DOCUMENTS - Aboriginal Hostels Ltd - Consideration

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

As we know Aboriginal Hostels provide a vital service to accommodate Aboriginal people in remote areas and also in urban areas. It is a wholly owned Commonwealth company and it is within the portfolio of Prime Minister & Cabinet. There are 47 sites in the network that provide short-term accommodation for Aboriginal people. They offer a high level of comfort, safety and customer service. They are critical links for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to access services that most other Australians take for granted, particularly in the remote parts of the country.

The hostels, as I say, provide safe and cultural accommodation; they are used for education, employment, health and other services—students finishing high school, parents or their families seeking renal dialysis, mothers accessing pre- or post-natal care and job seekers. The vision of Aboriginal Hostels is to improve the quality of life and economic opportunity for Aboriginal peoples. Unfortunately, one of the challenges is that wages for the workers in the Aboriginal Hostels organisation, who are mostly unskilled, are the lowest wages for any worker in the Australian Public Service. Large proportions of the workforce are on the bottom rung of the pay scale, the highest percentage being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff of any public sector agency—67 per cent.

Workers at Aboriginal Hostels Ltd have been offered a pay rise of three per cent over three years, half the six per cent pay increase that continues to be rejected by the vast majority of people working elsewhere in the Commonwealth Public Service. The Community and Public Sector Union describe this offer as disgraceful. It obviously is an offer aimed at the lower rungs of the employment scale, primarily Indigenous people.

The need for proper resourcing of Aboriginal Hostels Ltd is critical, obviously, for it to meet and improve its situation. A review of the Aboriginal Hostels that examined its governance model, financial sustainability and strategic direction was finalised in a report in May 2016. The review findings present significant challenges and opportunities for the company, particularly in relation to a decline in real funding, the future governance model and company structure, and the Aboriginal Hostels vision and mandate. To be able to improve in those matters, it needs some serious attention. The report gives us a very promising indication of the vital service that it provides, but, unless the wages and conditions of the workers within the Aboriginal Hostels organisation improve, I am afraid the quality of the services will only be hampered for the people that are utilising them.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Pursuant to order agreed to earlier, debate is interrupted to enable the Senate to deal with Senator Leyonhjelm's proposed disallowance motion.

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