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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9903

Mr GILES (Scullin) (10:41): I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by the member for Kingston. I was very interested to hear the previous speaker talk about the Labor Party as being "all complaint and no solution", particularly having regard to the contributions that we have already heard from government members opposite. "All complaint and no solution" is really an allegation that could be more fairly addressed at members of this government—a government that is so narrowly ideological, as demonstrated by the previous speaker's contribution, and that is focused on the family, ignoring the deep social needs of many vulnerable young people and ignoring a positive role of government and the responsibilities of government particularly in this area.

I have spoken on this topic previously. It is a great shame, a tragedy indeed, that this government has seen fit to progress with its cruel and destructive agenda by attacking vulnerable young people—attacking our future. Youth unemployment is, of course, a pervasive problem right across the country. It can have a lasting impact on a person's life.

It is not uncommon for entry level jobs now to be advertised that require minimum amounts of experience, which makes it particularly difficult for an inexperienced young person to secure employment and a start in their working life. As well as this experience gap there is also an information gap whereby young people tend not to have the connections or the networks to know if there are jobs going.

In government, Labor sought to bridge both the information gap and the experience gap between young people and employers with programs like Youth Connections and Partnership Brokers. We invested more than $700 million over five years. Youth Connections helps young people who have not completed or are at risk of not completing year 12 or equivalent qualifications and have barriers that make it difficult to participate in education, training or employment. Youth Connections providers work with young people to help make a successful transition to further education, training or employment.

Before the budget—before this horror budget—I met with some of the local service providers in the Scullin electorate like Kildonan, Whittlesea Community Connections and Crossroads to discuss the program and its importance to our area. I was impressed not just with the passionate and committed staff but also with the results the program is delivering on the ground. Six months after exiting Youth Connections, 94 per cent of young people are still engaged in education and employment. And after two years, more than 80 per cent are still in work or education. This is a significant achievement, particularly in the context of the rising youth unemployment rates. It shows that these programs are working.

But it is about more than statistics. I was, and I remain, deeply affected by the stories I heard of the individual impacts of the program. I think especially of a young woman from Iran, at risk of disengagement two years ago, or thereabouts, now on track to become an architect—a life transformed through these positive, vital interventions. I would like to think that all of us in this place would want to do everything we can to reduce youth unemployment. Getting and keeping a job is one of the most important things a person can do. It builds confidence, independence and a sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as providing food on the table and shelter over our heads. Thanks to this government, funding for these vital programs runs out from the end of 2014, and many providers will be forced to close.

I note that two weeks ago, in what can only be seen as an admission that the government has made a mistake, it introduced some stop-gap measures. However, these announcements will achieve nothing like Labor's programs. I also note that they are targeted at regional youth. I certainly support reducing youth unemployment in regional areas, but what about young people in metropolitan areas like Scullin, Kingston, Parramatta and Reid? Why doesn't the government care about these people? The youth unemployment rate in Melbourne's north-east was almost 12 per cent a year ago, but as of August this year it has risen to 14 per cent. Just $130 million was needed to maintain these programs and, if the funding was maintained, 100,000 young Australians would benefit—a small investment for a big return in our future.

With youth unemployment today at more than double the average unemployment rate, Australia needs a plan for job creation which must involve preventing youth unemployment and supporting at-risk young people. Of course, there is no plan at all in terms of jobs from members opposite. I say this to members opposite—the members in our present government: reducing unemployment should not be seen as budget savings. It should not be seen as a burden. It is an investment in our young people. It is an investment in our capacity and our collective wellbeing. I see the parliamentary secretary at the table sigh. I think it is symptomatic of this government's failure to engage with the real concerns of vulnerable young people in electorates like mine. Unfortunately, it is the case that we have a government that is not concerned about youth unemployment or about the future of this country. All the rhetoric about intergenerational inequality is empty. It is just a mask for ideologically-driven austerity, for a small, narrow view of the state and our collective capacity. I am pleased to join the member for Kingston and Labor members in calling on this government to immediately reverse its decision to no longer fund these programs beyond this calendar year.