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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6421

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (19:21): Anglicare Australia recently released a report they had commissioned on Australia's workforce. It has not had much of an airing but it is a very important report, particularly given the stage we are at with the punitive changes and measures the Abbott government is trying to introduce in the area of unemployment. The report is titled, Beyond supply and demand: addressing the complexities of workforce exclusion in Australia, and the authors were Ian Goodwin-Smith and Claire Hutchinson of the Australian Centre for Community Services Research at Flinders University.

One of the stark differences in this report, as opposed to the proposals put up by the Abbott government in relation to people who find themselves unemployed, is that it does not blame, it does not exclude and it does not demonise the unemployed. It focuses exclusively on workforce exclusion—what it is that prevents people from getting into the job market and staying in a job. It examines those groups of job seekers more likely to be disadvantaged in the labour market than others. Unfortunately, the simplistic approach by the Abbott government does not make those kinds of allowances. Well, actually it does; it puts in place harsh penalties for those who are particularly disadvantaged.

The report identifies that workforce exclusion is a complex and enduring problem in Australia. In my view, and the views of others, it is not likely to be solved by punitive measures—particularly those being proposed by the Abbott government, with its harsh penalties regime bill currently before the Senate. The report dispels the Abbott government's mantra of 'any job will do'. The report highlights the dominant narrative of a work-first type narrative that surrounds unemployment interventions—absolutely on display in the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Stronger Penalties for Serious Failures) Bill before the Senate. The report concludes that this narrative, this dominant work-first narrative, ignores the nature of disadvantage and how disadvantage has a relationship to workforce exclusion.

Reducing unemployment is more than a simple matter of labour market supply and demand. A simplistic belief in labour market supply and demand entrenches the approach that immediate economic productivity and exit from welfare payments are the goals. It is not a goal to put people into any job to have them off the welfare payment system so that another number can be crossed out. Rather, what this report advocates—and, certainly, what Labor and I advocate—is for a sustainable attachment to a quality job. These are not words that we hear, sadly, from the Abbott government, to the detriment of those people who find themselves unemployed.

The Anglicare report quotes media from Senator Abetz where he singled out the young unemployed for harsh criticism. In particular, he uses terms such as those who 'shirk the opportunity' who 'do not deserve' welfare payments. We have heard those comments from Senator Abetz, and he has even described young people who do not go out and find work, according to the report, as a 'scourge'. In doing this, Senator Abetz has evoked the old 'deserving and undeserving' or, in the new language of the Abbott government that we have heard, the 'lifters and the leaners'. These are terms the government uses to simplify and demonise those who struggle to get a job or, indeed, to hold down a job. It would seem that only those who Senator Abetz deems as lifters are entitled to government assistance.

John Falzon, the CEO of St Vincent's, more aptly captures my views with the comments that he has made recently, including on ABC's Q&A. Mr Falzon has made a number of points, and I quote:

Putting the boot into young people who are unemployed might be therapeutic for the welfare-bashers but it will not create a single job.

Mr Falzon went on to say:

…it isn't charity they should have to depend on, it's justice they should be able to count on …

The last quote from Mr Falzon is:

You certainly don't help young people into a job by … forcing them rely on charities …

It seems that the approach of the Abbott government is to do exactly as Mr Falzon says is not the way to go.

I want to go back to Senator Abetz , and w hen he went further in clarifying his comments . H e said:

There is no right to demand from your fellow Australians that just because you don't want to do a bread delivery or a taxi run or a stint as a farmhand that you should therefore be able to rely on your fellow Australian to subsidise you.

Is Senator Abetz so seriously out of touch that he really believes it is as simple as applying a punitive measure and that , somehow , everyone will magically be employed? If that were so, if the views of Senator Abetz and the Ab b ott g overnment were true, then surely our un employment rate would be at zero. Of course, it i s much more complex than this , a nd that is why getting people into work requires a greater effort than the Abbott government is giving it.

Of course, Senator Abetz's comments that young people should just go to Tasmania and work as fruit pickers in low-paid, casual, seasonal work over being unemployed and seeking opportunities in their own communities seems to be the way he thinks we should go . Does the government seriously believe that a job, particularly a casual, low- paid , seasonal job, trumps all other aspects of an unemployed person's life and that they should be prepared to move anywhere in order to take up a low-paid job? This is not serious, considered, workable government policy. This is what is being peddled by the Minister for Employment.

This view— the view of Senator Abetz and the government that there is some supply and demand narrative has been challenged by researchers and welfare advocates. This narrow simplistic view ignores the eff ects of cycles of disadvantage. I t ignor es the importance of community— the job seeker' s local community— and it ignores family connections. Critics of the simplistic Abbott government approach also note the tensions between a work- first— or a job-at-any-cost approach with a goal of getting people off welfare , as opposed to program s with an objective of overcoming workforce exclusion through attachment to sustainable long-term employment.

And where do these punitive approaches stop? We have already heard Senator Day pushing the government to enable youth wages to drop below the current minimums. Seriously, how does making people poorer through pushing down the minimum wage, or forcing young people to be more mobile, or introducing punitive measures, support people into employment? This type of approach will further entrench disadvantage, particularly where high levels of disadvantage already exist.

We know who the disadvantaged are in our communities. Along with youth, it is people from non-English speaking backgrounds, Aboriginal people, people with low levels of education, poor literacy and numeracy skills, and people experiencing mental health issues—just to name a few. Study after study demonstrates that being in long-term unemployment is a further disadvantage. In itself, unemployment becomes a barrier to future employment. Employers frown on those who have been unemployed for long periods, and with an expanding job pool, they will put the long-term unemployed last on the list.

This paper by Anglicare Australia goes further. It really pulls out some important questions about why work for the dole will not work. It gathered that evidence through qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with operational staff and managers at agencies within the Anglicare network. The report concludes very strongly that for interventions to be successful they must address the whole person as someone with aspirations, preferences and capabilities and they must respect social and community connections and build human capital to underpin sustainable outcomes. I implore the Abbott government not to take the simplistic approach to the unemployed.

Senate adjourned at 19:31