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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8807


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (09:53): If you get in a cab in Melbourne there is every chance that you will be driven around by a Somali taxi driver who is, in fact, a qualified jumbo jet pilot. There are qualified doctors driving cabs in Melbourne because they are unable to find what for them is meaningful work. So I want to draw the parliament's attention to a very important recently formed association in Melbourne that I have the great pleasure of being associated with and having helped to form. It is the Melbourne Employment Forum.

A year ago I convened a meeting of a number of community leaders, employers and service providers operating in the Melbourne area to discuss a key problem, the underemployment of people who have come to this country under non-skilled migration visas. Some of them may have been here five years or one year. Some of them have been here 30 or 40 years and they are still finding it difficult to get what is for them meaningful work. Research shows that at the time that our national unemployment rate was 4.9 per cent unemployment among this group of people was around 11 or 12 per cent. If you come here from another country, from a non-English-speaking background and you have qualifications, you are more than twice as likely as an English-speaking counterpart to find yourself in low paid employment.

As one participant in the forum put it, there is a fence between these people who have enormous skills and enormous capacities on the one hand and the jobs on the other. If there was simply a five or 10 per cent failure rate when it came to getting jobs, that might be put down to the same problems that everyday Australians face. But when 50, 60 or 70 per cent of people are applying for jobs and simply not getting them, that is a system failure that we must all address.

We have set up the Melbourne Employment Forum, which we hope will do two things: we hope it will be a one-stop shop for people who are seeking work so that they can be referred to willing employers or to service providers; we also hope it will be an ongoing advocate for reform in this area. We do not have a national strategy for addressing underemployment for this group of people. We need to get employer partners on board so that these people find what is, for them, meaningful work. We also need ongoing funding for the Melbourne Employment Forum.

I want to thank the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten, who came and helped us launch this forum. I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Lindsay Tanner, who did much work in drawing attention to this issue and providing some ongoing solutions. I want to congratulate the president, Abeselom Nega, and all of the committee members. I look forward to continuing to provide support to this organisation so that it can stand on its own two feet and be a strong, independent advocate and referral source regardless of who is in government or who is the member for Melbourne.