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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6166

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (22:09): I rise tonight to talk about a West Australian issue, and that is the Canning by-election.

The electorate of Canning in Western Australia has received a lot of attention over the last couple of weeks because of the by-election. And I would hazard to say that people on the east coast now know a lot more about the electorate of Canning, and the cities of Armadale and Mandurah in particular, than they ever did before. There has been a lot of discussion about candidates and how the result may or may not influence the survival of certain people in power, and about the next election.

But there has not been enough attention focused on some key issues in the Canning electorate which are what people want to hear about. I would like to talk about several of the issues in the areas that people care about deeply: youth unemployment, youth homelessness, the importance of drug and alcohol services and the unacceptably high rates of domestic violence and access to services.

Youth unemployment in Mandurah, which is part of the Canning electorate, is the worst in Western Australia. In fact, it is one of the 10 hotspots in Australia. The Brotherhood of St Lawrence's report last year showed that youth unemployment is at the rate of 17.3 per cent and that Mandurah is a youth unemployment hot spot in Australia.

We have to put that into the context of the broader issues around youth unemployment, which are deeply concerning across Australia but, of course, more so for Mandurah because of that high level. Youth labour force participation has declined from 71 per cent in 2008 to 67 per cent in 2014. These figures come from a report that I was talking about earlier today, the Australia's welfare 2015 report, which was tabled in the Senate today.

More employed youth are in casual jobs, rising from 35 per cent in 1994 to 50 per cent in 2013. In 2013, for the first time the youth part-time employment rate of 44 per cent exceeded the youth full-time employment rate of 43 per cent. This pattern continued in 2014. In 2014 29 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 combined study and work, and in 2014 10 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds were not in employment, education and/or training

Particular groups that are overrepresented in this area are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, youth who do not speak English well or at all, youth needing assistance with the basic activities of daily living and those in regional areas. We can see that we have a high rate of unemployment in Canning, with the cards stacked against them—given those figures in terms of the broader outlook for youth unemployment.

The government's policies have failed to address the barriers that young people face in finding employment. Instead they seek to punish and demonise young people who have been unable to find work and engage with the workforce, saying that young people are happy to sit at home on the couch and implying that they could find work if they chose to look for it. And there is their latest proposal where last year we saw them seek to kick young people off income support for six months! They wanted them to wait for six months and to make them do six months on and six months off. Now they are trying to get not providing young people with income support for four weeks through this place. It is actually for five weeks, because there is the ordinary first week of the waiting period.

Quite clearly, they actually do not understand the barriers to young people finding employment. They think that if they demonise them and punish them enough that they will be able to gain employment. Clearly, that is not going to work. We need to focus our resources on providing more individualised support that addresses the barriers to employment—supporting them in wraparound services so that young people can overcome those barriers.

Unfortunately, unemployment is not the only issue that young people face in Canning. They also face homelessness. Also unfortunately, it is hard to get up-to-date figures, but on census night in 2011 there were 208 people homeless in Mandurah. Given the increasing rates of homelessness in this country, we can expect that that will have increased. There were 2,026 young homeless Australians overall between the ages of 12 and 25. Half of all homeless people are young people. Young people aged between 15 and 25 make up 50 per cent of Australia's homeless population, and 70 per cent of those young people left home to escape family violence, child abuse or family breakdown. According to the ABS, in WA there were 2,279 homeless young people between the ages of 12 and 24—20 per cent of the entire homeless population. The experts believe that this count is an underestimate. Thirty five per cent of those people who are homeless are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The official figures on homelessness are just the tip of the iceberg, as it is estimated that for every one young person experiencing primary homelessness or sleeping rough there are another four young people living rough. This includes people couch surfing, living in squats, boarding houses or crisis centres or staying temporarily with friends as result of the fact that they cannot find secure accommodation. But up to nine in 10 young people are being turned away from services because there are not enough beds to house them. We need more investment in emergency accommodation and services, which, at this stage, fall well short. Recently, in the local paper there was an article on homelessness in which Mission Australia CEO Toby Hall said:

Getting out of homelessness—and staying out—is about more than just having a roof over your head. It's also about being able to participate in your community; having the capacity to find and keep a job, to cook and clean for yourself and to look after your health. To achieve this, homeless people need help, not just with housing, but also with dental and psychological health, personal hygiene, literacy and numeracy, self-esteem and fitness.

The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness was a 'ray of sunshine in 20 years of working in this sector' because it is specifically focused on engaging early and directly, and most of the NPAH housing provided natural outreach and street-to-home programs. The department tried new, innovative services that were cost-effective, creative and coupled with housing. Then the funding was cut, leaving the most vulnerable with nowhere to go.

Youth Connections provided services linking housing and education. It was a very good program, with 82 per cent of young people still engaged in education two years on. Yet the funding for this program was also cut. Here we have a growing cohort of homeless youth who are not able to access services. Of course, that has to be directly related to a young person's capacity to connect with employment. Other areas directly linked to that include the cuts to social services. Two hundred and forty million dollars came out of cuts to social services. Those cuts directly impact on the way people in Canning can get access to services.

One of things that has been getting a lot of attention in Canning is drug and alcohol issues and support, with claims once again being made about a 'crisis'. With drug and alcohol issues, the terms being used are 'crisis' and 'epidemic'. The first point here is: despite the issues around the increase in the use of some drugs, alcohol is still, by far, the substance most abused. We forget that. In Canning, access to beds to actually help with drug rehab has been cut. It seems to be a bit of a race to see who can be the hardest on drugs. Talk at the moment is about, 'We can fix this problem, we'll put together a task force within 30 days, and within this short period of time we will solve this issue.' When you talk to drug and alcohol services, the point clearly being made is: this issue needs a concerted effort, it needs consistent and sustained funding, and it also needs a long-term strategy. Rehabilitation needs a lot of support and a lot of services. Stop-and-start programs do not work. Cutting $240 million out of social services does not work. Not addressing the underlying causes of substance abuse does not work. These are the things that we are looking at. (Time expired)

Senate adjourned at 22 : 19