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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 6517

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (18:56): Before I get into the substance of this debate, I'm pleased to know and to hear from the members that in the Liberal Party they are now up for centralised wage fixing. Forget enterprise bargaining, forget anything but centralised, industry-wide wage fixing! I'm pleased to hear that the Liberal Party no longer has WorkChoices as an article of faith. The member for Corangamite may not have been here, but I was here when we were unpicking WorkChoices. The Liberal Party left us with zero industrial relations architecture. It was dog eat dog, and get what you can from your employer. We know that there are members of the IPA in the Liberal Party that say that there should be no minimum wage whatsoever. You should get for your labour what the company will actually assign to you. Quite frankly, these are crocodile tears coming from the member for Corangamite, when we know that it is an article of faith for the Liberal Party that they want to rip up centralised wage fixing and enterprise bargaining and have each employee go and beg for their wage—beg individually for what they can get and hope that it puts bread on the table.

The Labor Party, as an article of faith, has believed in a minimum wage that is just, a wage that will put bread on the table for families. So it galls me significantly when I hear the Liberal Party, which ripped up the award system and the minimum wage—actually had the minimum wage set by not allowing unions, workers' representatives, to have their say, with a central panel that had to look only at the economy and not at workers. So, quite frankly, I will not accept a lecture from the Liberal Party on where workers are better off. Workers will always be better off under Labor, and big business will always be better off under the Liberal Party. Nothing they can say, no crocodile tears, will make us forget that their IPA friends and all the other conservative think tanks in the country don't want even to see a minimum wage. They just want to let the market rip when it comes to the labour market and be done with it. We are the force within Australian politics that will not let that happen.

Back to the issues I would like to talk about. I rise to talk about an issue that is having significant impact on our veterans community and their loved ones. It is veterans' unemployment. Best estimates, and this may be news to the House, are that the total unemployment rate for our veterans five years after discharge is approximately 30 per cent. Those who did not medically discharge face a jobless rate that is still double the national average, at 11.3 per cent. This means that, of approximately 5,500 individuals who transition from Defence each year, one in three fail to find or maintain employment. And those who do find employment experience an average drop in their income of about 30 per cent; and 19 per cent are underemployed, in jobs beneath their capabilities.

Our veterans are highly skilled potential employees with very desirable qualities and qualifications. Any workplace would be lucky to have such individuals. However, these statistics clearly demonstrate that their skills and abilities are not being acknowledged by civilian society. The skills and experience that they have are lost in translation. If we want veterans to know we value the sacrifice that they made in service to our country, we must do better. We must ensure that veterans are best placed to move into employment post service and that businesses understand the many benefits of employing a veteran.

The government has looked at this problem and developed the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program. It's a program that established the Industry Advisory Committee on Veterans' Employment and the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Awards. We have welcomed that, but I must place on the record here that it didn't set any targets for employment or key performance indicators for success, and, according to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, there is no information on how many veterans have been placed or employed as a result of this program. In this year's budget, the government has committed another $4 million towards this program to continue the awards and to enable the advisory committee to establish a framework for business to publicly support the employment of veterans. However, I don't think that this is a full program that can properly tackle this very important issue.

As I said, Labor continues to offer support for this program but does not believe it goes far enough. Roadblocks that see veterans' skills being lost in the translation from military life to civilian life, roadblocks that see veterans discounted before they get to the interview stage because they don't meet the tick-and-flick processes in HR departments and roadblocks that ultimately fail to recognise the many skills that ex-ADF members have and prevent businesses from benefiting from hiring a veteran are all roadblocks we must address. It's for this reason Labor have announced that, if elected, we will implement a $121 million veterans' employment program—a program that will ensure veterans' skills are not lost in translation and encourage businesses to employ veterans.

Our policy has four elements. The first element targets businesses by providing training grants of up to $5,000 to address specific short-term skill gaps which may act as a barrier to employing otherwise suitable veterans. I've heard from veterans who've applied for hundreds of jobs and, in many cases, haven't got to the interview stage. This process is demoralising and doesn't value their skills. While there could be many reasons for this, I want to ensure that, if this is because a veteran might be one unit shy of a qualification or fails to meet, for example, the two years previous civilian experience—meaning they won't get through the process—they aren't immediately discounted. These grants are designed to overcome this barrier and get veterans a foot in the door. In addition, we will provide the industry advisory committee with funding to develop a national campaign which will highlight to employers the many skills that many former ADF members have.

Second, we are going to establish an employment and transition service for transitioning members which will provide greater individualised and tailored support for veterans over a longer period. Staffed by qualified transition advisors who understand the unique skills of our ex-ADF personnel and how best to translate these skills for civilian employers, this service will work with individual veterans to identify career goals, audit the skills they've acquired over the course of their ADF career and ensure those skills obtain appropriate civilian recognition. They will also work with veterans to identify potential barriers to employment, such as housing, health and community support services. From speaking with veterans, I know that many leave the ADF with clear goals in mind, but they don't always work out. As such, this service will remain available for veterans to return to over a five-year period in case extra advice or support is needed.

Third, our plan will reduce the length of service required to access additional support through the career training and assistance scheme. Our plan brings a qualifying period for extra educational training assistance down from the current 12 years service to five years, and the top level of assistance down from 18 years to 15 years. Given our understanding that members serve on average 7½ years, this change will mean that the majority of those who leave the ADF will be able to access assistance. In addition, we plan to increase the amount of funding available to individuals to allow greater flexibility in the way transitioning members can use their funding, such as obtaining multiple qualifications.

This is something that would have assisted Luke, a veteran I met in South Australia last year. Luke was eligible for the top tier of assistance through this program due to the fact that he'd been medically discharged. However, Defence would only pay for an entry level certificate, which was a certificate II in security operations. But for Luke to be competitive in this field, he needed both certificate II and certificate III. Under our changes, he would be able to obtain the higher certificate, ensuring he was best placed to gain employment.

Finally, for the last part of our plan we want to work with states and territories and peak industry bodies to identify opportunities for greater automatic skill recognition. This plan we have put forward is a comprehensive plan that has been developed by listening to veterans around this country and hearing them, hearing their barriers and their struggles, and we want to ensure that they have the best opportunity. A job and employment, meaningful employment for our veterans, isn't just about a wage; it is about meaning and purpose and value. This is something they feel very strongly as part of the ADF and want to feel after discharge in civilian society. We hope the coalition will support our plan and, if elected, we will implement it.