Pic source: studentedge.com.au
Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (12:15): I too rise to speak to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015. All of us come here to build a better future for our nation, for our families and our communities. Addressing the scourge of youth unemployment has to be key to the work that we do here because it represents our future. All of us know the issues with intergenerational poverty, brought on as a result of unemployment through generation, through generation, and the implication that has not only for that family's welfare but also for the community, the education systems that those children go through and indeed, as evidence would suggest, the corrections facilities. We all have to be working very hard to address this issue, to ensure that young people right across Australia have the chance to get a job, participate in the workforce and contribute not only to their community and the national economy but indeed to the financial security of their families. This means that we need a system and a society that ensures they are adequately educated and skilled for that work.
The bill currently before us does not stand alone. If we look at what will provide local employment opportunities for young people, we see that it is about having adequate education and training services. It is also about having a robust economy. That is something that we as a government have absolutely been focused on, ensuring that the levers that we can control are all set in a direction that will actually drive productivity and economic growth not only in the present but well into the future. That is what we know will actually provide job security for young people in the longer term.
When we look at this bill and the amendments brought forward, which simply reduce the waiting period from six months to four weeks, we have to see this not as a stand-alone piece of legislation. This in fact is one aspect of our government's absolute and total commitment to ensuring jobs right across the economy and, in particular, jobs for young people. In the 2015-16 budget we announced the Growing Jobs and Small Business package, which increases support services to those impacted by changes in the bill. We have invested $18.3 million in additional work experience places, providing job experience and connection to employer, because we know that that is half the battle. You might have the bit of paper that says you have got the skills, you might have the personality and you might have the determination and drive, but you lack work experience. If I am a small business owner and I have got a position open, I need to be assured that the person I am hiring—I want to hire a young person, I want to give them a chance and a start in life, like somebody did for me many, many years ago—actually has the experience to work and be job ready. So this particular measure addresses one of the key barriers for young people getting employment.
We are also running intensive support trials for vulnerable job seekers, at a cost of $55.2 million. I note the comments by senators opposite about our government's harsh, targeted attack on vulnerable job seekers. It flies in the face of the actual facts. Do not let the facts get in the way of a good scare campaign—that is the Labor Party's local mantra. The sum of $55 million is actually being targeted at the very job seekers who you say need support. We are absolutely doing it. And I will go into greater detail later on.
Senator Brown made comments about the punitive nature of our government but, when I go through the actual measures, I see that our government are putting in place well-researched, evidence-based practical solutions and programs that assist young people into real jobs. Senators opposite argue about the right for income support. I think young people have a right to a job, because then they can be self-determining about where they go, what they do and how they are empowered. That is the first step of going forward to being a contributing member of society. We are prepared to put our money where our ideology is, where our belief system is and that is in supporting and addressing some of those key barriers, particularly for vulnerable young people.
There is $19.4 million for youth with mental health conditions; $22.1 million for vulnerable young migrants and refugees; and continuing support for parents to prepare for employment. We know that that is the greatest indicator of whether, as a young person, you will actually go on and get the job of your choice or indeed any job. If you are actually going to be involved in the workforce, having parents who are role models for children and young people with respect to what you have to do to get a job—how you have to get up, get ready, rock up on time, be responsible et cetera—is incredibly important if they are actually going to go on to get a job.
We are actually trialling that to see what works so that we can ensure the money from Australian taxpayers—which everyone pays, because we want to have a social security system that is supportive of those in need in our community—is actually targeted at where it will deliver the best results, getting young people into jobs. We want to ensure that those most disadvantaged in our society are prepared for work and know what is involved, particularly those young people from families of intergenerational poverty. And those senators from Tasmania absolutely know firsthand what a scourge intergenerational poverty and unemployment can be for not only those families but communities more generally.
We want them to be prepared for work. We want them to find a job, we want to help them find a job and, most importantly, we do not want them to churn through jobs. We want them to stay in the job and gain those very valuable skills. We want them to have that sense of confidence and empowerment that comes from working hard for the day, contributing and seeing a return for their efforts. Obviously, getting some pay in your bank account after a couple of weeks does not hurt either.
We have heard lots of claims from lots of senators about a variety of issues, but the debate today should really only focus on the income support waiting period because we have previously spent oodles of hours in this place debating the other measures contained within this bill. When we think about being job ready, what does that actually look like? It means you have to live in an area of good employment opportunities, you need to have reasonable literacy and numeracy skills, you need to have had recent work experience—and that is exactly the type of preparatory work that our measures go to addressing. The measure will save $200 million by introducing a four-week waiting period for youth under 25 and cost $375 million in additional support services for young job seekers, so the total cost of the reversal is $1.8 billion.
During the first four weeks young job seekers will be meeting with a jobactive provider, agreeing to a job plan, developing an up-to-date resume, creating a job seeker profile on the JobSearch website, providing evidence of satisfactory job search with up to 20 job applications. These are the sorts of things that our government has decided are going to give our young Australians the best chance of actually getting a job—you have to have the resume, you have to actually rock up to appointments on time when you make them. Creating a job seeker profile and actually applying for jobs is also important.
We have also made $1.8 million available in emergency relief funding to provide assistance to job seekers affected by the measure and experiencing hardship, so we are hardly the punitive government that senators opposite would have you believe. We are absolutely targeting our funding to those most in need, as we should be. Those young people who live at home with parents who are more than able to care for them during this period should absolutely be doing that. That is the responsibility of us as parents—that is, to assist our young people. Obviously, for those families who lack that capacity and those means, our government has targeted measures to assist them, so do not believe the hype of the other side. Every single thing we have done around our jobs package and our small business package is absolutely focused on encouraging young people to make every effort to look for work and maximise their chances of finding a job.
The bill also includes a number of important exemptions for the four-week waiting period that have not been mentioned by senators on the other side, so I thought I would add those to the debate. If someone has served a four-week waiting period in the previous six months they will not have to serve another if that jobs ends through no fault of their own. We understand that stuff happens. If you have diligently been working hard—turning up to work, contributing to your employer's benefit—and you lose that job, then we do not expect that you have to go through the waiting period again. You have done exactly what we have wanted you to do—that is, go out, get a job and stick at it. If you have a disability or an activity test exemption you will not have to serve the waiting period. And the measure will not impact job seekers who have left state care within the last 12 months.
It is estimated that 6.5 million young people under the age of 25 are living at home with one or two parents, and that would suggest that those families are able to care for those children during short periods of hardship when they are between jobs. Some of those young people may not require income support payments. I need to make it clear, and this has come through in evidence to the Senate education and employment references inquiry into temporary working visas, that young people in Australia can sometimes be a little picky about the types of jobs they take. We want you to get a job, any job, a suitable job; we do not want you to wait for the job that you would like to have and have the Australian taxpayer support you until you find that dream marine biology position you have been waiting for in Cairns. That is not the role of government, it is not the role of the Australian taxpayer. The very precious dollars that Australian taxpayers provide the federal government with to support the vulnerable in our society need to be targeted to just that, not to families and young people who can make discretionary choices about the types of jobs that they would like to have rather than getting any job at all. I would hope that that would be a principle that all of us would agree with.
These measures are fair, they are targeted, they are strategic, they are evidence-based, and I think, in terms of policy development, that is really what we need to focused on. I remember in the period between when I left school and when I headed off to uni, I worked in a pizza shop. I liked working in a pizza shop because I got free pizza and I did not mind waitressing—you get to have a chat to the customers—but I hated picking cherries. It is hard work, and you have to do it a certain way to get—yes, senators here are nodding; they have done it too. They know what I am talking about. You have to do it a certain way to make sure you get two cherries stay on each stem. That was backbreaking work, but I did it. It did not get me a lot of money, but I did it.
Again, I refer back to the Senate education and employment committee's inquiry into temporary working visas: sometimes those involved in the job discussion across Australia—and I am specifically thinking of Ms Kearney of ACTU fame—have a very simplistic equation that they bandy about—that is, X youth unemployment in this regional area equals Y 417 visa applicants, the backpacker visa, over here.
Instead of getting all of those 417 backpackers into your cherry farm or into your banana farm up north, Senator Canavan, you have high youth unemployment in your local region. It is a very simple, basic equation: A equals B, so we will just swap them. That is an absolutely innumerate response to the very, very complex reasons as to why young people, particularly in regional areas, cannot find work. It is a complex problem and it points to the fact that the ACTU more generally has absolutely no plan to address youth unemployment—no plan. We have been talking about youth unemployment. It is a scourge because it affects confidence and it affects future productivity for our nation. Importantly, how are these young people, as they grow older and have families, going to be able to provide for those families and have that financial security and stability that we all need? I have not heard one good idea or one practical idea from the other side. I am going to run through some of the fabulous ideas that our government is implementing, in stark contrast to those opposite and their rhetoric and the ACTU's rhetoric around this issue, which will be put to shame, because you cannot just say, 'A equals B.' It is a very complex equation: how you support a young person into work and make sure they have the skills and experience they need to stay there.
I mentioned work experience. The National Work Experience program provides job seekers with an opportunity to undertake work experience in businesses for up to 25 hours per week for four weeks to improve their chances of finding work. This is evidence based. They will retain their income support payment during this time and will receive a supplement of $20 per fortnight. Employers who have had a great experience over four weeks can go on with this young person who has rocked up every day, bright and shiny, keen as mustard and delivered every day. Many of those young people will be offered permanent employment in those small businesses. Those employers will get access to a $6,500 wage subsidy for youth, Indigenous job seekers, parents or the long-term unemployed—and, obviously, the Restart wage subsidy of $10,000. The program will help approximately 3,500 job seekers in the first year and 6,000 per annum in the following year. That is great news for unemployed young people, and that is the Abbott government delivering jobs through the National Work Experience program.
Similarly, the $212 million Transition to Work service will help young job seekers most at risk of long-term unemployment improve their chances of finding and keeping a job. This is important stuff. It is complex. These are human beings who are situated in certain contexts and are surrounded by certain sociocultural impacts and influences. They may have low literacy and numeracy levels. We are funding support programs to help them directly. You would not have thought that if you had been listening to anyone opposite—it is absolutely not true. Our intensive targeted support for vulnerable job seekers is terribly exciting. If you had been in here about 40 minutes earlier, you would have heard rhetoric from those opposite about the harsh and punitive nature of the Abbott government when it comes to the most vulnerable in our society. What a joke! I challenge them to match our support programs—the innovative youth program trials for 3,000 people annum; $55.2 million for up to 40 community trials to explore better ways of getting young people at risk of welfare dependency into jobs, especially when there is entrenched disadvantage.
We know that this is a problem in our communities. In regional communities right around Australia, high youth unemployment is incredibly confronting and it is very, very concerning. It does not matter whether I am talking to young people, whether I am talking to industry wanting the skills for the industry of the future or whether I am talking to grandparents—everybody is concerned about this. I would point to a report by the Foundation for Young Australians into the new work order and the types of skills and experience that our young people are going to need for the economy of the future. It makes very, very interesting reading that we all have to take note of.
In terms of our intensive support for vulnerable job seekers, we have support for parents to plan and prepare for employment. As I have said, great role modelling will make the biggest difference. We have employment support for young people with mental illness—$19.4 million for trialling and supporting 200 young job seekers with mental illness in disability employment services by providing job-readiness vocational and in-work support. I could go on and on and on. In stark contrast to those opposite, this government is serious about the scourge of youth unemployment. We have a suite of measures to address it and to research some of the causes and what is going to make a difference on the ground so we can target the Australian taxpayer dollar effectively and solve it. There is deafening silence from the other side. (Time expired)