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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13598

Mr HUSIC (ChifleyGovernment Whip) (13:33): At the outset can I just say that I am proud to be associated with a government that, at a period of time when most of the advanced world was shedding jobs phenomenally, was able to create them. We had an economy that was stronger than most of the rest of the world and we have survived today. This is even to the extent that, when the Leader of the Opposition trawls around the country talking down the economy, the minute he gets a chance to go overseas and thinks that no-one is watching he is praising it.

We have done a lot in employment, job growth and finding work here. I just wanted to note that in the context of the contribution that has just been made, which tried to suggest otherwise. We are always looking for ways to improve job outcomes, not just because of the economic benefit that flows from that but also because of the fact that it provides opportunity for people to do within their lives the types of things that they want to see within themselves individually, for their families, for their friends and for their communities.

Particularly in Western Sydney, where we have stubbornly higher than national average unemployment, we are always looking for ways to find meaningful work, and there are a number of ways that we seek to do it. Certainly since becoming the member for Chifley last year I have spoken at length in this place and elsewhere about the need for our young people to remain at school as long as possible. In an electorate like Chifley, where there are households that have multiple generations of people who have been on some sort of income support, it is important that we give young people the tools and the motivation to get skilled to get a job and to get ahead.

In my first speech to this place I nominated lifting local school retention rates as one of my main priorities as a member of parliament. I commented in that speech that retention rates in Chifley were stubbornly lower than the national average and I lauded, for example, three trade training centres that had been promised and said how I hoped they would lift the number of students staying on in years 11 and 12. Last week I had the opportunity of inspecting the progress of construction at the Loyola trade centre at Mount Druitt. I am excited about the momentum that is building around this centre, which has started delivering trade qualifications in commercial cookery, electrotechnology and hairdressing. Students are lining up in great numbers to begin studying automotive, carpentry, shopfitting and metal fabrication when classes resume in February.

I see these centres and other initiatives in our schools as delivering opportunities to young people—not just opportunities to study but opportunities to find work—and these are opportunities for life. It is why I am supporting this legislation today. I am not comfortable with opportunities like these passing people by, particularly because of changing circumstances—some of which include the need to raise young children and the family responsibilities that come with that.

There are roughly 11,000 teenage parents in Australia. They receive a parenting payment, and more than 90 per cent of them have not completed year 12. A quarter of them claim primary school as their highest level of education. Certainly when economic conditions change—when they tighten, when they are harder and when jobs are lost—this lack of a skills base is one of the greatest disadvantages that people, particularly in the electorate that I am proud to represent, have. Having grown up in those areas, I know that the people there have enormous hearts, are willing, keen and enthusiastic and want to get involved but sometimes a lack of qualifications holds them back.

Not only are many teenage parents missing out on opportunities for a stable future but so too are their children. There is clear evidence that becoming a parent as a teenager brings with it greater risk of poor life outcomes for both the parent and the child. There is also evidence that coming from a family where no adult has a job for a significant period is associated with high rates of poverty, poorer health status and lower education attainment for the child and the parent.

This bill will allow for the commencement of two trials: the teenage parent trial and the jobless family trial. These trials will be implemented in 10 disadvantaged communities across Australia. It is hoped they will lead to improved family functioning. The jobless family trial will amend the arrangement that currently requires parenting payment recipients to look for a job for at least 15 hours per week once their youngest child turns six. The trial will now extend that requirement to where the youngest child is less than six years of age. Some might claim that we are taking parents away from their primary role of caring for their child, but we believe there are enormous benefits that flow from being able to get people in a position where they are training and seeking work. Already there are many services available in local communities which families can use while they are parenting, such as playgroups and play schools. Other often free services, like TAFE courses, baby health clinics and community courses in cooking or financial management, can also improve family outcomes. Making use of services like these while children are young can improve the chances of welfare recipients becoming financially independent once their children are at school. Children themselves are more likely to be school ready when they turn six.

The teenage parent trial will require participants to access local services and attend activities in order to continue receiving the parenting payment. The government is sending the clear message that it is the responsibility of the parent to make the most of the opportunities available to them. Trial participants will be teenage parents who have not attained year 12 or an equivalent qualification, or who have children who are not yet six, and are in receipt of the parenting payment.

In order to facilitate these trials the Gillard government has invested in extra services like Youth Connections and Communities for Children in the trial locations. Communities for Children is also making great headway in suburbs like Mount Druitt. A few months ago the Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services, Julie Collins, visited Mount Druitt. We were very happy to have her visit. The state government announced support in Mount Druitt to help families.

There are also a number of other services helping families in Bidwill. They are helping young parents cope with their new-found responsibilities as parents. Sometimes this is approved in some suburbs within Chifley. There is enormous pressure on families who do not have support networks. Some of the work that is being done to invest in that support has been hugely beneficial. I congratulate UnitingCare on their work in Bidwill. The NewPIN program has made some important contributions to improving family life and improving the role of young parents in our area.

So that the trial participants can navigate the array of services available to them, there will be people to help them enrol in a course or attend an activity for the first time. It is anticipated that these trials will positively impact 4,000 teenage parents and 22,000 parents in jobless families. Parents who fail to comply with these requirements will have income support payments suspended until they do so; however, family tax benefit will continue to be paid.

It has to be emphasised that the government is providing participants with all the support they need to comply with the requirement to attend activities or to complete secondary education or the equivalent. There are a range of safety measures in place to ensure that those most at risk will get the support they need. Parents who are particularly vulnerable will be assessed by Centrelink and offered more intensive support via case coordination. Centrelink is going to be required to identify a parent's needs and provide more appropriate referrals and better services. This additional support may include exempting the parent from certain aspects of the trial for a period of time.

The government will ensure that these trials are monitored closely throughout their implementation. That is fundamental. This will ensure that parents are achieving the desired goal and that it is remaining fair to those participating. Overall the greatest focus needs to remain on how to improve access to education early on for parents, particularly for young people. As I said earlier, their greatest level of education attainment might be attending primary school or in some areas the early years of high school. That denies them so many opportunities not just to participate in the workplace but to equip them to navigate their way through community life. As I said at the beginning of my contribution to this debate, that is why I feel so strongly that being able to find ways to ensure students stay on as long as they possibly can in school is critical.

I refer to the fact that we have had trade training centres open. With years 11 and 12 counting as the first years of an apprenticeship, people are finding this is definitely keeping students in school longer. At Loyola, for instance, they have the Nicholas Owen Program for students who just do not have the enthusiasm for school and who, as a result their lack of engagement, create social problems in school. They have found other ways to keep the kids in longer. They found that a lot of the students in the Nicholas Owen Program were attracted to a trade type course. The students are enrolled in carpentry and trained on the way through. They are retained in school while building their skills.

When students do not stay on in school as long as they possibly can it can affect them greatly, particularly when economic circumstances become bad and they are unable to hold onto employment. Hopefully, through the initiatives being discussed in this legislation, especially where intergenerational unemployment has gripped so many families in suburbs north of Mount Druitt in the seat I represent, we will see those people able to get a faster track and faster focus on education—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! It being 1.45 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The honourable member for Chifley will have the opportunity to continue his remarks at a later hour.