Questions Without Notice - Indigenous Employment
(14:29): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Kim Carr. I refer to the unresolved funding issue under the Indigenous Employment Program. Can the minister advise when Indigenous employment providers across Australia will formally advise of the commencement and cessation dates of the IEP funding moratorium and during what period—that is, what specific dates—did the moratorium apply? Why has the government still not provided any certainty for IEP providers like Habitat Personnel on the New South Wales South Coast and ACT and surrounding areas which has placed well over 97 Indigenous job seekers in jobs in the last nine months, basically working unfunded to do that?
The PRESIDENT: The Minister representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Kim Carr—
Senator Wong: Mr President, on a point of order. I actually believe that I am representing the minister with responsibility for that program. I am happy for Senator Kim Carr to take as much as he can. I am certainly happy also to take on notice—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Wong: I am trying to be of assistance, Senator; I am actually not trying to make—
Senator Ian Macdonald: He got to his feet. Don’t you trust him?
Senator Wong: Senator Macdonald, I am trying to be of assistance, not make a political point. I know that you are incapable of understanding that fact, but that is what I am trying to do.
Senator Sterle interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister is trying to assist the process.
Senator Payne: Mr President, on a point of order: would Senator Sterle like to repeat the remark he made on the record? I doubt it. Secondly, I believe the last time I did ask a question on the IEP, it was in fact answered by Senator Carr.
The PRESIDENT: Minister Wong believes the question is properly directed to her. It seems to me that Minister Wong should be the person to answer the question, so I call on Minister Wong.
Senator WONG (South Australia—Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:31): Senator Carr is going to buy me a drink later, I think. As I understand it, this is in Minister Collins's portfolio, which I do represent in this place. In relation to the Indigenous Employment Program, the government obviously remains committed to it and will fund over $640 million to the program over the next four years. I am also advised that the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations is meeting all of its contract commitments for the current IEP projects. This includes making timely and efficient payments to employers, individuals and IEP panel members.
In moving forward, the department is continuing to accept and consider proposals for the provision of IEP services from panel members and employers. It should be noted that there has been very high demand for this funding. A priority is being placed on the funding of high-quality projects that deliver strong employment outcomes, including in a range of key industries such as retail, mining, transport, banking, finance and the public sector. I think the senator asked when notice was given in relation to particular contracts. I do not have a brief—and she might want to follow this up in a supplementary—that appears to go specifically to that issue.
Senator Abetz: But Senator Kim Carr does.
Senator WONG: If Senator Carr does, he will probably hand it to me, so I will provide it. I will take that aspect of the question on notice and I will see if I can clear up anything further in the supplementaries.
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (14:32): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I apologise to the minister for the earlier confusion. The minister, I believe, has been ill-advised in relation to the current status of the IEP. Given that a company like Habitat Personnel will only be able to continue to operate until May this year due to lack of funding processing through to their business, when will DEEWR be releasing funds so that they can continue to deliver the services they do to Aboriginal communities and to ensure that the massive and unacceptable gap with Indigenous employment that the Prime Minister referred to in her Closing the Gap speech just last month is actually being addressed?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:33): As I said, the government is funding over $640 million to the program over the next four years, so demonstrably is committed to it. I also understand that the department has consistently advised organisations that competition for funding is extremely competitive, as IEP funding is for short-term projects only and is not a source of permanent, ongoing funding. This is the advice I have. DEEWR is working with a number of its IEP panel providers to source other possible funding assistance. I do have some information regarding specific organisations, but I regret that the Habitat organisation is not amongst those.
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (14:34): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister referred to increased demand for IEP funding applications. Can the minister advise when organisations like Habitat will actually be advised when the funding applications will be met? Why would we conclude anything other than that the government has run out of money and the IEP commitment targets are just floating in the breeze?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:34): I think this will be the third occasion on which I have indicated what the allocation of the program is out to 2015-16, so I am not sure about the proposition that the government has run out of funding in relation to the program. In relation to payments, the advice I have—and as minister representing that is all I can provide to the Senate—is that the department is meeting all of its contract commitments for current IEP projects. This includes making timely payments to employers, individuals and IEP panel members. That is the advice I have received in relation to payments. If that is different to the advice that the senator is aware of then obviously she is entitled to put that to us and, if there is anything further in relation to that, I will obviously obtain some information about that.