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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 731


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (21:07): It gives me great pleasure to rise tonight to speak on the government's Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill 2016. I think this is one of the hallmark aspects of our government's agenda in our commitment to reducing youth unemployment across this country. I think all submitters to the Senate inquiry are absolutely united in acknowledging the scourge that is youth unemployment, particularly for those young people located in regional Australia, where unemployment rates are much, much higher than they are in urban areas. And when you go out and speak to employers, when you speak to young people, when you speak to careers teachers in schools and across universities, one of the key reasons for young people finding it hard to get secure ongoing employment is the fact that they lack the requisite work experience in the particular area or industry in which they are seeking to set out a career path.

Indeed, that is what is key and at the heart of this particular policy initiative—ensuring that young people actually get the work experience they need in the area they are interested in and that employers are incentivised to take on that young person, who may not have the full skill set required to fulfil that task. Employers, equally, are supported so that the young person can get experience, because finding your way as a young Australian, or a young person anywhere, through the myriad study options and employment options can be a tangled path, a long and winding road. Many young people, as we have seen with our university data, think that a particular course is going to provide them with satisfaction and ongoing enjoyment. However, once they embark on that course they find that it is actually not for them and they go on to find another course that will fulfil their particular needs and interests.

So, too, it is for employment. Giving young people the opportunity to participate in industries and areas that they may not have come across in their particular region or school setting will I think lead to increased employability of all young Australians. So, I completely support the minister and really appreciate her bringing this initiative forward, because at least we are doing something.

Senator Cameron: Oh, that is as good as it gets!

Senator McKENZIE: You want to talk about apprenticeships—and Senator Cameron, I am happy to have that conversation anytime you like—but your government ripped millions out of apprenticeship programs and indeed in your own campaign documents actually had no budgeted forward estimates for what you had put back in. At least we are actually looking at creative and innovative ways that we can get young people right across the country those key skill sets they need to be employed and to contribute—and not just to contribute to the national economy and pay their taxes and go to work each day but to actually enjoy it. That is why getting out there and having a crack is important.

PaTH is about preparing young people, giving them the opportunity to trial different work options, and then hopefully that young person and the employer will have a meeting of minds and the young person will be offered an ongoing job, which this program supports employers to do—to offer a wage subsidy should that young person fulfil the employer's needs in an ongoing way. I find it quite disingenuous that the Greens are not supporting this initiative. They are out there trying to ramp up a $50-a-week increase to the Newstart allowance. This program offers a $100-a-week increase in the Newstart allowance plus valuable work experience that will assist that young person going forward.

When we were looking at preparing young Australians we were wanting to increase their employability skills training to help them understand the behaviours that are expected by employers in the workplace, which will provide tailored industry-specific training that will prepare our young people going into jobs. We are offering voluntary internships for up to 12 weeks to give our youth a chance to show what they can do in a real, live workplace. And then, as I mentioned, there is a new youth bonus wage subsidy to support the employment of young people. The government is committed to addressing youth unemployment by assisting vulnerable young Australians who are at risk of falling into the welfare trap at an early stage in their lives. You leave school, you are looking around for options, you are not quite sure where life will take you. This program is exactly designed to assist that young person who is not quite sure what the future offers them a pathway to ongoing, sustainable employment.

We recognise that some young people require additional assistance in getting those relevant work-ready skills that they need, and this initiative is backed by data and evidence. As I said, I chaired the Senate inquiry into this bill, and all 15 submitters are committed to addressing the scourge of youth unemployment and commented on our budget allocation of $850 million to the youth employment package. This package was developed by the department though a consultation process in which we went out to the community, to a range of stakeholders, and sought their comments on our program, and we incorporated that in the final package.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry submitted that it strongly supports the Youth Jobs Path initiative 'as an important avenue to secure jobs for young unemployed Australians'. And I think we all acknowledge that this program will give young people real-job work experience. It is not just some tick and flick. It is not just some tokenistic effort. This is about placing young people with real employers so that they can get that hands-on experience.

The Brotherhood of St Lawrence also supported the bill and made some key recommendations. They commented on how rapidly the modern employment environment is changing within Australia and across our economy. It is profoundly testing for a significant proportion of young people—around 30 per cent of young people. The youth unemployment rate sits at double the rate of overall unemployment. As I said, all submitters, including ACOSS, are committed to addressing the issue. The government is to be commended for putting something on the table for consideration.

I want to address a couple of the criticisms that those opposite have raised. One of them was that there is not a decent wage and that is primarily because interns are actually interns. They are not employed as Australian workers. I do not hear anybody opposite critiquing any of the universities in this country that have embedded internship programs in their coursework requirements. University see internships as a valuable opportunity for young people to gain skills and experience in their chosen industry. Why won't you accept that this is an opportunity for young people to trial something that may be of interest to them? I will clarify the payment issue: the $200 fortnightly incentive paid to PaTH interns is on top of their income support. The incentive is paid by the government and is not a wage. If a host organisation paid a PaTH intern, the internship would cease immediately because—you know what?—it would become a job; it would not be an internship. That is the difference.

Senator Brown mentioned the churn culture and the submission from the Department of Employment went exactly to the heart of that by setting out measures to protect against the churn in the PaTH program. They include:

… program guidelines, in combination with the jobactive Deed 2015-2020 and the Transition to Work Deed 2016-2020, to make clear to employment service providers the parameters of the program. Department of Employment monitoring activities will help ensure that host organisations appropriately use the program. … The department's program assurance strategy will be applied to PaTH internships.

In addition the department currently provides program assurance of employment services through a range of prevention, deterrence and detection and correction methods, and these will similarly be applied to the PaTH program.

I think it is quite disappointing when we look at what the alternatives may be. There has been a lot of brouhaha recently around the value or otherwise of internships. I would remind Mr Shorten that he does not mind the odd intern; the Greens, either internationally or here, at home do not mind the odd intern; Lisa Chesters and Brendan O'Connor do not mind the odd intern. In fact many parliamentarians—

Senator Seselja: Andrew Leigh had to write his book.

Senator McKENZIE: There you go. Thank you for that interjection—I will take that interjection from the good minister. Not only do interns gain valuable experience, but they can also provide valuable support to employers or, in this case, the parliamentarians they serve. We have heard a lot about class warfare particularly from Senator Cameron earlier. It is a tired old argument by Labor. I don't know why it is okay for those who are in Young Labor and who are moving up in the world to get priority internships in ministers' or shadow ministers' offices in the Labor Party or are spokespeople with the Greens, but it is not okay for country kids to head down to their local manufacturer to get some decent work experience. It is not okay for other young Australians who are experiencing chronic unemployment in their regions to get the work experience that they need. It is okay for the political class if you are from the Left, but it is not okay for others across the economy.

I would call on both the Greens and Labor to support this innovative initiative by the government. I hope we are all troubled by the tragedy of youth unemployment in this country. We need our existing programs and we need to grow and develop our economy so that jobs are available locally. We also need to recognise that some young people in our communities need that additional support. This program goes to the heart of addressing that—what those young people need to go out there and secure job in what can be a very daunting scenario for them as they leave school. I commend the bill to the Senate.