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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5925

Ms HALL (5:18 PM) —I rise to very strongly support the Social Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009 before us today. As a person who in a past life worked with young people who were looking for work, and as a person who has had a lot to do with the actual training aspects of young people and workers generally, I feel that this ‘learn or earn’ legislation is very important. At the commencement of my contribution to this debate I would like to very strongly emphasise that to let young people who are unemployed languish, without any assistance from government, is despicable. What this legislation will do when it is enacted is see that that does not happen.

What I also think is despicable is for young people with poor skills, poor literacy and poor numeracy to be penalised and to be thrown on the backburner and totally disregarded—put into a Work for the Dole program, if there is one available, but at no time really having the issues that go to that person’s employability addressed. I think this legislation actually looks at some of those issues and will provide hope and a start for young people.

In the past few years we have had a government—not the Rudd government but the previous government—that really squandered opportunities and did not train those people for the jobs that were available. We had a chronic skills shortage here in Australia at a time when our economy was thriving, when there was this great need for people to fill the jobs that were vacant. It would have been an excellent opportunity for the then government to embrace legislation like that we are debating here tonight, legislation that would have ensured that young people were prepared for work and that they were moving forward and being placed in a situation where they could make a tangible contribution to our economy, where they had the skills that they needed to enter the workforce and where they could undertake ongoing training.

This bill will amend the Social Security Act 1991 to provide for training supplements for eligible recipients of parenting payment and Newstart allowance who have not completed year 12 or equivalent or who seek to upgrade their vocational qualifications and who commence approved training or further education between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2011. So, here you see the target group: young people who have not completed year 12 or equivalent and who really do not have the education or the skills that they need to enter the workforce.

On my way into the chamber I believe I heard the shadow minister for employment participation saying that unemployment has risen. Yes, it has risen, and we acknowledge that on this side of the chamber. We also acknowledge that the global financial crisis is having an enormous impact on employment but not as big an impact in Australia as it is having elsewhere. We see this as an opportunity to provide that training for young people.

The legislation also amends the participation requirement for youth allowance, where a person under 20 years of age has not completed year 12 or an equivalent certificate level II to level IV qualification. A youth allowance will be payable to young people without year 12 or equivalent if they study full-time or if they comply with the Youth Allowance Employment Pathway Plan.

I need to talk a little bit about the employment pathway plan. It is absolutely imperative that a young person with limited training, maybe sometimes a less than perfect education and very few skills determines a goal and works out how they are going to achieve that goal. In working towards that goal they will have a number of strategies. In those strategies they will list the steps that need to be taken for them to gain the qualification and gain a job at the end. For instance, an early school leaver may feel that they would make an excellent horticulturalist—they like being outdoors, they like gardening and they do not mind hard work—but they are unaware of what they need to do to obtain a position working in horticulture. For that person an employment pathway plan needs to be developed whereby they will be able to undertake the certificate-level courses that meet the requirements of the job. They will follow it up with some work experience and on-the-job training as well as some formal off-the-job training. The pathway plan will require at least 25 hours a week in a combination of part-time study or training and other approved activities, which could be on-the-job training, which I think is important because it is all part of helping the young person to develop the skills that they need to enter the workforce.

Some exemptions will apply. We know that training may be reasonably available for a person but the person may not have the capacity to undertake the available training. That could occur in a situation where the young person lives in quite a remote area, where there is only training at a much higher level than the person has the basic skills to undertake or where the person has a disability and needs to undertake a specialised form of training.

The training supplement has a financial impact of $83.1 million in additional spending over four years, so you can see that the government is making a significant contribution to the training of young Australians. The government is prepared to invest at this particular time in Australia’s future. That is what this is; it is investing in training young people for Australia’s future so that when things improve globally and within the Australian economy—when more jobs become available—we will have young people with the skills who can walk into those jobs. We will be competitive not only within Australia but globally.

The measure also amends the participation requirements for 15- to 20-year-olds and has a net financial cost of $14.4 million over four years. The training supplement is an additional time-limited payment of $41.60 per fortnight. That training allowance is an incentive to young people to undertake the training. The budget announcement for this measure stated that changes to the participation requirement for Youth Allowance will come into effect on 1 July this year and for new claimants without year 12 or equivalent from 1 January 2010. The budget announcements also state that the training supplements will commence from 1 July this year. So it is very important that this legislation gets through the parliament in this sitting. It is very important that we are prepared to provide the training that these young people need.

The bill will also assist low-skilled job seekers with the costs of participation in training or further education which may assist them to obtain employment in the future. Job seekers will need to participate in approved education or training to receive the training supplements. Some people might study full-time; some might study part-time. Partial capacity to work will come into play. People doing courses that go for longer than a 12-month period may be eligible for student income support payments.

The fact that this legislation is targeting low-skilled workers is very important for us here in the parliament to consider. We need to upskill our workforce. As I mentioned at the commencement of my contribution to this debate, one of the big mistakes that the previous government made was failing to skill our workforce and failing to train people for the jobs that were available in Australia. It was such a missed opportunity. At that particular time, we had job vacancies and a very significant youth unemployment rate. What we are doing is addressing the needs of young people and the needs of Australia.

The bill will also encourage more young people to gain the education and skills that they need to move into further education. It is not only employment that is important. Success at a lower level course gives young people the confidence to move on to courses that will set them up for a career for their rest of their lives. That career could start with an apprenticeship or otherwise; the employment could be in any job that young people find that they are interested in.

Some young job seekers who participate in the Productivity Places Program, which is another aspect of this legislation, will not have to pay for their courses. However, not all courses taken up through the PPP will fit into that category. This is recognition that some people need more help. There is not a member in this House who would deny the fact that there are definitely a lot of young people out there who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in quite disadvantaged situations. The PPP will work well with that particular group of young people. Once again, this legislation is looking after particularly disadvantaged young people.

This legislation has been quite well received. I note that ACOSS are a little cautious but cautiously supportive of the proposal. They state that they will be looking closely at the youth allowance conditions so that disadvantaged young Australians are not unfairly penalised, which is what happened under the previous administration. These young Australians were unfairly penalised but not given the training that they needed. ACOSS also said that they acknowledge that there is a need for ongoing training and mentoring that suits the circumstances of young people.

The National Union of Students said:

It is good to see that the government is expanding the number of tertiary and training places. A renewed government focus on education will help generations through the recession.

That is exactly right. They also said, however, that the COAG policies must not be all stick and no carrot. That was a problem under the previous government. For anything to be successful, you need to make sure that you have the mixture of carrot and stick right.

There will be a significant number of places available as part of the youth compact with the state and territory governments. There is a commitment to immediate action to ensure significant school and training places are available for people aged 15 to 19 who are entitled to an education or training place. This must be fully implemented by 1 July this year. Once again, this is a commitment by government to young people. It will ensure that they have a future. The government is prepared to get behind them and offer them the training and the skills that they need to enter the workforce. As I mentioned previously, part of that plan includes on-the-job and off-the-job training. I see that as providing very broad and full training to young people.

In addition, young people aged 20 to 24 will have an entitlement to education and training. This commitment will be implemented by 1 January 2010. State and territory governments will work with their education authorities and training providers to make arrangements for determining eligibility for an entitlement place. It is anticipated that most places will be provided by TAFEs and some registered private training organisations offering government subsidised qualifications. The Commonwealth, states and territories will work together to ensure that those young people living in rural and remote areas will also get the access that they not only need but deserve.

This legislation provides hope for a future for young people. Changes in this legislation support the youth compact and the national youth participation requirements agreed by COAG on 30 April 2009. This measure will also assist in bringing forward the COAG targets of 90 per cent year 12 or equivalent attainment rates for 2015 to 2020. The training supplement will be available for two years to provide enhanced incentives for job seekers to gain skills and qualifications during the global recession. This legislation is about government acting. This is about the Rudd government recognising that young people deserve a future, and it is investing in their future by giving them opportunities to undertake training so as to prepare themselves for jobs as they become available.