darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 1) 2010-2011

Consideration in Detail

FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO

Proposed expenditure, $2,369,314,000

June 16, 2010

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (4.45 pm) — My question is fairly general in nature. It relates to my contention that the regional or urban Indigenous experience is not much better than the remote Indigenous experience in many cases. There is a lot of newspaper coverage about the Northern Territory and about remote locations, and the discussion here today has tended to focus on those areas too. I would argue that it is also a problem in many regional Victorian towns in my electorate, including Morwell, Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers Beach. I know the member beside me would know about problems in Shepparton and towns like that. Problems associated with substance abuse, with domestic violence and with lack of participation in the education system, leading to poor health outcomes and low participation in full-time employment, are significant issues in urban and regional Indigenous experience, and I do not think we focus on that in this place as much as we should.

I think the key to the future for our young Indigenous people is going to come through education, from early childhood onwards, through access to better health care and through the decency of having a real job at the end of it all. While there are pockets of excellence in my electorate—people working very hard and achieving some great things—the disadvantage is still very pronounced.

I would like to know whether, within the budget papers, there are measures focusing on the regional or urban Indigenous experience. Is there an acknowledgement by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs of the enormity of the problems we face in regional towns in Victoria? I would be interested to know if there are any programs the minister is considering or if there are ways for my community to engage with the minister’s office to make sure that local solutions are being put forward that can actually deliver outcomes for us in the Gippsland region.

Ms MACKLIN (Jagajaga—Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) (4.47 pm) — I will start with the question from the member for Parramatta which went particularly to money that is in this year’s budget—which I am sure she is very pleased about. I ask her to pass this on especially to those people who are known as the ‘Parramatta girls’—there is $26.5 million in this budget for the Find and Connect service. The member for Parramatta will recall that the Prime Minister announced this service when he made the apology to the forgotten Australians and the former child migrants. That service is going to provide a national website and a single online access point to help those care leavers find their past records. Some of those records are held by past care providers and some of them are held by government agencies. We want to be able to link in with state and territory indexes. Some states have more information available to them than others. Of course, it is also the case that some of the forgotten Australians have moved. For example, someone may have been in a home in Parramatta but now live in Western Australia. We want to make sure that it is nationally available and that we can link the state and territory systems.

There will be a national 1800 number for care leavers to call if they want to talk to somebody who is trained to help locate personal records. There will also be a national network of specialised case managers to help care leavers locate and access their personal records and, where possible—and we do recognise that it is not always going to be possible—to help them reunite with their family members. Case managers will also connect care leavers with counsellors and with other support services where that is required. We will also be giving priority access to those care leavers who are aged or terminally ill. It is important to be able to do this as quickly as possible for those people.

Some of this money will also be spent on new counselling support services, specifically for care leavers, with appropriately trained and skilled providers. We recognise just how emotional it is going to be for these people while they search for their families and consider whether or not they want to be reconnected. If they do want that, it could be very positive; but, of course, there may be circumstances where it is very difficult. That has been a very positive outcome of this year’s budget—a commitment that the Prime Minister made, and of course kept.
 
The member for Murray asked a number of questions that relate to issues that are not in my portfolio. As with the member for Higgins, she needs to go to the consideration in detail for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. That is where early childhood development is funded. All of the questions she asked about early childhood development belong with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. She needs to keep up; those changes were made when we came into government.

The other questions that she raised about violence against women are not in my portfolio responsibilities either. We are just seeing if the Minister for the Status of Women is available; otherwise, I will take the questions on notice. But I would particularly draw the attention of the member for Murray to additional funding in this year’s budget for legal assistance. Both the Minister for the Status of Women and I are very pleased to see this additional money for legal aid. It will be very important for women who are victims of domestic violence. I will pass on the member’s questions to the relevant minister.

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