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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14756


Mr PITT (Hinkler) (16:21): I rise to speak on this incredibly important issue of intergenerational welfare. Now, I'm no expert on social services, I'm no expert on the best way to deal with this, but I think I can consider myself an expert on my own seat: it's the area I was born in; I've lived there most of my adult life; I went to school there; and I was raised there. I know these people and their families and can I say—and I've said this before—all levels of government are failing a generation of Australians.

Intergenerational welfare dependence is an incredibly difficult social issue to address. There is no silver bullet, there is no magic wand, there is no easy way to address these types of social challenges, and we must attack it from all directions and with every weapon in the armoury. In my region, we have taken the tough decision to roll out the cashless debit card. I know there are individuals and there are members and senators in this house who vehemently disagree with that rollout, and I accept their right to have that view and to put that view forward. But my electorate, the people that I represent, want change; they want us to act, and they want us to do everything we possibly can to make a difference in the lives of people who find themselves in really difficult circumstances.

I know of families where the grandparents, the parents and the children have never worked. They know no-one in their family to have gotten up on time to go to work, to perform the basics of what is a regular working life for most Australians. That is something which is incredibly difficult (a) to accept and (b) to act on. We have made the tough decision to roll out the cashless debit card, but, as I've said, it is not a magic bullet. The cashless debit card quarantines 80 per cent of a social service payment onto an EFTPOS card, and that EFTPOS card cannot be used for the purchase of alcohol or the purchase of gambling products; it limits the amount of cash that can be used for the purchase of illicit substances. I acknowledge that it can be inconvenient for some who don't have those particular issues, but we are trying to make a difference in my electorate. We are trying to make a difference.

Hand-in-hand with the cashless debit card, we have announced the Hinkler Regional Deal, which is looking to address an increase in our regional economy, to provide more local jobs. In fact, in the budget overnight, $173 million was committed to the Hinkler Regional Deal to drive our local economy into the future. This is a game changer for our region, but I have literally thousands of individuals who are multigenerational welfare dependent people, and we need to act in their interest, no matter how difficult it may be in a policy sense.

We have any number of services. In fact, when we did the review as part of the CDC, we found there were more than 60 support services throughout my electorate that were funded by the federal government. We need to coordinate those services in a better way. We have a million dollars committed for additional services where needed and for an identified need. We are currently in the midst of the cashless debit card rollout. There are some 3,000 individuals who have been contacted who have been issued a card or have activated them. There are only around approximately 1,500 who have had their payments transferred onto the card. We have shopfronts in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay; we have a 1300 number. Can I say that the targeted cohort—those who are 35 and under—are obviously very capable with online services, smartphones and modern technology, and they are managing the rollout, to be honest, with ease. This is a tough policy but a necessary one.

In terms of other options, we also run a program called Employment First Aid. Can I recommend this to anyone who is listening to this broadcast. Employment First Aid is run by an organisation called IMPACT Community Services, and it is a post-employment support service. What we've found is that any number of people who have come from a difficult background, who have been welfare dependent for a long time, struggle when they find themselves in the workplace. In fact, they don't last very long at work at all. Employment First Aid has been incredibly successful. Employers utilise the service for individuals who they think have difficulties or who are struggling at work. They've managed to keep many of those employees in the workplace, and, as we all know, as time continues—the longer you are in that job—the more likely you are to stay there. So I congratulate IMPACT Community Services on the work that they are doing.

We have been the recipients of some of the apprentice trials in the last two weeks. We have 19 young people who have been successful in apprenticeships with support from the federal government's pilot program. I'm very pleased to say that the youth unemployment rate, while still unacceptably high, in the last quarter of recorded statistics before Christmas dropped from the totally unacceptable number of 27.8 per cent to under 20 per cent in just one term—in just one quarter. I'm hopeful that that is a trend and not an anomaly. Clearly it is a combination of all circumstances, including local business looking for more staff, including the work that we are doing in training people and including the work of Employment First Aid and the cashless debit card. We are throwing everything we can at this very, very difficult issue. We are making the tough but necessary decisions.

You cannot simply train for training's sake. You must train for employment that is available. It is no good turning out 4,000 baristas when you only have 40 positions. We must ensure that whatever we do at a federal level, whatever support we provide, is for real work, real training, real skills and real jobs. That has certainly been the focus of what I've been doing as a federal member in conjunction with our local RDA, our councils and, of course, our state members. It's important that we work together on this tough challenge. Once again, I acknowledge and accept that there are people who don't like what we are doing, but it is the only option on the table. There are no other policies which have been put forward. The cashless debit card trial in the other trial sites has been, in my view, very successful. I look forward to it being successful in the electorate of Hinkler between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

Once again: we need more employment, and to do that we must have a strong regional economy and we must have strength in our local businesses. Most importantly, they must be confident. I'm a former local businessperson myself—I'm sure like you, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks. I was in business for over 15 years in a number of different areas, including a small business that I started originally with just me and a truck. That ended up at 15 staff running across the east coast, and when the mining boom closed, when all sorts of problems broke out across the world, unfortunately it meant that we lost people as well. It's to my great regret that I had to reduce staffing numbers. I sold on that business when I was elected to this place because, quite simply, it was a conflict in all sorts of places, and I'm very pleased to say that the business is still there and still going well and that my former staff are still employed and adding to the local economy.

We need more of those. There are some 12,000-plus businesses who, overnight, will receive the $30,000 instant asset write-off. That might not mean much to those individuals who find themselves in tough circumstances, but what I know as a former business owner is that the fact that I could purchase capital items, write them off in the year of purchase and have that cash flow back in my business gave me confidence, and the stronger the bottom line, the more likely it was I would look to expand and employ more people. Right now we need to ensure that small business, in particular, is confident, that small business is looking to extend and employ, and that small business is willing to take the risk on one of our young people, on one of those people who are looking for a job, on one of those individuals who have been through our training courses and done everything they possibly can to get work. We need business to be part of that response and part of that solution.

I note the report itself on intergenerational welfare dependence. I am preaching to the converted in this room, I believe. Looking around the room, I know we are all interested in ensuring that we get rid of intergenerational welfare dependence. The member for Moreton has just entered the room, and I know this is something of great interest to him. We have looked at these issues across the board for some time. We've looked at why it is not a solution for our local people to go and work on local farms when work is there. All of these challenges are very difficult to address. I have some 4,000 backpackers across the electorate at peak season who are working full time in horticulture. Why can't we use our local workforce? These challenges are real. They've been around for quite some time. But we are acting. I acknowledge that not everyone accepts the actions we have taken, but they are actions nonetheless, and I would rather do something than do nothing.

It is very easy for a member of parliament to sit around drinking cups of tea in their office—in fact, it's incredibly easy—but to get out and do tough things, to convince your community, to bring them with you, to get all levels of government on board takes a long time and is incredibly difficult. So I thank them for their support in terms of the cashless debit card rollout. I think it will be successful. We continue to drive a stronger economy, particularly in the regional areas. The Hinkler Regional Deal, in my view, is a game-changer for our people—$173 million. I look forward to its success, and I certainly look forward to the election so we can continue this great work.