Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2393 ..
MS FOLLETT (continuing):
what had happened. What the Estimates Committee was forced to do, both with the labour market programs and with some of the social justice programs, was to examine the Department of Health and Community Care, the Department of Urban Services and, of course, Mr De Domenico's Business Department as well; but none of that had been spelt out in the budget documentation. We eventually found out that the labour market programs and the social justice programs had been decimated in this budget. The women's work force development scheme has gone out the window. There is no funding for it. The Government does not care about older women re-entering the work force and the problems that they may have in readjusting to working life, particularly if their first language is not English. Programs for young people and Aboriginal people have gone out the window as well.
Mr Speaker, the Government has attempted to justify their stance on labour market programs by saying that they are fundamentally a Federal government issue, and so they are. But, Mr Speaker, I believe that it is State and Territory governments that best know the people they represent and the people who need assistance in the labour market. This has been particularly the case in the ACT, where the unemployment level has never been dramatically high; but that does not mean that there are not especially disadvantaged people in the labour market. It is my view that that is very much the case. Older women, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander workers, very young people and people returning to the work force all needed special assistance, as did people who had been retrenched. Within those labour market programs we had a special program to allow people who had received a redundancy package to set themselves up in business. Mr Speaker, the Estimates Committee had the greatest of difficulty in finding out the future of those sorts of programs.
In other programs what had happened was only too apparent; that is, the Government had simply slashed the funding. This was certainly the case with the NEIS program. The Government grant to people starting up in new business has been cut in half from $4,000 to $2,000, with no explanation whatsoever. The only attempted justification, Mr Speaker, was that they would be able to give it out to more people. What is the use of handing it out to more people if it is of no use to them? I found that justification very flawed indeed. I know that it is the Liberal Party's intention in government to get rid of that program altogether. They do not like it. They do not like people getting assistance to start up in small business. They want to give all of their money, all of the $13m, to the big businesses, to the BOMAs and the George Snows, to all their friends that they have their photograph taken with to feature in the glossy brochures. Mr Speaker, there is absolutely no doubt that that is the Liberal agenda.
I find that what this budget does to people who would have been the beneficiaries of a social justice agenda, to people who would have been beneficiaries of labour market programs which had been in place in this Territory, is absolutely appalling. Those programs have been slashed beyond belief. I have had people come to me looking for these programs, looking for help. You have to tell them, "The Government has cancelled them. They do not exist. There is no women's work force development scheme. Go and see Mrs Carnell. She might have another idea". Mr Speaker, the people who need these programs had a reasonable expectation that the programs would be continued. Those expectations have been dashed. I think that that is a very reprehensible action to be taken by this Liberal Government.