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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5928

Mr TUCKEY (5:37 PM) —In her closing statement, the member for Shortland ran one of the recitation issues that this parliament is now confronted with in terms of ‘a government acting’. There is only way to describe the Social Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009, and that is ‘a government reacting’. It is reacting to a very significant fall in employment, particularly amongst young people. It is, of course, the outcome of recession, including—as the minister reminded us during her second reading speech—the recession that we had to have in the 1990s, when it was again young people in particular who found employment very hard to obtain.

Another factor that is making it difficult for young people to get employment is the simple fact that employers are preparing themselves for the introduction of the Fair Work Australia legislation on 1 July. We see daily reports in the media of efforts by the trade union movement to further extend its power and, from its perspective, hopefully its revenues. This is to generate enough money to run another misleading campaign to try to convince the working people of Australia that this government should remain in office, knowing full well that we are not part of the trade union appreciation society. We are not dependent upon its funding to win or lose elections. This has been highlighted by the most recent unemployment statistics, which show a fall in the number of people in permanent employment from 25,000 to 20,000.

The unemployment figures were compensated by a similar number in casual employment. And, of course, employment is going to go casual because that is the protective mechanism that small business employers will put into their arrangements to ensure that they do not get caught in the ‘go away’ money trap that was significant with the previous unfair dismissal exercise. That legislation just became unfair to employers who were silly enough to give people a full-time job and who, for whatever reason, found later that they had to disconnect from those people—and probably for very good reason, as was frequently raised with my office. For example, one small business man put on two workers and, at the end of 12 months, the business that he had anticipated had not materialised. He very apologetically put off these two people, paid them in excess of their entitlement and then received claims from each of them for $10,000 for unfair dismissal. He rang his industrial adviser and said, ‘I’ll fight these rotten devils to the High Court.’ His adviser said, ‘And how much are they asking for?’ and he said, ‘$10,000 each.’ His adviser said: ‘Pay them. You’ll win your case but it’ll cost you more than that to do so.’ That is coming up. Small business learnt its lesson last time.

The reverse applied when the Howard government discontinued unfair dismissal legislation for employers with fewer than 100 workers and, as a result, 50,000 jobs materialised in a month. In both New South Wales and Victoria—the typical rust bucket states that were not benefiting from the huge growth in resources exports—jobs materialised not because they were necessarily new jobs but because people had the confidence to employ people on a full-time basis.

As history also tells us, there was a time when it was not unusual for young people to leave the workforce after year 10 and enter into on-the-job apprenticeships and other on-the-job training positions. In years gone by, this did not even include TAFE training, which I think is a necessary part of today’s arrangements. But, again, we wonder why employers are not breaking their necks to take on apprentices and trainees in various categories when they are paid at a rate that does not equate to their productive effort and, more particularly, sees them absent from their workplace one or two days a week for training. No compensation of consequence is paid to employers for having those people unavailable on those days.

These situations have arisen. This legislation proposes that the taxpayer picks up some of that tab, and that may therefore be advantageous, not for people in work but for people who are not in work. It is referred to—and I endorse this principle—as ‘learn or earn’. Whilst I do not disagree with a reasonable safety net, it has unfortunately been found by a lot of young people to be sufficient to get by on, and they then do not seriously seek employment. If I were to be given a couple of hours to speak on this issue in this place, I could run through a list of examples where I and members of my extended family, as employers, have had unemployed persons turn up at our places of business for the purpose of doing an interview and, in their opening remarks, say: ‘We don’t want this job, you know. We’re not going to take it. We’ll really be a nuisance to you if you employ us.’ They were there to get a signature in their book to say that they had been out actively seeking work. This provision may do something in that regard and that of course will be a positive.

I can see that it is a means of assisting. It is going to cost substantial amounts of money—$83.1 million is targeted to date—and, in fact, job seekers meeting these requirements will receive an extra $41.60 per fortnight if they undertake an approved training or further education course of less than 12 months duration at the certificate II, III or IV level. But let me return to the issue as to why it now appears that by year 10 you have not absorbed enough education to take a job in the trades or elsewhere, as was previously the case. One can say, ‘Oh well, it’s all computerised now.’ That is a complexity. That seems to be one of the things that most kids know about and understand before they go to school. I was talking to someone the other day who had to ring their grandchild to help them sort out a software problem they were experiencing with their computer at home. That is wonderful and we read about this all over the place.

I once learnt to fly a Chipmunk aeroplane and its only form of navigation was a marine compass. If I were to try to fly a current model of aeroplane today without high levels of computer skills, I would not be able to get it off the ground. Unfortunately, we recently read of a disaster where computers were suddenly interrupted and how difficult it was for a professional pilot to fly a commercial aircraft. A farmer in my electorate of O’Connor is now employing equipment which literally drives itself very accurately. So there is a need for that form of training. On the other hand, as reported in the media recently, three young mothers turned up at a picture theatre and, for reasons not stated, could not work out how much was three times the entry fee of $9. That is not an indictment of those people but an indictment of an education system that has probably turned them out in year 10 with the inability to say that three nines are 27. Why is that? Because, quite foolishly, we walked away from the education structures that made sure everybody knew those basic forms of multiplication.

I ran hotels for about 25 to 30 years and I employed a vast number of staff on about one hour’s assessment. The first thing I looked at was whether they walked fast or slowly, but each and every one of those people, particularly the women, had the ability to add up. They could not go to the electronic machine that is now provided and is about the slowest way of dispensing alcohol I have ever seen in my life. I do not know how you can have an alcopops problem. They could add up and they did add up as they put the drinks order together and told the group to which they were supplying the drinks the price. How did they learn that? There were no computers to assist. The cash register was of the push-down variety on which you registered the amount involved; you did not get a message from the register telling you what the change was. You had to work it out yourself. These were young and not-so-young men and women who could add up without any difficulty. From my own recollection, when you walked into a school in the opening period you heard kids in every classroom reciting their times tables. They were actually taught to read by phonetics. And where are we now? We are back to phonics. We have gone back to having that debate after the elite education establishment undermined all the practical outcomes that equipped a young person to enter employment after year 10.

As I have said, there are certain technical aspects to this bill—I read the statistics in the second reading speech of the Minister for Education—but without an adequate basic education another year’s training is not going to do much and, if that year’s training is needed to repair the incapacity of a young person to read and write, should we be building new assembly halls or, better, should we be organising the teaching profession so that we can turn out young people with the basic three Rs education? I think that is a matter of grave concern. All the talk in this parliament about how much money is being spent on education and training is irrelevant unless it delivers outcomes. I smiled today when the minister was explaining that she was going to shift money from a school to which it had been allocated—the school was going to be knocked down—to a school where the other pupils were going to go. That amalgamated school might be brand new, but it is still going to get the money. I note on one occasion the government obviously woke up to that fact and said, ‘Well, we had better not spend it on paint; we will spend it on computers.’ I thought computers were coming free under another program. Are we just recycling money? Is it going to be free computers one day and a coat of paint the next day? As I said in my speech on the appropriations, very few of about the 150 schools in my electorate chose to take the $150,000 on offer. They did not take it because the opinion of the school principal and the parent associations was that they did not need that much. They are now being told to spend up to $3 million or else, yet internally the system is still advising us that young people who have not completed year 12 have an inadequate education base on which to obtain employment.

That was never the case, and it need not be the case, notwithstanding that there are good reasons for most students to continue to year 12 provided they have a capacity to absorb the education that that system provides. But what if it does not and a student’s tendency is to be a highly skilled tradesperson? It is a great tragedy of history that some of the most highly skilled tradesmen I have met going back to my childhood have had very little education. But they were highly skilled in their trade, and that has changed somewhat because a trade is not so manual. What I am saying is this: these ideas cannot be criticised and we hope they work, but they are an indictment of the existing education system because they should not be needed; the training should not be needed.

There is another problem that arises from that and, furthermore, I can quote examples. You have got to be very careful as an administrator to see that training does not become an excuse for doing nothing. In recent years I know of people who said, ‘I’m going back to do another course,’ and left full-time paid employment because a course was easier than turning up for seven hours a day in a job. So that is a problem. You get people who are perennially doing courses, and the evidence of that exists for anyone who wants to check the stats or talk to people who have employed persons who have often come to them as unemployed. I think that is another worthwhile comment to make in this debate.

In the five minutes left available to me, I note that this legislation deals with some of the principles and entry requirements for youth allowance. On the last sitting Thursday I presented to this parliament 6,280—as I think the number was—signatures on a petition collected in fewer than 10 days from people protesting about the unfair changes to the Youth Allowance system. It pops up here in a most interesting way when the minister says, to support these initiatives, the Commonwealth government committed to making education and training a precondition ‘for young people without year 12, or the equivalent, to obtain youth allowance (other) and family tax benefit part A’. The youth allowance took into account the fact that young people, having passed year 12, were typically wishing to enter university and often—as in the case of my electorate—were living an unacceptable travel distance from the place of learning, which required their relocation, and that the rent allowance component of youth allowance was extremely important to them. They could prove their independence by going to work where work was available.

The interesting thing about this is that, while we talk about the new conditions, which have nothing to do with parental income and all those sorts of things, they are still a roadblock to participation. Whilst the minister, in her second reading speech, admits that it is very difficult for any young person to get a job at the moment, in the same breath she says, ‘But if you can’t find one for 30 hours a week then you can’t qualify for youth allowance.’ In rural areas that does not happen. What students did under the old system was to take the seasonal work, which is now the norm through rural areas, whereby they could work long hours for good rates of pay and accumulate a sum of money—I think it reached about $19,000—and that was then their proven qualification to obtain youth allowance and take themselves off to university, where hopefully some of them might have even studied science and other scientific disciplines and went back and taught young people. In fact, now we are funding the cost of laboratories and all of these newly equipped facilities in education establishments—and hooray for that—but there is nobody with the competence to teach within the repaired or renewed or rebuilt facilities. You would not let most of them loose with a Bunsen burner. So how is that going to work?

It is just another indictment of this legislation. We do not oppose it. We wish it well, but it would not be occurring in this fashion if, when young people came out of education and were not seeking an academic career, they could have the necessary basic skills to be employed and in fact to grow into the highly qualified skills which traditionally they learned in the workplace—and learned them extremely well, as those of us know who still have the opportunity to walk into older style houses and see how they were built with a hammer, nails and handsaws and that sort of equipment no longer used to any great extent. (Time expired)