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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 3200


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (18:55): I rise to speak in favour of the amendment moved and to raise my concerns about the bill that is before the House, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill 2016, and the plan that the government is trying to roll out. Let us be clear from the beginning that this is not a jobs plan. This is not going to create jobs for young people. A common complaint that we have out in our electorates is that there are simply not enough jobs. This does not create jobs for young people. What this does is create an internship, which is likely, without proper safeguards, to be another exploitation program. What people on this side of the House have sought to do, whether it be in this place or through Senate estimates, is ask questions of the government about whether they have introduced the proper safeguards to ensure that young people engaged in this program will not be exploited.

The other point that I wish to highlight is how the government is simply handing out wage subsidies to companies who already have jobs to offer. The clearest example of how we talk about this is what some have nicknamed in the media 'the four-dollar-an-hour-supermarket internships'. Let's talk through what we mean by that. We are talking about a government who will see that jobseekers will receive a payment of $200 per fortnight on top of their income support payment—so about $4 an hour. The business will be paid $1,000 on taking on an intern, then receive a wage subsidy of between $6½ thousand and $10,000 if they hire them at the conclusion of the internship.

What it means for Coles and Safeway is that they were already going to hire young people, but they can now enter into this situation. They can now have interns and get a wage subsidy. So we are essentially handing taxpayers' dollars over to companies like Coles and Safeway, who were already going to hire young people. The government has not denied this at all. In fact, during the Senate estimates process the government needed to show that the PaTH program was not just a thought bubble. It was an opportunity for them, through that process, to answer and outline how they are going to provide vital safeguards for young jobseekers who are engaged in this program. They should have shown how PaTH will not depress wages or displace jobs. But they could not answer the senators' questions. They also should have shown how PaTH would have provided vital access to workers compensation and workplace health and safety, but they could not. They also should have provided a definition of what an intern is and what sort of activity they will doing on worksites, but they could not do that either.

So serious questions are being asked of this bill and this program. 'Trust us' is not good enough. Given this government's track record, given what is happening in our employment and labour market at the moment, we cannot leave it up to the market. We cannot leave it up to employers. We cannot leave it up to this government with simply 'trust us'. This bill and this program do need proper scrutiny.

This program, as demonstrated by one of the government's own senators in his questions at estimates, highlights that the people employed under this program will not be treated the same as other workers in a workplace. You cannot go past that. These young people are being set up. They will not be treated like the rest of the workers in their workplace; they will be treated differently. They will be seen as volunteers. There is no definition of what an intern is, under the Fair Work Act. The government senator asked at estimates:

… I guess one potential advantage for a business is that if an intern does not work out, they are not going to be subject to any unfair dismissal claims or any costs in that respect.

I cannot think of a more arrogant statement for a member of the Liberal Party to make. What they are essentially saying is, 'Well, the good news is, if the young person does not work out, the company will not be subject to any unfair dismissal claims or any costs in that respect.' They are always thinking of the company, the bosses and the bottom line. They are not thinking about the health and wellbeing of that young worker. They are not going to ask what happened that saw that young person dismissed. It is just trial, use, send out the door—treating our workers like they are Kleenex: 'Let's just use them and throw them away.' These young people looking for work are our future. Essentially, this government is creating another program which will churn through workers. Where are the safeguards to stop employers from churning through workers? There are none.

The government already has its own problems with the Work for the Dole program, as we on this side of the House have also tried to highlight. We have seen the death of somebody on the Work for the Dole program, and there has been a stunning and spectacular silence from this government about doing anything to address those issues. It is tragic that one person lost their life, but I have to say I am surprised there have not been others, from the reports that I have heard in relation to the Work for the Dole program in my own electorate. Organisations that have taken on Work for the Dole participants have complained that they have not received occupational health and safety guidelines. They have complained, when they have tried to get support from the department, that it is completely lacking in support for supervisors. I have spoken to young people engaged in the Work for the Dole program who have had their payments suspended through no fault of their own. The supervisor did not turn up, so they got marked as not being there and then they had their payments suspended.

Right now, Centrelink, because of this government's cuts to staffing and the way it has restructured the Department of Human Services, cannot cope with another program currently. While the government want to lump another ill-thought-out program onto our Centrelink team, onto the hardworking people at Centrelink, they have not committed to employing more public servants to administer this program. They are not talking about that. They are just looking to add more work onto a department that is already stressed and already struggling with its workload.

The idea that all young jobseekers have barriers to work is also not fair. Yes, there are some people in our community who are caught in the intergenerational unemployment cycle, and, yes, there are complex barriers to them entering the workforce. But that is not every young person, and I meet lots and lots of young people, and their parents, who simply want a start. They just want a job. But at the moment there is no focus from this government on creating good, secure jobs that these people can count on—people like Leigh. Leigh is 25, unemployed and a jobseeker. He has had very little paid work since he left school. He has been receiving Centrelink payments since finishing his diploma in interactive media about 18 months ago. Leigh volunteers at the Red Cross Blood Service in Bendigo, and he is keen to get paid work in his career of choice. However, he would be happy to take any job. He is currently living at home with his parents and he does not want to be at home. He wants to get out and start the rest of his life.

In Bendigo we do lack job opportunities for young people. Bendigo's youth unemployment rate is high, but it is not as high as it is in areas like Townsville and Cairns, where it is in the double digits—there is 20 per cent youth unemployment in Cairns—and in areas to the north of Bendigo, like Shepparton and Mildura. Lots of areas have high youth unemployment.

But this program is not going to help all of those young people. This program seeks to exploit a small group of young people. It does not have safeguards in place to make sure that young people involved in this program do not have a horrible, bad, exploitative experience but have a good experience of work.

Leigh is not alone. He is not the only one in my electorate who is looking for work. Amanda, who is a mum, contacted me about her son being out of work for years. She says that he applies for everything he can. He drops his resume into industrial sites and simply cannot get work. No Centrelink will mean that he will be homeless again. Lots of places insist that people have a drivers licence and their own car, but they can barely afford to pay rent, utilities and food. There is nothing left to be able to afford a vehicle to drive to and from work or to and from interviews. This is the reality for young people who are trying to break into the job market. This program does little to help change that situation. The $200 on top of Newstart will not help resolve the issues Amanda's son will be facing. Not to mention that, if Amanda's son were to get a job under this program, he will have displaced another young worker who would have had that job anyway.

Finally I want to highlight another area. We have had a lot of talk in here about backpackers and the backpacker tax, yet we have not talked about the fact that backpackers are also young workers. They are workers from overseas coming to this country. There are genuine workforce shortages in ag and in the regions, but there is not a workforce shortage in hospitality in places like Bendigo, Thomastown, Eltham or other major regional cities where youth unemployment is in double digits.

The government are not telling the Australian people that, aside from the changes to the tax, they have expanded where backpackers can work. Young backpackers on the 462 visa can now work in hospitality to get their second year visa. They have expanded the age up to 35. So at a time when youth unemployment is really high in this country the government are encouraging in more backpackers, who will not go out to the farms where there are labour shortages. In fact, only one in five backpackers work on a farm. That means that four out of five backpackers do not ever step foot on a farm. Where are they? They are competing against young Australians who are trying to get a job.

The government do not understand the youth unemployment crisis we have in this country. They are ranting and raving over a backpacker tax. They have put forward a program that does not have the necessary safeguards to protect young people if they engage in this program. They are not dealing with the really obvious factor—most young backpackers from overseas work in industries in Australia that young Australians want to work in. They work in the cities. They work in construction, hospitality, mining and beauty. They even work as social workers. They are the people Leigh is competing with. We also know through the Fair Work Ombudsman's report that about one-third of those backpackers are being underpaid and mistreated. That is putting downward pressure on wages.

As I and other speakers on this side have said, Labor are calling on the government to support the amendment. Help us save you from another disastrous program that will put pressure on wages and that will displace jobs that already exist. Labor want to help the government avoid another death in a workplace as a result of this program. If a young worker is employed, they should be recognised as an employee. They should not be treated as an intern or a volunteer; they should be recognised as an employee. The government's idea about changing a job into an internship is disastrous for young people and our local job community. This government is completely devoid of any job creation program. They are not working with industry to create good secure jobs that people can count on. They are coming up with programs that are thought bubbles they think will distract the community and suggest they are creating real job opportunities when they are not.

People in regional Australia and people in areas like Bendigo have had enough with a government that talks a lot of talk about jobs and growth but only puts forth programs that will see people in our community be exploited. Unless there are safeguards in place, we will see young people's first experience of work be a horrible experience. It is time the government got serious about youth unemployment and looked at the expansion of the backpacker visa. They have created direct competition with young people. It is time they worked with industry to rebuild and recreate the apprenticeship scheme. One hundred and twenty thousand apprentices have been lost. We do not see that being put forward by this government. Instead, we have the PaTH program that will just depress wages, displace jobs and put young working people into very precarious workplace conditions.