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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 2064

Dr STONE (Murray) (17:30): I wish to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. The bill gives effect to two coalition election commitments: the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program. Both will commence on 1 July, 2014.

Australia has a long history of trying to help the unemployed—it goes back more than 100 years. Of course, we had a unique soldier settlement program after World War I. Recently we have acknowledged the Great Ocean Road as 100 years old and, with a great deal of additional coalition support, it is going to be rejuvenated and made again an outstanding world-class memorial to those great First World War soldiers. The point about the construction of that great Australian road was that it was also to employ the returned servicemen, many of them suffering mental health injuries. It was for many years that they were given employment on that construction. In the Second World War, we had Closer settlement and soldiers' settlement programs, again, to employ those coming back from war who needed Australian government support.

The coalition believes that every Australian who is capable of work should have a job. The best way to deal with poverty, depression and anxiety is for an Australian to have a job and, if necessary, to be assisted into that job. We acknowledge that some people live a long way from where there might be employment. We acknowledge that for some people their education is not sufficient, or they may have active discrimination against them because of their ethnicity or the way they present to an employer. We, the coalition, understand that and we are putting into place a series of measures to help those who are unemployed. Sadly, under Labor the queues of those waiting to receive welfare assistance because they were unemployed got longer.

The queue was particularly long for those who could not afford child care; it was particularly long for the youth who lived in rural and regional areas, for Aboriginal people and for those with a disability but who wished to work and who could work. Under Labor, we simply had to watch as those queues grew longer. Token efforts were made to support them but, unfortunately, those token efforts rarely did anything more than give some press releases for the minister in charge of that particular area. Our understanding from our long experience is that you need to be serious about job support, and that is why we know that these two particular initiatives will do a great deal.

The first is trying to assist people who get off the Newstart allowance—who have been receiving it for about 12 months and who take a job. We understand and do acknowledge that sometimes the pay in that first job is not much different to the welfare that they were receiving before. But we know that the difference between being on welfare and being in a job where you have your own income, where you can choose what you spend your cash on and where you can build into a bigger and better job as time goes by is a significant reward in itself. So we have produced a Job Commitment Bonus; it is a new payment. Under the former Labor government, there was no equivalent payment and there was never intended to be an equivalent payment.

This bonus rewards young people aged 18 to 30 years who get and keep a job and remain off welfare. After 12 months, they will receive $2,500. If they remain in that position and are off welfare for a further 12 months they may be eligible for another $4,000. That is for 24 months in total of employment. Some people who are on a very large income might wonder why you would be excited about $2,500. Let me assure you that if you are only earning $25,000 or $30,000 that is a significant bonus. It is an incentive for people who might need to buy a car and, in fact, who might need to put weekly fuel into that car. I think it is a very serious incentive indeed.

The other major initiative is what we have called the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program. As I said, we acknowledge that some Australians are a long way from work. It might be that they are in a metropolitan area and they need to move from one side of the city to another. We acknowledge that often takes some funds to relocate. They might be in a rural area and need to go to a metropolitan area, or they might be in a metropolitan region and need to shift to a country town. All of that takes some funding, and so we will be supplying special financial support for that relocation. I think that is an extraordinarily sensible thing to do.

We did, in fact, have a relocation program under John Howard's government when I was the minister for workforce participation. We took numbers of people from rural and regional areas on the coast of New South Wales across to the mining jobs in and around Perth. Those were extraordinarily successful relocations. People were trained when they reached the mining regions and they were supported by having bonds paid for their flats and hostels, in the first instance for the first two months. Those people not only succeeded in that work with that relocation but also talked some of their long-term unemployed friends from the east coast of New South Wales to come across to the goldfields. That relocation program was extraordinarily successful, but it was abolished under Labor.

We heard just before the House was suspended an extraordinary contribution from the Labor member for Franklin. In moving her amendment she suggested that there are much better ways to go about getting people into employment in Australia. I find it extraordinary that she has these bright ideas, given that none of them were put into play when Labor was in government. Let me remind you what happened when the coalition was in opposition. Labor claimed to be concerned for youth unemployment, but in fact under Labor the unemployment rate for young people rose from 9.9 per cent to over 12.7 per cent. It is over 30 per cent in my area and is higher for our Indigenous young Australians. There were 55,000 young Australians unemployed after six years of the Labor government. I find that figure extraordinary. Those are young people who deserve a future. Under Labor they had no future; just the dole queue.

We are committed to action. That is why we are working actively through our VET reform task force with stakeholders, training organisations and industries to improve the fractured training system left behind by those opposite. Labor members opposite stripped away the employer incentives and destroyed the hopes of many young people of ever gaining a traineeship or an apprenticeship and, therefore, meaningful employment. We understand only too well that it is not the government that creates real jobs with real productivity outcomes; it is small businesses, larger businesses and family businesses. We have introduced these reforms that will try to create an environment for greater economic growth because a strong economy creates new opportunities for all Australians, including our younger job seekers.

It is sheer hypocrisy for those on the other side to talk from their now position of opposition about superior programs for employing young people when they continue to refuse to support removing the carbon tax. The carbon tax is job destroying. In my region in particular we know that it means our dairy farmers cannot employ milkers. The refrigerant gas tax, which was called the carbon equivalent tax by Labor, puts another $100,000 on re-gassing large cool stores. People look very much like having to let go some of their hundreds of employees. So as long as Labor and the Greens continue to block the repeal of the carbon tax in the Senate we know that they are not serious about giving young people a job. It is a clear message to the electors of Australia that they do not take their democratic decisions seriously. We also want to scrap the mining tax, a tax that caused great uncertainty and collects practically no revenue but puts a dead hand on mining enterprises that are already finding it tougher as the years go by.

We are also re-establishing the rule of law on construction sites by reintroducing the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Our great building industry was always an employer of apprentices and young people. Labor blocked the most critical reforms at the behest of the unions. We will try to put order and productivity once again into the Australian building and construction industry. We have also committed to slashing red tape and green tape to free up businesses. When you free up businesses they can start to employ again.

It was appalling that the unions tried to tamper with the 457 visas that brought skilled labour to rural areas. You might ask: what has that got to do with youth unemployment? If businesses cannot employ vets at the local piggery as they used to be able to do under the 457 visas—they were mostly vets from the Philippines—then they cannot expand as a business and employ in entry-level piggery jobs young people who can work their way through to being managers. We will be setting that 457 visa blockage right as the months go by.

The job commitment bonus is a significant investment by the coalition. It will help young, long-term unemployed Australians make a positive change in their life, specifically moving away from welfare dependency to finding and keeping a job, to gaining self-respect and to gaining a sense of being able to put back into the community that has nurtured them. The job commitment bonus is an incentive to young people to be persistent in pursuing employment opportunities. Unfortunately, if you have grown up in a household with generations who have never had a job, the work ethic of persisting with an employer and working through problems and difficulties is something you may not have learnt at your mother or father's knee. But with an incentive like this we are hoping that younger people will learn the value of persisting and committing long term to an employer. With this incentive at the end of 24 months there will be a substantial cash bonus for them. It is about committing to the world of work rather than being trapped in the world of welfare. The bonus is an extra feature to the support already available to young job seekers.

We heard that the opposition are concerned that New Zealanders in the protected special category visa holder group are not eligible for this job commitment bonus. They thought that was a terrible thing. As we are presenting this program it is consistent with our election commitment. This is a targeted measure. It is an investment by this government to help young, long-term unemployed Australians. We want them to make a positive change in their life. This payment is not intended as further income support; it is a bonus to reward young Australian job seekers who find and keep a job. It is consistent with the bilateral social security arrangements between Australia and New Zealand. Eligible New Zealand SCV holders still have access to income support. We make no apology about encouraging young people to get and keep a job. The bonus is a targeted measure. We acknowledge that not all Australian job seekers are eligible. The fact that a protected SCV holder is not eligible for the job commitment bonus does not impact on whether they are eligible for other Australian social security payments.

The previous Labor contribution to this debate mentioned that their Move 2 Work program makes special provisions for redundant workers whereas our Relocation to Take Up a Job program does not. The Relocation to Take Up a Job program is a targeted initiative for the long-term unemployed. The purpose of our program is to offer assistance to long-term unemployed people to help with the costs of relocation so they are able to move to where the jobs are.

The government has other specific measures in place to assist people who are made redundant from work, such as through Job Services Australia. Again, I find the condemnation of our program is quite empty. When we look at the legacy of Labor in terms of the very long unemployment queues, particularly for young people, I find it quite extraordinary that there is criticism of these two programs.

A legislative instrument created under the new provisions will allow the Secretary of the Department of Employment to prescribe circumstances where the job commitment bonus will not be available, such as circumstances where the social security system has been abused. We want to make sure that we do not have welfare cheats. We do not want to have people spending a lot of time working out how to get around our welfare system. We want all the energies of our young people to be dedicated to finding work and staying in work. That is why these two programs are so important.

Particularly as a member from regional Victoria, I say that we need these programs. We have young people idling away their lives. We have young girls with very young babies, three children before they are 19. They need a lot of support to find jobs and to get affordable, accessible child care. Then they need special support if they need to relocate, and certainly a bonus if they stay in the job for at least 12 if not 24 months. I commend our legislation to the House.