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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6293

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (18:51): I thank the member for his question. The very long-term unemployed have been a nagging problem for this country. I was the minister responsible in the Keating government, and the Working Nation program was actively engaged in getting these people back into a workforce, while the nation was recovering from a recession. This exercise should be relatively easy in comparison, given that we have had no recession—in fact, we are the only developed country that avoided the recession. Nevertheless, these figures still show that there is a consistent problem there with people who have not had engagement with the workforce. It presents another barrier to engagement with the workforce.

So we have this conundrum. We have a potential skills shortage looming. We have a demand side and we have a potential supply side. To give you an idea of the extent of the figures: as at October 2010, 10.7 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds were not in employment, education or training. That is around 320,000 people. Of those 320,000 people, 170,000 have not been in employment, education or training for 12 months. That is a wasted resource, given the challenge that we are facing.

In the Indigenous population, it is around 10 per cent—that is, 10 per cent of those not in employment, education or training are Indigenous. Of those figures that I have talked about, the over 11 per cent youth unemployment is much higher than the national average, as you pointed out. Almost half of young Australians who left youth allowance in September 2010 have been on these payments for more than a year.

So the challenge for us is: how do we better match that supply potential with the demand? That is why the budget concentrated on these measures to improve study and work incentives. There has been, as a result of the budget, greater incentive to work. I talked about that increase in youth allowance recipients in the income-free area. There will be greater incentive to study. That is important because we want to lift the retention rates. There will be more responsibility to complete year 12. We think again it comes back to this concept of mutual obligation. If we are prepared to commit the resources, those for whom they are targeted have a responsibility to take them up; they do not have the responsibility to stay away from work opportunities or training. We also have more incentives in there to give people the chance to attain basic skills. There will be more support out of this budget to transition to employment; there will be more support to manage the challenge of teen parenting, because this becomes an important issue in terms of family relationships; and there will be more support for families with children to help them stay at school.

This is a truly comprehensive package. We are doing it for two reasons. We are doing it because we believe that everyone should have the opportunity not just to enter the workforce but to be equipped with the skills to have a greater array of choice when they are exercising the opportunities for employment. So it is important for opportunity for the individual, but it is also important for the nation. If we are to avoid the constraint of skill shortages which have bedevilled us in the past, it is an absolute requirement for government to ensure that, for everyone who is capable of working, who wants to work, or who cannot work because they do not have the skills, every one of those categories is covered, and the suite of measures contained in this budget do just that.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): Time is an issue, and the Committee will now consider the tertiary education and skills and school education, early childhood and youth segment of the portfolio in accordance with the agreed order of consideration.