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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12324


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (19:22): I will start by responding to a couple of the comments made by the previous speaker on this bill, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Job Seeker Compliance Framework) Bill 2014. One of the comments—it was one of his last comments—was: 'We just want people to get up every morning and have a go.' The truth is that the vast majority of job seekers are getting up and having a go. They are turning up to job interviews. They are turning up to their Job Network providers. This bill is not about getting up and having a go. This bill is about penalising people who get up and have a go. This bill comes from a government that says, 'Even if you get up and have a go every single day but are under the age of 30 we are not going to pay you a cent in Centrelink support. We're not going to respect our obligations under mutual obligation and ensure that you have the financial means to get up and have a go and get to that job every day.' These are empty words from the government, trying to pretend that it is the friend of the Australian people, trying to pretend that it is the friend of job seekers. It says that it just wants people to get up and have a go. This bill does not speak to that. This bill is all about saving money. This bill is all about penalising and demonising people who are trying to find a job.

Shortly after I was elected, a young man came into my new office in Bendigo. He was angry and frustrated. All I could do was ask him to sit down and tell me his story. Until recently he had been working as a contractor working for a labour hire firm in a packing facility in Bendigo. He was on a good rate of pay but it was insecure work, so the moment that the hours dropped off he was told, 'There are no more hours for you. I'm sorry, we have to let you go.' There was nothing he could do about it, because he was employed as agency staff, as a contractor. When he came to see me he had been unemployed for about nine weeks. He did not qualify for any support assistance, because he had not been made redundant and he was actively looking for work. He walked past MatchWorks in Pall Mall in Bendigo and saw advertised a job that he thought would be perfect for him. He rocked into MatchWorks and said, 'How do I get the details of that job in the window?' They said, 'Sorry, you can't. That's reserved for people who are long-term unemployed.' He said, 'Why have it in the window, then?' They said, 'That way you come in and we can talk about you coming onto our books and us helping you look for work.' He goes: 'Okay, how do I do that?' They said, 'You've got to have a Centrelink number.' He did not have that number so he walked around to Centrelink and said, 'I need to get a number. I need to register with you so I can go and register with a Job Network.' The frustration was on this young man's face as he told me how he went to Centrelink and was handed forms and told, 'Fill in these forms, come in for an assessment interview and we'll take it from there.' The job was in the window but he could not apply for it because of the hoops he had to jump through. That to me speaks of a system in crisis. This young man wants to work yet has to jump these hurdles. This government is going to exacerbate that problem with the measures in this bill.

We have not seen from this government a focus on providing opportunities and creating jobs. The government's head is in the sand on this one. In my electorate of Bendigo youth unemployment is spiking. It is now at 30 per cent. The young man who came into my office those many months ago is still looking for work because he is in competition with 30 per cent of the young people in my electorate, those who are looking for work. He did what was expected. He completed grade 12. He did not go to TAFE, because he had a young family and could not afford the fees. He did not enrol at university, because he had to earn an income to pay the mortgage. There are no job opportunities available to him in Bendigo, partly because work is not being created and partly because youth unemployment is so high. We simply do not have available the jobs for many of the job seekers we have today.

I am strongly opposed to the changes in this bill that fail to provide appropriate protections for vulnerable job seekers, particularly those relating to the right to review. This bill seeks to remove the right to review a decision which suspends payments. This sets a dangerous precedent for people and denies them their right to natural justice. What kind of government, what kind of Liberal are you, if you start to deny people their right to natural justice? One person's decision would be the beginning and ending of it. We heard the previous speaker say, 'There has to be flexibility in case there is a storm or people cannot get there on public transport.' Not in this bill there isn't. That kind of flexibility is going to be knocked out as a result of this bill.

There are many reasons why jobseekers miss appointments, and their individual circumstances need to be taken into consideration. In regional areas, it has been outlined, there is a lack of public transport. Buses get cancelled or there is no bus. Another problem that we in regional Australia have is the post. Quite a few pensioners around Australia received a letter from the Prime Minister two weeks ago. In Bendigo they received it last week. The post is very slow in regional Australia. Mail from Bendigo takes about a week to get to Melbourne. Mail from Canberra takes even longer to get to Bendigo. If you are notifying people by letter they might get the letter on the day or the day after they need to turn up for an interview.

The other problem we have is that sometimes people are told by text message that they will have their payment cut. To have their payment restored they have to ring Centrelink and wait in queues. Job cuts in call centres and smart centres as a result of this government's budget mean that people are having to wait up to 70 minutes. They may have registered for the call back service, which means they may not have to incur the very large phone bill, but they have to be there waiting to take the call.

Who will they punish when it comes to these changes that they are introducing? They will penalise and punish the most vulnerable and disadvantaged job seekers. These people are typically overrepresented in having penalties for noncompliance. These are not like the young man who rocked up at my door and said, 'I just want a job; I'll take any job, but nobody will help me find a job.' These are the people where there is something else going on in their lives that is impacting on their ability to look for work.

Last year, over 13,000 small daily 'no show, no pay' penalty rates were imposed on job seekers known as having vulnerable indicators. This included over 4,000 who have psychiatric problems or mental health issues and just under 2,500 with 'homeless' flagged on their file. How do you know to turn up at a meeting at Centrelink if you do not have a home address for your mail to be sent to? What happens if you are one of the young people who are couch-surfing because you cannot get into the rental market and you are trying to provide a fixed address to Centrelink? These people need our compassion and support. These people do not need to be demonised by this government. What we need in our approach to job seekers—particularly those who are most vulnerable—is a compassionate understanding, respect and support. But this government has simply thrown those ideas out the window.

Another problem with this bill is that the government seeks to transfer the responsibility of determining whether a job seeker has a reasonable excuse from DHS employees to the JSA provider staff. Let's just call this change what it really is—another example of the government's attitude to privatising the functions of government. There is a broader problem with this proposal. There are certain jobs within our Public Service that should stay within our Public Service. Fines at a state government level should stay with the Public Service. If you are being penalised by a body as a result of a state law or a federal law, it should be those public servants who enforce that. If this is the legislation that will be set up and if these penalties that will be imposed are a result of this parliament, they should be enforced by the people employed by this government—by the public servants. They should not be outsourced. This government should not be outsourcing its responsibilities with it comes to breaches of Centrelink.

JSA providers are not impressed by this reform, and they have also expressed their concern. They believe that the ability to make these decisions could have a negative impact on their relationship with the very people they are trying to assist in finding work. How can you say to someone, 'Sorry, you didn't turn up to this interview, so we're docking your pay; but we want to have a good relationship to try to get you a job'? It just does not work. It does not work to create that conflict. And the providers themselves have voiced their concern about this particular issue.

Throughout this bill the government seeks to impose harsher measures on job seekers,. This is in addition to the six-month waiting periods for young people before becoming eligible for Newstart and mandatory Work for the Dole schemes. It is an entire generation of young people. There are very few entry level jobs today. These people are actively out there looking for work. Thirty per cent of young people in my electorate are not sitting at home playing the Xbox and eating Cheezels—as the member for Herbert would like us to think. Thirty per cent of young people in my electorate are actively looking for work, but we have not created the job opportunities for them. Creating job opportunities is the role of government; it is the role of business; it is the role of industry; and it is the role of community—working together to create these jobs. Yet, rather than focusing on job creation policy for young people, all we have seen from this government are further attacks and demonising. To suggest that young people are sitting at home playing the Xbox and eating Cheezels is a disgrace and demonstrates how out of touch this government is with the young people in their electorates.

I would like to finish by sharing Kate's story. Kate is a young job seeker in my electorate. She lives in Kyneton. This is her experience of being unemployed, navigating Centrelink and navigating the Job Network system. She said:

People don't like it when you are unemployed. They think you are lazy and wasting their taxpayer dollars.

It is not hard to understand why Kate thinks that, when you have the member for Herbert going on TV and saying exactly that and saying that in his contribution. Kate said:

In the year that I have been unemployed, I have applied for one hundred and seventy jobs. Less than ten bothered to reply. They were all 'unsuccessful applicant' emails that were sent out in bulk.

Again, that goes to the problem in our community of actually having good, secure jobs that people can apply for, that people can count on.

Kate told of her experience with a Job Network provider. She said that, when she first went to meet with them 'they just assume that you have a mental illness or a disability.' She was given a list of jobs to apply for. After she applied for them, she found out that she needed to be an individual with a disability. So her Job Network provider struggled to find a job that was suitable. Kate gave another example of the Job Network provider not recommending a suitable job. She said:

When I received notification that they had put my name down for a position injecting hormones into chicken necks before their eventual slaughter, I was somewhat surprised considering that I hold a BA in Professional Writing/Philosophy, a Masters in Screenwriting for Film, my TAE Cert IV to teach at TAFE or Uni and had worked in a managerial role for a decade.

She said, 'That was not what shocked me; it was the fact that I have been a vegetarian for 15 years.' She said when she was informed that the job she had been matched to did not match her CV that she was told by the job network provider, 'You just need to learn how to grab the chicken by the feet. The rest is pretty simple.' That does not create confidence in our system. Kate is one of many in Australia who are struggling to find a job, yet we have seen from this government a lack of understanding about the few jobs that are available. Instead we have seen not a jobs plan but measures that will make it harder and harder for people like Kate.