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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2522

Mr TURNOUR (2:14 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the minister update the House on what measures the government has taken to assist Australians who are made redundant?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Leichhardt for his question. I know that, like me and like other members of this House, he would be concerned to see Australia’s rising unemployment figure of 5.2 per cent. We know that figure means many Australians are hurting. The government has been upfront with Australians that our economy would not be immune from the impact of the global financial crisis and global recession—the ‘Great Recession’. We have been clear with the Australian people all along that it would impact on Australian jobs. That is why we took decisive action to stimulate our economy and support Australian jobs through the more than $10 billion invested in the Economic Security Strategy last year—initially supported by the Leader of the Opposition but now opposed by him—and that is why we took further action with the $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan, a plan to support jobs, which was opposed every step of the way by the Liberal Party.

As the Prime Minister has made clear, unemployment is rising around the world. If we look at the US, for example, we know that its economy has an unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent, the highest in more than 25 years. And we know that 4.4 million jobs in the US have been lost since the US recession began in December 2007. In the UK the figure is 6.3 per cent and in the European Union the figure is 8.2 per cent. These are deeply concerning figures. And today’s figure of 5.2 per cent in Australia means there are Australians who have been made redundant and need our assistance.

In these circumstances the government has acted quickly to provide additional services to people who are made redundant and need support. Just today my colleague the Minister for Employment Participation introduced legislation to reduce the liquid assets waiting period for those seeking income support, doubling the threshold for singles to $5,000 and for couples to $10,000. That means people who find themselves newly unemployed will not have to run their savings down before they can access benefits. Our new $3.9 billion reformed employment services stream will begin on 1 July to provide more flexible job services to Australians who need those services. Last month the Prime Minister announced a new commitment of nearly $300 million so that newly retrenched workers can gain immediate access to more intensive and personalised employment services.

In addition we have moved to provide new incentives to assist out-of-work apprentices. We know that in economic downturns we find ourselves in a situation where businesses tend to invest less in skills and training. When economic growth returns, everybody is crying out for skilled labour, and the lack of skilled labour ends up being a capacity constraint on growth. To assist those apprentices who may find themselves out of a trade, there are new incentives for employers and group training organisations to offer them an opportunity to complete their apprenticeships. In addition the Australian Apprenticeship Access Program will be expanded with a $30.2 million investment to provide at-risk job seekers with the support to undertake an apprenticeship or training. From this week, the $950 training and learning bonus will also be available to provide an additional incentive for social security recipients to return to education and training. The government cannot stop the global economic cyclone that arises from the global financial crisis and the global recession, but we can act to cushion Australian workers from its worst impacts and provide them with the skills they need for the future.