Thursday, 15 March 2012
Questions without Notice
Honourable senators interjecting—
Thank you, Mr President. Can the minister outline to the Senate what the government is doing to tackle entrenched poverty in areas like Broadmeadows, which has 12 per cent unemployment and 70,000 people on the Centrelink books?
Thank you very much, Senator Marshall. This government is facing up to the reality of inequality in our society. Today I am announcing the opening up of a new $25 million fund to provide further help to prevent people falling through the cracks. The fund is called the Local Solutions Fund. I am calling on community organisations to put that fund to work in disadvantaged regions.
This is a country of incredible wealth and opportunity, but the fact remains there are appalling pockets of social distress in our community. If we look to the north of Melbourne or to the outer suburbs of many of our capital cities or to rural communities like those in the Goulburn Valley, right across this country, in every state and territory, there are people who are facing acute distress. Poverty and unemployment can be passed down from parent to child for generations. We know that there are workers who are facing redundancy. There are people who are unexpectedly falling upon hard times. There are retirees who have to face circumstances without resources. There are refugees who have come here with nothing. So today we are asking for practical, creative ideas that can make our support systems work better for people in these areas.
Our task is to make the best of what we can do in terms of our education and training systems, our social security systems, our healthcare systems. Where the market does not produce the goods necessary to produce a fair go in this country, the government can work with local communities to ensure that a fair go is provided. We want to use local knowledge and networks to respond to local needs and we want to ensure that people who have creative and innovative solutions can look to the government to assist them in producing good results for local organisations.
Senator Marshall, the Local Solutions Fund was built on our knowledge of people who are most seriously at risk in our society. There are children who grow up with parents who are out of work. There are people without the skills to get a job. There are kids who drop out of school far too young. There are teenagers who are looking after their own kids. We need all of our system to be able to work for them. We want to make sure that, for instance, teenage parents have the opportunities to get a fair go in life. We know that they are motivated to get the best start in life for themselves and their kids, but we also know that we need to build the individual resources available to make sure we can keep them at school and we want them to be able to connect with parenting support services at the same time. We want to be able to develop new approaches to help people get through these difficult periods in their lives. We want to be able to connect people to economic opportunities to ensure that they have a prosperous future, no matter where they live and no matter what their economic circumstances. (Time expired)
Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer and ask: can the minister inform the Senate what the government is doing to help people find the genuine employment opportunities that they want?
Senator Bernardi interjecting—
I have heard Senator Bernardi ridicule this approach. Once again we have the pond life coming forward when it comes to the issue of trying to help people in our community who are genuinely in distress. This government is about ensuring that we have the economic conditions in this society to produce a full-employment society. It is not just a question of macroeconomics; it is also about ensuring that every Australian has the capacity to benefit from the profound changes that are occurring in our society. That is why this government stands ready to work to ensure that there are local solutions to provide support. Some $320 million, for instance, is being provided to support people to find jobs and to ensure that they have the skills necessary to be able to participate fully in our society. A number of job expos are being opened up across the country to make employers more aware of the opportunities available to take on people who are unemployed—