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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17067

Mr BROUGH (Minister for Employment Services) (3:54 PM) —Anyone in the gallery today or anyone listening to this broadcast could be forgiven for thinking—after having to listen to that presentation, tirade, diatribe or whatever you want to call it from the shadow minister—that in fact unemployment in Australia is in a much worse position than when the Labor Party left office. The facts are: the headline unemployment rate is six per cent; mature age unemployment has dropped from a high, 10 years ago, of eight per cent to 3.7 per cent; there have been more than 1.2 million additional jobs created in the last seven years of the Howard government; and there are more people in work today than at any other time in the history of this nation. They are indisputable facts. I would also point out to the House, and to those listening to the broadcast, that the government does not rest on its laurels and say that is good enough—far from it. It believes that you should always continue to strive to do better, and that means meeting individual needs. The figures that have been quoted here by the shadow minister at best are a distortion and at worst would be considered a lie.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Minister, I would ask you to withdraw that.

Mr BROUGH —I did not refer to him as a liar, Mr Deputy Speaker; I said `at worst'.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I will ask you to withdraw it. You know my sensitivity to the word.

Mr BROUGH —They would at worst be considered a total untruth—and I withdraw the reference to the word `lie'. The shadow minister has a number of mantras which he continually agitates about right around the country. He seems to believe that if you tell a lie—or, I should say, if you tell an untruth; Mr Deputy Speaker, I apologise—

Mr Albanese —Could you withdraw that rather than apologise, please?

Mr BROUGH —I withdraw.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —It has been withdrawn.

Mr BROUGH —The shadow minister seems to believe that if you tell an untruth often enough someone will believe it. The fact is that there will be more than 2,500 individual offices operating around Australia that are going to provide employment services to Australia's job seekers. Some of those will be providing what we call intensive support customised assistance. The number of offices that the shadow minister referred to today, which he seems to have a very big issue with, are what we call job placement offices or agencies. These are organisations that only get paid if they place a person who is unemployed into work.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler was heard in silence. I expect the same courtesy to be extended to the minister.

Mr BROUGH —As the shadow minister, the member for Grayndler, just said, one of them is Manpower. They include Manpower, Drake and any number of community based, for-profit organisations whose profession is to harvest jobs and to make the best person available in the community for those jobs. We make absolutely no excuse if they take someone who is on unemployment benefits—on welfare payments—and place that individual in a job. We, on the government side, consider that a very good outcome.

In the past most of those jobs have actually not been readily available to people on unemployment benefits. Hence, they have been excluded from a large number of opportunities. On Tuesday, 1 July, many of these jobs will flow onto what we call the AJS—Australian Job Search. This is a web based network which houses our opportunities—our jobs. Because we have paid these job placement agencies to place all of their jobs on this network, other than their executive positions, on one day alone the unemployed of Australia will see more than 20,000 additional job opportunities become available to them. Under the new system, which has already started to operate, they will not have to search through newspapers or to cold call—although, I have to say, we support people actively going out and looking for work; far be it from me ever to say, `Sit at home and wait'—because we are using the benefits of technology to ensure those jobs that are on this network can be linked.

The member for Franklin is here. He is a Tasmanian member, and many of his constituents are in very remote localities. It would be very difficult for them—either through the 350 CES offices under the previous Labor government or through the 2,500 sites operating under this system—to actually get to an office every day. What we have developed, using the world's best IT, is a system where each and every night all new job opportunities are matched against the resume of an individual. The information on that job is sent to the individual automatically.

Down here in Canberra earlier in the week—on Monday—I walked into a Job Network member's office and talked to a job seeker. He relayed to me a story about what had occurred that morning as he and his mate were walking to the Job Network member's office. On the way there, his mobile phone went off. He had an SMS message. When he looked down, six individual job opportunities had been delivered to him on his mobile phone via the Job Network. So he had hope, he had something to look forward to and he had opportunities for him to, hopefully, attain work.

It is those sorts of innovations that this government is very proud of achieving with ESC3. Today, I announced to the parliament that we are extending the service to places such as Ceduna and places in the Top End of the Northern Territory where you cannot have an employment services office on every street corner and where there are hundreds of kilometres between communities. What we are doing there is developing a compact with some community based organisations to provide the best opportunities we can in those regions. In some of those areas, it will not be about paid employment; it will be about community building. It will be about those communities, the people who live there—and quite often Indigenous communities—saying to the department and to me, `This is what will work best for us. This is what will give our people a sense of achievement, a sense of creating something worth while, and ultimately, should the jobs be available in this locality or should we be willing to move, this is what will give our people the skills to be able to fulfil those jobs.'

In the past, governments have told the unemployed and the community what is good for them. The shadow minister constantly says in here and on radio that the government do not spend enough money, that we should be doing this or that we should be doing that. I say to the shadow minister: these are not just this minister's ideas. These ideas have come from job seekers, community based employment service operators and ACOSS. These ideas have come from anyone who wanted to play a participatory role and who fed information into the system. We have developed a system that is now being sold around the world through our IT systems. There is a lot to be done in this area, even though we have driven down mature age unemployment and even though we have seen a reduction in unemployment in the western parts of Sydney, for argument's sake. I see the member for Lindsay here, and she will recall that back in 1996 the unemployment rate there would have been closer to double digits. Today, it is probably in the order of four—

Miss Jackie Kelly —Four and a half per cent.

Mr BROUGH —And we are told by the shadow minister and by those who sit opposite that this system is not working. That is simply not true. I would like to go into some of the specifics about the facilities and the opportunities that will be made available in less than two weeks time. An unemployed person needs to be treated as an individual. We need to take them, build them up personally and provide them with the skills and the connections for the jobs. To do that, we have provided what we call the job seeker account. This is a virtual bank account into which money is paid for each and every unemployed person. But the money cannot go to the bottom line of any organisation, whether it is Sarina Russo, Work Directions, IPA, Mission Australia or Salvation Army Employment Plus. Every last cent of this money must be spent on the unemployed.

Those organisations can benefit if they spend the money wisely in identifying the needs of the individual, finding out the needs of the employer and of the unemployed person and matching them. If the person remains in work for 13 weeks, then and only then will substantial payments flow to those companies and organisations. We think that is a win-win situation. When people have their own income, they gain self-esteem from being able to care for their own families and from being able to come off public welfare, and we support that. But we on this side of the House do not think it is good enough just to give money to people willy-nilly, without outcomes, and simply say, `Put people into training.' We say that training must be a means to an end, as education must be a means to an end. If the education leads to a job, that is fantastic, and if the training leads to a job, that is fantastic, but do not hoodwink people by putting them into a training course because it makes you feel good. The reality is that it must be something useful for them and something that is going to help them get work. When it does, then and only then will the Job Network members receive these substantial payments.

The opposition also says a lot about part-time and full-time work, so I would like to present to the House again today some of the figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. They are not the coalition's figures, not the department's figures, but the figures of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In the last six years of the Labor government, 56,500 full-time jobs were created. That represented 12.3 per cent of the total number of jobs. So 87.7 per cent of jobs in that last six years of the Labor government were part-time or casual jobs. Since the coalition came to power in 1996, there have been 544,100 full-time jobs—nearly 10 times as many in a similar period of time. That represented 45.2 per cent of the total number of jobs created. So under a coalition government, with a freer labour market, we see more full-time jobs, which give people more certainty, than we ever did in those last six years of a Labor government—12.3 per cent compared with 45.2 per cent and 1.2 million new jobs created. Participation rates—that is, the number of people actually looking for work—are also at historically high levels.

As far as teenage unemployment is concerned—and I think this was alluded to in the shadow minister's speech—the statistics show that 26.8 per cent of teenagers were unemployed when Labor left office. It peaked at 34.5 per cent in 1992. The teenage unemployment rate fell to 21.2 per cent in May 2003, and the full-time unemployment population of those teenagers is 4.6 per cent. There is no argument that it is still far too high. The proposals we have put to the industry and to the community and that are now falling into place will further address those issues.

In last month's budget the Treasurer announced that, for the first time, from July next year young people will immediately have access to Job Search training. This is three weeks, five days a week, of learning how to build a resume, how to dress for an appointment, how to look for work and how to handle yourself when you have an appointment for a job interview. We should not take those skills for granted because unfortunately, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, as you and I and most of those on the opposition will also acknowledge, not enough has been done in many of our schools to address that very important skill. Quite often, these young people want work, but when it comes to a fundamental question such as `Why do you want the job?' the answer `Because I do' is not good enough. We need to empower these young people. So this is a very important initiative, and we hope that it will also help to address the unemployment situation for young people.

We have a system here which is built on the world's best IT, but it is also built on the world's best people. The shadow minister alluded to the fine work done by individuals from the CES and that those people went on to Employment National. That is quite true. I tell people when I move around the system that working in employment services is not about having a job; it is about having a vocation. It is about having an absolute commitment and knowing that, when you come to work, you can change someone's life. When I move around and talk to these people, the consultants who sit and talk to unemployed people say to me, `Minister, thank you for providing us with the tools that we'll be using from 1 July to give us the flexibility to be able to deliver what we have known and do know to be the needs of these people.'

The proof is going to be in the pudding. The reality is that we have put our cards on the table. They are now out there and, on 1 July, the full system comes into play: everything from the new enterprise incentive system, which of course gets long-term unemployed into their own work—7,000 of those a year—to all of the people who will be connected through the job placement organisations and those who are going to be placed through the Job Network and intensive assistance.

The challenge is in the 15 minutes that was available today. In this debate, the opposition have not said a thing about what they would do, other than that they would spend more money. We acknowledge that. The opposition get a tick in the box; they are going to spend more money. Where are the outcomes going to come from? How are they going to spend it? In what areas do they believe there should be a Job Network office where there are none today? I have not heard that spoken of once. I have not heard what community it is that is being denied employment services that should be fulfilled.

The challenge is not for this side of the House. This side of the House has a proud record of delivering employment services and driving unemployment down to six per cent—below the US, for the first time in my lifetime, I think—by making sure that mature age unemployment is half of what it was 10 years ago. This is a record we are proud of but we know there is more to be done. What remains to be seen is whether the second speaker for the opposition is going to articulate any form of policy. That is the challenge that was here yesterday and will be tomorrow. (Time expired)