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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 3181


Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (17:37): I too rise to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill 2016. Youth unemployment is an enormous problem in Australia today. We know that unemployment among youth is far higher than most other demographics; we also know that, if there are no programs or training opportunities or proper direction towards employment, then those young unemployed people are more likely than other demographics to remain long-term unemployed.

In my electorate of Hindmarsh I often talk to constituents and community groups that are constantly grappling with this problem. Recently a grandmother came into in my electorate office and she was really concerned for her granddaughter's welfare. The granddaughter could simply not find work, even though she was trying very hard. She had applied for over 100 positions, had gone to the job-seeking agencies, looked at newspapers and made phone calls, but was becoming more despondent as time went by. This is the added cycle to unemployment for youth—when you are trying and trying and doing the best you can, but getting constant knock-backs. It also devastates you psychologically.

She explained to me that her granddaughter was getting very depressed to the point where she was giving up. That is the point we do not want unemployed youth to get to. We want to give them hope, and we want to do all we can to ensure that we are creating jobs and proper apprenticeships, traineeships, that will lead them on a path to full-time employment. It is our job to address this problem constructively and positively.

This bill is designed, in part, to support the introduction of the government's Prepare, Trial, Hire program or the acronym known as PaTH. PaTH is supposedly designed to prepare young people for work by providing jobseekers aged 17 to 24 with pre-employment training and placement in voluntary internships of four to 12 weeks. During that time they may work 15 to 25 hours per week. Jobseekers will receive payments of $200 per fortnight on top of the current income support payments while they are participating in the PaTH program. Businesses will be paid $1,000 to take on an intern and then receive a wage subsidy of between $6½ thousand and $10,000 if they hire them at the conclusion of their internship.

On this side of the House, like many others in the community, we have some serious concerns about whether this program represents a fair deal for Australia's young unemployed. The reality is that PaTH was a hastily cobbled together program announced at the time of the 2016 federal budget. This is nothing new for this government. We see them backflipping and flip-flopping between policies continuously—weekly—cobbling policies together for political purposes and other things.

Who can forget the 2014 budget? It included plans to punish young people who could not find jobs. It proposed changes to Newstart that would have made unemployed people under 30 forced to live for six months without any income—that is, six months without a single cent. They called this 'tough love' for young unemployed people. Too bad if you did not have mum and dad to go home to, to provide for you, too bad if you were found to be unemployed and too bad that for six months you would receive nothing. That was this government's proposal.

They completely ignored the fact that there are fewer jobs available for young people. There are young people looking for work and those numbers are growing. It appears that this government is intent on sentencing young people to a cycle of poverty by taking them off any payments for six months rather than investing in the skills required and job creation so we can put these people into work, so they can find jobs. In my state of South Australia who can forget, after the 2013 election, the Treasurer's speech, which chased General Motors Holden out of South Australia? It will have a knock-on effect of nearly 30,000 jobs going. Not only did they chase GM Holden out of South Australia—they have something against blue-collar workers and we see that constantly—they also tried to renege on a promise they made on the eve of the 2013 election to build 12 submarines, in South Australia, which would have created jobs.

They came to the party screaming and kicking when their own jobs were in danger. So hopefully the submarines being built in South Australia will create some work and give youth the opportunity to go on and do apprenticeships and real traineeships that will lead to full-time work. This will give them skills to fill any shortages that we may have, instead of continuously opening up the markets for 457 visas. When we have so many young unemployed people here, it is a shame that we have nearly 1,000,000 people on different visas working in this country. What we should be doing is training people, educating them, ensuring that they are getting the skills to be able to go on and get full-time work.

And now this bill is being introduced at the same time that other government job programs, such as Work for the Dole, are hopelessly failing our young unemployed. We have seen that nearly 90 per cent of people who go through that program of Work for the Dole do not get a full-time job and are back on the unemployed lists. These were the government's own figures, which show that nearly 90 per cent of its participants are not in full-time work three months after exiting the program.

That is the sad truth. Australia's youth are counting the costs of this government's failure to develop real jobs and a jobs plan for the nation. We hear the Prime Minister constantly talking about cutting-edge jobs—jobs of the future that we will create to employ Australia's youth and young people. But the reality is that to create those jobs of the future—these cutting-edge jobs in IT and STEMs and everything else—you have to invest at the foundation, and the foundation is our education system. But when we see the government trying to rip millions of dollars out of our education system—the primary school system, the high school system, the university system—then we cannot create those jobs. And you cannot talk about jobs of the future if you do not invest in education. I was very proud to be part of the Gonski government, I suppose I could call it, in 2013, when we announced a good plan that would ensure that all children had basic, good education to take them on to be able to get full-time jobs and to be trained properly through VET systems, apprenticeships and other design programs.

This program was designed to operate in locations of high youth unemployment to help 3,000 young people move from unemployment to work. We propose to boost training in core employment skills: reliability, communication, self-management and willingness to learn, along with basic literacy and numeracy when needed. And I go back to what I was just saying: these things could be taught through our education system if we funded it properly and ensured that every child has the same opportunities regardless of their postcode, regardless of which state they are in and regardless of what suburb they live in and what their background is. This will provide the foundation for skills for young people to find and keep a job in the future.

We propose to focus on developing strong links with local employers to provide young people with work experience and employment opportunities in their businesses. This is something that I think a lot of us do in our own electorates. We know business people, we know businesses, and I am always keeping my eyes and ears open to see what is going on. When people come to see me about issues, such as that grandmother's issue, occasionally we can link them with people. That is so important, and I have spoken to many other members of this House, on both sides, who basically do the same thing.

The opposition is concerned that under the PaTH program young people will be forced to pay an even heavier price through the program's apparent flaws. We know that the government, despite promising that it would tackle youth unemployment, has failed to deliver. According to the Department of Employment, youth unemployment was at 12.8 per cent—these are the official figures; we know it is much higher—with a total of 271,400 unemployed young people between the ages of 15 and 24. On top of that, the department acknowledges that there are another 170,900 people who have been underemployed for more than a year and who are disillusioned by the act of looking for jobs that are simply not there.

And that is the question I am asking: will this bill that is before us today address these problems? I have my doubts. The bill was designed to provide support to participants in the program. It does that, as we heard earlier, through two measures. First, a provision will be inserted into the Social Security Act and the Veterans' Entitlements Act so that the $200 payments that interns will be able to receive is not counted as income for social security and veterans' entitlements purposes—and rightly so. Secondly, it will amend the Social Security Act to allow young people to suspend their payments if they are employed. They can then restart them, without reapplying, if they lose their jobs, through no fault of their own, within 26 weeks. Both these measures are no-brainers.

Taken in isolation, the government will claim the measures in the bill are non-controversial. I know that it is going to be referred to a Senate committee, but the reality is that they form part of a broader new program design that the opposition is concerned about. It could see young jobseekers exploited and could undermine workforce standards. Chief amongst these criticisms is the fact that, unlike with Work for the Dole, for the first time participants will be placed in the private sector and will be paid below award wages. We on this side of the House are concerned that PaTH could be used to displace jobs with cheaper labour; that participants may be working for below minimum award rates; and that this program could be used to undermine wages across industries at a time when wage growth is at its lowest rate on record.

Despite repeated questioning by this side there are few assurances that interns will be covered by appropriate workers compensation schemes in the event of an accident. That is because PaTH participants will be considered volunteers and not employees. In some jurisdictions this could affect the way workers compensation systems would treat participants in the event of an accident. While the program was announced in May, and is scheduled to start in April, the government cannot even tell us how it has defined what an intern is. The government has had trouble explaining what jobseekers will be doing in the internship phase of the program, even down to the basic level of whether they would be working just observing.

There are so many holes in this program that it cannot be taken seriously until the government shows how they will fix them. That is why we are calling for the legislation and the PaTH Program to be considered by a Senate inquiry to ensure that the concerns outlined above are meaningfully addressed.

To wave PaTH and this legislation through without demanding a better deal for young Australians would not be fair for all those young jobseekers we are talking about here. Young people are crucial to Australia's future. I visit many schools, as many others here do, and I am enthused by the next generation. However, they need the assistance, the training and the programs that will lead them to real jobs. They also need the learning abilities put in place to ensure that they do not go into long-term unemployment and therefore long-term disadvantage. The government's failed plan is a desperate attempt to divert attention away from their poor record in generating jobs for young Australians and in preparing young Australians work. Their Work for the Dole program is evidence of that failure.