Release type: Speech


Address to AMEP and SEE Provider Forum

I would like to acknowledge the Turrbul and Yuggera peoples who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today.  I would also like to pay my respects to their elders both past and present and extend that respect to other Aboriginal people present.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you at your AMEP and SEE Service Provider forum.

I understand you’ve had some great discussions and presentations already, including a thought-provoking address from Professor Robert Slonim on behavioural economics and the biases that can affect educational outcomes.

Of course there are many more sessions and workshops to come.

In my remarks today, I’d like to pay tribute to the important work you’re doing as AMEP and SEE providers - helping clients who are often in the midst of some daunting change and upheaval in their lives … whether they are trying to make their way in a new country, or into a new job.

But before I get into that, I want to acknowledge that it has been a time of change for you as providers in this sector.

Many of you here are dealing with new programs, new contracts, a new skills framework and a new business model for AMEP.

And I know that has meant some challenges.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, the Government announced reforms to AMEP in the 2016-17 Budget and smaller changes to the SEE program in the 2017-18 Budget.

The reforms followed an evaluation of the two programs by ACIL Allen Consulting in 2014 and 2015. 

The evaluation identified a number of areas where we could improve the two programs and the alignment between them.

AMEP’s new business model is aimed at improving client participation, English language proficiency, literacy and numeracy, and readiness for employment:

  • providers now have greater flexibility in choosing the curricula they teach;
  • clients can now choose between pre-employment and social streams;
  • those who progress well may be able to access additional hours through the new sub-program AMEP Extend;
  • the Special Preparatory Program is now uncapped, allowing more humanitarian migrants to access this especially targeted sub-program;
  • we are trialling, and evaluating, a multi-provider model in south-west Sydney; and
  • assessment for AMEP has been aligned to that of SEE through use of the national Australian Core Skills Framework.

The release of the reforms for AMEP aligned with the new service provider contract period that commenced on 1 July this year.

These are significant changes in a relatively short amount of time.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for working constructively and productively with my Department on navigating your way through the transition issues you’ve been experiencing.

And I hope you have had some of your questions about the new arrangements answered during this morning’s Transition Feedback sessions with the programs’ Directors. 

There will be further opportunities to work with the department at the Foundations Skills ‘speed dating sessions this afternoon and again tomorrow.

The Department has heard your concerns and is here to support you.

I am confident that with your help, and with the commitment and dedication of my Department officials, we’ll be able to work through those issues and be able to get on with what we do best - supporting vulnerable people to get the basic, foundation skills they need to fully participate in the community and in the workforce.

Another aspect of the new business model, is the introduction of the  new Innovative Projects component of AMEP. 

Today I can announce the commencement of the AMEP Innovative Projects funding round for the 2017-2018 financial year.

The AMEP Innovative Projects Fund is part of the new AMEP business model, and will support providers to trial innovative service delivery ideas that seek to improve client outcomes.

The applications process will be timed to enable innovative projects to be rolled out in Term 1 next year.

It will be an open, competitive process.

All contracted service providers can apply to the Department for funding to trial a solution to a service delivery issue, or to implement an innovative approach to service delivery.

Branch Manager, Linda White, will set out more detailed information about the Innovative Projects funding round in the Forum’s closing session tomorrow.

We’re all here because we share a commitment to ensuring that migrants and job seekers, along with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, youth and people with disabilities, are able to access help to overcome any language, literacy and numeracy barriers they face.

We’re passionate about establishing pathways for people to achieve greater social participation, employment, further study and training opportunities.

Of course, AMEP and SEE share a great deal in common in these endeavours, but also have significant differences.

AMEP is set to turn 70 next year, after being established back in 1948.

It’s now the Australian Government’s largest English language program.

The former Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, said:

“AMEP is proud to be more than just a language program. It is a major settlement tool, enabling students to avoid the isolation which comes from being unable to communicate.”

He went on to say that:

“You only have to visit an AMEP classroom to understand what an important role it plays in easing recently arrived migrants into their new environment.”

Since 1948, more than a million new arrivals have begun their new life in Australia. 

And in order to be able to participate fully in Australia’s social, economic and cultural life, they need to speak our national language.

AMEP is at the coalface of delivering that crucial support, through small organisations with grassroots community connections and larger educational institutions with outreach community capacity.

The SEE program is far younger in comparison, but in a short time has built a strong reputation for helping job seekers move into further training or employment.

Without this help, many people may never have had the chance to reach their true potential.

The research tells us very clearly why AMEP and SEE programs that you deliver are so important.

The OECD’s Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies examines adult literacy and numeracy in Australia.

Its most recent survey found that many adult Australians could benefit from stronger foundation skills.

It found that almost 13 per cent of adults in Australia attain the lowest level in literacy proficiency, and just over 20 per cent only attain the lowest level in numeracy.

The statistics of your client base also paint a picture of the need in the community.

In the last two years we’ve seen an increase in participation in AMEP by clients on humanitarian visas – up to 32 percent of total AMEP clients.

This is due to the additional intake of Syrian and Iraqi refugees announced in late 2015.

That’s important to note when you consider that, generally speaking, humanitarian visa holders often have less-than-functional English compared with other migrants.

Providers have told us that some clients on humanitarian visas, through no fault of their own, may not even have had the opportunity to pick up a pen or pencil before, due to their circumstances.

Others have lacked the access to digital technology that so many of us take for granted, and plays such an important role in modern life, society and employment.

The statistics around the clients of the SEE program tell us that:

  • 67 per cent are culturally and linguistically diverse
  • 10 per cent identify as Indigenous
  • 61 per cent are female
  • 44 per cent are aged over 45, and
  • 20 per cent are between the ages of 15 and 24.

But perhaps the best way to illustrate the value of the services you provide is to talk not in terms of research results or statistics, but in examples of real people.

There are two examples that have stood out to me as being emblematic of the transformative power of getting foundational skills to make a change for the better.

The first is Maria, who hails from Athens, Greece.

She arrived in Australia with her family in 2015 for a new start and more opportunity for her and her family.

As you may recall, Greece had suffered a recession and debt-crisis in the wake of the global financial downturn.

On arriving in Australia, Maria registered with the AMEP program and began English classes in level 1 in Victoria.

From the outset, Maria was a committed and conscientious English student, quickly making great connections with her classmates.

When she had used all her 510 AMEP training hours, she still felt she needed to improve her English to be ready to apply for jobs.

So she went to Centrelink and discovered she was eligible for the SEE program.

Maria continued working hard at her English studies in the SEE program at Melbourne Polytechnic.

This year, I’m pleased to say that Maria found a job as a school crossing attendant.

She loves the job and gets to speak English with many people throughout the day.

She’s also working in a bistro in Bundoora, where she’s being trained at the same time.

Then there’s mature-age job seeker Craig.

Craig had worked hard his whole life. He’d been in the forestry industry for decades - driving trucks, chopping trees, doing control burns and monitoring the impact on wildlife.

It was a career that gave Craig a vast array of experience and skills … but it did not involve using computers.

And that was a problem when his employer downsized and Craig lost his job.

He was in his 60s and struggling to find work.

So Craig signed up for digital literacy classes as part of the SEE program at TAFE Queensland South West Warwick.

He learnt how to operate a computer, use basic software programs, connect to the internet, manage security settings, perform an internet search, and many more ICT skills.

And crucially, he learnt how to create documents, search for jobs online, prepare professional resumes and draft targeted cover letters to apply for work.

I’m so pleased to say that Craig’s hard work paid off.

He was successful this year in getting a job as a groundsman for an aged care facility, working 30 hours a week and – I’m told - loving it.

Those two stories for me are all about rebuilding … adjusting … and transforming.

They are stories of challenge and of change.

I sincerely hope that you, as our valued service providers, will continue to successfully navigate the current transition process and come out on the other side with renewed purpose and determination.

The Government is committed to supporting you in the incredibly important work that you do.

Thank you for your efforts and good luck with the rest of the forum.