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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10159

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (19:04): One can profess an interest in youth unemployment and belabour the point with rhetoric—quite doctrinal rhetoric—about deregulating the labour market; however, the question of youth unemployment has a few other facets. We have the situation the previous speaker spoke of, of 'handouts and payments'. I guess he is speaking of the Youth Connections program which engages vulnerable, disengaged and often marginalised youth in education and employment transition services. Perhaps he is talking about Partnership Brokers, which was a program that worked with 22 of the top 50 ASX companies and had brokered over 1,800 agreements between schools, employers and charities to make sure young Australians at risk of long-term unemployment moved into work. Perhaps the other 'handout and payment' he was whingeing about was the National Career Development Strategy which supported vital links between industry, students and training options.

I do not regard these as useless, pointless exercises. I could quote, for instance, David Thompson, chief executive of Jobs Australia, which represents non-profit employment service providers, who said in the magazine Justice Trends No. 154 of September 2014 that he could not see how some young job seekers would be able to survive, let alone meet the additional costs of finding out about and applying for jobs:

For those people who do not have access to other forms of support, like from their family, I just don't understand how anyone can imagine it is going to be possible for them to do these things.

He was, of course, referring to—amongst other things—the pushing of young people under 25 from Newstart onto the lower youth allowance—a cut of $48 a week or almost $2,500 a year.

Let us put that in real terms. There has been a lot of conjecture about and coverage of a very elaborate visit to Paris by the Minister for Education in recent times; there has been talk about the thousands of dollars he was able to spend on hotels. Let's emphasise the figures affecting these young people: their income is reduced from a paltry $13,273 a year to $10,774. So when we talk about youth unemployment we also have to have some compassion—not just rhetoric about changing industrial relations and shift penalties, but compassion for the practical circumstances of young people once they are unemployed.

It is all right for him to come here tonight and talk about unemployment under the previous government. What are the facts we face today? Unemployment figures over the last two months were 6.1 per cent and 6.2 per cent. In the Australian Financial Review of 8 August, Jacob Greber made a few comments about the situation. He noted that the seasonally adjusted figure of 6.4 per cent in July was the highest rate of unemployment in this country since 2002. He noted that youth unemployment was over 20 per cent for the first time in 20 years. I agree that the current Prime Minister has a great respect for John Howard, but to make your main purpose in life repeating his unemployment figures—to have the worst unemployment figure in this country since the previous Howard government—is a very questionable aim in life. Jacob Greber, in that article, commented on the weakening trend in hiring and noted that payroll growth for the previous three months was only 6,900. This comes from a Prime Minister who promised to create a million jobs. I know there is a defence for every one of these commitments made before the last election: 'We'll ignore what we said on pension rates; we'll ignore what we said on family incomes; we'll ignore what we said in regard to private universities.' Breaking all those other very firm, very tight commitments can allegedly be defended on the basis that we have got to reduce the deficit. They are all meaningless, supposedly, because of this one axiomatic phrase.

We now have a situation where unemployment is, as noted, the highest in 20 years. Then we have one of these characters in the government saying that perhaps people can go for 40 interviews every month. This is in a situation where there were 146,000 vacancies in the country to be shared amongst 740,000 unemployed people. That assumes every one of those people is suitable for employment; quite frankly, there are people in the labour force whom nobody in this room—or nobody anywhere—would hire for a variety of reasons. These 740,000 unemployed people are going to rush around doing 40 interviews a month for these 146,000 jobs. We note that criticism of this has not only come from predictable sources—from welfare organisations, trade unions or the Labor Party; it has come from a significant number of employer organisations. They are saying small business does not have time to be catering for this. They are not going to be sitting at the front gate waiting for all these people to walk down the road—or get out of their cars if they can afford them—and go to these interviews. When the previous speaker talked about the situation of young unemployed people, it is a matter of the actual circumstances that they face.

I have been pleasantly surprised in my electorate and even in the area where I live. I would have thought the general disregard for older people and for young people, the negative criticisms they make of them and their attitudes towards them would have dominated this debate. But I have been pleasantly surprised at how many older people—not only in the case of their own youth or their own children but also in the wider society—have come to me deploring these attacks on the income levels and these requirements that the other group would be denied any benefits for six months—denied income, totally. The education department of this government and the public servants went before the Senate estimates committee and said that, with penalties, some of these people would be unpaid for 11 months. We cannot all assume that these young people have the support of the income levels that members of parliament can provide for their children. They are sometimes in very difficult family circumstances. Their own parents can be chronically ill or chronically unemployed. They can have dysfunctional families where they do not get any income support.

I referred earlier, in quoting Mr David Thompson, to this article by the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council in the journal Justice Trends, which I referred to earlier. There were some other interesting comments about this debate. Cassandra Goldie from ACOSS, the main welfare organisation in this country, said:

Australia's employment services system is premised on the notion of mutual obligation. The current policy proposals fail to meet the Government's obligations.

Governments have a duty to provide income support and to help people to get a job, while people who are unemployed are required to search for jobs and participate in employment programs.

The youth employment measure in the Federal Budget would breach the Government's income support obligation by providing support for only six months a year in many cases. At the same time, Government investment in employment assistance—

what the previous speaker described as 'hand-outs'—

is inadequate, at only half the OECD average (0.3% compared to 0.6%).

I remember that, when Peter Costello was the treasurer of this country, he used to lampoon the opposition by saying that they were comparing this country to Swaziland, Botswana et cetera. Cassandra Goldie and I are comparing employment assistance in this country to the OECD. The level of support for job assistance in this country is half of the OECD advanced economies. She went on to say:

New requirements appear to be designed to make unemployment unattractive rather than assist people obtaining employment. There is too much activity for activity's sake and not enough flexible investment in what works such as wage subsidies and vocational training relevant to the labour market.

The proposed expansion of the Work for the Dole program is likely to be expensive and ineffective. At least $1,500 per person is being invested in this program despite less one in four jobseekers getting a job after Work for the Dole.

So there is more to this debate than to come in here and talk about penalty rates, union power and deregulating labour markets. The reality was that, under the previous Howard government, there was no correlation between employment levels and the deregulation of the labour market that occurred at that time. It was not that A led to B. There was no correlation whatsoever. If people care to do some research, rather than just come in and make doctrinal or ideological speeches, they might find that out.

I want to very much go on the record appreciating significant numbers of people in my electorate who are concerned at the low level of payments which the young people are receiving and the fact that there are going to be draconian measures, with people wasting their time by running around the factories around the place in Ingleburn and Macquarie Fields looking for jobs that are non-existent, and that the government is denying them proper training and abandoning very useful and effective previous schemes. Finally, all of this policy by this government is in the context of a government that has increased unemployment. In the previous few years, everything was going to be solved by the abolition of the carbon tax and there were going to be jobs flowing through the streets et cetera. The government totally deny the financial crisis and the unpredicted international crises that the previous government had to face, which were overcome by very significant stimulation measures by the previous government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Andrews ): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of debate will be made in order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:14