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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5349

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (20:12): I just want to say to the member for Blair that, given the pathway I have walked in life, I do not find his comments applicable. I rise today to support and contribute to the debate on the amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 limiting the application of the parenting payment transitional arrangement. I acknowledge Senator the Hon. Chris Evans for proposing the amendments, which I support.

The bill forms part of wider reforms in the Building Australia's Future Workforce 2011-12 budget package released earlier this month. If passed, the amendments contained in this bill will come into effect as of 1 July 2011. The bill will amend the act to tighten existing arrangements on the grandfather clause which allows parents covered under the clause to continue to receive parenting payments for any child born before 1 July 2011. This amendment is about equity and ensures all Australian families are on an even playing field in respect to parenting payments. This amendment is an important one and ensures that all the parents in the electorate of Hasluck are given the same level of benefits, as they deserve. It applies further amendments to the Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Welfare to Work and Other Measures) Act 2005 introduced by the previous Howard government.

The coalition agrees that government needs to do more to encourage sections of the community to re-enter the workforce or take that step for the first time. It is a long-held belief of the coalition that work is the best form of social security and its benefits far outweigh the obvious financial ones. This belief underpinned the previous amendments put forward by the Howard government.

I launched the Green Jobs Corps in Forrestfield, which is in my electorate of Hasluck, earlier this year. It is a 20-week environmental training program that offers young people, aged 17 to 24 years, a combination of work experience, skill development and accredited training to ensure they are ready for employment in emerging green and climate change industries. In talking to them, I asked them why they had not taken other pathways and they said that this gave them the opportunity to enter into the working arena and, from that, they were looking at pathways that they might consider at the end of their training. At the last election the coalition had a suite of policies designed to encourage and reward more Australians to enter or return to the workforce. The coalition planned to introduce a job commitment bonus to encourage young Australians who had been out of work for lengthy periods to take a job and commence a pathway back into the workforce. The proposed additional incentives would encourage these people to stay in work beyond two years. A reallocation allowance was proposed if unemployed jobseekers moved to a regional area to take up a position. Employers would have been rewarded for employing an eligible jobseeker. Our older Australians who have a lifetime of experience, corporate knowledge and skills would have benefited from the $3,250 seniors employment incentive payment for employers that hired mature workers aged 50 or older.

Australia finds itself in a unique geopolitical position in the 21st century. The rise of China, a burgeoning India and growing ASEAN economies will place huge demands on our workforce in the coming years and it is a government's responsibility to ensure that its people are as best placed as possible to take advantage of this growth. Australian governments have an obligation to build Australia's workforce and strengthen our domestic employment market. The availability of jobs is one of the most important issues to my constituents in Hasluck and I suspect that it would be the same for many other electorates. Hasluck suffers from one of the highest levels of unemployment in metropolitan Western Australia and there are many efforts underway to improve this situation by encouraging small business and giving people the skills they need to enter the workforce.

I want to refer to initiatives that encourage young people to acquire the skills which enable them to access employment opportunities. The Catalyst Clemente university education program, driven by Mission Australia in association with Edith Cowan University, is based in Maddington and helps provide education to fast track people into university courses. Jobs West, on Abernethy Road, is a community based registered training organisation which promotes hands-on learning, while the Smith Family group in Gosnells and Midland assists low-income families to enter its Learning for Life scholarship program.

The Small Business Centre South East Metro is proof of how local organisations, given the right support and encouragement, can make a real difference to the community. Since its inception, the Small Business Centre has created hundreds of jobs in the south of my electorate. They manage a significant number of clients who after advice on training in small business creation are empowered to take steps to full-time employment and jettison their welfare dependency. In the north of my electorate, the Small Business Centre East Metro, under the watch of doyen chief executive officer, Tony Watts, is also helping one of Hasluck's most disadvantaged areas to thrive under difficult business conditions, and certainly he encourages young people to make that choice of stepping into the workplace, being supported and then having the opportunity of a full-time job in some key areas. They also look at the opportunity for pathways into the resource sector. They offer training advice to start up businesses, information on new tax regimes for existing businesses and knowledge on how to maximise business. This naturally results in employment flowing on into the community.

Hasluck is also blessed with strong chambers of commerce—namely the Swan Chamber of Commerce and its formidable chief executive officer, Sandra Wallis; the Kalamunda Chamber of Commerce and its president, Robert Bentley; and the Gosnells Chamber of Commerce oversighted by John Hardy, the chair, who is ably assisted by the chief executive officer, Denise Bradley. In my discussions with them we have been looking at the opportunities that we can create for young people within the electorate of Hasluck and allow them to have that second chance in life that will enable them to not depend on government welfare programs. As such, I have set up advisory groups sourced from businesses, agencies and constituents within Hasluck in the areas of training, environment and disabilities to meet regularly throughout the year to identify funding and policy opportunities and to progress the issues relevant to those key areas within Hasluck. The Hasluck Training Advisory Group is made up of representatives from different sectors in training, including industry, registered training organisations, the TAFE sector and the secondary schooling sector. Again, our focus as leaders within this area is to look at the opportunities that we can create to bring people into the skills pathway and into permanent work. This varied representation recognises that in the area of training all sectors have a significant part to play in the delivery and outcomes of training opportunities for the people of Hasluck.

The proposed bill is highly relevant to the work that we are collectively undertaking as leaders within Hasluck. My intentions are to address both the immediate needs of individuals within Hasluck and, more importantly, to work with a strong network of training providers who contribute to the skills development of Western Australians in this local area. I want to contribute to my belief in lifelong learning for all to enable individuals to have the capability and capacity to make choices, to access skills training and have the flexibility of career pathway options. This group will work on achievable areas of policy formulation and opportunities in training that will assist young people who want to work and come back into the workplace. This alliance of the Hasluck Training Advisory Group is to provide strategic directions for a local approach to providing training and skilling opportunities. The bill will contribute to my belief in lifelong learning for all to enable individuals to have the capacity to make choices, access training and have the flexibility of career pathway options that will increase labour market efficiency, productivity, innovation and ensure increased utilisation of human capital as opposed to the reliance on welfare measures.

The Skills Australia discussion paper, Creating a future direction for Australian vocational education and training, released in October 2010, is a salient reminder of the fact that the skilling of our human capital is critical. Australia is facing a stark reality in respect of our long-term economic and social prosperity and depends on the depth of skills in the population and the better use of those skills to overcome the risk of a fiscally unsustainable ageing population. There is an urgent need to provide individuals with the broad based skills and knowledge for changing labour market demands and emerging occupations and industries.

Having had an education background, I am often of the view that we sometimes undervalue the human capital that is often caught up on welfare dependency. I have had discussions on a couple of occasions with Noel Pearson about the incredible talent that we still have within our society but that we do not harness; nor do we capitalise on opportunities by taking them off dependency on welfare payments and getting them into pathways of learning, skilling and training in order to equip them to make choices for some of the job opportunities that exist within this country. To that end, I commend the government on the amendments within this legislation. The Social Security Amendment (Parenting Payment Transitional Arrangement) Bill 2011 is one step towards encouraging Australians to re-enter the workforce.