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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12327

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (19:38): It is a pleasure to speak on this important piece of legislation, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Job Seeker Compliance Framework) Bill 2014. I think the member for Bendigo eloquently sums up what is wrong with the modern Labor Party. The modern Labor Party is not about the worker any more but about the nonworker, the leaner and not the lift up because they have assiduously opposed for a decade policies that support principles of mutual obligation and the endeavour to get young people and unemployed people back to work. That is what this bill is about, primarily—getting people back to work. Why would anyone be opposed to that? We know that many people miss appointments each year without a satisfactory response.

The member for Bendigo talks about people with legitimate mental health concerns. She talks about people who are homeless. These are not the people we are targeting in this legislation. These are not the people upon whom we are looking to enforce a tougher regime. These issues are being tackled by governments and by charities. They are being dealt with by our whole society and of course these people deserve our sympathy and passion. What we are addressing is the bulk of the rest of them, the 4.5 million missed appointments every year without a satisfactory response—that is, 35 per cent, a good third. It is not unfair, in my view, to ask people who are not doing anything else, who are able-bodied, who do not have mental health concerns, who are not severely disadvantaged to the point that they cannot leave their home or pick up the phone, or look on the internet, or visit a workplace to get a job.

These are the realities of life and that is what the modern Labor Party misses. They also missed the other end of the equation which is that they think a government has to produce of jobs plan. Governments do not create jobs except in the public sector. The government's role is to enable the economy and society to produce more jobs. You will not hear the member for Bendigo talking about Kyneton, which I am familiar with and which is a great local town and a great regional community, and she will not be talking about alleviating the harsh and inflexible weekend penalty rates. Alleviating penalty rates could enable businesses to open longer and to employ many more young people. If she talked to a small business, which I doubt the member for Bendigo has done in a very long time, she would find that they need more flexible system especially on weekends, public holidays and at other times to employ more young people. They would add young people to their business. This is not a big business issue; this is a small business issue. You have no real plan for the Labor Party to allow the economy, which is the only sector which creates the job, to do their job—that is, to employ more people.

So we have a double nexus of failure from the Labor Party and we find them in the their ongoing problem and malaise—that they do not recognise the fundamental principle of this debate which is that welfare is not good for you. Welfare is not something we want people to be on. While they talk about how much of a right it is for every Australian to get welfare, it is not something that develops a good person, it is not something which people in this situation want to be on; it is something they want to get off and something we want to get them off. It is something the Labor Party ought to want to get them off. Yet they continually talk about the right to be on welfare, saying that people need to be on welfare.

People do not need to be on welfare when we run a productive society that can create as many jobs possible. At the moment we are not enabling our society to do that. That is why the government is so fixated on an economic action strategy that will allow the economy to produce more jobs and get more people off welfare. Getting people off welfare is good for them. We have intergenerational welfare problems in Australia now and those intergenerational welfare concerns produce ongoing serious effects, particularly for people who are stuck in the intergenerational welfare nexus. So to ask people to strengthen the job seeker compliance framework and say, 'You must turn up when you say you're going to turn up,' that is a principle of getting a job. That is a principle of being a person who is willing to get a job. To say, 'I slept in', which is one of the excuses that are given—

Ms Hall interjecting

Mr HAWKE: The member for Shortland scoffs, but these are all on the public record. These are all available. If the member for Shortland bothered to read these things, she would find out that the excuses people give are available on the public record. 'I slept in' or 'I forgot' are not legitimate excuses. As the member for Bendigo says, these are not people with a mental illness or people who are homeless. These are people saying, 'I forgot to turn up for my job appointment.' If the member for Shortland did her homework she would see that sleeping in, forgetting, could not be bothered are excuses published each quarter as part of the report on job seeker compliance. They are not good enough. I do not believe the vast majority of Australians would find those excuses good enough when the vast majority of Australians are working to pay for people to be on welfare. They expect that those people will get a job, though they will get training and retraining if they have too. The member for Bendigo raises the example of Kate who has a masters in philosophy and all those other degree she has learnt from universities and is unable to find a job. This government will offer her education at the taxpayers' expense to retrain in an area where she could get a job. And if she is unable to do the work which has been found for her, there will be other avenues.

The member for Bendigo really should stop adopting a negative approach and telling her constituent that it is good to stay on welfare or to be on welfare and help her to get off welfare by offering her the opportunities which exist in this great country from retraining, for education and for opportunity. There are more opportunities for young people in this country than in any other country in the world today. There are more of them right now, regardless of which side is in government. Young people should be given that message and told to get off welfare and to go out to find those opportunities because they are real, they exist and they are within the grasp of every single Australian.

If you are not able to grasp them, if you have a legitimate mental health concern, as the member for Bendigo raises, or you are homeless, there are other avenues and services of government in our society that are there to provide for you. That is not what this bill is talking about. It is disingenuous of members opposite to suggest that this will adversely affect people in these categories. They are not the target of this legislation.

We know that there is a significant ongoing problem with non-attendance rates at appointments. This has been the source of much consternation for government over many years. If the members opposite really wanted to understand this issue, I would simply point them to statements by previous spokespeople on this issue, including the minister at the time in the previous government, the current member for Adelaide, who said: 'I believe that attendance at appointments can and must improve. That is why we made an election commitment to strengthen the compliance system.' Why would the current opposition oppose strengthening the current compliance legislation when it was their position in government? They understood this. Kate Ellis, the member for Adelaide, understood this. So why are they opposing it now? Is it simply because they have fallen into the trap of opposition of opposing everything for opposition's sake? It is not punitive to say to people that they should be seeking to get jobs and that they must attend their appointments unless they have a legitimate excuse. Nobody here is questioning that there are legitimate reasons or legitimate excuses for people not to turn up. The operative word is 'legitimate'.

We have to create a system as well that supports what both sides of parliament have been saying over many years, which is that we have to strengthen the compliance framework. That means that we have to amend in this legislation the provision that allows people to drop in an unacceptable excuse and then have the money immediately go into their account. In amending this legislation, the government is ensuring that if you do not have satisfactory attendance you will have your payments suspended, and this is the real incentive. I suspect, if members opposite thought deeply about this, they would understand that it will lead to a decrease in these pathetic excuses. And they are pathetic—'I slept in,' 'I forgot,' or 'I simply couldn't be bothered.' I do not think we will be seeing many of those when people's payments have been suspended and they have difficulty obtaining that money. I think people will get the message and those people who are doing the wrong thing will start doing the right thing. The right thing is to meet their side of the bargain, and that is to go and look for a job, to do it appropriately and to do everything they can to get employment and get back on their feet.

I do not think people ought to be picky about it. You take what jobs are available. Many of us here in this place have worked in small shops and jobs that we did not think we would be in for our whole lives. There are plenty of people who have been very successful in life who started in jobs that were very low paid, difficult, unpleasant or not the jobs they wanted to do. There is nothing wrong with that. That is how you start out. That is the signal we have to send. Unfortunately, the modern Labor Party sends the signal to everybody that your first job should be your last job, that you should be highly paid when you are 18 and in your first job and that it should be your job for life. That is just not the case. You take the work you can get. You learn the skills you need. It will not be a super high-paid job that you should be doing forever and ever. It is the culture of the victim that the modern Labor Party creates, saying that, 'Everything is against you, the system is against you, life is against you and you cannot succeed, so we are just going to agitate for less work and more pay.' That is the modern union-Labor nexus—less work for more pay—which is strangling our enterprise and initiative in this country.

This bill is going to significantly reduce the cost of red tape for employment providers. That is a theme of this government as well. I am a big fan of this because we have to reduce the time spent administering this whole ridiculous excuse system and improve the ability of these people to spend the time that they need to be spending on getting these young people and other people who are unemployed jobs.

We are investing $5.1 billion over three years in the new employment services system from 2015. This is a very significant investment. It is very important that we update, by amendment, the framework that goes along with this investment. That is such a significant investment that if the Labor Party is suggesting we do not need to update the compliance job seeker framework, contrary to what they thought when they were in government, they really need to come forward and say why and not put forward a whole sob-story and blame story about how the world is against everybody, because it is not the case in a country like Australia. It never has been, and it is not going to be under any government. There are plenty of accessible opportunities for all people who are unemployed in Australia to seek education or retraining or to go and get the job that they have been looking for.

I would encourage those people who are doing the wrong thing to go out and do the right thing. That is what the member for Herbert was saying. There are people who assiduously do the wrong thing and game the system, which we have not talked about here. It may not be similar to the proportion of people who are homeless or have legitimate mental health issues. It may not be the bulk of people who are unemployed. But there are people who are unemployed who are deliberately doing the wrong thing by not showing up for an appointment or who have lost hope or have, for no reason, given up. It is not a good signal for the government to send to say, 'That's okay.' It is not a good signal to say, 'Society is to blame.' We really need to look these people in the eye and say, 'You do need to go and turn up to appointments and to go and get a job.'

I would encourage the Labor Party to drop this rhetoric of railing against society, our system and our fairness when we are a very fair and equal society and we offer many, many ways for someone to get themselves out of a difficult situation in this country. I can tell you from dealing with businesses, small and large, that there are so many people who employ people in this country who are willing to give young people and unemployed people a go. They exist. They are real. They are there. But they are looking for that spark of desire. They are looking for those people who want to get that job. They are looking for someone to have a bit of self-belief. That is what we have to give people who are unemployed—a bit of self-belief.

The first thing we can do is be honest with them and say, 'You can't provide a pathetic excuse to government on why you're not going to your appointments.' Sleeping in or 'I forgot'—these sorts of things have to stop. They are real excuses; they are not something this government has made up. They are in the reporting; they happen every year; and they are unacceptable. This amendment to strengthen the job seeker compliance framework ought to have the support of both sides of parliament. It did have the support of ministers in the previous government. This is a simple update to ensure that we are doing everything we can to get people out of the welfare system and into work.