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Indigenous Employment

Senator SIEWERT (2.22 pm)—My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Arbib, who also happens to be the Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development. I would like to draw the minister’s attention to recent reports of Aboriginal workers renovating houses under SIHIP in Central Australia. Is the minister aware of claims that CDEP participants are being used in preference to providing real jobs for Aboriginal workers and that these CDEP workers have been underpaid, some have not been paid top up or some have had diminishing rates of top up? Is it a fact that some of these workers are in fact on the BasicsCard? If the minister is aware of this, what is the government doing about addressing the problems in this key infrastructure program?

Senator ARBIB—I thank Senator Siewert for the question and also for her interest. I know it is an area of deep interest and she has worked very hard on it. SIHIP is the largest ever investment in Indigenous employment, and I have spoken about it before in question time and also before many Senate estimates hearings. It employs a large number of Indigenous Australians. There are currently 323 Indigenous employees making up over 30 per cent of the SIHIP workforce. That exceeds our Indigenous employment target by 10 per cent. These people are doing real work for real wages. Whether they are on CDEP doing work experience or receiving income support, all people working on SIHIP are paid at least award wages. I am aware of the articles that Senator Siewert is referring to. I am advised that the government will investigate any claim made that a CDEP participant is not being paid appropriately and take action as necessary. Our investigations to date indicate that CDEP participants undertaking work experience placements in SIHIP are being paid appropriately.

It is important to talk about the link between SIHIP and CDEP, because there is a great deal of work there and CDEP providers are encouraged to work with Aboriginal people to ensure that they have all the necessary skills to place people in employment with SIHIP contractors. As a supplementary measure some CDEP participants undertake work experience placements with SIHIP providers to gain valuable training and on-the-job skills. I want to make this point clear: all work performed on SIHIP is paid at least the award rate. This includes CDEP participants on work placements whether they are on CDEP wages or income support. (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. We have had reports that in fact CDEP workers have been preferred over providing real jobs to workers. I ask that the minister also investigate that and give us a time when he will get back to us following that investigation. Could the minister please tell us what proportion of the 30 per cent are real jobs as opposed to two CDEP workers?

Senator ARBIB—In terms of the detail of those questions I will have to take them on notice and provide you with information. What I can say again is that CDEP is a very important part of the Indigenous employment programs that the government does provide in providing long-term training and also transitions to employment. As Senator Siewert would know, many of the SIHIP programs are only in certain parts, certain towns or regions, for a limited period of time, and therefore the provision of CDEP is important to ensure that local Indigenous people are getting training and work experi-ence on those programs and that is why the government supports it. Can I also again refer the Senate to the statement I made in this chamber previously that the SIHIP program was awarded the Chairman’s award, the top award, in the Northern Land Council employers awards. That was for work that SIHIP was doing in terms of employment.

(Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT—Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Perhaps I could try again. Is the minister able to tell us what proportion of the 30 per cent are real jobs as opposed to training positions under CDEP? Surely, the minister would be able to tell us that.

Senator ARBIB—As I have said to Senator Siewert, and I am happy to say it again, I am very happy to take that part of the question and the details of your previous question on notice and to provide you with that information. It is something that is very important, obviously, to the government. Can I also say in regard to CDEP conversions, as the Senator knows, a great deal of work is being done by the government in terms of reform of CDEP to ensure that there is a conversion from CDEP positions into government service delivery jobs. As I have told the Senate, Indigenous employment has been boosted over the past three years through the conversion of 3,779 former CDEP positions into government service delivery jobs. I might refer the Senate also to the Northern Territory Emergency Response report which showed that there had been an increase of 46 per cent in Indigenous employment in the last six months to June. (Time expired)

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