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Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Page: 4193

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (17:01): Thank you, minister, for answering many of the questions that I have, but there are still so many that remain unanswered. The PaTH program will affect 120,000 young people, so it is imperative that government gets it right, particularly as this program affects our most vulnerable people entering the workforce.

While I support the government in ensuring that we are supporting young people, I think that this is too important to leave so many areas vague or open to ministerial or administrative discretion. I would like to ask the minister a number of questions relating to this. To begin with, how would the government ensure that employment service providers will explain to participants their rights in the workplace before an internship commences? How will the government disallow program participants from working beyond standard hours—for example, not just beyond the standard number of hours per day and beyond the standard number of continuous hours, but working without a break as well? We know young people are so eager to please and they are going to be so desperate for this free internship to turn into a job.

In my electorate there is 17 per cent youth unemployment. I meet hundreds of young people who are so desperate for a job. How will the government ensure that participants are able to afford the travel costs to attend the compulsory training components of the program, and what special conditions and consideration will be given to rural participants whose travel costs are considerably higher than other participants? The minister has a rural electorate like me. There are no cheap buses—there are no buses for young people to get on. They will need to somehow put petrol in the car and then get to that place of work, which may be 20 or 30 kilometres away. How will the government ensure that participation in the internships will be purely voluntary, and there will be no penalty beyond losing internship payments for withdrawing from an internship?

I acknowledge the minister's comments in relation to the duty of care of the employer, but how will the government ensure that the health and safety of participants in internships will be adequately protected and that adequate compensation will be available to participants, should they become sick or injured as a result of a workplace incident? I would be devastated to think that I supported legislation where, six months down the track, a young person in a butcher store who is so keen to work, so eager, loses their hand and then has no compensation and no rights of reply. I would be devastated to think that I supported that legislation.

How will the government ensure that program participants are provided with sufficient protections from bullying and sexual harassment? Again, we are talking about the most vulnerable people—many entering the workforce for the first time. How will the government ensure that large businesses do not abuse this scheme and use it purely as a source of cheap labour, replacing existing jobs? Surely this program should not be designed for cafes? How long does it take to learn how to make a coffee and to go out and wait tables? This program should be focused on people who are in trades, on where we know there will be jobs in the future and on where we know small businesses will be able to connect and put on apprentices and trainees. We know that we have 160,000 less trainees and apprentices today than we had just a few years ago. That is where the focus of this must be.

How will you ensure that there is sufficient focus and support for our most vulnerable young people, for young people from Aboriginal backgrounds, young people who have had possible connections with juvenile justice, and young people who are guardian-of-the-minister children? We need to ensure that those young people are properly supported and get the most out of this scheme.

How will the government ensure that there are effective complaints systems in place for program participants concerned with unreasonable treatment by their host organisations? I would also like to touch upon the previous member's comments about the program being properly reviewed and evaluated. Adding to that, I would like to say that it must be independently evaluated, and that review must be publicly available.

In closing, I am very concerned about medically certified sickness or compassionate reasons, such as even the death of a close family member, not being reasonable excuses for a program participant to end their involvement in the program. Surely this needs to be addressed.