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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 2068

Ms MACKLIN (Jagajaga) (17:46): I am very pleased to be speaking on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. I say to the member for Murray as she leaves the chamber, the opposition is supporting this legislation. I think that tone in which she delivered her contribution was unfortunate. I think it is the case that everyone in this chamber wants to see youth unemployment in this country reduced. We all know how important it is to give young people the opportunities that they want to get the education, training and work that is very difficult for so many of them at this point in time. I do not think it is helpful for either side of the parliament to try to make out that one side cares more than the other about what is a very, very serious national issue.

I want to go through some of the matters that have been talked about recently by those who are doing some very serious work to address youth unemployment. Members may have seen that last month that the Brotherhood of St Laurence released a report Australian youth unemployment 2014: snapshot. It highlighted the dramatic increase in the rate of youth unemployment. Youth unemployment in Australia now sits at over 12 per cent, which is more than double the overall rate of unemployment. Nobody thinks that this is a good thing. We did see a decrease in the rate of youth unemployment over the last 30 years. But what is clear from the latest figures is that the global financial crisis has had a dramatic impact on young people's employment prospects. I think it is important that we all acknowledge that we have a serious issue in this country with youth unemployment. The Brotherhood of St Laurence's report indicates that youth unemployment currently represents almost 40 per cent of all unemployment in Australia. More than one in three unemployed Australians are aged between 15 and 24. Of course, the Brotherhood of St Laurence's report was not the first to highlight this is as a growing issue.

Late last year the COAG Reform Council handed down its report, Education in Australia 2012: five years of performance. Part of that report was devoted to the transition from year 12 to work. Its findings were also very concerning. While the report did find that there has been some improvement in year 12 attainment, young people's full participation in work or study after leaving school is in decline. Some might say it is only a small decline. But given everyone in this House would argue we want to see it going in the other direction, this fall by more than one percentage point in the proportion of 17- to 24-year-olds fully engaged in post-school study, training or work is something we all want to see reversed. More than a quarter of Australians aged between 17 and 24 are not participating in work or study following school.

In some areas, the figures are even worse. In Queensland, just under 31 per cent of young people are not fully engaged. In South Australia it is 30.5 per cent. But the most alarming figures are from Tasmania and the Northern Territory. In Tasmania, the figure is 33.4 per cent, and in the Northern Territory it is 42.3 per cent. Especially in those two areas, these are very, very serious youth participation problems. Of course, it is the case that Australia is not alone. For example, in France the youth unemployment rate is hovering stubbornly around 25 per cent and in Britain 21 per cent of people under 25 are unemployed.

Around the world, we are seeing young people almost three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. The upward trend in global unemployment continues to impact young people very seriously. The ILO 'has warned of a "scarred" generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries'. Certainly, Labor understands and I think the government understands that youth unemployment is a very serious issue for the nation. It is why we are all supporting the measure that is before the House tonight.

In government, we put forward various measures to tackle this issue; focusing on trying to get more young people to finish school and get into continuing training or higher education. One example I wanted to raise today is the Youth Transitions program. This helps young people who have not completed, or are at risk of not completing year 12 or an equivalent qualification, and have barriers that make it difficult to participate in education, training or employment. Providers in this program work with young people to help make a successful transition to further education, training or employment. One such program is being run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Melbourne and its outskirts. Their Peninsula Youth Connections program provides flexible individual support to young people at risk of disengaging from education and training and therefore not finishing year 12 or equivalent schooling.

In 2012, the Brotherhood of St Laurence undertook an evaluation of the program that had been running in the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It found that, of those participating in the program, 70 per cent were successful, moving into work or further learning. This of course is a very positive result. Through this evaluation, the brotherhood also learnt a great deal about how we should be designing programs to help people, particularly young people, with these transitions. It found that intensive case management was integral to getting people the support they needed. Community outreach, with strong relationships between regional services and community stakeholders, is also important. There is a need for a greater cohesion and partnership between community, youth and family services, and school support services. All of these should inform further investment in initiatives to help young people manage this period of their lives.

We do, of course, need to invest in our young people so that they stay at school, get the education they need and can get the jobs of the future. None of us can expect young people to get well-paid jobs without providing them with this proper support. I, for one, think we need new and innovative thinking in this area and urgent investment in our young people so that we can reverse the current trend. I did announce that Labor will be conducting a major review of our social policies over the next 12 to 18 months. We understand that we have a rapidly changing economy. Of course, for many people that provides a great opportunity, but for others, particularly young people, there is a great deal of risk. These risks are particularly acute at periods of transition between jobs or when young people are transitioning from school to work. We all have a responsibility to find the best ways to support young people at this time. It will require investment. The initiative before us today is one such investment, which we are pleased to support, but I do not think it will be sufficient.

We are concerned about the cuts the government has announced to the Better Schools Plan. One of the very important parts of that initiative, of course, was additional funding going into some of our very disadvantaged schools. We want to see that investment continued to make sure that the young people who really need additional support get it, whether it is to get the education and training they need at school or transition off to TAFE or into supported jobs. Whatever it might be, we know we need to do a lot more, all of us together, so that we do not see a generation of unemployed, underemployed, low-skilled young people. That will not be good for the individuals, it will not be good for our country and it certainly will not be good for our economy.

As I said, we are supporting this legislation today. We want to do everything we can to help make sure that young people make the transition from school to work. I do not think that this on its own will be enough. That is not a criticism of the initiative; it is really just to say that this is a very serious problem facing our country. It is one area where we need to work together to find the best ways to support young people as they transition from school. All of us want to see young people transitioning to ongoing training or work. These big social policy questions in our country need to be addressed with the facts. The evidence is certainly in—our young people need support.