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Tuesday, 18 March 2014
Page: 2323

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (19:38): In making comments on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014, I just wanted to put on the record that, whilst Labor is supporting this bill, it is a light bill. There are a few amendments that are not really going to tackle the issues that we are all debating today. Those issues are about youth unemployment.

The reality, which we have to accept, is: the whole community has a shared responsibility to ensure that all young Australians reach their full social and economic potential. This should be the primary goal of any society and any government. Educating our young Australians and preparing them for life beyond school is a responsibility shared between schools, businesses, governments and the broader community. It is an important role and a complex role, because we are involving a number of constituents and organisations. So it is not something that we can dismiss with rhetoric. It is not something that we can tinker at the edges of. It is something on which we need a broad and complex plan.

There is now overwhelming evidence to suggest that an individual's level of education is the single biggest determinant of securing meaningful and life-long employment, meaning that this bill, which focuses on payment, does not actually address the core reason that people do find long-term employment. There are many complex and interrelated barriers confronting young people who are disengaged or at risk of becoming disengaged from school or employment. This bill attempts to support people in finding a long-term job. However, in my opinion, it does not go far enough.

Like many of the previous speakers, I agree that youth unemployment is a big issue for Australians—particularly young Australians. In my electorate of Bendigo it is no different. According to the figures from the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which so many speakers in this debate have referred to, Bendigo actually has one of the worst unemployment rates in regional Victoria. It is equal to Geelong and is sitting at 13.3 per cent, and is behind Warrnambool and the Hume regions. This is something that Bendigo and the Bendigo community has been working to tackle for quite some time, knowing this figure and what was ahead for us to face. It is not something that just happens overnight. It is through policy changes and cuts that we have seen from previous governments that we find ourselves in this situation.

These amendments alone will not solve the current youth unemployment crisis in this country and, in particular, in regions like my region of Bendigo. Whilst Labor supports this legislation and the principle of encouraging young people to find work, Labor does not want to see these payments to job seekers be instead of assistance and support in the areas of education, skills and training. It is important that these payments do not come at the cost of investing in education.

Labor in government focused on supporting young people to finish school and get the training and higher education they needed for well-paying jobs. Under the former Labor government, we provided training and employment services for young people. Governments cannot expect young people to find well-paying jobs without providing them with the skills, education and training to get those jobs.

We are not alone in this belief. When the data was released by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Principal Dale Pearce of Bendigo Senior Secondary College in my electorate said he was very concerned by the figures. He said: 'I think it highlights the need for the government to make sure it's well and truly focused on education and training. What concerns me in this respect is generational unemployment. It's really important for those people to find ongoing sustainable employment, and the foundation for that is education and training. If the rates of youth unemployment continue, it sends a pretty strong signal that the government needs to invest in both education and training.' I agree with the principal—and with the other principals in my electorate who share their concerns about the government's commitment to funding Gonski for the full six years, as promised prior to the election.

Governments cannot expect young people to find work as unemployment continues to increase. That is the reality. When you get to a country area, when you get to a regional area, there is a growing list of job applications for every job. In Castlemaine, in my electorate, KR Castlemaine Bacon received 400 applications for 10 jobs. It is simply not good enough to say that you will reward the young person when they get a job. We need to help create the jobs that they can apply for.

This is a complex area that the government cannot simply dismiss with slogans or rhetoric as we heard from the previous speaker, or with small amendments that tinker at the edges. What we need is the right formula that includes proper funding for education and training, confidence for young people, the economic means and readiness for work and, of course, the key issue: jobs young people can actually apply for.

If I can address the last point first: young people need jobs that they can count on, particularly in the regions. I am very concerned at the job losses that we have seen since this new government has come to office. The government has so far failed to secure and create jobs that Australians can count on, particularly in the regions. We have seen, already, over 60,000 full-time jobs lost since this government came to office, and some of these are in my electorate. Nationally, we have seen job losses announced at Qantas, 5,000 jobs; Toyota, 2,500 direct jobs; Holden, almost 3,000 direct jobs; Rio Tinto at the Gove refinery, 1,100 jobs; and the list continues.

In my own electorate we have seen the loss of full-time jobs, but I think the greatest disappointment is that we have seen the loss of full-time jobs in federally funded areas, such as the Bendigo ATO facing closure; the Australia Post Mail sorting centre, where we have seen up to 6 full-time jobs go; at Centrelink, 21 jobs go; and anywhere from 50 to 350 jobs at La Trobe University. These are jobs the government could step in tomorrow and secure by funding their agencies and education providers properly. To keep the Bendigo economy strong, we need a strong public sector. To do that the government can help by ruling out further job cuts and further funding cuts to organisations in my electorate. It is one way the government can help support jobs. If we are serious about getting young people into jobs, then the government needs to be serious about job creation and be serious about creating jobs that Australians can count on.

The question also needs to be asked: what impact will the government's proposed changes to the Fair Work Act have on securing and creating jobs for young people—jobs that they can count on? There is growing concern about the affects these amendments will have on jobs and in particular the kinds of jobs young people have. This bill is designed to cut the pay of Australians. According to Essential Research polling, 80 per cent of Australians believe that people who work nights and weekends should be paid more. Nationally, more than 4.5 million Australians work in sectors where these rates apply. Many of these people working in these sectors are young people, and these young workers rely on overnight and weekend pay rates to survive. This includes paramedics, security guards, bakers, cleaners, bakers and hospitality workers.

For many young people these pay rates make up a quarter of their income. These are not people on six-figure salaries; these are people earning the minimum wage. For example, Jenny works as a cleaner. She works from six pm to 10 pm and her base wage is $17.50 per hour. With night rates and other loadings, she earns $22.70 an hour. Jenny would lose $100 per week if these penalty rates were removed, which is about $5,500 a year. For anybody to cop that pay cut it would be tough, but it is particularly tough on people already on low incomes.

Dave is a security officer. About a third of his income is overtime and weekend penalty rates. Right now he will earn a little bit over $50,000—not $500,000; $50,000—but that could drop by about $12,000 a year if these changes were to go through. Vanessa is a paramedic and works 10- to 14-hour shifts, day and night. In Victoria, paramedics receive a 26 per cent shift loading to lift their pay above $50,000, which is well short of the full-time average Australian wage of over $70,000 per year. She says that she could not afford to buy the basics, yet she is a professional with skills. This is the problem with the proposal that is before the House, the Fair Work Amendment bill. It is another example of how the government is not serious about securing and creating jobs that young people can count on.

The second point that I referred to is around skills, education and training. Whilst the measures to support young people in work are to be welcomed, it cannot be at the expense of funding for skills and training. Labor has always supported a high-quality VET system, and that is why we support TAFE. Yet funding for our TAFEs continues to be under attack from Liberal-National governments. In Victoria, the Liberal-National government has cut over $1.2 billion from our TAFEs. Bendigo TAFE has had cuts of over $9 million a year, about a quarter of its income. These cuts have had a crushing effect on the Bendigo TAFE in my electorate. Bendigo TAFE has been forced to scrap courses, cut jobs, hike fees and drop community service obligations. About 100 people have lost their jobs at the TAFE. Our Kyneton campus has closed and they are talking about further closures.

Again, if you want to get young people into work they need the skills, but, if you do not have a functioning TAFE, they cannot get the skills to get the jobs. This is another example of how this measure does not go far enough. Further focus needs to be on education. Since these changes introduced by the state Liberal-National Party government, Bendigo has seen a drop in student numbers of 3,400 fewer students in the last 12 months, a 20 per cent decrease. These are young people. How are they going to get a job, a job they can count on, if they do not have the skills? This is another example of how Liberal-National Party governments are not serious about supporting young people into work.

Another area which is of concern is the support that the government has for transition from schools to training using programs such as the Australia's network of partnership brokers, which is a national program that provides support for schools, businesses and young people to ensure that we get the right network, we get the jobs. Currently it is under threat from this government. The chair of the Partnership Brokers National Network recently wrote to the Prime Minister and said:

It is only by working together that schools, businesses and the broader community can improve student outcomes, create a more agile and responsive education and training sector, and develop young people who are qualified and work ready.

This is another example of how this government is not serious about getting young people into work. It is more than just money and the cash bonus at the end of working. People need to have the skills to get that job.

Another example of the Bendigo community acting to tackle this issue seriously is by providing targeted individual case management support demonstrated through the innovative Connect Central Youth Services project, which is provided by our local St Luke's Anglicare. This is another program under attack and threat from this government through the Youth Connections funding model. This program makes a significant difference to individuals and communities. It recognises the importance of connecting young people, providing them with the confidence and ensuring that the ones at risk do not fall through the net and they do actually have a future.

The final point that I have already touched on and wish to highlight a bit more is the need for confidence and readiness for work. Young people at risk, young people that this bill aims to target, need the confidence and readiness for work. This is a complex area. It requires skill, commitment and integrated planning. It also requires commitment over the long term. Any effort to encourage young people to stay in employment must be supported. Providing an incentive does help but there needs to be more done at the education level. This is a complex area that cannot be dismissed with small changes to social security. It needs to have a commitment from the government to create jobs that young people can count on, a commitment to ensure that we are investing in education so that young people have the skills and a commitment to ensure that those young people remain connected. Whilst we support the bill, I strongly believe it does not go far enough to tackle the issue of youth unemployment in our community.