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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5935


Mr CRAIG THOMSON (6:12 PM) —Last week I was able to attend the launch of a very positive initiative put together by group training and registered training organisations which operate in my electorate of Dobell on the Central Coast of New South Wales. This particular initiative was called Adopt an Apprentice program and aims to find new employers willing to take on apprentices who have unfortunately lost their places with other small businesses because of the economic downturn or through similar circumstances. At the launch of the program the future was looking brighter for 20 job seekers who formed the target number under this program. Out of the 20, five places had already been found as the program was being launched, so there were already five apprentices with new employers.

The fact that employers are willing to take on young apprentices who have had to be put off elsewhere is largely because these job seekers already have some training, experience and skills. Also the truth is that these young people are ready and willing to work. They have confidence because they have shown up to their workplaces. Their employers and work mates have supported and encouraged them. Their confidence came through being backed up by skills learned and training received while on the job. They are ready to try again with a new employer; someone who is willing to take on a keen young person, who, in turn, wants to get ahead with his or her apprenticeship and reach the goal they set out to achieve at the start, and that is to be trade qualified.

One of the registered trainers at the launch raised concerns about the lack of apprentices generally in the workplace. The man was in his 50s and had worked at Garden Island with over 400 apprentices in various trades working around him when he was a young apprentice. He reminisced about a time when there were many opportunities, and he said that the program that they were launching on the Central Coast was in some small way going to make sure that the apprentices who were in the system could complete the training they needed and acquire the skills required for the economy that we have on the Central Coast. We need to give our young people job skills for the future. Without this sort of investment we will find ourselves in a hole in a few years time, with a drastic lack of skills.

Such neglect for future needs happened under the previous government and we must not let it happen again. We must be in a position to make sure we continue to train new young people and encourage them to take on further training so that as the economy comes out of the global recession we have the necessary skills to make sure that the economies both locally and on the Central Coast can take advantage of those skills. When the economy recovers we will have in place a better skill base for our young people to help them get ready for the workforce. Setting that up, especially in places such as my electorate, is absolutely vital. On the Central Coast, according to the last available figures, youth unemployment reached around 37 per cent. I am speaking about an area where these types of programs are absolutely essential. We have always had high youth unemployment, but with the global financial crisis we have seen it rise in the last six months from just over 25 per cent to just over 37 per cent. That is why I am supporting the Social Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009. It is vital that this sort of training be introduced and that these incentives be given so that young people in my area can get a fair shake.

The bill introduces a new training supplement to assist low-skill job seekers receiving Newstart allowance or parenting payment to undertake approved training. This will in turn support better employment opportunities for those job seekers. The bill will assist low-skill job seekers with the costs of participating in training or further education which may assist them to secure employment in the future. The bill will encourage more young people to gain the education and skills they need to move into further education or employment, recognising that youth with limited education are particularly vulnerable to becoming unemployed in the long term. The changes will be mirrored in changes to family tax benefit A proposed to commence from January 2010. These changes will proceed separately.

Any opportunity for job seekers is vital, especially in regions such as mine, the Central Coast, where young people have constant difficulty in finding work. Not only do we have 37 per cent youth unemployment but 30 per cent of the workforce commute to Sydney every day when they would prefer to work on the Central Coast. This initiative supports the government’s commitment to improve the educational attainment level of Australians by encouraging completion of year 12 or equivalent and a commitment to unemployed Australians to provide improved access to education and training opportunities through Job Services Australia and the Productivity Places Program.

The training supplement will be available to Newstart allowance and parenting payment recipients who have not completed year 12 or who have a trade or vocational qualification that could be upgraded to better equip them to find future employment. Job seekers meeting these requirements will receive an extra $41.60 per fortnight if they fully meet the activity test or participation requirements by undertaking approved training or further education at the certificate II or certificate III levels. The training supplement will be available for people commencing approved training between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2011. The training supplement will be available under any approved training commenced in this period when it is completed. It is estimated that over 50,000 low-skill job seekers will be assisted over this period.

The New South Wales Central Coast, as well as having high youth unemployment, has very low school retention rates, well below the benchmarks set at both national and state levels. In fact, less than 50 per cent of people attending school complete year 12. The object of this bill is to encourage young people to remain in education and training until they have completed year 12 or equivalent so they can improve their employment prospects and are equipped to find jobs as the economy improves. These changes support the youth compact and the national youth participation requirements agreed by COAG on 30 April 2009. This measure will also assist in bringing forward the COAG target of 90 per cent year 12 or equivalent attainment from 2020 to 2015. As you can see, on the Central Coast we have a long way to go when we have an under 50 per cent completion level at the moment and want to meet 90 per cent by 2015. It is only by having the government take action in these areas, through bills such as this, that there is some chance of that actually occurring.

Youth allowance will be payable to young people without year 12 or an equivalent qualification if they study full time or if they comply with the youth allowance employment pathway plan, which requires 25 hours a week in a combination of part-time study or training, in combination with other approved activities. These requirements will apply until the young person attains year 12 or equivalent certificate level II qualification. Exemptions will apply where no training is reasonably available or the person does not have the capacity to undertake the training that is available. These amendments will apply to new applicants for youth allowance from 1 July 2009. The requirements will be progressively implemented for existing youth allowance recipients without year 12 or the equivalent between January and July 2010.

The main points of the bill are the following. The training supplement is an additional, time limited, payment of $41.60 per fortnight to help eligible job seekers who participate in approved study or training. It will be available for courses commenced between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2011. The government is introducing this payment to encourage and support low-skilled income support recipients with the costs of undertaking training or further education to assist them to secure employment in the future. The training supplement will assist job seekers receiving Newstart allowance or parenting payment who have not completed year 12 or the equivalent or who have a trade or vocational qualification which could be upgraded to better equip them to find future employment.

Job seekers will need to participate in approved education or training to receive the training supplement. For some people this may mean full-time study. Others, such as people with a partial capacity to work, would meet their participation requirements through part-time study. The sorts of approved courses that people will need to do include certificate II to certificate III courses which can be approved. Generally courses would run for at least one semester and can be up to 12 months in duration. People wanting to do a course for longer than 12 months may be eligible for student income support payments. The reason why the training supplement is time limited is straightforward enough: the training supplement will be available for two years to provide an enhanced incentive for job seekers to gain skills and qualifications during the global downturn. This makes sure that we do not have a generation that is forgotten because of the global financial crisis.

We need to be making sure that not only are we stimulating jobs through the decisive action the government is taking with the stimulus packages but also those young people are being equipped with the skills necessary to participate in the economy as it comes out of recession—that they are not being left on the scrap heap, that they are given the opportunity to train and retrain. Job seekers who participate in the Productivity Places Program will not have to pay for their course. However, not all courses taken up will be provided through the Productivity Places Program. Some may be through a state or territory subsidised TAFE or RTO place. In such cases, normal course fees will apply. As is currently the case, these course costs are the responsibility of the student. In addition to the assistance provided by the fortnightly training supplement, over the period 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2010 recipients of Newstart allowance and parenting payment who undertake approved study or training are also eligible for the education entry payment of $208 and the $950 education entry payment supplement of the Training and Learning Bonus.

Looking at the training places, the entitlement to an education or training place is for any government subsidised qualification. Training places will come from a range of existing sources, including the Australian government’s Productivity Places Program. This program is providing 711,000 training places over five years to ensure that Australians develop the skills that they and industry need. Of these, 319,000 places, including 20,000 places for workers who may need to be re-skilled, are for job seekers; and 392,000 training places are allocated for existing workers wanting to gain or upgrade their skills.

As part of the compact with young Australians, young people under 20 who are working up to 15 hours per week will be eligible for Productivity Places Program training places. For this program to work, some changes will have to be made. From 1 July 2009, young people seeking youth allowance without year 12 or equivalent will be assessed against new participation requirements. Under these new requirements, to receive youth allowance young people under 21 years of age without year 12 or equivalent will need to: participate in education and training full-time; or participate full-time—that is, generally for at least 25 hours a week—in part-time study or training, in combination with other approved activities, until they gain year 12 or all equivalent certificate II qualifications. Young people already receiving youth allowance who do not have year 12 or equivalent qualifications will make the transition to the new requirements between 1 January 2010 and 30 June 2010.

It is fair to remind the House why the government is making these changes. Part of the reason is that the changes support the youth compact and national youth participation requirements agreed by COAG on 30 April 2009. Looking closely at these time frames, the changes will apply to all young people without year 12 or an equivalent qualification claiming youth allowance from 1 January 2009 and to existing youth allowance recipients without year 12 or the equivalent who are not full-time students from 1 January 2010. In order to allow young people already receiving youth allowance time to consider their options, the new requirements will be progressively implemented for this group between January 2010 and July 2010.

Going over the requirements for young people who obtain year 12 or the equivalent qualification, the existing youth allowance participation requirements will continue for 21-year-olds who have received year 12 or the equivalent qualifications. This group of young people is not affected by the measure. The question has been raised that the new participation measures might punish disadvantaged young people. Past economic downturns have demonstrated that young people with limited education and skills are particularly vulnerable to long-term unemployment. They struggle to find employment even when the economy recovers.

The arrangements will be flexible for young people with complex needs. For example, young people with multiple barriers such as homelessness or substance abuse issues who would qualify for stream 4 under Job Services Australia arrangements will meet their requirements by participating in this service stream. Similarly, young people with a partial capacity to work will have their hours of participation tailored to their assessed capacity. If eligible, they can also meet their requirements by participating in disability employment services. The range of existing activity test exemptions based on personal circumstances, such as temporary medical incapacity or major personal crisis, will continue to be available. This will ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to cover periods that young people cannot participate.

It is also useful to clear up any concerns about the availability of education or training places. As part of the COAG youth compact, state and territory governments have committed to immediate action to ensure sufficient school and training places are available to young people aged 15 to 19, who will have an entitlement to an education or training place for any government subsidised qualification. This commitment will be fully implemented by 1 July 2009. Enrolments will be subject to admission requirements and course availability. In addition, young people aged 20 to 24 will have an entitlement to an education or training place for any government subsidised qualification which would result in the individual attaining a higher qualification. The commitment to 20-to 24-year-olds will be fully implemented by 1 January 2010. Enrolment will be subject to admission requirements and course availability.

State and territory governments will work with their education authorities and training providers to make arrangements for determining eligibility for an entitlement place. It is anticipated that most places will be provided by TAFEs and some by private registered training organisations offering government subsidised qualifications. Commonwealth, state and territory governments will also work with training providers to address issues relating to the provision of places in rural and remote locations. Exemptions will apply in cases where there are no locally accessible training courses or appropriate distance education options. Job Services Australia providers will also have the capacity to help young people gain access to education and training programs to improve their skills, including places in the government’s Productivity Places Program.

Deputy Speaker Adams, you can see through this bill that the government is committed to helping young people, who might not have the best chances of gaining long-term employment, gain the necessary skills to give them a better chance. It is aimed at those young people who have not completed year 12 or the equivalent, or who have a trade or vocational qualification which could be upgraded to better equip them to find future employment. The budget announcement for this measure stated that the changes to participation requirements for youth allowance are to come into effect on 1 January 2009 for new claimants without year 12 or the equivalent and from 1 January 2010 for existing recipients without year 12 or the equivalent. Budget announcements also stated that the training supplement would commence from 1 July 2009. For young Australians hoping to upgrade their skills—such as from electorates like mine, with 37 per cent youth unemployment and less than 50 per cent of people going on to year 12—the opportunities provided by this legislation cannot be overstated. It is vitally important that there are no delays in this legislation. I commend the bill to the House.