations are the successful tenderers and some of those may be from overseas. So here we have overseas for-profit service providers coming in and taking away the contracts of not-for-profit community and church organisations. Consequently, those organisations are having to lay off hundreds, if not thousands, of workers. We have seen-rightly of course-the Prime Minister jumping up and down over the laying off of 1,800 workers by Pacific Brands, and I agree that is a tragedy as well. But here is our own government undermining the service provision of not-for-profit providers in Australia at a time when we are in a global economic crisis and have thousands of unemployed Australians who desperately need joined-up services, who desperately need quality services and who also need the services that these community organisations provide. We need to bear in mind that these not-for-profit organisations use the resources earned through this process and plough them back into service delivery.

They look after our vulnerable people and they provide counselling support for those people who urgently need that sort of support. These people are at their most vulnerable when they have lost their jobs and have families to support. When they are desperately seeking services, here is our government actively undermining not-for-profit organisations.

From the economic stimulus package, we managed to get the government to plough some further funding into supporting counselling services, emergency relief services and the provision of services from the community sector. They are giving with one hand and taking away with the other. These community organisations provide an invaluable service to our community and, in one fell swoop, this government takes away their contracts for the provision of these services. This not only undermines the quality of services that are provided for employment services but also undermines the other services that these organisations can provide.

I also asked during question time about whether WorkDirections UK has been given a contract, and the minister quite rightly said that he cannot give me the information because the final decision has not been made. I appreciate that but we want to be clear what the position is in order to clear the air and debate this issue because, believe me, it is going to be a very hot issue. And the government should note that the undermining of church and community organisations by this decision is absolutely critical to the way our community survives the global economic crisis. Here are the government, with bleeding hearts, saying, ‘We're into social inclusion, and we're going to deliver a compact with these community service organisations.' And what do they do? They take away contracts worth millions of dollars that will lead to the sacking of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who work in the community sector.

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