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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3508

Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR (Minister for Employment Participation) (4:32 PM) —The comments made by the member for Boothby in relation to the employment services are entirely and utterly wrong. I say to the chamber and those that are here that from the beginning, since the election, the government have been concerned about ensuring that we have effective employment services linking employment services to training so that we provide opportunities for Australians who are out of work.

What we do know about the previous government is that they relied of course almost entirely upon the mining boom to ensure success in the economy and least of all on success or alleged success with the Job Network system. I will happily say now that they made efforts in the earlier terms to bring about some reforms. Whether I liked them or not, some reformist zeal seemed to exist early on when the former government were in their first term or two. But in the last number of parliamentary terms the previous government gave up on reform altogether. They hoped that the mining boom that was providing enormous cash flows into the coffers of Treasury could paper over the cracks of policy deficiency and of the implementation of those policies.

We saw a Job Network system that was broken. It was fragmented and not providing the support that out-of-work Australians required. That is why there is a stark statistic, that even in the best of times and even with the mining boom at its height we did not see a decline in the very long-term unemployed amongst the unemployment figures. We saw a failure by the previous government to listen to the sector that said there were not sufficient employment services for people, there were not personalised services for particular job seekers, and there was not sufficient training for those people. It failed to listen to the sector, to employment providers, to employers, to not-for-profit organisations and to others that said we needed to make sure that those services were linked to training in areas of skilled need so that employers could fill existing vacancies. We knew that was a major problem because everybody, other than the previous government, told us so. So we set about fundamentally reforming the services to make sure that we provided the best possible service for each and every Australian out of work who wanted to find work. That is what we sought to do.

We will have in this country from 1 July employment services, entitled Job Services Australia, to provide better access to services than is the case under the Job Network system. For example, there will be 2,000 sites across the country, more than 200 more sites under Job Services Australia than under the Job Network system. Because the approach is an integrated one, we will ensure that those job seekers who walk through those doors to be assisted can access services in one place—not wait, not have to be pushed from pillar to post, from one provider to another—to get work experience, job search techniques and other forms of assistance. We have integrated the services and, in doing that, we have linked up those services to the massive training agenda of this government. This government is spending $2 billion on the Productivity Places Program, which will allow for the rollout of 711,000 jobs. Of those training places, 309,000 will be dedicated to those job seekers.

What we do know—and the previous speaker in this debate failed to mention it—is that the previous government did nothing to assist job seekers in the area of training. If you want to look at the concerns that were raised through the consultations we had, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, you will find that the biggest concern that employers had was to do with training. VECCI described training under the previous government’s system as Mickey Mouse courses.

In 15 minutes, apart from the most oblique reference, the previous speaker did not mention the global recession once. Sure, I understand that there is a bit of politicking going on across the table and they do not want to talk about a whole range of things, but how could anybody expect to be treated seriously when he can go on for 15 minutes talking about employment and about the issues confronting workers and employers in this country and not mention the global recession once? It is the biggest elephant that has been in any room for a very long time and he failed to mention it.

I will go back to some of the other issues he raised with respect to Job Services in a moment, but I think we should go back to what this government have done since October last year to protect the interests of Australian workers and indeed the Australian economy. We have acted to stabilise Australian financial markets, including providing a government guarantee to depositors in Australian banks, building societies and credit unions to maintain confidence at home that we have seen shattered abroad, with the result that our major four banks remain, as we all know, among the strongest in the world. Second, last October we took early action to provide stimulus in the form of the $10.4 billion economic stimulus package, which is providing support for carers, pensioners, veterans and families doing it tough. That provided not only support for those people who were struggling but also much needed stimulus for our economy, including the retail sector. If you were to compare the retail sector figures in this country with figures from comparable economies you would see that as a result of that stimulus package there has been a significant benefit that has supported jobs. Indeed, only this month we have seen improvements in retail figures. There was a slight dip last month but again an improvement. Why? Because the government is acting quickly to provide support to the economy.

Beyond the $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy the government early this year initiated the $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan to provide the support that our economy and the workers and employers in this country need. First there is support for farmers, students, parents and others who need to be given support during this time. But the bulk of the money is for ensuring that we have nation building infrastructure across the country in areas such as education. There is also free ceiling insulation to 2.7 million Australian homes. We are also building social housing, which provides much needed support for people on the margins who are doing it tough—the 100,000 homeless in this country. At the same time, that is providing tradies and other workers in this country with the capacity to find and keep work at a time when private capital has been contracting. The government continues to make decisions to provide the support necessary for workers and employers to ensure that this economy continues to fight its way through one of the most difficult times in economic terms for three generations. We will continue to make those decisions in responding to the global recession. In relation to the area of employment, we have made some other decisions.

The honourable member raised the issue of Job Services Australia. I have to entirely refute his assertion that it is not for these times. The model for Job Services Australia has to be for beyond one year or two years; it has to be a set of services that is flexible enough to provide for the requirements of out-of-work Australians in expansions and contractions. We wanted to make sure that Job Services Australia would do well in good and in difficult times. For that reason, we have a demand driven system. For those opposite who may not understand, that means that, if there are more people in need of support because they find themselves out of work through no fault of their own, they will have that support provided to them. Of course, as a result of the global recession we have ensured that we have made announcements that are consistent with Job Services Australia and that provide temporary support over the next two years. I name a number of them.

Firstly, as I said in question time today, there is $300 million for retrenched workers over the next two years that will provide immediate and personalised support for those workers so that they can find a job as quickly as possible or they can be placed into a training area so that they can acquire the skills they will need when the economy recovers. That is the first thing we have done, and we made it very clear that we were most concerned about those workers that will lose their jobs. Secondly, we have provided support and incentives to employers and to group training companies to employ apprentices. There is nothing worse than seeing an apprentice who may be halfway through his or her apprenticeship lose that trade because an employer finds it almost impossible for economic reasons to hold onto them. We have a $145 million out-of-trade apprenticeship program which will allow for employers and group training companies to provide support for the employer to employ that apprentice, and with a built-in incentive to allow that apprentice to stay until the end of their apprenticeship. That is an important measure that supports apprentices at this time.

Further to that, we are aware that there are young people who are not necessarily quite prepared for apprenticeships. That is why we have announced $30 million to provide pre-apprenticeship training to make sure that they are ready to go into a comprehensive trade course. These are some of the things we continue to do to support workers whether they be apprentices, trainees or people who have lost their jobs in recent times.

I also want to touch on the $650 million Jobs Fund. I have been visiting local communities with the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and others throughout the last month. We meet with and talk to small businesses, not-for-profit organisations, training organisations and others who want to make sure that they can find work and create jobs for people in the community. What we have set out to do with this jobs fund is to ensure that local communities that are struggling, particularly those where there is a rapid rise in unemployment or a relatively high level of unemployment, can be assisted through this Jobs Fund.

That Jobs Fund will be opened for first-round applications on 18 April, closing on 22 May. We will be asking community groups to be putting forward their ideas because, while we have a national approach to these issues, we also want to have a local approach. We want to get the best ideas that will create work, build schools or build social infrastructure—or preferably all three—as we go forward.

I say to the honourable member opposite that I do not accept for one moment his assertion that Jobs Services Australia is not for these times. Indeed, it was built to ensure it is for the good times and the difficult times. It is clear, from subsequent announcements made as a result of the global recession, that we can build on what is needed over a temporary period. That is consistent with Job Services Australia and that was clear as a result of the $300 million announcement.

Dr Southcott —That is the problem, you doofus!

Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR —I understand that the member for Boothby is somewhat frustrated—he wants to interject now. He has not had an opportunity for the entire parliamentary term to ask me a question. That is something you have to deal with with your tactics group, Andrew. I cannot help you there. I am glad you got an MPI. I am sure it was because it was budget day that you got the MPI, but it is good to see you are at least getting up at MPIs. I would ask you to ask me a question in question time so we can actually seriously consider this matter when everyone is listening to you, Andrew, because in the end—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—You will refer to the member by his seat.

Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR —The member for Boothby—I am sorry. This is, however, a very serious issue. In the end, it is about whether, in fact, Job Network was effective or not. I would suggest the mining boom papered over the cracks at Job Network. We have listened to the sector. We have listened to employers and employment providers and we have sought to change Job Network to ensure the services are more effective and there are more sites available for job seekers linked up to training that will be required now—and, indeed, required in the future when the economy recovers.

I do not think this opposition is serious, and that is why the honourable member does not even get a question in question time to talk to me about this particular matter. (Time expired)