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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10156

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (18:54): It is very lucky for me to be able to follow the member for Chifley, having just left the chair and assumed my role as member for Mitchell in Western Sydney, because I rise today to speak about the rising phenomenon of youth unemployment, not just in Sydney and in Western Sydney but also across Australia, and its long-term consequences and problems for young people. The member for Chifley has a longstanding position against an airport in Western Sydney—the one economic driver that will provide jobs, investment, growth and a positive future for young people in Western Sydney—whereas we know that his government had a vision of handouts and government payments for young people, which, of course, is completely unsustainable. You do need economic drivers. You need good decisions that drive economic activity. An airport is an economic driver and will provide great opportunities for young people in Western Sydney.

Youth unemployment continues to be a sustained problem. We saw increases in unemployment in general under the Labor government and now we have a situation where there are about 266,000 unemployed youth in Australia at the moment, a national rate of unemployment amongst 15- to 24-year-olds of 12.9 per cent. The Brotherhood of Saint Laurence also estimates that there are about 300,000 more youth unemployed who are underemployed—that is, they have some form of employment but they would like more, more shifts, more work and more pay, and cannot obtain it. That is about a half a million young people who are either out of work or looking for more work.

This is a very serious issue. I note that in my area, in Sydney's Baulkham Hills and Hawkesbury region, in the new areas that they put together—something called SA4 regions, which are a bit different to the old ones—there are 2,500 unemployed youths aged 15 to 24. But, in neighbouring Blacktown, there are 5,400, a rate of 17.3 per cent, 15- to 24-year-olds seeking work who cannot obtain it. It is 12 per cent my own area. To me, this is unacceptably high and successive governments failed in many ways to get the trades and technical training correct, especially the last government. There continues to be a big gap in our dealing with the problem of youth unemployment and unemployment more generally.

I was pleased to see the Minister for Industry announce the second tranche of VET reforms that are to deliver industry led and job-ready skills and training. It sounds like an obvious statement of the facts to say that we should have job-ready skills and training programs, but the ideological approach of the previous government, particularly the previous Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, dismantled the Howard government's successful technical college model, which connected people with a real job at the end of vocational training. I particularly note the Anglican technical college just outside my electorate, in Greenway, which took a lot of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds but had one of the highest retention rates in the state, almost 90 per cent. That is because it focused not just on the theory of VET training but on the practical workplace—that is, master plumbers and master builders. With the week of theory, it provided students two weeks hands on, in the job, to learn the specifications required by the master builders and the master plumbers, then returning them to the classroom and to the workplace. That is job-ready training. It sounds obvious, but it is not so obvious.

We also see in Australia that at the moment just one in two apprentices completes their training—that is 50 per cent not completing their training—and just one apprentice in three completes their training in the same area they started. This is a great problem and the Minister for Industry, in announcing the second tranche of VET reforms, also made changes to the way the regulator, ASQA, operates to cut the excessive red tape that many of our high-performing training providers have been subject to for many, many years, allowing them to get on with doing what they do best: delivering high-calibre training that meets industry and the economy's needs. Amen to that. We need less regulation in this space and more practical outcomes. Governments state and federal spend a lot of money on training and we should be less than enthusiastic about many of these outcomes. We think we should have a general commitment across the chamber to ensure that money is well spent in this because the outputs here—the victims—are young people in our country, who are not obtaining work even though they are trained.

I have heard firsthand examples from people like the Master Builders, who tell me that you will get a certificate III bricklayer who has finished TAFE, who has his certificate, who is unable to lay a brick—he is unemployable, that poor person who has been fully trained. That young person is then unable to seek work because he does not have the skills to meet the job. He is unable to seek further training in bricklaying because he has his certificate, and the system says that you cannot return to get further training once you have your certificate. Even though he has spent plenty of time and the government has spent plenty of money training him, he does not have the skills to do the job. That is a real example, and there are many, many of these real examples in our country today—an unacceptable situation by far.

I certainly welcome the Minister for Industry's second round of VET reforms and I know the government has a great program for the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network—matching, in particular, employees with employers and potential apprentices with employers; providing advice about training options; offering personalised mentoring, and this makes a real difference to individual apprentices identified as needing extra support; offering guidance to business about taking apprentices; and managing the administration of an apprenticeship, including the training contact. These new arrangements are client-centred support arrangements and I have to say they are a welcome development.

I also want to note, in particular, the small and medium business feedback from around the country about the archaic industrial relations system that is preventing young people from getting a job. We saw under the previous Labor government a regression of the industrial relations climate which has, of course, paralysed the ability of small business to do the job we need them to be doing, and that is adding extra young people for that underemployment, those 300,000 young people who are underemployed, and those 266,000 young people who cannot get a job in Australia right now. The anecdotal evidence is severe when you go and talk to your family owned enterprise, the small business cafes who want to open on a Sunday or a public holiday—in regional areas in particular—but are unable to open because they cannot compete.

When a small business or a family business cannot open because of harsh penalty rates that are out of sync with their big business competitors—that is, big business and fast food chains pay less in penalty rates under their awards than restaurants and catering and hospitality on a Sunday or on a public holiday—everybody loses. The business owner cannot make any money. The young people cannot get the shifts that we know they are looking for on weekends—those people who study during the week. And we cannot get the goods and services that we need at reasonable prices on Sundays and public holidays. It is a lose-lose situation. It is why we have seen greater calls from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Retail Association, all pointing to the fact that, particularly for young workers, these penalty rates that came about in an era when people were very religious or there was a particular penalty with working on a Saturday or Sunday, and these things no longer apply to the trading environment. They are simply archaic institutions supported by unions because the modern union movement is really about less work for more pay. It is their constant push. We saw a case that they just took to the Fair Work Commission and won to reduce the age at which adult wages have to be paid. Immediately upon winning that case they said, 'Now we are going to push to have it pushed further and further down—19- and 18-year-olds.' This is unrealistic in the current employment and economic environment and a real threat to youth employment.

If there are businesses out there—and there are many in many parts of this country—that want to open more and compete more and add more young people on, more people in more jobs are obviously better for our economy. I want to make it clear that we are not talking about, in this instance, public sector workers. We are not talking about nurses who give up late night shifts; we are not talking about police officers or fire officers who have to do unusual or unreasonable hours. Those penalties are absolutely appropriate and apply for industries and sectors of the economy where there is a penalty for working overnight or late. We are talking about archaic penalty rates, in some cases double-time and a half on a public holiday for a restaurant versus a fast-food chain, which is time and a half. How is that restaurant supposed to compete with a fast-food chain with that gap on a public holiday? That is why you cannot access goods and services; that is what is holding young people back in this country.

I am pleased to see the government moving so fast on the reform of the VET and training sector. Youth unemployment continues to be a major concern for me and people and members across Western Sydney, and colleagues in regional and rural areas, in particular, where youth unemployment rates are climbing and climbing. We need to recognise that we need to have a flexible industrial relations system and a flexible economy that can encourage those 1.7 million small businesses in Australia today to add that extra worker or that extra shift, and we need to give them every incentive to do so.