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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2406

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (10:37): I talked in my speech in relation to the carbon pricing about my motivation for coming into this place and being elected. One of the things that really motivated me was a commitment to education, training and jobs. I am a bit of an old-fashioned Labor MP; I actually believe the best way to redistribute the wealth in this country is to give a person a job. In my previous life as a lawyer, I was always amazed at the pride, self-esteem and satisfaction a young person had on their face and in their whole countenance when I offered them a job and said, 'The job is yours.' I will never forget a young woman who was about 16 years of age; her name was Stephanie and she came to work for me straight out of school. She did not have much self-esteem; her whole countenance and visage were quite downcast. But, when I offered her the job, her face lit up in a smile. I can never forget that smile. That happened on dozens and dozens of occasions when, as senior partner in the law firm, I interviewed person after person, from the most senior lawyer to the most junior person that worked in running around messages and deliveries. I have to say that I always loved doing that job because I saw what impact it had not just on individuals but on their families as well.

I think we are at risk in this country of people falling through the cracks. When we have about 320,000 Australians aged between 15 and 24 not in education, training or employment, we face serious challenges. 'Learning or earning' is really the motivation of this government, and I think we cannot let people fall behind. It is important not just for their self-esteem but for their financial security and the security of their children and their children's children. Intergenerational poverty cannot continue. I live in an area which is by no means classified as a high socioeconomic area, the Ipswich and West Moreton region. We cannot have a situation where there are about 520,000 dependent children in jobless families throughout the country, at risk of terrible socioeconomic disadvantage. Role models and mentors are important. In the home, it is important that mum and/or dad are working, because then their children will see the benefit of that. I strongly believe that the emphasis that this government and this parliament are putting on jobs and participation and training is absolutely crucial. We as a government are committed to good economic management and strong employment growth. The fact is that unemployment in this country is low by international standards, at 5.2 per cent. In my region in Ipswich it is at 4.9 per cent.

To put that in its context, during recessions when Ipswich was a far more manufacturing oriented place than it is today, with the service industries today far larger in size, it was not uncommon for the unemployment rate in Ipswich to be twice the national average. Now it is at 4.9 per cent. That is an indication of the commitment of this government, of the Queensland state Labor government and of the Ipswich City Council to work in partnerships with the Ipswich Business Enterprise Centre—another federally funded body—and the chambers of commerce across the whole region, particularly the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce. Recently, I was at the Healthy Businesses Expo in Ipswich. It was about improving businesses and making sure that small business, which employs about five million people in this country, can provide jobs and opportunities.

You have to look at the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support and Other Measures) Bill 2012 in the context of all of the commitments that we are making. The minister mentioned the jobs expo. We had a jobs expo in Ipswich. Hundreds of young and old people got employment through that. I pay tribute to the state government and also to the private providers, big organisations as well as small, who came that day. I walked around with the then parliamentary secretary Jason Clare, the member for Blaxland, and went on the radio to talk about it on River 94.9. I saw the enthusiasm and connections that that job expo provided for people, with employers and employees getting together. We know that most businesses are families and most employees are treated well in small business. If I can be political for a moment, that is why Work Choices was so outrageous and egregious: it made good employers bad employers.

There are three main changes in this legislation. It should be seen as part of the broader reforms being made by this government through the Building Australia's Future Workforce package. Henceforth, I will talk about it as a package. We want to make sure that we get people to participate in the life of our community and in the workforce and business generally. There are changes being made to the eligibility criteria for youth allowance and Newstart allowance. There are changes being made to the incentives for single parents and there are parenting payment reforms being made. Services for job seekers will be streamlined.

Some of the changes will motivate people. I know that in this legislation there is to a certain extent a carrot and stick approach, which has been outlined in detail by previous speakers. Part of the carrot is the greater opportunity provided by the increase in the income-free part of youth allowance to $143 per fortnight and the increase in the work credit limit for job seekers to $3,500.

We acknowledge that there is a stick approach here as well. We make no apologies for what we are doing. We believe that it is in the best interests of everyone to participate in economic life because that is how they get to participate in community life. People who work are more likely to be engaged in community activities and to take a more communitarian approach to P&Cs, churches, RSLs, sporting clubs, rural fire brigades and the SES. People who work are more likely to participate in the community. They not only have a higher self-esteem but want to give back. It is not just about them or the economy; it is about the community in which they live. There are changes to the grandfathering provisions and in the welfare to work provisions. We are applying a lower taper in this legislation for all single principal carers. We know we are aligning daily penalty amounts for failing to attend a job interview with an employment services provider and the failure to attend an activity or job interview at one-tenth of a person's fortnightly participation payment. We know there are changes being made here, and we know we are making changes that some people will criticise us for—perhaps from the left—but we think it is important. We think it is important because we want to make sure that everyone participates in society. Changes to the single parent pension and parenting payment reforms align the rules for one parent with those of others. We think that makes for more equitable treatment of parents in similar circumstances.

We think it is important that people do have the capacity to earn more. I mentioned before the $143 a fortnight income free area. That is up from $62 a fortnight. It means people can keep more without their social security payments being impacted. I mentioned before the working credit limit. That has increased from $1,000 to $3,500. It is important to note that. The changes there will mean that all young people aged between 16 and 21 under similar circumstances will be treated the same way. I have two daughters, both at university, and they both work part-time. Most of their friends are in the workforce, and I know from talking to them what pride they have in the jobs they have and the study they are undertaking. Those who fall out of the system, who do not really engage with job service providers, who do not engage with employers or who do not engage with friends and relatives, fall through the cracks, and that is where we get miscreant behaviour; that is where we get situations where people engage in other activities, shall we say, which are not helpful to themselves and can be injurious to the economy as well as to the community.

We are putting $3 billion towards new skills and training programs over the next six years. One of those programs is Kickstart. I know about this from talking to people like David Handyside at Apprenticeships Queensland in my electorate of Ipswich. I have talked with apprentices there who have been picked up as a result of incentives like that. We have seen hundreds of young people in my area picked up in traditional trades as a result of the Kickstart program. Many times I have been to providers and talked with them and seen young people, and older people, undertaking jobs training. Alison McGrath also runs great jobs programs in my area. We have seen that through our investment in TAFE as well. This government has taken responsibility like no other government at a federal level to increase funding for TAFE. The $2 million that was given to Bremer TAFE, based in Ipswich, where there are 80,000 students, has made a huge difference.

This government puts its money where its mouth is. It actually invests in things. We think it is important to invest in institutions and in education, and we have done that. We have seen 900,000 computers rolled out across the country. For some inexplicable reason those opposite still oppose that program. We are putting in trade training centres. St Edmund's boys secondary education college in Ipswich and the two grammar schools—Ipswich Grammar School and Ipswich Girls Grammar School—are part of that process. There will be a new trade training centre at Ipswich State High School, where five schools will connect together for a trade training centre. There will be one in the eastern corridor as well. All this action is critical. I cannot understand why the Leader of the Opposition calls them glorified sheds with lathes in them. I cannot understand that when I go there and see how important these facilities are.

So we are helping; we are providing funds and putting investment into TAFE, into secondary and tertiary education, and into jobs training. There will be 130,000 more quality training places. I know this is important in my home state. A lot of the apprentices and students get picked up from Bremer TAFE and go off to the mining sector. Some of them stay in the local area. We are crying out for more employees, and I know it is important for industry in the area to get carpenters, electricians, plumbers and engineers. And not just people in the trades but in the professions as well. We want people to graduate and work locally. That is important in an electorate like mine, Blair, which is in regional and rural Queensland.

As I said, this government has invested billions of dollars because we think it is important. I also make the point that the funding we have provided for language, literacy and numeracy services is particularly important. I know that we work in partnership with the state governments in relation to those types of programs and others. I have seen the importance of English language training to upskilling migrants at Bremer TAFE. I remember speaking to a class there. Of the class of about 30 students, I think they had come from about 25 different countries. Their level of language skill was improving as they went through the course. I have come across students from that class who then got jobs. At mobile offices they have told me they met me at that class and how important that literacy, numeracy and language training was.

This is not some esoteric and airy-fairy thing we are doing. This is particularly important because it changes lives. It changes the lives of not just individuals but families. It changes families in a way that can take them from despair, despondency and deprivation and lift them up. This government is not about handouts, it is about help-ups. It is important to do that. These measures are important because they are part of the matrix, fabric and framework of what this government wants to do in job skills training and education. It is important that we recognise what we are doing as part of that fabric.

It is also important to acknowledge that this side of politics takes decisive action when times get tough, like the global financial crisis. We have hundreds of thousands of people in employment across this country now because of the steps we took during the global financial crisis. I have seen that in my community. I have seen that in BER projects. I have seen that with the 10,000 people who worked on the Ipswich Motorway upgrade. That upgrade was opposed during three elections by those opposite. I think it is important that we put this in the context of what we are doing. We are committed to making sure that everyone in this country gets a helping hand. We are committed to making sure that everyone who needs a job gets the opportunity to get one. We are committed to families. We are committed to the material improvement of families. (Time expired)