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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 2070

WYATT ROY (Longman) (17:57): I acknowledge the comments of the former speaker, the member for Jagajaga. She is right that members on both sides of the chamber believe that youth unemployment, in particular, is a big challenge for our nation. But the question is: what should we do about it? Let us put in perspective the challenge that we face. Under the Labor government, the unemployment rate for young people rose from 9.9 per cent to 12.7 per cent—that is, an additional 55,000 young Australians did not have a job after six years of Labor being in power. In the chamber, we can agree that youth unemployment is a big issue, but the reality is that we have very different approaches when it comes to what we can do about it.

Prior to September's resounding election victory and in the early days of government, the coalition could not have spoken louder or more clearly about its determination to deliver a stronger Australia, built on more opportunity and more jobs. While we are realistic about the challenges, we remain undaunted. The Howard government gifted the former Labor government a $20 billion surplus and no net debt. By contrast, the outgoing Labor administration left this coalition government with $123 billion in deficit and $460 billion in projected gross debt over the next four years. Without changes, the budget will remain in deficit until 2023-24 and the debt will rise to $667 billion. This equates to $29,000 for each and every Australian. We cannot go on like this and the coalition will not let it continue. We have successfully confronted Labor debt and deficit before and we will do it again.

A big part of this solution will come from re-firing the economy so that businesses are expanding, prospering and employing more Australians. In my electorate of Longman, the great local employers are small businesses—retail, tourism and light industry. They need the confidence to grow and invest and create jobs. They could not do this under Labor while being punitively taxed and regulated. What they require from their government is freedom—freedom from the stifling costs and overheads that stem from too much bureaucracy and over-regulation. They need fewer taxes and lower taxes. As far as possible they want government out of their lives. This is not only a fair request but also an economically sound one. That is why the coalition government is moving to scrap the carbon tax and why it has already eliminated most of the 100 tax changes announced but not enacted by the former Labor government. Together, these actions will mean lower taxes, less paperwork and more certainty. This government is also unshackling businesses from at least $1 billion of red tape and green tape every single year. I am actively working with local businesses to secure our share of these savings. As part of my commitment, the member for Kooyong and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister with responsibility for deregulation came to Longman shortly after last September's election to meet with local businesses about their individual cases of excessive regulation. With that red tape gone they will be able to breathe and grow again, ultimately employing more locals. My community is a growth region and that is why new commercial and residential projects are crucial. I, along with the state government, have been a strong advocate of the North East Business Park project, which will spark economic activity and create 27,000 new jobs.

Building better infrastructure is another productivity-increasing measure. In my electorate, that means opportunities blossoming from the coalition's $8.5 billion Bruce Highway upgrade. Between the Sunshine Coast and the Longman electorate region of Moreton Bay, the Bruce Highway is the connector for employment and tourism and is used by many students of the University of the Sunshine Coast. It also carries a large number of commuters from our region to Brisbane. With $3.3 billion of the coalition's Bruce Highway project targeted on upgrades from the Pine River through to the Sunshine Coast, we have a long-term strategic plan that makes travel safer and unlocks the potential of the area. Fifty million dollars has been allocated to the planning and design of six lanes between Caboolture and Caloundra. The Bruce Highway improvements are occurring in tandem with the development programs for Caloundra South and Caboolture West. All up, these provide a huge shot in the arm for the growth of our region.

These infrastructure-building initiatives underscore a plan for the economy that is strong and multilayered and that will act to reboot local economies, removing physical, psychological and administrative barriers so that, once again, hope can float and jobs can flow. But, it is a plan the people of Longman have been waiting for far too long. Under the six years of the former Labor government, unemployment—especially youth unemployment—soared throughout my local region, as did the cost of living. Fuelled by the carbon tax, gas prices jumped by 63 per cent, electricity prices climbed by 93 per cent, water and sewerage bills were up by 63 per cent, education costs rose by 39 per cent and medical and hospital costs increased by 46 per cent. The coalition's scrapping of the carbon tax will bring immediate relief to households by cutting off the tax's reach into almost every aspect of daily life, including grocery and transport costs. Despite abolishing the carbon tax we will keep the compensation regime of tax cuts and pension and benefit increases. So that means tax cuts and pension increases without a carbon tax. We will also take pressure off public hospitals by restoring the private health insurance rebate as soon as we responsibly can, saving more money for everyone.

Our cost-cutting, jobs-growth plan also has an eye on the future. The stark fact to emerge from Australia's ageing population is that this generation will be paying to support the retirement of the previous one, on an unprecedented scale. The percentage of the population aged 75 or over is expected to rise from about 6.4 per cent to 14.4 per cent of the population. While the values, attitudes and choices of baby boomers and generation Y might seem worlds apart, both groups must tackle the issues together for mutual benefit. We are on the cusp of a demographic super-bubble. When the baby boomers leave the workforce, they will take away not only their skills but also their taxpaying capacity. While the preceding generation produced 2.5 million retirees, we now have four million Australians on the brink of retirement and about to draw on age pensions, pharmaceutical benefits and other government assistance. Our current immigration rate is insufficient to compensate for a shift of this magnitude. The 1990s annual permanent migrant intake of about 100,000 has increased by merely 90,000. This growth is nowhere near strong enough to fill the breach caused by the ebb in retirement.

There are very good reasons for making a start now on this key area of public policy. As the Productivity Commission highlighted, if the pension age is not recalibrated or no other solution is found, taxes will have to increase by 21 per cent to pay for the ageing of the population. By the turn of the century, Australians will count more 100-year-olds than babies. So what do we do? The answer must strongly accommodate raising the productive capacity of the economy. If more people are in better jobs and earning higher real wages, they will pay more tax. So we must build a vibrant deregulated economy which is part of a liberalised trade environment.

I am proud to be part of a government with an ambitious deregulation agenda, driven by a whole-of-government approach. I commend the Prime Minister, ably assisted by the member for Kooyong, for taking personal responsibility for deregulating the economy. Increasing our nation's productivity requires us to recognise that it is private enterprise, not government, which creates wealth, prosperity and jobs. In an area where the market is not best placed to do it, the government must take the lead in productive investment. That is why the coalition has such a strong infrastructure agenda—and I note that the assistant minister is in the House. It is why we as a government have spoken about opening up the north of Australia and why we should talk more about the possibilities of a sovereign wealth fund.

While the previous generation saw a massive increase in productivity from women entering the workforce, future generations will not enjoy the same demographic advantage. Undoubtedly, women entering the workforce triggered the biggest productivity gain of the past 30 years. For this generation, there is no equivalent untapped labour force stimulus. Generation Y and successive generations will grow up with the majority of women already in the workforce. We will have to take advantage of new technology and expand into new markets. Future generations will require constant upskilling and further training. They will be willing to turn themselves into a more creative workforce to achieve productivity gains similar to those of previous generations. In the meantime, landmark policies, such as the Abbott government's paid parental leave scheme, have been designed to allow women to stay in the workforce. So, effectively, PPL is another productivity-increasing measure. It is an economic driver and, as such, should be viewed as a workforce entitlement, not a welfare payment.

The economic and social challenges of today, and those on the horizon, demand that we grow a substantive workforce—as large and robust as possible. An important part of that equation is recognising the damaging effects of unemployment and doing everything in our power to diminish it. Wherever we can, we need to help people to find a job and to keep a job so that lives are lifted up, while the cycle of welfare dependency struggles for traction.

This government has faith in our young people. We want to help them avert an early slide into welfare dependency and at the same time reward positive, pro-work attitudes and endeavour. That is why we have thoughtfully considered and now introduced the legislation which is the business of this debate: the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. It is an investment to help the long-term unemployed, particularly young job seekers, find and keep a job. The first element will be aptly known as the job commitment bonus. Eligible job seekers aged 18 to 30 will be paid $2,500 if they can secure a job and remain in continuous employment, and off income support, for 12 months. These very same job seekers will be eligible for an additional $4,000 if they remain in continuous employment for a further 12 months—that is, two years in total. This is about incentive, reward and fostering good work habits, which not only build skills and income, contributing to individual and national wealth, but raise personal pride and confidence, positively impacting relationships, lifestyle and happiness.

Schedule 2 of this bill acknowledges that many job seekers are dissuaded from employment opportunities by the prohibitive cost of relocation. The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job measure directly addresses this conflict, providing financial support to eligible job seekers who have been receiving Newstart, youth allowance or parenting payment for at least the preceding 12 months to relocate for employment or an apprenticeship. They will receive up to $6,000 for relocating to a regional area to take up a job. Up to $3,000 will be paid to eligible job seekers who relocate from a regional area to a metropolitan area to begin a job. This $3,000 will also be available to eligible job seekers who move from one capital city with higher unemployment to another with lower unemployment in order to take up employment.

Unemployment can have a    corrosive effect on individuals, families and society at large. Over time, its debilitating features amount to far more than economic consequences. Doing nothing to encourage the work- ready but long-term unemployed into the workforce is cruelty, not compassion. This government is obliged to do what it can to provide real incentives and assistance to encourage job seekers to find suitable work and stay off welfare. It is part of our overall plan to build a stronger, more productive and diverse economy with lower taxes and smaller government, an economy that delivers higher real incomes and better services and an economy that ultimately means more jobs. I commend the bill to the House.