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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 2098


Mrs McNAMARA (Dobell) (19:51): I rise to support the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. This government believes that the best form of welfare is work and that, where people are able to work, they should be encouraged and supported to do so. This bill will provide assistance to enable the long-term unemployed, particularly young job seekers, to find and keep a job. The bill introduces two measures that will achieve these objectives: the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program. This government is determined to prevent young job seekers falling into long-term welfare dependency, and we are eager to reward positive pro-work behaviours.

The Job Commitment Bonus will be available to young Australians aged 18 to 30 who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. If they are able to get and keep a job for 12 months or more, regardless of whether they receive Newstart allowance or youth allowance, they will be eligible for payment under the scheme. The Job Commitment Bonus will make available two payments: $2,500 can be received when an eligible young job seeker remains in employment and off income support for 12 months and a further $4,000 will be available after the job seeker remains in employment and off income support for an additional 12 months. The Job Commitment Bonus will reward young Australians who successfully break the cycle of welfare and demonstrate a strong and ongoing commitment to work.

This bill also introduces the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Program. This program provides financial support to job seekers who have been receiving Newstart allowance, youth allowance or parenting payment for at least the preceding 12 months in order to relocate to take up employment or an apprenticeship. The majority of long-term unemployed people do not choose or want to be unemployed. Most long-term unemployed people are eager to break into the job market and secure meaningful employment, but, through no fault of their own, find themselves in an environment where there are simply not enough jobs available. This government believes that in these circumstances we should play an active and responsible role, encouraging job seekers to relocate to regions where there is available employment. The result of doing this is twofold. Firstly, we are able to better match job seekers with available jobs, breaking the cycle of welfare dependency. Secondly, we are reducing the pressures on regions with high unemployment whilst increasing the workforce in areas where there is a clearly identified demand for work.

The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Program will make available up to $6,000 to support eligible job seekers who relocate to a regional area to take up a job and up to $3,000 to support eligible job seekers who relocate to a metropolitan area from a regional area to take up a job. This payment will also be available to eligible job seekers who relocate from a metropolitan area with a higher unemployment rate to one with a lower unemployment rate to take up a job. In addition to these amounts, families with dependent children will be provided with up to an extra $3,000, in recognition of the extra costs associated with relocating the family. These measures will offer real assistance to long-term unemployed people who relocate to take up work. Given the significant investment on behalf of the government, it is appropriate that we have strong guidelines in place to ensure that those who receive assistance to relocate to take up a job stay in that job rather than return to welfare. This bill will amend the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 so that participants who leave employment without a reasonable excuse within six months of receiving a relocation payment will incur a 26-week non-payment period before becoming eligible to receive unemployment benefits again.

This government understands that there is a principal need to support and to encourage young Australians into long-term, viable employment. It was recently reported in The Australian that the number of people on benefits has reached a 15-year high with 840,000 people now receiving either Newstart allowance or youth allowance, representing an increase of 44,000 people against last year's figures. Given the former government's poor economic management, which resulted in an additional 200,000 more people in unemployment lines, it is not surprising that young Australians are struggling to secure meaningful employment. Finding yourself unemployed carries both economic and social impacts. It affects people's personal and professional lives. The impact of unemployment extends beyond the financial costs of welfare payments. It can also lead to a loss of one's pride, reduced self-esteem and confidence. It erodes a person's skill set, making the task of securing employment even more difficult in the long term. Failing to break the cycle of unemployment can contribute to an unhealthy and unsustainable dependence on welfare.

In addressing these issues, the government needs to pursue a range of measures in order to achieve the desired results of lower unemployment and of greater workforce participation. But first and foremost Australia needs a strong and prosperous economy that supports sustainable business. This is why the government will repeal the carbon tax and remove $1 billion worth of red and green tape per year, making business more productive, more competitive and placing it into a stronger position to generate job growth. It is business, not government, that creates jobs. This government is committed to establishing the right environment for business to thrive.

We are also committed to building a bigger and stronger national workforce in order to meet future economic and social demands. We will achieve this through programs such as the Trade Support Loans, to encourage the take-up of traineeships and apprenticeships, the reintroduction of a purposeful Work for the Dole program and the measures introduced in this bill. It is abundantly clear that long-term unemployed job seekers need a hand up not a handout.

The reality is that after six years of Labor government it is now more difficult for people to find work. When Labor took office in 2007, the unemployment rate across Australia was 4.3 per cent, with the average unemployment rate over the final year of the Howard government being 4.45 per cent. When Labor left office last year, the unemployment rate had climbed to 5.8 per cent, with the unemployment rate over the final years of the Gillard-Rudd government averaging 5.5 per cent—an entire percentage point higher than the comparable period under the Howard government. Couple this with a retraction of the workforce participation rate and it should come as no surprise that there are an additional 200,000 people queuing in unemployment lines. These numbers show the difficulties facing job seekers and illustrate the need for programs that will lead people off welfare and into employment.

The measures outlined in this bill are geared towards addressing what is, perhaps, an even more concerning trend across Australia—that is, the alarmingly high rate of unemployment amongst our youth. It was reported last month that youth unemployment in Australia has reached a crisis point with figures released by the Brotherhood of St Laurence showing that 12.4 per cent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were out of work. I recently had the opportunity to meet with the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Mr Tony Nicholson, to discuss my local priorities of lifting school retention rates and the youth unemployment rate in Dobell. As noted by the member for Wills, Mr Nicholson described the current national youth unemployment rate, saying:

What it means for all these young people is that they're at risk of never being able to get a foothold in the world of work.

And in our modern economy that means that they're really being sentenced to a lifetime of poverty.

As the mother of two young men, I am all too aware of the challenges facing young job seekers in my electorate of Dobell. Across the Central Coast we see a daily exodus of over 30,000 people travelling to Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter or other areas for work, often spending four hours doing the daily commute. The volume of people commuting for employment means valuable time is spent in motor vehicles and on trains rather than with families. With our local unemployment rate of 6.88 per cent—which sits well above the national average—our mature workers are not exempt from the struggles of unemployment, so it is not hard to see why our youngest job seekers struggle to break into the labour market.

For job seekers on the Central Coast aged between 15 and 19 years, the average youth unemployment rate for the period 2012-13 was 16 per cent, with a high of 24.6 per cent in the month of February. Of equal concern is that the number of 15- to 19-year-olds participating in the workforce has fallen from 67.3 per cent in 2008-09 to 60.7 per cent in 2012-13. During this period the rate fell as low as 50 per cent. This means that across the Central Coast the percentage of young people in employment has declined by seven per cent. In regional areas such as the Central Coast, this can be a major contributing factor in the heightening of welfare dependence—reinforcing the need for more jobs and the need to increase the number of people in the workforce so that we can meet the economic and social challenges of today and tomorrow. This bill offers real incentives to bring people out of welfare dependency and into rewarding employment. In Dobell we have 5,314 recipients of the Newstart allowance, and 70 per cent of this number have been receiving the allowance for a period of more than 12 months.

This bill implements measures to reduce the long-term unemployment rate of people aged 18 to 30 years. In Dobell, 1,190 recipients of the Newstart allowance fall into this age category, with 64 per cent having received the allowance for a period of more than 12 months. Dobell is a great example of what this bill means to many young job seekers, with its measures having the ability to encourage around 750 people off welfare and into meaningful and rewarding employment.

We have heard those opposite speak of the success of the Youth Connections program, and no-one would dispute its success in some regions. But let's be clear at the outset: it was Labor that provided no new funding beyond the current year for Youth Connections. Unlike Labor, we are committed to meaningful training that leads to a job or improved productivity in the workplace—not training for training's sake. This government is committed to restoring hope, reward and opportunity to the people of Australia. With a stronger economy and responsible assistance to the long-term unemployed, we will achieve fewer people on welfare and more people in meaningful jobs. This bill will encourage more people to take up work and reward them for staying in meaningful employment and off welfare. I commend this bill to the House.