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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 2108

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (20:33): I rise to speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Franklin in relation to the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. Whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, that amendment states that the House notes that if the government were serious about addressing youth unemployment it would be providing more support for workers whose jobs will be lost, as recently announced, and would be providing more support and training for young people. Secondly, it calls on the government to review publicly by 30 June 2015 the impact of the extension of the non-payment period for recipients of the Relocation Assistance to Take up a Job if the person is unable to work for the required six months.

Broadly speaking, any legislation that encourages increased employment and participation in ongoing meaningful work is a good thing, so Labor is very pleased to be supporting this bill with that amendment. There are two very specific components of the bill that provide the purpose here. The first one goes to the Job Commitment Bonus, which enables young Australians aged 18 to 30 and who have been receiving a Newstart Allowance or a Youth Allowance—other than an apprentice or a full-time student—for a period of at least 12 months to be eligible to receive a tax-free payment of $2,500 if they remain in gainful work and off income support for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

There is another component of this bill, which goes to the Relocation Assistance to Take up a Job. That aspect of the bill will provide some financial assistance for long-term unemployed job seekers with participation requirements and who have been receiving Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance—again, other than an apprentice or full-time student—or a parenting payment for at least the preceding 12 months. That is enabling them to relocate for the purposes of commencing ongoing employment. That program is demand driven and will provide up to $6,000 to support eligible job seekers who will relocate to a regional area other than a metropolitan area or a regional area, or up to $3,000 to support eligible job seekers to relocate into a metropolitan area. Those two aspects are components that Labor readily lends our support to.

But while Labor is supporting this bill and the measures it encompasses—both the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program—it is timely for members of this House to reflect on how we might create the very best environment with the very best conditions and incentives for Australians—both young and old—to gain and maintain meaningful, well-paid jobs for today and the future. Governments themselves cannot expect young people to get well-paid jobs without investing in education and training, and without cultivating the right social and economic conditions for job creation. This government is failing on these fronts. They have whipped up a storm about a budget emergency that does not exist, creating unwarranted fear and anxiety in the community rather than creating new jobs. They have goaded major companies to leave our shores and, indeed, some are leaving Australia to do business. And when the government is not blaming workers for the collapse of those industries, we have a prime minister who has perversely suggested that those employees losing their jobs are somehow being liberated.

This is a government that is dismantling a once-in-a-generation, life-changing infrastructure project that would have delivered superfast broadband nationwide and is replacing it with a hotchpotch of mixed and already out-of-date technologies. This government has torn up the independent education funding model and given up on the notion that we should address the growing inequalities in school funding and resources. Rather than tackle the systemic causes of inequality, this government prefers to maintain the status quo and indeed reward those states who have failed to invest adequately in education themselves. They will be handed precious Commonwealth funds with no requirement to meet any of the recommended education targets and loadings to ensure that no child is left behind.

The outlook for higher education is no less bleak. Conservative state governments across Australia are starving our TAFE colleges of critical funds and resources. In New South Wales the state Liberal government has cut more than $1.8 billion from its education budget. In my electorate of Newcastle our schools and TAFEs are hurting. Hunter TAFE has undergone a dramatic period of rationalisation, shedding up to 60 staff. Courses in information technology and ship and boat building have been scrapped. Mining and manufacturing apprenticeship enrolments have dropped by almost half. These are tough times for the young men and women in Newcastle seeking further education and training. The long-term economic prosperity of our region depends on more people getting higher education qualifications, but this government is making access to higher education harder, not easier, for young people. John Hartigan, the former CEO of News Limited Australia, said, 'Make no mistake: no skills, no job, no quality of life.'

That the Abbott government has no plan for Australian industry and Australian jobs is especially worrying. More job cuts are announced every week. Overall unemployment figures are rising, job creation is low and the jobs of the future hang in limbo. Tony Abbott, as the opposition leader, said that he did not want to lead a nation that does not make things, but he has no plans to ensure the future of Australian manufacturing. Australians deserve a government that will fight for jobs and support workers and job seekers. My Labor colleagues and I are very concerned about the job loss announcements that have been made since the new government came to office. The government has in fact steadfastly refused to support some of those industries that have asked for our assistance and thus the jobs contained in those industries. Tens of thousands of cuts have been announced since they took office, and the list keeps growing.

While the cuts and job losses include jobs at small businesses around the country, they also include large multinational companies who now believe that their future in Australia needs to be drastically cut back or that they need to leave our shores altogether. Companies like Qantas, Toyota, Holden, Rio Tinto, Electrolux, Simplot and Caterpillar have all announced that their workforces will be significantly shrinking in Australia. In and around my electorate of Newcastle, Brindabella Airlines, Bluetongue Brewery, Sensis, WesTrac, UGL and EDI have all announced major direct job losses and some have announced closures.

I am afraid that more job loss announcements are on the way. Today my colleagues the members for Charlton, Gellibrand and Port Adelaide supported the important motion flagging the danger that the shipbuilding industry in Australia faces if we do not see action from this government soon. As I have raised previously in this place, Forgacs, a major shipbuilder and employer in Newcastle, has flagged the potential of 900 jobs being lost if this government does not bring forward major naval shipbuilding contracts. In 2013 Labor made a commitment to bring forward the contracts to replace HMAS Success and HMAS Sirius to ensure the industry had a future in Australia. Unfortunately, this government has made no such commitment, so the future of shipbuilders like Forgacs in Newcastle, BAE Systems in Melbourne and ASC in Adelaide remains uncertain. Instead of planning for future work and job creation, Forgacs are forced to face the prospect of closing their shipyards in Carrington and Tomago. I again call on this government to support the shipbuilding industry in Australia, to bring forward the naval shipbuilding contracts before it is too late, to secure our naval shipbuilding capacity and to keep highly skilled workers employed in Australia.

The workers at Forgacs are in a similar position to thousands of other employees at government agencies and departments located in my electorate who just do not know what their future is. Thought bubbles from the government that flags potential cuts at a number of government agencies are still hovering above the heads of workers in Newcastle. Employees at the CSIRO Energy Centre, the ATO, ABC Radio, the Defence Materiel Organisation, Customs and Centrelink have all been placed under pressure by this government with worry—undue or perhaps due, we simply do not know. The government continues to sit on the commission of cuts report for political reasons while workers around the country are waiting to know if they will have a job in the future. Leaks are regular as it tests the waters again with the public, but those workers continue to face uncertainty. That is just not good enough.

We have seen the unemployment rate under this government rise to six per cent—a rate not seen throughout the global financial crisis and a rate that has not been seen since Prime Minister Abbott last had influence over the employment portfolio as the minister for employment under the Howard Liberal government. This troublingly high unemployment rate of six per cent does not take into account the thousands of recently announced job losses I have just mentioned, so we know there is more pain to come.

On the other side of the unemployment rate equation to job losses is job creation. Before the election Prime Minister Abbott promised he would create one million jobs in five years—that is, 200,000 jobs per year. After six months with this Prime Minister, this government should have created 100,000 jobs to be on target. Instead, only 33,700 jobs have been created. The government is lagging behind on both sides of the equation and failing the Australian people.

Youth unemployment is a huge issue for Australia, and for young Australians in particular. In government, Labor focused on supporting young people to finish school, to get the training and higher education they need for well-paying jobs. Based on the ABS's latest national labour market statistics, the national youth unemployment rate is double that of the overall rate, with 12.2 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds unemployed. Converted to overall numbers, that is 40 per cent of all unemployed Australians. In other words, more than one in three unemployed Australians are young, between the ages of 15 and 24. That is astonishing and it is something that we cannot allow to be maintained in Australia. Our young people deserve and expect much better. In my electorate of Newcastle, the youth unemployment rate is 13 percent. Again, this is more than double the national average.

As stated in the recent youth unemployment report prepared by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, there are a number of things government needs to do to improve opportunities for young people to gain and maintain employment. The report calls on governments to invest in young people; to invest to improve employability skills; to invest to provide better real work experience opportunities; to invest to provide coaching and vocational guidance; and to invest to connect young people with employment opportunities.

When in government, Labor took this investment in youth seriously and vastly improved training and employment services for young people. We also committed to continue to improve opportunities, announcing changes to job services to provide a Jobs, Training and Apprenticeship Guarantee. The guarantee would have meant that every Australian would have had access to telephone and on-line career advice, skills appraisals, assistance with resume writing, be engaged with an employment service provider and would be starting to work on return-to-work plans within two days of registration.

In government, Labor made a record investment in skills and training for smarter jobs and a smarter, stronger nation. Labor believes in a strong public provider that underpins a high quality VET system. This is why we support TAFE. We devoted resources and energy into vastly improving the fragmented and poorly funded system that the Howard government had left us, a system that conservative state governments continue to undermine. My electorate of Newcastle benefited enormously from Labor's investment in training and education, with every one of my high schools having a Trades Training Centre or being a part of a consortium to that has access to a Trades Training Centre. It is deeply worrying that the government does not support these centres and the continuation of this program. (Time expired)