Mr CRITTENDEN (Wyong—Parliamentary Secretary) [3.52 p.m.]: I move:
(1) praises the hard work and tireless dedication of the 10,000 non-government community workers who care for the less fortunate and vulnerable members of our society;
(2) notes the Industrial Relations Commission decision to award salary increases of between 5.4 and 7.5 per cent for the some 10,000 non-government community workers;
(3) recognises the State Government immediately responded by providing $116 million over three years; and
(4) calls on the Federal Government to pay its fair share which amounts to $68.8 million—only a 37 per cent share.
This matter is critical to how we view ourselves as a Parliament and a civil society. I proudly support a group of workers who care for the most vulnerable in our community—the 10,000 non-government sector employees who provide services and who form the front line of our nation's social safety net. These dedicated men and women work in youth refuges, provide respite care, drug and alcohol counselling and meals on wheels. They are the unsung heroes of our welfare system and they deserve our gratitude and deep respect. But they deserve more: they deserve a decent wage. That is precisely what a recent decision of the Industrial Relations Commission has given them.
The independent umpire has awarded the increases mentioned in the motion, with a further 3 per cent to follow in November. Those increases are warranted and they are totally appropriate. The New South Wales Government is thus in the difficult position of having to pay salary increases above the rate of inflation and beyond the safety net entitlement. However, the Carr Government has accepted that burden with good grace. We will pay our fair share—a substantial $116 million—over three years. Under a longstanding agreement the Commonwealth has joint responsibility for funding those increases. Its share is $69 million, money that it is simply refusing to pay.
We are not talking about high salaries and large increases. The pay increase under the social and community services [SACS] award will result in the average hourly rate for a non-government community worker increasing from $12.60 to $13.80 by the end of the year, which is hardly unreasonable. That is why last month the Premier met with leaders of key non-government agencies such as Alan Kirkland, Reverend Harry Herbert, Patrick McClure, Luke Foley, Pat O'Flynn, Trevor Davis and Chris Brown. They joined with the Premier to say to the Federal Government, "Support these workers and their just and fair wage claims"—a measly $69 million of Federal money.
They wrote a joint letter urging the Prime Minister to come to the party; if he did not the non-government sector would be plunged into crisis. This issue is about people and front-line service delivery. Two homeless teenagers from my electorate met with Premier Carr today to seek his support to save their local community service. These two young people—Crystal aged 16 and Morgan aged 14—are trying to make a fresh start. They are currently living in refuge accommodation provided by the Central Coast Samaritan Service—an off-shoot of the Anglican church. They want to move into semi-supported accommodation to enable them to finish their education and find a job. But if the Federal Government does not fund its share of the SACS increase, their chance of getting semi-supported services will dry up.
They said to me, "We want an education and a home, just like other kids." But how does one get an education when one does not have a place to live? There is nothing more basic than a place to live. Samaritan senior youth worker Suzanne Chekley says that all five local semi-supported services are currently full. Any cutbacks will put this accommodation completely outside their reach. These two great and intelligent kids, Crystal and Morgan, want an opportunity to complete their education, establish a home and get a job. They are both committed to living and working on the Central Coast and giving something back to our community. Where do they go if we cannot help them? It is only a matter of $69 million of Federal money.
That is why our appeal to Mr Howard is beyond politics; it is about helping young people like Crystal and Morgan: real people who need real, front-line services. It is about wage justice for hard-working Australians. It is about the Commonwealth keeping faith. The Commonwealth budget is worth $160 billion. Surely the money can be found to meet these costs. I sincerely urge the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and Ms Vanstone to take careful stock because a society is judged not on the size of its gross domestic product but on the way it treats the poor and the marginalised. On budget night next Tuesday, parents of children with disabilities, those working with older people and those who tirelessly pack food parcels for people who are unable to shop will wait to hear whether Mr Costello has a heart. We know that he has a roulette wheel because he has squandered $5 billion of our money on currency trading.
I have explained the history of the motion, the reaction of the Government and our motivation in moving the motion today. The present Federal Government is mean for not providing a measly $69 million to assist in this area. The legacy of John Howard, after a lifetime of servile adherence to antiquated dogma, is one of meanness. He has done his best to change the lucky country into the mean country. He makes no apology for his meanness. He is not sorry that he is pillaging our higher education system and letting standards come under pressure. He is not sorry that he has depleted Centrelink and let Ms Vanstone—the terror of the poor—loose on the pensioners, unemployed and disabled who look to the Government for assistance. He is not sorry that his Treasurer, like some foolish Colonel Klink, sneering and snarling, delights in taking money from public hospitals, schools and transport, and all those who believe that government has a role other than just collecting taxes to put ministerial backsides in limousines on their way to Kirribilli House.
Having attacked all of those services and individuals, he now intends to ignore the non-government organisations that provide for their fellow Australians what the Commonwealth Government cannot or will not provide. What a great leader of a great Federal Government we have! He can sip the finest wines at Kirribilli House, shipped from The Lodge, and ignore those who have experienced the pain, loneliness, despair and infirmity of old age. Not content to ignore the plight of those who need nursing home attention, John Howard now gets stuck into those who provide meals on wheels. Not content with ripping off the motorist with taxes on taxes, he gets stuck into the drug rehabilitation centres and forces them to cut their programs.
The years of the Howard Government will go down in history as mean years, the years when Australia lost its reputation for having great, caring people in a lucky country. The Howard Government is stealing our culture of a fair go. John Howard may have wanted mateship in the preamble to the Constitution, but he has cut the idea from the philosophy of his Government. He has worn away the very fabric of our nation. Many of us have had enough, and now the meanness of attacking the many non-government organisations that do so much for so many leaves us with the hope that before too much longer this architect of meanness and division will retire to cut his own front lawn and clean his swimming pool.
Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [4.01 a.m.]: Obviously I speak to this motion in my capacity as the shadow Minister for Community Services. On the one hand the honourable member for Wyong spoke about not wanting to be political, but I have never heard so many adjectives designed to be emotive and unfairly critical. His language was not designed to find middle ground and a solution for all those who need a solution. The Opposition agrees with the first paragraph of the motion, which praises the hard work and tireless dedication of the non-government community workers who care for the most vulnerable members of our community. Regardless of whether we are talking about those at the front line to whom the honourable member for Wyong referred—the people who deliver meals on wheels, refuge workers, the people in those refuges—or the provision of necessary services, community workers perform probably the most valuable work in our community.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that they are not acknowledged sufficiently by the level of income and support they receive. This whole problem is probably created by the current Commonwealth-State disability agreement, and perhaps by a lack of understanding on the part of both the State and Federal governments as to how that disability agreement, once executed, could work to the disadvantage of people delivering services at the front line. Whilst the honourable member for Wyong was not being political, he was highly critical of the Federal Government. He suggested that the Carr Government had "done the right thing" by providing additional funds for workers following the 16 November hearing. Under the current agreement State governments purchase those services from non-government organisations, so they are therefore bound to provide funding for them. It is only if the Federal Government determines that it will go beyond the contract that a State government has with the Commonwealth Government that the State Government is entitled to those funds.
The signatory to the Commonwealth-State agreement is the Treasurer. I do not suggest that this is a clear-cut issue; it is not. I am not blaming the State governments or the Federal Government. I am simply saying that at the end of the day the people who are working at the front line are entitled to receive the appropriate award increases that the Industrial Commission awarded on 16 November, and one way or another we must achieve that outcome. On the one hand the Federal Government argues that there is a contract between it and the State Government to provide certain services and that that contract is binding. To deliver those services, the State Government effectively buys services from a range of extremely committed and excellent front-line, non-government organisations. The Federal Government says, "Over the years we have built in the increase in the consumer price index and that should have been taken into account by the Industrial Commission in November last year." On the other hand, the State Government says, "No, that is not good enough, because when we signed the contract we did not foresee that this sort of increase would come along."
The State Coalition understands the position of both the Federal Government and the State Government. We are not interested in pursuing a political line by getting stuck into anyone. I acknowledge the passion of the honourable member for Wyong. I do not dismiss that passion because I believe that in relation to this matter it is an admirable quality. However, a number of groups other than the groups the honourable member referred to have made it clear in the public forum that in their view the problem is the Carr Government's responsibility. I do not say that I necessarily share that view in its entirety. However, in an article appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald of 18 March Adele Horin wrote:
The members of the National Industry Association for Disability Services take the view that the Commonwealth purchased certain services from the State and there was an appropriate contract arrangement. The association takes the view that it is therefore the State Government bears the onus of now addressing the issue and providing the funding. I take nothing away from the State Government, because the State Government has provided some additional funds. However, I am concerned that there is also almost a baying for the blood of the Federal Government because it is seeking to rely on what it thought was a reasonable arrangement at the time, that is, the Commonwealth-State disability agreement. Both governments believed that the agreement would work, but clearly issues have arisen about the funding of those front-line organisations.
Not everyone blames the Commonwealth for the impasse. Some disability institutions claim the Carr Government is at fault for creating two classes of disabled.
The New South Wales Coalition would like the State Labor Government and the Federal Coalition Government to have some realistic discussions on the matter, with no stone throwing or political point scoring. We are concerned about the matter, and we want to ensure appropriate funding for organisations that look after the most vulnerable people in our community. Funding is not the only issue. A great deal of blame shifting and buckpassing goes on between the State and Federal governments. People with disabilities are sitting in Federal nursing homes at the moment—young people suffering from muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and other incurable diseases—simply because the State Government does not provide services for people with disabilities beyond those provided in nursing homes. That is a sad state of affairs that needs to be addressed.
I do not blame only the State Government for that. Clearly, it has responsibility, but it suits the State Government to have people with disabilities sitting in federally funded institutions because it saves the State Government money. Somewhere we have to rise above this political point scoring, this throwing stones at each other, and try to work through it. This has been going on for far too long. We are not going to oppose this motion. We are going to let it pass on the voices on the basis that it is a genuine concern of the State Government and is a concern of ours that both State and Federal governments need to resolve the issue.
The honourable member for Wyong has to understand that specialists amongst the community would say that funding is not the issue, it is mismanagement. The Community Services Commissioner talks regularly in his reports—as recently as a few months ago in the Mannix report—about management issues and underresourcing. It is a mixture of both. The Opposition will not oppose this motion. We encourage the Federal and State governments to get together and discuss it. I urge both Treasurers to sort it out. I do not think the Federal Treasurer can avoid the consequences when people are suffering on the front line. I do not think the State Treasurer can avoid it either. I would like them to work out something to make sure that those people get their services.