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Speech at the Job Futures National Conference, Sydney.

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The Hon Brendan O'Connor

Minister for Employment Participation 15 May, 2009


Job Futures National Conference

Job Futures National Conference Surrey Hills, Sydney 9.15am Friday 15 May 2009

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak at the Job Futures National Conference.

It’s an opportunity for me to acknowledge the important work you do to skill the nation’s unemployed and get them into jobs.

Some Australians, through no fault of their own, are now suffering as a result of the worst global recession in 75 years.

It is very difficult for a family to plan for a global economic recession - who can reasonably anticipate that it will be the industry they work in that gets hit hardest.

If people lose their jobs, plans are altered, savings are eroded, hardships are endured.

Those who were already disadvantaged in their search for work are doubly hurt. They may be discouraged that their already vigorous efforts to get a job will need to be further intensified.

Australians hurt by this global recession are entitled to ask for help. The Australian Government will not leave them behind. I know you will not leave them behind.

The Government will invest every possible effort into helping people reach their employment goals in these difficult times.

We will be energetic and determined in our approach to shaping the right policy responses to help Australians who need work and training.

We will listen to them. And we will listen to you.

No matter how well government crafts and moulds policy responses to this global recession we will always rely on the assistance of dedicated people who live in the affected communities to help us deliver the right outcomes.

Through your many Australia-wide member organisations, Job Futures is there — working at the point where policies translate into tangible benefits for people confronted by real life employment difficulties.

This work is undertaken in virtually every corner of Australia, from Holtze in the Territory, to Geelong Victoria, South Hedland in the Pilbara, Mt Isa, and just up the road from this venue on Crown Street Sydney.

While your professionalism and experience no doubt greatly assist people in need, I guess it is also the empathy you have for your clients that often has a transforming effect.

You are dealing with people’s pain and frustration. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. When you succeed in helping people reach their goals, get training, work experience or a job, I am sure the sense of accomplishment and joy that you feel is quite special. And deserved.

As the Job Futures website states: “We treat the people we serve as individuals, with unique needs, circumstances and aspirations”.

That is an article of faith that should guide all of us who work towards helping Australians participate productively in the workplace.

It should not matter if the challenges surrounding this global recession persist, get worse or cease.

We should always “treat the people we serve as individuals, with unique needs, circumstances and aspirations”.

I know that in our dealings together, there will be disappointments; sometimes we will disagree on how best we can achieve a common goal. We may even have the odd unpleasant exchange.

But never let it be said that I as Minister, or indeed the Government, have anything but profound respect for the work you do and the commitment you bring to this difficult task.

This global recession is having an impact on Australian economic growth and employment.

The economy is expected to contract by one half a per cent over 2009-10. Australia is doing better than most other advanced economies and a recovery is expected to gather pace over 2010.

Unemployment is the unfortunate product of the global recession. It is expected to peak at eight and a half per cent during 2010-11.

If not for the decisive policy action of the Government, through the $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy and the $42 billion Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan, unemployment would have peaked at 10 per cent.

An additional 200,000 Australians would otherwise have become unemployed. The Government will focus intensely on helping individuals and families affected by job loss. And we will help those who are trying to enter the workforce for the first time.

The Budget delivered on Tuesday by the Treasurer is squarely focused on dealing with this global recession and the impact it has on Australians.

At its core is a national building investment plan that will deliver much needed infrastructure for Australia and stimulate economic activity and jobs growth.

It also contains practical help for those in need now and in the coming months.

Help for those who have been retrenched

Help for young people to stay in education or training

Help for communities hit hard by job losses.

Help for those in our community who are disadvantaged and most vulnerable.

Help for those facing hardship, and

Help for parents and carers to get connected with the workforce and get access to training.

The Government has allocated $1.5 billion over five years for the Jobs and Training Compact to support retrenched workers, young people and struggling communities to get back into employment, obtain skills and training, and overcome the difficulties posed by this global recession.

Retrenched workers can get immediate and personalised assistance to find work and get access to training to upgrade their skills.

This $438 million Compact with Retrenched Workers also provides assistance through a strengthened safety net.

The government has committed $718 million under its Compact with Young Australians to keep young people at school or engaged in further education and training.

Every person under the age of 25 is entitled to an education or training place, ensuring that our young people have the best opportunity to fulfil their hopes of participating productively in the workplace and in their communities.

Since October 2008, the Government has announced 66 000 additional job seeker training places, bringing total productivity Places Program funding to $2 billion over five years - a total of 711 000 places.

The government is also providing additional practical assistance to those in our community most vulnerable to long-term unemployment.

A training supplement of $41.60 per fortnight will be available to people who receive Newstart and Parenting Payment.

Local communities that have been particularly hurt by the global recession and are suffering through high levels of disadvantage, economic hardship and job losses will be supported through the Government’s $650 million Jobs Fund.

As part of the Jobs and Training Compact, this fund will provide targeted investment to support jobs and economic growth.

There are three key elements to the Jobs Fund:

• Local Jobs— $300 million for community projects of up to $2 million that protect the environment, promote sustainability and build community infrastructure, including $60 million for community heritage projects and $40 million for commuter bike paths.

• Get Communities Working—$200 million for projects of up to $2 million to improve vital community facilities, build community capacity and create social enterprises

• Infrastructure Employment Projects— $150 million for the construction of infrastructure that will create immediate jobs in communities affected by the global recession.

There is a key role to play here for organisations like Job Futures and its members to partner with local government, community organisations and employers to access this program and provide employment and training opportunities in local communities hit hardest by the global recession.

The Government recognises that developing project proposals and submitting funding application forms can be difficult for some organisations.

If a proposal is not successful in this first round of funding, but clearly has merit as something that can strongly benefit a community, the Government and indeed the Department will work with organisations to develop it further so that it may be funded in a future round. This will be an iterative process.

Proposals are currently being sought and I would urge Job Future members to give careful consideration to this program if you believe your community is in need. The first round closes 22 May.

In the development of Job Services Australia we consulted extensively with employers, community and welfare organisations, and employment service providers.

Many of you gave us the benefit of your expertise. We listened. We made the necessary improvements.

Today, I would like to announce another of those improvements - one that I have heard from some of you here today, and from the Transition Reference Group I established.

Changes will be made to the work experience phase to ensure that providers are able to create work experience programs to suit the needs of each job seeker.

A job seeker will be able to combine paid work with Work for the Dole. Combine voluntary work with Green Corps.

And consistent with the Government’s training priority job seekers who participate in accredited training as part of another activity - whether it is Work for the Dole, Green Corps or Voluntary Work, they'll continue to receive a discount on their activity requirements.

So again, more flexibility to allow job services and job seekers to work together.

I still have every expectation that programs such as Work for the Dole and Green Corps will be as popular as they've ever been, but there will be more flexibility to fit work experience options to the job seeker.

I understand the Department is on hand today to discuss this with you in more detail, and the work experience guidelines, which address this and other matters relating to work experience, will be released shortly.

We will continue to listen to suggestions from you all - in the lead up to 1 July 2009 when Job Services Australia begins.

We know this is a time of great change for employment service providers. You are adapting to new rules. You’re implementing a raft of training and employment initiatives.

And at the same time you’re dealing with more people wanting a job, wanting training, wanting your help.

After this conference, as you go back to you communities, I ask that you help me get a vital message to those in need. Help is available.

If you are returning to the workforce, 319 000 training places through the Productivity Places Program are available for job seekers.

If you have been retrenched, immediate access to intensive employment assistance is available.

If you are an out-of-trade apprentice there is help to keep you connected to the workforce and keep training.

If you are under 25 you will get a training place or government subsidised qualification.

If your community is struggling with high unemployment, or huge job losses, there is funding for community projects that create jobs.

If you need help re-training so that you can work in an industry that needs employees, places are available.

If you come from a disadvantaged background and need help, we will not leave you behind. We will get you the training and experience that will give you the best chance of getting a job.

Thank you very much for allowing me to speak with you today about how the Government is meeting the challenges and difficulties posed by international economic circumstances.

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