Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (10:43): On Monday 25 April, CSL Behring celebrated 100 years of operations. I was very fortunate to attend a commemorative tour of the CSL Behring's facility in my electorate of Calwell, and later a formal dinner to celebrate the CSL's centenary on 14 April.

CSL originally was known as the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. It was established in 1916 by the Australian government as a small branch of the quarantine department. The impetus for establishing CSL was to ensure that Australia, as an isolated nation, had reliable access to life-saving biological products during times of war.


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (10:01): Harmony Day is celebrated on Monday, 21 March and it coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Harmony Day has been celebrated in Australia since 1999, and it serves as an important reminder that we need to foster an inclusive and respectful Australia, where all Australians feel a sense of belonging and a sense of quality. This year's theme for Harmony Day is 'Our diversity is our strength'. We have worked very hard as a country to build a strong and cohesive multicultural society that is often looked upon as a model of success by other countries. We have been successful in settling people from all over the world, and in turn migrants have helped build this country. We as a community are stronger and better for it.

I did have the opportunity this week in parliament to commemorate Harmony Day and celebrate the theme of 'Our diversity is our strength'. Last night I co-hosted an interfaith dialogue commemorating Harmony Day with my parliamentary colleague and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Multiculturalism, the member for Macmillan, Mr Russell Broadbent, in conjunction with Religions for Peace and the Canberra Interfaith Forum.  

Religions for Peace is a global, community based organisation working for peace across the world and for social and religious cohesion in Australia and globally. The chair of Religions for Peace, Professor Desmond Cahill, was present to address the audience, and I would like to thank Prof Cahill for his efforts in pursuing interfaith tolerance in the Australian society. I also thank to Sue Innes from Religions for Peace for helping to coordinate the event.

The Canberra Interfaith Forum is an association of people from 12 different spiritual traditions in Canberra. The forum supports interfaith activities in Canberra and promotes multicultural harmony in the capital within a formal group setting. The chair of Canberra Interfaith Forum, Mr Dean Sahu Kahn, addressed the audience; and I want to thank Dean for his efforts in the Canberra community.

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (19:40): In 2015 the Australian government announced the Stronger Communities Program to fund small capital works projects in local communities, matched dollar for dollar or in kind. Funding was set at $300,000 per electorate over a two-year period, with round 1 having commenced in 2015. Grants of between $5,000 and $20,000 are available under the Stronger Communities Program. In partnership with the Hume City Council and Brimbank City Council, my office formed a committee and called for expressions of interest from our local community. My community responded enthusiastically to this program and I am very pleased tonight to announce six community groups—so far—in my electorate who have been successful in the first round. I would like to congratulate these community groups and the projects for which they have received funding.

I would like to begin with the Greenvale Football Club, which received $20,000 to fund the construction and fit-out of its canteen and a new set of public toilets. The Greenvale Football Club is an Australian Rules club operating out of Greenvale Recreation Reserve, and for years it has struggled with the need for a services building, including a storage shed, a canteen, and new public toilets. Congratulations to Greenvale Football Club, especially their president, Mr Bruce Kent, for a much-needed improvement for a very great local club.

The next group I would like to congratulate is the Keilor St Bernard's Athletic Club, which received $10,097 for a high jump facility for Keilor Park. The Keilor St Bernard's Athletic Club is a long-term licensed user of the Keilor Park Athletics Track, along with Keilor Little Athletics and the numerous schools who use the track for school athletics meetings. The club wishes to upgrade the current high jump facility at Keilor Park by introducing an international standard high jump bag and associated equipment. This bag will be available to all users and will provide a safe jumping environment to all athletes—especially the advanced teenagers and senior athletes. I also very much look forward to seeing the new high jump bag in use by the young athletes who use the athletics tracks. Congratulations to the athletics club president, Mr Ian Upton, for submitting a successful grant proposal on behalf of his club.

The next group I want to congratulate is the Keilor Electric Off-Road Car Association, who received $7,000 to build their permanent pit area. The Keilor Electric Off-Road Car Association is located at Keilor Park Recreation Reserve and is a club of about 130 members. Their project will comprise the construction of a sheltered area with a roof that will provide shelter from the weather for participants who enjoy using the track. I am pleased that the association has received funding to develop the track and improve its facilities for its members. Congratulations also to the president, Mark Polistena, and to the entire association on receiving the grant.

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (09:36): Last Friday, I attended a very special event at Penola Catholic College, a fine secondary school in my electorate which is built on the site of the former St. Joseph's baby home, a place where Saint Mary MacKillop spent some of her time as a nun in the early 1900s. Penola conducted the official blessing and opening of their newly constructed Saint Joseph the Worker Trades Skills Centre. I was very pleased to tour the new building and its facilities. The trades skills centre, fittingly named 'Saint Joseph the Worker', provides students at Penola with the opportunity to undertake vocational education and training.

The establishment of trades skills centres in high schools was, of course, a federal Labor government initiative. Federal Labor understands that it is of vital importance to invest in skilling our young people in jobs of the future. The Rudd and Gillard Labor government funded the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, which saw a large number of schools receive funding to establish what are vital links to our secondary school education system. By establishing these centres, high schools are able to provide additional pathway options to students beyond tertiary education. The centres also run in partnership with industry and employers, giving students even greater opportunities to obtain jobs on completion of their high school studies.

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (20:17): Since the opening of the training provider market to the private sector and the extension of student loans to the vocational sector, we have seen a massive number of registered training organisations set up shop right across the country. Currently, according to the Australian Skills Quality Authority, there are about 5,000 RTOs in Australia offering certificates I to IV, diplomas, advanced diplomas and vocational education and training courses in hairdressing, beauty services, community services, digital media, English language classes, aged care, and child care services, to name a few.

In 2014, I was asked to attend and officially open an RTO, Keystone College, which opened in Broadmeadows. My electorate has very high youth unemployment, as high a 25 percent in some suburbs, and we also have a very large number of long-term mature unemployed people on disability support looking for work, as well as many new migrants and refugees who are seeking opportunities to skill or reskill themselves in the hope of getting a job. So Keystone came offering training opportunities for people in my electorate. Instead, in less than two years of operation, they have provided nothing but stress and frustration and have now left many students with large debts and no qualifications following Keystone's decision last week to enter into voluntary administration.

My grievance, therefore, is about the manner in which my most vulnerable and disadvantaged constituents have been treated by Keystone. I begin with Ms Birsel Akbulut, who began a hunger strike on Monday, 26 January outside Keystone College protesting the ruthless recruitment tactics and subsequent unacceptable treatment and exploitation of students, who have now been left high and dry without qualifications but with significant debts. I visited Birsel during her hunger strike and it was she who first told me about the conduct of Keystone College. Birsel had initially been employed by Keystone's now defunct marketing arm, National Training and Development, to effectively spruik for students. In turn, she would be paid $300 for each student at the sign-up stage and another $300 once the student passed the census date. 'Good money,' she thought for a worthwhile service. Birsel knew many people in the local Turkish-speaking community and was happy to promote the Keystone College's training courses. She was successful in recruiting 61 local residents to undertake a community services diploma and a diploma of beauty services. Of course, many of them were not proficient in the English language. In the case of the community services diploma, Birsel was told by Keystone that English language proficiency would not be an issue as the college would provide a Turkish-speaking teacher. When she asked about the job prospects for a non-English-speaking person with a diploma in community services, she was told that English language skills would not be necessary because graduates would be working in the Turkish-speaking community. Students commenced the community services diploma, but no Turkish language teacher was provided, so the college asked Birsel to be the interpreter. She agreed, and the course began. No Turkish language teacher was ever appointed, however, and eventually, after a period, many of the students dropped out because they could not cope. But this was not before the census date kicked in, so to their horror many students were left with a debt they were not aware of. Birsel herself has never been fully paid for the work she did.

Last Thursday, 4 February, trade ministers from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam gathered in Auckland where the Trans-Pacific Partnership—otherwise known as the TPP agreement—was formally signed.

Australian trade minister, Andrew Robb, was among the 12 delegates who attended the signing ceremony. Before I go any further I would like to take this opportunity to wish the minister all the very best following the announcement of his retirement from this place. I am sure he will go on to bigger and better things. Certainly in my dealings with him while I have been up here as well, I have always found him to be very approachable and very courteous. His hard work and his drive in relation to securing free trade agreements will be legendary, I am sure. Despite the many valid and important concerns that were raised by both the opposition and other people and groups within the Australian community, I am certain that his principal driver and motivation was always to act in the national interest and to get the best deal possible for Australia.

The signing of the TPP deal in Auckland was the public relations exercise that kicks off the domestic ratification process. All 12 of the Asia-Pacific nations party to the TPP now have two years to ratify the agreement. The government this week tabled the TPP in the parliament and this begins our own ratification process, which will involve extensive public consultations where we will all get the opportunity to have a say on the merits or otherwise of the TPP.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will hold public hearings and will receive submissions from the public over the course of the next few months giving agencies, interest groups and the general public an opportunity to make submissions and to attend public hearings. I also want to acknowledge my parliamentary colleague, the member for Wills, who has had a longstanding association with that committee and who is also retiring. He has been one of the best members I have ever met. Good on you, Kelvin, and thank you for the advice on the TPP.

It was a great pleasure for me to congratulate two of my constituents who both recently received awards for their contribution to their local communities during our local council's Australia Day Citizenship Ceremonies. Firstly, congratulations to Despina Havelas, who received Brimbank City Council's Citizen of the Year award for her amazing work and contribution to children with autism and their families. Despina has been a passionate and hardworking advocate in the Keilor community and beyond for the past decade. Despina was inspired to take action after her own life experience of being a full-time carer for her autistic son, Kon.

Despina founded a non-profit organization in 2008 called Autism Angels, with the aim of continuing her advocacy work and providing support and services to children with autism and their carers. Through her organisation, Despina has helped develop many Autism services in the city of Brimbank, including early intervention workshops, cyber safety workshops and public events to raise awareness for autism, including the Autism Angels Teddy Bears picnic and dinner dance.

In addition to raising awareness and funds, an important objective for Despina is to advocate for the parents and families of autistic children by 'chasing the politicians'. She said:

Up to now, the focus, when we were talking about policies, was on the person with the disability; it is important for parents and carers to be included.

For Despina, it is important that law makers realise that all family members are affected when there is a child with autism in the family and, as Despina says, 'Families are part of the equation.' For this reason, much of the work of Autism Angels has been to create a support network for families and to provide assistance, advice and service referrals to parents and carers. As a direct result of Despina's successful lobbying, Autism Angels provides its very own drop-in centre for autistic children, for those times, in particular, of heightened strain and stress.

I also rise today to join with my Labor colleagues in expressing my opposition to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Budget Repair) Bill 2015 because the proposed budget repair measures contained in this bill target the most vulnerable people in our community by continuing this government's assault on the lives and wellbeing of the thousands of age pensioners and other welfare recipients who live in my electorate of Calwell. This bill reintroduces measures from the 2015 budget—changes to the proportional payment of pensions outside of Australia—and it also reintroduces measures in the 2014 budget, measures that the opposition will continue to oppose because they are unfair and heavy handed.

In my speech today I want to make some comments in relation to the 2015 budget measures that seek to reduce the payment of the age pension outside of Australia. This is a highly contentious issue and it has drawn widespread criticism and outrage from my constituents and from the broader migrant community, welfare agencies and non-English-speaking media for it unfairness and its implications. I want to join with the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils, the Australian Council of Social Service, the Refugee Council of Australia and, more importantly, the many local pensioner groups and other welfare recipients in my electorate who have come out strongly in their opposition to this bill.

If this bill is passed, thousands of age pensioners in my electorate and across this country who have had fewer than 35 years living and working in Australia will have their benefits reduced if they travel overseas for more than six weeks in a year, according to the length of their Australian working life residence. Because these measures do not affect those who are born in Australia who have worked and lived in Australia for over 35 years this bill creates a discriminatory pension system that will disadvantage a very large number of Australian age pensioners for no substantive reason other than the estimated budget saving of $168.4 million over four years.