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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6181

Ms BIRD (8:45 PM) —I congratulate the member for Pearce on her observations and comments. I want to take the opportunity tonight to talk about an issue that has been a persistent concern in my electorate, and that is the issue of teenage unemployment. In particular, I want to highlight the importance of education and its focus on regions like mine, where you can see a significant flow-on to young people of the restructuring that occurs in regional economies and how that can leave many young people at a bit of a loss. That has been reflected for quite a long time in our higher than state and national average teenage unemployment rates.

These are always complex issues. A forum was convened in Wollongong about four years ago to look at the issue of teenage unemployment, and in particular the low school retention rates that were clearly linked to that. It was quite clear from the expertise from around the region drawn together on that task force that they are indeed complex and difficult issues. But it was also quite clear that the quality of experience that young people got throughout their schooling years was particularly important to their success at school and indeed to their retention at school. I particularly want to highlight to the House that in my own region there have been some very significant and important achievements by this government in directing part of our education revolution program towards the support of schools and also to community organisations that work to keep young people who are at risk of dropping out of school engaged in schooling. These are very important programs.

I want to acknowledge Southern Youth and Family Services, a tremendous and dedicated team of people who provide a range of services and who in particular target homelessness. They also work in an integrated way with those young people to reconnect them with education. This group has been recognised by the government and has been funded to provide those sorts of at risk targeted programs to encourage young people to work towards achieving goals in life such as educational qualifications. I identify here, for example, the Reconnect program, which the group does a tremendous job in delivering in our region. I also put on the record the very excellent work done—I know my colleague Jennie George has spoken about this work in her electorate of Throsby—by the Beacon Foundation, which is a tremendous initiative that gets young people to, if you like, make a no-dole pledge, to commit to not dropping out of school and going onto the unemployment benefit and to having a plan in life and completing their education and going onto employment or further education. This program has been extremely successful in the six schools across the Illawarra that it is run in and, again, this government has given its support to that task.

Those particular opportunities to focus attention and funding on the most disadvantaged and those most at risk are really important in engaging young people to continue with their education. Also important is providing the tools and environment that says to young people that school is a valuable thing, as a society we believe it is important and we want to support you and encourage you to stay on and gain qualifications. The extensive amount of money we have put in through the Building the Education Revolution and the Digital Education Revolution is not just about buildings and technology; these programs are very clearly about the fact that we are telling young people that we as a society value schooling and that we want them to continue to engage with it. Most of us would know that, if you walk into an office building and somebody has the worst office and it is leaking and they have not got a computer, it tells you something about how much they are valued. It is no different for our young people in our schools. It is the Building the Education Revolution and the Digital Education Revolution that are engaging with them and telling them that this is an important commitment that we are making.

Finally, investment in TAFE and university programs, providing them with the funding to re-engage with low socioeconomic students and get them to enrol and participate in post-secondary educational opportunities, is a really important initiative, particularly following the Bradley review of higher education. It will make sure that we improve the outcomes for regional students in areas like the Illawarra. Sadly their participation went backwards over the years of the Howard government, dropping down to 18 per cent. We want to lift that and we are committed to achieving that. (Time expired)