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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2538

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (16:49): Every day we are forced to witness the coalition's feast of self-congratulation. They point one way—towards jobs growth in this country—while they turn their back on the plight of the long-term jobless, and the coalition's job programs fails to do anything about this. Make no mistake, creating jobs is worth celebrating, but it should not come at the cost of ignoring the hopelessness that comes from being jammed into long-term unemployment.

It is even harder to cop when you see how much money the coalition is ploughing into failing job programs, with little sign that they care about this or that they even have a clue about how to fix this. In particular, it is worth focusing on one of their programs that has been described as a centrepiece component—Work for the Dole. This program is failing young Australians in their effort to get work. It is being used to punish the jobless, instead of putting them into work. The complaints I receive from young Australians forced to take part in it, along with those who supervise them while they're in it, can't be ignored. The overwhelming majority of young people who go through Work for the Dole will not get into work. Just this week in estimates we had confirmation of this. Over 70 per cent of Work for the Dole participants are not in jobs months after finishing the program.

In their hearts, the coalition know that this is a dud program. They are slinking away from it, cutting back places and creating alternative programs to it. Consider this: halfway through the current financial year, we have seen only 21,000 participants in the Work for the Dole program. To put that into context, that is less than half of the 77,000 places allocated for this financial year. Next year, there are fewer places—10 per cent less in fact, 69,000 places. And in 2019-20 it drops a further four per cent, to 66,000 places. The program is failing to support young Australians, and the government is failing to support the program.

Worse still, young Australians are forced into Work for the Dole, a program dogged by serious safety concerns. Nearly two years ago, an 18-year-old tragically lost his life on a Work for the Dole project in Toowoomba. This week, I asked the Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation to tell us what has been done since the accident to make the program safer. Bear in mind, this is a program where young people have been exposed to asbestos and where 36 per cent of Work for the Dole worksites don't meet departmental safety expectations. So what did we get from the minister? After two years, we got just over a dozen sentences. Just one sentence mentioned Work for the Dole and 12 seconds went to workplace safety, without mentioning Work for the Dole. This level of evasion on a matter so serious would be unacceptable in the private sector. So why is it okay from the government of Australia?

There was nothing from Minister Laundy, a minister who has failed to acknowledge that every day young Australians are going to Work for the Dole job sites without these assurances. Every day, parents of these young Australians are watching their kids go off to Work for the Dole job sites without these assurances. We don't get anything from Minister Laundy and we certainly get nothing from Minister Cash, whose only defence is to say that she has given me, as the shadow minister, information about this. It's not me that the minister needs to explain this to; she needs to explain it to young Australians via the Senate, through a ministerial statement. And, while the minister is at it: tell us what you will do to make this a program that puts young Australians into work instead of punishing them for being out of work. The truth is that this program under this government is not designed to help young Australians. It is an ideological plaything. It's using the jobless to satisfy a long-held coalition belief that, if you make the lives of young Australians intolerable, it will drive them off welfare.

We want young Australians in work. We want them skilled up and making a difference. We don't want them sitting on their hands. They don't want to be sitting on their hands. So let's get them working. The challenge to the coalition is this: if you don't have the wit or smarts to make this program work then get rid of it and put something in place that does work. Young Australians deserve better than a failing coalition government that talk about jobs and growth on the one hand while turning their backs on the plight of the long-term jobless on the other.