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Thursday, 11 May 2006
Page: 63

Mr WAKELIN (1:54 PM) —The Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Welfare to Work and Other Measures) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006 is an important part of the government’s reform agenda at a time when we have an ageing population and a relatively high level of welfare dependency—although it is much lower than it could have been, because of strong employment as a result of this government’s policies. We all know that the best form of welfare is a job. The three principles that underline the bill are that people who have the capacity and are available to work should do so, the best form of family income comes from a job rather than welfare, and services provided to people who have an obligation to seek work should focus on getting them into work as soon as possible.

At 5.1 per cent we are now at a 29-year low in our unemployment rate. There is now a shortage of workers and not a shortage of jobs. It is quite a remarkable turnaround in a relatively short period, particularly in the 10 years of this coalition government. I remind the House that, even though we have been able to remove a lot of people from the unemployment list and the trainee and apprenticeship rates are a very stark improvement, there are still 2.6 million on welfare, only 15 per cent of whom are required to actively search for a job. Passive welfare payments with no obligations lock people out of participating in Australia’s prosperity and can in many cases condemn them to a lifetime of poverty.

There will be changes in criteria from 1 July: parents who apply for the single parenting payment will no longer be eligible once their youngest child turns eight but will be eligible for a Newstart allowance.

While the success of this government’s economic policies has seen us achieve a 29-year low in the unemployment rate at 5.1 per cent, it is vital that we keep the momentum going and that we challenge the mindset. The best thing for people is to seek employment and to move away from welfare as best they can. We need to do that in as humane and compassionate a way as possible. It is vital that the momentum of higher participation in the workforce of people of working age, now at 73.6 per cent, be maintained.

I make a couple of observations about my own electorate. Unemployment rates have moved in the last 13 years from levels of 17 per cent and 18 per cent in various communities and are now heading towards five per cent—somewhere near the national average, which was unheard of and probably not thought to be possible six years ago. Such is the success of the policies of this government.

The principle that the best form of family income comes from a job is an important focus that this government is bringing through this legislation. I would remind our opponents that there is a cocktail of measures—low interest rates, Work for the Dole, incentives for apprenticeships and generally challenging the concept of passive welfare—which are now giving Australians the best possible outcome that is available within a democratic and compassionate society. We encourage people to consider their options. There are a whole range of measures which I would commend to the House. We should remind ourselves that even something like Work for the Dole, which was considered to be a radical measure when it was first introduced, has given wonderful—

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.