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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 4026

Dr KEMP (Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training and Minister Assisting the Minister for Finance for Privatisation)(9.04 p.m.) —As the final speaker for the government, I will sum up the debate and respond to some of the points that have been raised by the opposition. I think it is regrettable that they are unable to understand the real benefits of this measure as proposed by the government and that their energies seem to be going to be put into attempting to make this scheme another one of the labour market programs that they put into place when they were in office and which were such an abysmal failure.

This scheme bears no relationship to the sorts of labour market programs that the Labor Party put in place. Let me assure the Australian people on this point: we are not about to establish schemes like new work opportunities, which cost the taxpayer $500 million, had a four per cent success rate, and cost $143,000 per net job. The government believes that the work for the dole program is going to have a very substantial positive benefit for the participants and the wider community. It is necessary because of the deeply entrenched unemployment problem which the Labor Party left Australia in after their 13 years in office. If anyone is responsible for unemployment it is, of course, the Labor Party, particularly because of its high tax policies, which destroyed small business. But of course it needed those taxes to fund its labour market programs, which failed to provide jobs for young people—indeed, for most of the participants—and proved to be such a cruel hoax.

This initiative is based firmly on the principle of mutual obligation. Mutual obligation is a principle which states that it is fair and just that people receiving unemployment allowances be asked to make a contribution to the community in return. Believing that it is fairer and less demeaning for people to work for their money than to get it as a hand-out is not prejudiced or punitive. It is part of the fabric of values that the Australian people share.

The reason why the Labor Party is not voting against this legislation is that it dare not vote against this legislation. I challenge the Labor Party to vote against this legislation, because it knows that the Australian people support this legislation. They believe that it is fair legislation. They believe that if somebody is being supported by the com munity, it is fair to ask them to put something back into that community.

This legislation will provide local communities and organisations around Australia with the opportunity to reach out to the unemployed people in those communities and put in place worthwhile community projects which will leave something of value to the community and which will also give something of value to the unemployed people who participate in them. That is what Australian people understand as mutual obligation. No amount of sophistry on the part of the opposition, particularly on the part of the member for Jagajaga (Ms Macklin), will change that fact. The Australian people well understand what is being put forward by the government in this legislation.

The government is being completely honest and open in its approach to the people of Australia. The previous government has gone from one position to another in relation to this legislation. It first of all opposed it outright. Then it said it would amend it to billyo. Then it said, `Well, what are you concerned about?'

The previous government did in fact have work for the dole programs. They introduced their work for the dole programs, such as they were, by stealth. They totally misled the Australian people in saying that their so-called job compact would provide Australians with a real job when they meant nothing of the kind. They meant a fully subsidised job which lasted for six months which ended up as nothing. They dumped the people on those programs right back at the end of the unemployment queues. They were made to be fodder for the Labor Party as it tried to manipulate the unemployment statistics by spending all the money that small businesses needed to create real jobs. They preferred to create false jobs, fake jobs, to deceive unemployed people in order to protect their short-term political interests.

Work for the dole is fair. The previous government's schemes such as the LEAP program made some young people work for less than the award rate. Yet we are hearing comments tonight which suggest that somehow or other we are paying less than the award rate. The member for Jagajaga clearly does not understand when she refers to the national training wage rate that is going to be paid when she says that this rate was discounted in the national training wage for the one day's training provided in the course of the national training wage.

The government fully understands that, and the rates that will be paid under work for the dole have in fact been grossed up to take account of the training component. That has been increased by 20 per cent. So it is completely incorrect to say that the government is applying a wage in work for the dole which is based on completely different assumptions.

This is not one of the so-called training schemes that the Labor Party put in place—those short-term, six-month training schemes that did not provide training which led on to real jobs.

Ms Macklin —It's not a training scheme.

Dr KEMP —This is not a training scheme. We have never claimed that it was. In fact, unlike the opposition, we are completely open and honest about that fact. Work for the dole is designed to bring young people out of the isolation in which the failure of the policies of the previous government placed them, to give them some opportunity to contribute in a worthwhile way to their communities, to lift their self-esteem and to rebuild their motivation. Of course we hope that, in achieving this, they will be better placed through the work experience they will receive through work for the dole to get employment at a later time.

We are not making false promises to the participants in these programs. We will be saying to the communities who put forward projects for work for the dole funding that we want those projects to include an indication of what that community is prepared to do for unemployed people at the end of the project. We want there to be an understanding in communities that the participants of these projects should not be left to go back on to the unemployment queues but that something should be done for them. They should be helped to make contacts in the community and, where possible, they should be put in touch with those who can help them get a job.

There have been statements during the debate that `work for the dole' is a demeaning term. The member for Sydney (Mr Peter Baldwin) said that `the term "dole" is fraught with negative connotations'. Let me say that the opposition has repeatedly referred to unemployment allowances as `the dole'. Those words are frequently heard from opposition lips, so let us not suggest that the words `the dole' are in any way demeaning.

Let us not go down the track which is so beloved of the Labor Party of self-delusion and self-deception. Unemployed people know exactly what is meant by `the dole'. That is what they call the unemployment allowances. They call it `the dole', and they understand exactly what the government is talking about here, even if the Labor Party would prefer, once again, to distort the situation. `Work for the dole' is a very easily understood term and it is a well-understood term within the wider community.

Despite widespread support in the community, opponents of the work for the dole initiative have criticised the element of compulsion in the legislation. This is contrary, I have to say, to the view of the vast number of people in the community who do believe that it is fair that, if some members of a group are prepared to commit to a community based project, others in the same group who are receiving the same benefits can justifiably and justly be asked to contribute and participate in that project. Participants will make a contribution to their own support and acknowledge the contribution being made by the community.

Many communities around Australia are very keen to participate in this initiative. The government has been approached by many community organisations seeking information and putting to us proposals for projects under the work for the dole initiative. I have no doubt that, when this legislation is passed through the Senate, the government will have a major task before it in selecting the highest quality projects from amongst those which are put forward. That is a task that we look very much forward to performing.

I have made it clear that the government does not represent work for the dole as a solution to youth unemployment. Real jobs, as we know, can only be provided by a business environment that secures our economic future—by small businesses that are encouraged to take people on and employ them. Some speakers have based their comments on the mistaken belief that the initiative is about creating jobs and providing training, and it is not. However, it is—and it is accurately described as—part of the government's overall armoury against youth unemployment.

Unlike the previous government, this government is striking at the roots of youth unemployment and at the disadvantages that young people suffer. It is doing that by tackling for the first time the literacy and numeracy problems that young people face. We have made a commitment to provide all young Australians with those literacy and numeracy skills that the previous government failed so abysmally to provide them with.

As we know from the longitudinal studies available to the government—which also were available to the Labor Party when in office but never analysed by its members because they did not want to know the truth—at the end of Labor's 13 years in office, some 30 per cent of 14-year-olds could not read properly. Of course, that is one of the main criticisms of young people that unfortunately we hear from small business—that they simply do not have the skills that are needed to obtain those jobs. And they can blame the Labor Party for that.

Opposition members interjecting

Dr KEMP —The government is also putting in place the first national apprenticeship system since Federation which will provide young people with nationally recognised qualifications through quality training—quality training linked to the labour market, linked to jobs that will enable young people to build the kinds of careers that they want.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Vaile) —Order! I would just remind the members for Jagajaga, Batman and Namadgi that this House listened to the member for Jagajaga for 20 minutes in silence, and we have had nothing but interjections while the minister has been addressing the House. I would just remind you of the provisions of standing order 304A. If you want to be here for the debate in detail and the ensuing divisions, I would respect those standing orders.

Dr KEMP —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The government's armoury against youth unemployment includes, as I have stated, quality training. That was one of our commitments in the last election. It was a commitment made in response particularly to the enormous number of representations we had from young Australians who said, `Please, please, don't make us continue to go on this merry-go-round of Labor's short-term labour market schemes which lead us either nowhere and to demoralisation in the end. Give us quality training.' And, of course, that is what the government is committed to providing for young people.

Work for the dole is particularly directed at those young people who have become isolated from their communities, who are not in apprenticeship or traineeship schemes, who are not in training and who are not in case management. These young people cannot be left simply without community support or community interest in their situation. Work for the dole will help to bring these young people back into their communities; to give them links with people in their communities who can help them; and to give them the sense of being able to make a worthwhile contribution to those communities by working on very solid community projects.

The government was very pleased to see the results of the recent Morgan and Banks survey which showed that almost 60 per cent of employers surveyed by Morgan and Banks said that they would be more willing to hire someone who had worked for the dole than someone who had spent the same period just receiving unemployment benefits. In other words, it is the view of employers themselves that work for the dole participation will be of value to young people and will make those young people more employable.

That is one of the fundamental reasons why this government and, I believe, the Australian community want to see work for the dole in place. I am quite sure that the community will take a very dim view of the efforts of the Labor Party to damage and destroy this legislation and to prevent young people getting the benefits that this legislation will confer upon them.

The aim of this legislation is to establish the framework necessary for implementation of the pilot work for the dole projects. In particular, the bill will amend the Social Security Act 1991 to enable a person to voluntarily participate in a program of work which has been approved by the employment secretary, or to be required to participate in such a program; to remove provisions precluding measures to require a person to work in return for the payment of the unemployment allowance; to provide for participation in an approved program of work to be included in newstart activity agreements, and provide for an approved program of work supplement of $20 per fortnight for participants.

Amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 will establish that participation in work for the dole will not give rise to an employer-employee relationship for the purposes of the federal jurisdiction. This does not mean, let me emphasise, that participants will be without coverage or protection. The alternative to workers' compensation coverage for participants will be provided through equivalent accident and indemnity insurance. Participants will be adequately covered.

Indeed, despite the outrage expressed by the member for Jagajaga, this is also the course followed by the previous government in relation to its labour market programs. So let us not have any more of this hypocritical and feigned concern over the way in which the government will be dealing with this important aspect of work for the dole.

Project sponsors will also be required to provide participants with a safe workplace. A person may only be required to participate in a work for the dole project if they are in receipt of full unemployment allowance and there is no risk to personal health or any contravention of occupational health and safety laws.

The government envisages publicly seeking submissions across the whole of Australia. Regions with the highest levels of youth unemployment will be the focus of the pilots, with an emphasis on non-metropolitan regions.

The pilot work for the dole projects will be for a minimum duration of three months and a maximum duration of 12 months. They will be selected on the basis of criteria which will include the needs of the local young unemployed people; the capacity of the sponsor to monitor and maintain the project; the extent of contribution and support for the project from the local community; the quality of community involvement; and the preparedness of the community to support the participants after completion of their placement.

A primary test will be the benefit of the project to the wider community. Projects approved will support new or additional activities that would not otherwise proceed. No existing workers will be displaced through this process. A committee, drawing on expertise independent of government, involving individuals who are well known in the community and committed to the success of the initiative, will be involved in the selection of projects.

The aim is to have about 10,000 places in the pilot work for the dole projects with the first expected to start in October this year, if the bill is passed in this sitting. That is the requirement for getting these projects under way. If the bill is not passed in this sitting, the real losers will be the unemployed young people who are being denied opportunities by the Labor Party; the party which is responsible for the entrenched level of youth unemployment which this country now has.

We anticipate that the majority of the participants in the projects will be volunteers. The Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency, the CSDA, and the project sponsor will advertise the availability of projects. If the response from volunteers does not provide enough participants, the CSDA will identify and notify eligible participants that they will be referred and that their participation will be compulsory.

The government is very proud to be putting this legislation forward. We believe this will be a very significant contribution to improving the opportunities for many long-term unemployed young people. We will evaluate and assess these projects in the light of experience when we make decisions about the extension of the work for the dole project.

   Question put:

   That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Peter Baldwin's amendment) stand part of the question.