Monday, 17 March 2014
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I wish to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. The bill gives effect to two coalition election commitments: the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program. Both will commence on 1 July, 2014.
Australia has a long history of trying to help the unemployed—it goes back more than 100 years. Of course, we had a unique soldier settlement program after World War I. Recently we have acknowledged the Great Ocean Road as 100 years old and, with a great deal of additional coalition support, it is going to be rejuvenated and made again an outstanding world-class memorial to those great First World War soldiers. The point about the construction of that great Australian road was that it was also to employ the returned servicemen, many of them suffering mental health injuries. It was for many years that they were given employment on that construction. In the Second World War, we had Closer settlement and soldiers' settlement programs, again, to employ those coming back from war who needed Australian government support.
The coalition believes that every Australian who is capable of work should have a job. The best way to deal with poverty, depression and anxiety is for an Australian to have a job and, if necessary, to be assisted into that job. We acknowledge that some people live a long way from where there might be employment. We acknowledge that for some people their education is not sufficient, or they may have active discrimination against them because of their ethnicity or the way they present to an employer. We, the coalition, understand that and we are putting into place a series of measures to help those who are unemployed. Sadly, under Labor the queues of those waiting to receive welfare assistance because they were unemployed got longer.
The queue was particularly long for those who could not afford child care; it was particularly long for the youth who lived in rural and regional areas, for Aboriginal people and for those with a disability but who wished to work and who could work. Under Labor, we simply had to watch as those queues grew longer. Token efforts were made to support them but, unfortunately, those token efforts rarely did anything more than give some press releases for the minister in charge of that particular area. Our understanding from our long experience is that you need to be serious about job support, and that is why we know that these two particular initiatives will do a great deal.
The first is trying to assist people who get off the Newstart allowance—who have been receiving it for about 12 months and who take a job. We understand and do acknowledge that sometimes the pay in that first job is not much different to the welfare that they were receiving before. But we know that the difference between being on welfare and being in a job where you have your own income, where you can choose what you spend your cash on and where you can build into a bigger and better job as time goes by is a significant reward in itself. So we have produced a Job Commitment Bonus; it is a new payment. Under the former Labor government, there was no equivalent payment and there was never intended to be an equivalent payment.
This bonus rewards young people aged 18 to 30 years who get and keep a job and remain off welfare. After 12 months, they will receive $2,500. If they remain in that position and are off welfare for a further 12 months they may be eligible for another $4,000. That is for 24 months in total of employment. Some people who are on a very large income might wonder why you would be excited about $2,500. Let me assure you that if you are only earning $25,000 or $30,000 that is a significant bonus. It is an incentive for people who might need to buy a car and, in fact, who might need to put weekly fuel into that car. I think it is a very serious incentive indeed.
The other major initiative is what we have called the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program. As I said, we acknowledge that some Australians are a long way from work. It might be that they are in a metropolitan area and they need to move from one side of the city to another. We acknowledge that often takes some funds to relocate. They might be in a rural area and need to go to a metropolitan area, or they might be in a metropolitan region and need to shift to a country town. All of that takes some funding, and so we will be supplying special financial support for that relocation. I think that is an extraordinarily sensible thing to do.
We did, in fact, have a relocation program under John Howard's government when I was the minister for workforce participation. We took numbers of people from rural and regional areas on the coast of New South Wales across to the mining jobs in and around Perth. Those were extraordinarily successful relocations. People were trained when they reached the mining regions and they were supported by having bonds paid for their flats and hostels, in the first instance for the first two months. Those people not only succeeded in that work with that relocation but also talked some of their long-term unemployed friends from the east coast of New South Wales to come across to the goldfields. That relocation action was extraordinarily successful, but it was abolished under Labor.
We heard just before the House was suspended an extraordinary contribution from the Labor member for Franklin. In moving her amendment she suggested that there are much better ways to go about getting people into employment in Australia. I find it extraordinary that she has these bright ideas, given that none of them were put into play when Labor was in government. Let me remind you what happened when the coalition were in opposition. Labor claimed to be concerned for youth unemployment, but in fact under Labor the unemployment rate for young people rose from 9.9 per cent to over 12.7 per cent. It is over 30 per cent in my area and is higher for our Indigenous young Australians. There were 55,000 young Australians unemployed after six years of the Labor government. I find that figure extraordinary. Those are young people who deserve a future. Under Labor they had no future; just the dole queue.
We are committed to action. That is why we are working actively through our VET reform task force with stakeholders, training organisations and industries to improve the fractured training system left behind by those opposite. Labor members opposite stripped away the employer incentives and destroyed the hopes of many young people of ever gaining a traineeship or an apprenticeship and, therefore, meaningful employment. We understand only too well that it is not the government that creates real jobs with real productivity outcomes; it is small businesses, larger businesses and family businesses. We have introduced these reforms that will try to create an environment for greater economic growth because a strong economy creates new opportunities for all Australians, including our younger job seekers.
It is sheer hypocrisy for those on the other side to talk from their now position of opposition about superior programs for employing young people when they continue to refuse to support removing the carbon tax. The carbon tax is job destroying. In my region in particular we know that it means our dairy farmers cannot employ milkers. The refrigerant gas tax, which was called the carbon equivalent tax by Labor, puts another $100,000 on re-gassing large cool stores. People look very much like having to let go some of their hundreds of employees. So as long as Labor and the Greens continue to block the repeal of the carbon tax in the Senate we know that they are not serious about giving young people a job. It is a clear message to the electors of Australia that they do not take their democratic decisions seriously. We also want to scrap the mining tax, a tax that caused great uncertainty and collects practically no revenue but puts a dead hand on mining enterprises that are already finding it tougher as the years go by.
We are also re-establishing the rule of law on construction sites by reintroducing the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Our great building industry was always an employer of apprentices and young people. Labor blocked the most critical reforms at the behest of the unions. We will try to put order and productivity once again into the Australian building and construction industry. We have also committed to slashing red tape and green tape to free up businesses. When you free up businesses they can start to employ again.
It was appalling that the unions tried to tamper with the 457 visas that brought skilled labour to rural areas. You might ask: what has that got to do with youth unemployment? If businesses cannot employ vets at the local piggery as they used to be able to do under the 457 visas—they were mostly vets from the Philippines—then they cannot expand as a business and employ in entry-level piggery jobs young people who can work their way through to being managers. We will be setting that 457 visa blockage right as the months go by.
The job commitment bonus is a significant investment by the coalition. It will help young, long-term unemployed Australians make a positive change in their life, specifically moving away from welfare dependency to finding and keeping a job, to gaining self-respect and to gaining a sense of being able to put back into the community that has nurtured them. The job commitment bonus is an incentive to young people to be persistent in pursuing employment opportunities. Unfortunately, if you have grown up in a household with generations who have never had a job, the work ethic of persisting with an employer and working through problems and difficulties is something you may not have learnt at your mother or father's knee. But with an incentive like this we are hoping that younger people will learn the value of persisting and committing long term to an employer. With this incentive at the end of 24 months there will be a substantial cash bonus for them. It is about committing to the world of work rather than being trapped in the world of welfare. The bonus is an extra feature to the support already available to young job seekers.
We heard that the opposition are concerned that New Zealanders in the protected special category visa holder group are not eligible for this job commitment bonus. They thought that was a terrible thing. As we are presenting this program it is consistent with our election commitment. This is a targeted measure. It is an investment by this government to help young, long-term unemployed Australians. We want them to make a positive change in their life. This payment is not intended as further income support; it is a bonus to reward young Australian job seekers who find and keep a job. It is consistent with the bilateral social security arrangements between Australia and New Zealand. Eligible New Zealand SCV holders still have access to income support. We make no apology about encouraging young people to get and keep a job. The bonus is a targeted measure. We acknowledge that not all Australian job seekers are eligible. The fact that a protected SCV holder is not eligible for the job commitment bonus does not impact on whether they are eligible for other Australian social security payments.
The previous Labor contribution to this debate mentioned that their Move 2 Work program makes special provisions for redundant workers whereas our Relocation to Take Up a Job program does not. The Relocation to Take Up a Job program is a targeted initiative for the long-term unemployed. The purpose of our program is to offer assistance to long-term unemployed people to help with the costs of relocation so they are able to move to where the jobs are.
The government has other specific measures in place to assist people who are made redundant from work, such as through Job Services Australia. Again, I find the condemnation of our program is quite empty. When we look at the legacy of Labor in terms of the very long unemployment queues, particularly for young people, I find it quite extraordinary that there is criticism of these two programs.
A legislative instrument created under the new provisions will allow the Secretary of the Department of Employment to prescribe circumstances where the job commitment bonus will not be available, such as circumstances where the social security system has been abused. We want to make sure that we do not have welfare cheats. We do not want to have people spending a lot of time working out how to get around our welfare system. We want all the energies of our young people to be dedicated to finding work and staying in work. That is why these two programs are so important.
Particularly as a member from regional Victoria, I say that we need these programs. We have young people idling away their lives. We have young girls with very young babies, three children before they are 19. They need a lot of support to find jobs and to get affordable, accessible child care. Then they need special support if they need to relocate, and certainly a bonus if they stay in the job for at least 12 if not 24 months. I commend our legislation to the House.
I am very pleased to be speaking on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. I say to the member for Murray as she leaves the chamber, the opposition is supporting this legislation. I think that tone in which she delivered her contribution was unfortunate. I think it is the case that everyone in this chamber wants to see youth unemployment in this country reduced. We all know how important it is to give young people the opportunities that they want to get the education, training and work that is very difficult for so many of them at this point in time. I do not think it is helpful for either side of the parliament to try to make out that one side cares more than the other about what is a very, very serious national issue.
I want to go through some of the matters that have been talked about recently by those who are doing some very serious work to address youth unemployment. Members may have seen that last month that the Brotherhood of St Laurence released a report Australian youth unemployment 2014: snapshot. It highlighted the dramatic increase in the rate of youth unemployment. Youth unemployment in Australia now sits at over 12 per cent, which is more than double the overall rate of unemployment. Nobody thinks that this is a good thing. We did see a decrease in the rate of youth unemployment over the last 30 years. But what is clear from the latest figures is that the global financial crisis has had a dramatic impact on young people's employment prospects. I think it is important that we all acknowledge that we have a serious issue in this country with youth unemployment. The Brotherhood of St Laurence's report indicates that youth unemployment currently represents almost 40 per cent of all unemployment in Australia. More than one in three unemployed Australians are aged between 15 and 24. Of course, the Brotherhood of St Laurence's report was not the first to highlight this is as a growing issue.
Late last year the COAG Reform Council handed down its report, Education in Australia 2012: five years of performance. Part of that report was devoted to the transition from year 12 to work. Its findings were also very concerning. While the report did find that there has been some improvement in year 12 attainment, young people's full participation in work or study after leaving school is in decline. Some might say it is only a small decline. But given everyone in this House would argue we want to see it going in the other direction, this fall by more than one percentage point in the proportion of 17- to 24-year-olds fully engaged in post-school study, training or work is something we all want to see reversed. More than a quarter of Australians aged between 17 and 24 are not participating in work or study following school.
In some areas, the figures are even worse. In Queensland, just under 31 per cent of young people are not fully engaged. In South Australia it is 30.5 per cent. But the most alarming figures are from Tasmania and the Northern Territory. In Tasmania, the figure is 33.4 per cent, and in the Northern Territory it is 42.3 per cent. Especially in those two areas, these are very, very serious youth participation problems. Of course, it is the case that Australia is not alone. For example, in France the youth unemployment rate is hovering stubbornly around 25 per cent and in Britain 21 per cent of people under 25 are unemployed.
Around the world, we are seeing young people almost three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. The upward trend in global unemployment continues to impact young people very seriously. The ILO 'has warned of a "scarred" generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries'. Certainly, Labor understands and I think the government understands that youth unemployment is a very serious issue for the nation. It is why we are all supporting the measure that is before the House tonight.
In government, we put forward various measures to tackle this issue; focusing on trying to get more young people to finish school and get into continuing training or higher education. One example I wanted to raise today is the Youth Transitions program. This helps young people who have not completed, or are at risk of not completing year 12 or an equivalent qualification, and have barriers that make it difficult to participate in education, training or employment. Providers in this program work with young people to help make a successful transition to further education, training or employment. One such program is being run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Melbourne and its outskirts. Their Peninsula Youth Connections program provides flexible individual support to young people at risk of disengaging from education and training and therefore not finishing year 12 or equivalent schooling.
In 2012, the Brotherhood of St Laurence undertook an evaluation of the program that had been running in the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It found that, of those participating in the program, 70 per cent were successful, moving into work or further learning. This of course is a very positive result. Through this evaluation, the brotherhood also learnt a great deal about how we should be designing programs to help people, particularly young people, with these transitions. It found that intensive case management was integral to getting people the support they needed. Community outreach, with strong relationships between regional services and community stakeholders, is also important. There is a need for a greater cohesion and partnership between community, youth and family services, and school support services. All of these should inform further investment in initiatives to help young people manage this period of their lives.
We do, of course, need to invest in our young people so that they stay at school, get the education they need and can get the jobs of the future. None of us can expect young people to get well-paid jobs without providing them with this proper support. I, for one, think we need new and innovative thinking in this area and urgent investment in our young people so that we can reverse the current trend. I did announce that Labor will be conducting a major review of our social policies over the next 12 to 18 months. We understand that we have a rapidly changing economy. Of course, for many people that provides a great opportunity, but for others, particularly young people, there is a great deal of risk. These risks are particularly acute at periods of transition between jobs or when young people are transitioning from school to work. We all have a responsibility to find the best ways to support young people at this time. It will require investment. The initiative before us today is one such investment, which we are pleased to support, but I do not think it will be sufficient.
We are concerned about the cuts the government has announced to the Better Schools Plan. One of the very important parts of that initiative, of course, was additional funding going into some of our very disadvantaged schools. We want to see that investment continued to make sure that the young people who really need additional support get it, whether it is to get the education and training they need at school or transition off to TAFE or into supported jobs. Whatever it might be, we know we need to do a lot more, all of us together, so that we do not see a generation of unemployed, underemployed, low-skilled young people. That will not be good for the individuals, it will not be good for our country and it certainly will not be good for our economy.
As I said, we are supporting this legislation today. We want to do everything we can to help make sure that young people make the transition from school to work. I do not think that this on its own will be enough. That is not a criticism of the initiative; it is really just to say that this is a very serious problem facing our country. It is one area where we need to work together to find the best ways to support young people as they transition from school. All of us want to see young people transitioning to ongoing training or work. These big social policy questions in our country need to be addressed with the facts. The evidence is certainly in—our young people need support.
I acknowledge the comments of the former speaker, the member for Jagajaga. She is right that members on both sides of the chamber believe that youth unemployment, in particular, is a big challenge for our nation. But the question is: what should we do about it? Let us put in perspective the challenge that we face. Under the Labor government, the unemployment rate for young people rose from 9.9 per cent to 12.7 per cent—that is, an additional 55,000 young Australians did not have a job after six years of Labor being in power. In the chamber, we can agree that youth unemployment is a big issue, but the reality is that we have very different approaches when it comes to what we can do about it.
Prior to September's resounding election victory and in the early days of government, the coalition could not have spoken louder or more clearly about its determination to deliver a stronger Australia, built on more opportunity and more jobs. While we are realistic about the challenges, we remain undaunted. The Howard government gifted the former Labor government a $20 billion surplus and no net debt. By contrast, the outgoing Labor administration left this coalition government with $123 billion in deficit and $460 billion in projected gross debt over the next four years. Without changes, the budget will remain in deficit until 2023-24 and the debt will rise to $667 billion. This equates to $29,000 for each and every Australian. We cannot go on like this and the coalition will not let it continue. We have successfully confronted Labor debt and deficit before and we will do it again.
A big part of this solution will come from re-firing the economy so that businesses are expanding, prospering and employing more Australians. In my electorate of Longman, the great local employers are small businesses—retail, tourism and light industry. They need the confidence to grow and invest and create jobs. They could not do this under Labor while being punitively taxed and regulated. What they require from their government is freedom—freedom from the stifling costs and overheads that stem from too much bureaucracy and over-regulation. They need fewer taxes and lower taxes. As far as possible they want government out of their lives. This is not only a fair request but also an economically sound one. That is why the coalition government is moving to scrap the carbon tax and why it has already eliminated most of the 100 tax changes announced but not enacted by the former Labor government. Together, these actions will mean lower taxes, less paperwork and more certainty. This government is also unshackling businesses from at least $1 billion of red tape and green tape every single year. I am actively working with local businesses to secure our share of these savings. As part of my commitment, the member for Kooyong and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister with responsibility for deregulation came to Longman shortly after last September's election to meet with local businesses about their individual cases of excessive regulation. With that red tape gone they will be able to breathe and grow again, ultimately employing more locals. My community is a growth region and that is why new commercial and residential projects are crucial. I, along with the state government, have been a strong advocate of the North East Business Park project, which will spark economic activity and create 27,000 new jobs.
Building better infrastructure is another productivity-increasing measure. In my electorate, that means opportunities blossoming from the coalition's $8.5 billion Bruce Highway upgrade. Between the Sunshine Coast and the Longman electorate region of Moreton Bay, the Bruce Highway is the connector for employment and tourism and is used by many students of the University of the Sunshine Coast. It also carries a large number of commuters from our region to Brisbane. With $3.3 billion of the coalition's Bruce Highway project targeted on upgrades from the Pine River through to the Sunshine Coast, we have a long-term strategic plan that makes travel safer and unlocks the potential of the area. Fifty million dollars has been allocated to the planning and design of six lanes between Caboolture and Caloundra. The Bruce Highway improvements are occurring in tandem with the development programs for Caloundra South and Caboolture West. All up, these provide a huge shot in the arm for the growth of our region.
These infrastructure-building initiatives underscore a plan for the economy that is strong and multilayered and that will act to reboot local economies, removing physical, psychological and administrative barriers so that, once again, hope can float and jobs can flow. But, it is a plan the people of Longman have been waiting for far too long. Under the six years of the former Labor government, unemployment—especially youth unemployment—soared throughout my local region, as did the cost of living. Fuelled by the carbon tax, gas prices jumped by 63 per cent, electricity prices climbed by 93 per cent, water and sewerage bills were up by 63 per cent, education costs rose by 39 per cent and medical and hospital costs increased by 46 per cent. The coalition's scrapping of the carbon tax will bring immediate relief to households by cutting off the tax's reach into almost every aspect of daily life, including grocery and transport costs. Despite abolishing the carbon tax we will keep the compensation regime of tax cuts and pension and benefit increases. So that means tax cuts and pension increases without a carbon tax. We will also take pressure off public hospitals by restoring the private health insurance rebate as soon as we responsibly can, saving more money for everyone.
Our cost-cutting, jobs-growth plan also has an eye on the future. The stark fact to emerge from Australia's ageing population is that this generation will be paying to support the retirement of the previous one, on an unprecedented scale. The percentage of the population aged 75 or over is expected to rise from about 6.4 per cent to 14.4 per cent of the population. While the values, attitudes and choices of baby boomers and generation Y might seem worlds apart, both groups must tackle the issues together for mutual benefit. We are on the cusp of a demographic super-bubble. When the baby boomers leave the workforce, they will take away not only their skills but also their taxpaying capacity. While the preceding generation produced 2.5 million retirees, we now have four million Australians on the brink of retirement and about to draw on age pensions, pharmaceutical benefits and other government assistance. Our current immigration rate is insufficient to compensate for a shift of this magnitude. The 1990s annual permanent migrant intake of about 100,000 has increased by merely 90,000. This growth is nowhere near strong enough to fill the breach caused by the ebb in retirement.
There are very good reasons for making a start now on this key area of public policy. As the Productivity Commission highlighted, if the pension age is not recalibrated or no other solution is found, taxes will have to increase by 21 per cent to pay for the ageing of the population. By the turn of the century, Australians will count more 100-year-olds than babies. So what do we do? The answer must strongly accommodate raising the productive capacity of the economy. If more people are in better jobs and earning higher real wages, they will pay more tax. So we must build a vibrant deregulated economy which is part of a liberalised trade environment.
I am proud to be part of a government with an ambitious deregulation agenda, driven by a whole-of-government approach. I commend the Prime Minister, ably assisted by the member for Kooyong, for taking personal responsibility for deregulating the economy. Increasing our nation's productivity requires us to recognise that it is private enterprise, not government, which creates wealth, prosperity and jobs. In an area where the market is not best placed to do it, the government must take the lead in productive investment. That is why the coalition has such a strong infrastructure agenda—and I note that the assistant minister is in the House. It is why we as a government have spoken about opening up the north of Australia and why we should talk more about the possibilities of a sovereign wealth fund.
While the previous generation saw a massive increase in productivity from women entering the workforce, future generations will not enjoy the same demographic advantage. Undoubtedly, women entering the workforce triggered the biggest productivity gain of the past 30 years. For this generation, there is no equivalent untapped labour force stimulus. Generation Y and successive generations will grow up with the majority of women already in the workforce. We will have to take advantage of new technology and expand into new markets. Future generations will require constant upskilling and further training. They will be willing to turn themselves into a more creative workforce to achieve productivity gains similar to those of previous generations. In the meantime, landmark policies, such as the Abbott government's paid parental leave scheme, have been designed to allow women to stay in the workforce. So, effectively, PPL is another productivity-increasing measure. It is an economic driver and, as such, should be viewed as a workforce entitlement, not a welfare payment.
The economic and social challenges of today, and those on the horizon, demand that we grow a substantive workforce—as large and robust as possible. An important part of that equation is recognising the damaging effects of unemployment and doing everything in our power to diminish it. Wherever we can, we need to help people to find a job and to keep a job so that lives are lifted up, while the cycle of welfare dependency struggles for traction.
This government has faith in our young people. We want to help them avert an early slide into welfare dependency and at the same time reward positive, pro-work attitudes and endeavour. That is why we have thoughtfully considered and now introduced the legislation which is the business of this debate: the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. It is an investment to help the long-term unemployed, particularly young job seekers, find and keep a job. The first element will be aptly known as the job commitment bonus. Eligible job seekers aged 18 to 30 will be paid $2,500 if they can secure a job and remain in continuous employment, and off income support, for 12 months. These very same job seekers will be eligible for an additional $4,000 if they remain in continuous employment for a further 12 months—that is, two years in total. This is about incentive, reward and fostering good work habits, which not only build skills and income, contributing to individual and national wealth, but raise personal pride and confidence, positively impacting relationships, lifestyle and happiness.
Schedule 2 of this bill acknowledges that many job seekers are dissuaded from employment opportunities by the prohibitive cost of relocation. The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job measure directly addresses this conflict, providing financial support to eligible job seekers who have been receiving Newstart, youth allowance or parenting payment for at least the preceding 12 months to relocate for employment or an apprenticeship. They will receive up to $6,000 for relocating to a regional area to take up a job. Up to $3,000 will be paid to eligible job seekers who relocate from a regional area to a metropolitan area to begin a job. This $3,000 will also be available to eligible job seekers who move from one capital city with higher unemployment to another with lower unemployment in order to take up employment.
Unemployment can have a corrosive effect on individuals, families and society at large. Over time, its debilitating features amount to far more than economic consequences. Doing nothing to encourage the work- ready but long-term unemployed into the workforce is cruelty, not compassion. This government is obliged to do what it can to provide real incentives and assistance to encourage job seekers to find suitable work and stay off welfare. It is part of our overall plan to build a stronger, more productive and diverse economy with lower taxes and smaller government, an economy that delivers higher real incomes and better services and an economy that ultimately means more jobs. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to make a contribution to this debate and, in particular, to support the amendment moved by the member for Franklin. I note—and indeed welcome—the comments of the member for Longman in relation to the diversity of the impacts of unemployment on people's lives. That is an area of policy upon which members on all sides of this House agree, even though—as my contribution will make clear—I see this legislation as setting out an insufficient path to alleviate those concerns, both economic and social.
The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014 would amend the Social Security Act 1991, the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to enable the implementation of the job commitment bonus and also the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program—both election commitments of the government.
The job commitment bonus will provide an incentive to encourage young, long-term unemployed Australians to remain off income support payments and will increase employment participation amongst a group which is recording significantly higher rates of unemployment compared to the general population. This is a laudable goal. Young Australians aged between 18-30 who have been receiving Newstart allowance or youth allowance, other than as an apprentice or a full-time student, for a period of at least 12 months would be eligible to receive a tax-free payment of $2,500 should they remain in gainful work—which is broadly defined—and off income support for a continuous period of at least 12 months. Recipients would also qualify for a further tax-free bonus payment of $4,000 if they remained in continuous gainful work for an additional 12 months—that is, a continuous period of 24 months in total. These are useful initiatives, though they do fall a long way short of constituting anything like a jobs plan.
The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program would provide financial assistance to long-term unemployed job seekers who have been receiving Newstart allowance, youth allowance—again, other than as an apprentice or a full-time student—or a parenting payment for at least the preceding 12 months, to relocate for the purpose of commencing ongoing employment.
I support this provision as I believe it promotes the right to work as well as the more effective operation of the labour market. However, it is hard to see this as a panacea, given the take-up rate of similar programs in the past. I am concerned that the non-payment period prescribed in this legislation has been increased to a level that is unduly harsh. I trust that this is not a precedent for other payments and I particularly support the second limb of the amendment moved by the member for Franklin in this regard.
The amendment calls on the government to publicly review, by 30 June 2015, the impact of the extension of the non-payment period for recipients of the relocation to take up a job payment if the person is unable to work the required six months. This is an important amendment. It would provide an evidence base to either allay concerns such as those I am expressing or to form a basis for reconsideration if those concerns are found to be well founded. It is an amendment that is sensible and should be supported.
More generally, the amendment also notes that if the government were really serious about addressing youth unemployment, it would be providing more support for those workers whose jobs will be lost, as was recently announced, and would be providing more support and training for young people generally. This is the critical question. What Australia needs is a jobs plan that is a comprehensive response to rising unemployment, particularly among people, and also declining workforce participation.
I value the opportunity to speak about social inclusion—moving on from the closing remarks of the member for Longman—and the opportunities for young people. I also welcome the remarks made by the minister in his second reading speech acknowledging the impact of unemployment, especially unemployment over an extended period. The backdrop to this debate is, of course, the seemingly endless announcement of job losses in this country.
This government promised to create one million jobs over five years. To be on track, they would have needed to create over 100,000 jobs by now, having been in office for six very long months. Tragically, they are a long way behind already, and I note the increasing reluctance of those opposite to cite this coalition promise and an even more pronounced reluctance to discuss how it plans to achieve its target, or at least try. Even when the promise was made, there was no outline about how it would or could be achieved, just the usual boilerplate three-word slogans, and now we are seeing the effect that attempting to run the country on three-word slogans has.
I draw the House's attention to the decline in employment participation rates, particularly among young people. This is a matter squarely raised in the title of this bill but much less so in its substance. To be fair, those matters were found in the relevant coalition policy document. They were part of the coalition's plan to increase employment participation. In fact, these two policies were all of it and that is nowhere near enough.
The Reserve Bank of Australia has reported a 1¼ percentage point fall in the participation rate of younger workers aged 15 to 24, which accounted for around 30 per cent of the decline in aggregate employment participation. This result means the proportion of Australians active in the labour market is at its lowest level since October 2006. That was, of course, under the Howard government. This is a startling figure. RBC Capital Markets economist Su-Lin Ong's view on the figures was:
It's more than likely that there is some discouraged worker affect going on, that the creation of jobs is occurring at a pace that is enough to absorb new entrants …
So participants are dropping out of the workforce, and that is pretty disappointing because higher levels of participation are quite key in lifting Australia's overall growth rate.
It is so important to address participation through targeted interventions in education and training, through the provision of affordable and accessible child care—rather than an expensive and unnecessary paid parental leave scheme targeted at wealthy Australians—and through making the most of the powers of government to get the incentives right to support jobs and to work at the multifaceted task of identifying barriers to employment participation and breaking them down.
Members opposite are keen to talk of what government cannot or should not do; they should instead look to see how we can respond to our shared challenges in this critical debate, but the government's priorities are elsewhere. The government sees fit to privatise throwing money at millionaire mothers, providing tax breaks for the superannuation of millionaires and, even in this rather narrower debate, blaming everything on the carbon tax. But all it can manage on jobs is a hastily cobbled together bill that was no doubt introduced as something of a fig leaf so the government can be seen to be doing something about youth unemployment.
The consumer confidence figures released last week accord with the aforementioned discouraged worker effect, showing that people's confidence levels are as low now as they were during the global financial crisis, and this is hardly surprising. People are seeing big employers either massively downsizing or leaving our shores completely and a government resolute in its inaction. The difference between now and the time of the global financial crisis is that Australia had a government then that took action to fight for and save jobs. Labor did not take the member for Curtin's wait-and-see approach as shadow treasurer. Unfortunately, in this instance, we now see the consistency of those opposite when in opposition and now in government. We now have a wait-and-see government on jobs.
Whenever I visit schools in the electorate of Scullin, I ask about their Building the Education Revolution projects—projects that created jobs when Australia desperately needed them. School communities are proud of these new facilities. Not a single school or parent has raised a problem with me about these BER projects; quite the opposite in fact. People were aware of the need for government stimulus to fight off a global recession and secure local jobs. I think there is now a hunger for leadership on jobs. People are aware that something is not right with this government in this regard. It plays games of chicken with major employers and chases them away. The coalition's bizarre and reflexive opposition to job creation and retention made no sense then and it makes no sense now.
In recent days, we have had more bad news about job losses in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Just a couple of weeks ago, just south of my electorate in the electorate of the member for Batman, La Trobe University announced it would be making 350 full-time positions redundant. The full impact is likely to affect around 400 staff at a number of campuses. I have met with NTEU representatives as well as the vice-chancellor to discuss the challenges the university faces and what can be done. My thoughts are with all those who work at La Trobe at this difficult time of uncertainty. As I said, while this university's main campuses is just outside my electorate, Scullin has over 4,400 people employed in the education and training sector, but I could not find any response from the Minister for Education or from the Minister for Employment about these job losses, just the usual apathetic silence. What is the government's plan for these employees? I suspect it is the same as the one for employees of Holden, Toyota, Qantas and Golden Circle—that is, no plan at all.
In Scullin, the rate of youth unemployment is 17.3 per cent for those aged between 15 and 19 and 8.3 per cent for those aged between 20 and 24, both well above the national average. This is clearly too high and something I think both sides of politics want to reduce. In government, one way Labor sought to tackle this problem was by establishing trade training centres. I have spent some time at the Outer Northern Trade Training Centre in Lalor and experienced the positive benefits contributing to children's lives and giving them the skills to pursue potential career paths. Trade training centres were a way to include young people in the employment market so that they can be a part of society more generally—recognising the broader dimensions of involvement in employment for people's lives.
It is beyond belief to me that the coalition does not support trade training centres. It seems to be out of sheer spite because Labor introduced them and they must somehow be a bad thing by reason of that fact alone. What is wrong with these centres is never really spelt out by those opposite, but like so many of Labor's positive initiatives the coalition is simply against them. The trade training centres form part of Labor's $1 billion job plan. The coalition are in the process of gutting this plan, but are not replacing it with an agenda for jobs. The member for Franklin has spoken eloquently in support of Labor's training and skills agenda, which is a testament to Labor's commitment to standing up for jobs and to building employment participation with real action and a comprehensive plan. Of course, I share her views.
Being in employment is vital for social inclusion. In the electorate of Scullin—as in other electorates in Australia—social dislocation and isolation are significant and systemic problems. There is a correlation between people with financial stress, which often stems from unemployment, and family violence. I say with much regret that Scullin is consistently ranked higher than most other electorates when it comes to rates of family violence. This is just one of a range of social problems, including high rates of youth mental health incidents. Government has a role to play in addressing these systemic problems, whatever members opposite might say. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers, but I know that tackling unemployment in a meaningful way, particularly from an early age, would assist with a range of other social problems that we debate in this place.
To the extent that this bill addresses youth unemployment, I welcome it and those two components, subject to some minor reservations. These issues need a whole-of-government approach, not one where the government gives with one hand and takes with the other. One aspect of this bill is to reward young people who stay in a job, but as I have outlined above there needs to be a job for them to get in the first place and they need the skills to get these jobs. What is absent in this debate, other than contributions from members on this side of the chamber, is a meaningful discussion about how those skills might be applied.
I note, in respect of the relocation scheme, that in the explanatory memorandum to the bill the relocation payment can be for relocation between capital cities in metropolitan areas, but this would be limited to cases where the relocation is to a capital city with a lower unemployment rate. For example, as at February this year a person could relocate from Hobart to Melbourne as Melbourne has a lower unemployment rate than Hobart. Whilst the unemployment figures for Hobart are certainly concerning, I am also concerned about present and future unemployment for young people in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. What options does the government have for them? By cutting education and training and having no plan for jobs, what good is any reward of this type? It seems like a cruel hoax.
While the initiatives contained in this bill are, for the most part, welcome responses at a minor level to pressing social and economic concerns, they are simply not enough. That is not good enough to meet the great challenges of boosting productivity and participation and to meet the great moral challenge of standing up for Australian jobs.
I rise to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. I note the member for Scullin's arguments. The coalition does have a plan, and this bill is part of it. The coalition is committed to helping Australians to find and retain a job. We do not underestimate the size of the challenge, particularly in places with historically high levels of intergenerational unemployment, like those in my electorate of Hinkler. This government is committed to ensuring that any Australian who is capable of working can get a job. We are helping job seekers into work by introducing a Seniors Employment Incentive Payment. This is important in areas that have an older-than-average population, such as Wide Bay-Burnett. A business will receive a payment of up to $3,250 if they hire a job seeker over the age of 50 who has been unemployed for at least six months and is receiving income support. This bill also introduces the job commitment bonus to encourage long-term unemployed young Australians to find a job and remain off welfare. The payment will be available to people aged 18 to 30 who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. They will receive $2,500 when they remain off unemployment for 12 months and a further $4,000 when they have held down a job for two years.
Employment gives people the ability to pay their own way and to provide for their own families. The people of this great nation should be able to depend on their elected representatives for assistance when they need it, but that does not mean that we should be building a nation of dependants.
The coalition has a proven track record of growing the economy, reducing debt and getting people into work and off unemployment benefits. The former Australian Treasurer Peter Costello delivered 10 budget surpluses, cleared all debt, cut taxes and put $60 billion in the Future Fund. In the final year of the Howard government the local unemployment rate was just six per cent in my electorate of Hinkler. Under the Rudd and Gillard governments the unemployment rate increased to 9.6 per cent. That is the fourth highest unemployment rate by electorate in the country.
The coalition made it clear prior to September 7 last year that if elected we would revitalise the Howard government's Work for the Dole program. Under the Howard government, on average, one in three people who participated in Work for the Dole got a job. The Labor government altered the scheme. Under Labor's scheme, Work for the Dole was not compulsory. After 12 months on the dole job seekers aged between 18 and 49 are instead asked to undertake work experience activities for six months in every year. The coalition is moving to re-establish an effective scheme that will benefit all stakeholders.
Hardworking constituents often complain to me that under the current system people receiving unemployment benefits are not required to give anything back to the community. Australians who are able to work must be encouraged to work for a living. We are fortunate to live in a country where the government provides a safety net to those who find themselves without employment. People living in other countries are not quite so lucky. Requiring Australians to work for the dole will ensure the obligation is mutual.
Work for the dole programs create opportunities by giving people soft skills like routine, structure, presentation skills and, most importantly, access to potential employers. Unfortunately, in many cases of intergenerational welfare parents have not taught these skills to their children. Punctuality, teamwork and commitment are things a person typically learns at a young age.
The coalition is determined to prevent young people from sliding into long-term welfare dependency by rewarding positive pro-work behaviours. The employers that I have spoken to say they are more than willing to train young people, but they need the basics before they start work. They struggle to find people who dress appropriately, arrive on time and have the right attitude, because enthusiasm trumps experience every time. As I indicated in my maiden speech, I intend to do everything I can to create the hope, opportunity and reward that the young people of my electorate deserve. We know the effects of long-term unemployment on individuals, families and communities can be extremely damaging. Unemployment and financial hardship are often contributing factors in cases of domestic violence, marital breakdown, drug and alcohol abuse, poor nutrition, health problems and declining school attendance. And as we see regularly in my electorate, boredom leads to vandalism, and that leads to general nuisance behaviour. Unemployment affects every sector of our community, including schools and councils, and ties up our valuable emergency resources.
I recently joined state MPs Ted Sorensen and Anne Maddern to meet a local organisation that works to address youth homelessness. They are funded to help 16 people per year in their shelter but actually assist about 50. Anecdotally, they say there has been an increase in youth homelessness in our region, and they attribute that increase in part to a decline in the soft skills I mentioned earlier. While any number of issues contribute to homelessness, they say fewer parents in the region are teaching their children the domestic skills needed to care for themselves as young adults. Fortunately, there are many hardworking organisations trying to address this issue so that the same problem will not beset future generations. My electorate office is regularly contacted by people complaining that Centrelink has failed them—and in some cases, on further investigation, my staff discover the constituent has exhausted their advance payments or their loans from Centrelink, or they have failed to attend a meeting with their job service provider, or have failed to provide the necessary forms. Or, quite frankly—they just do not want to work.
Unfortunately there are many people with a sense of entitlement who ruin the reputation of those who genuinely need support. And for those who want to work, being unemployed for an extended period can erode their skills, confidence and sense of purpose and pride, which can lead to a cycle that makes it even harder to find work. I recognise that one of the major barriers to finding employment in the Hinkler electorate is the number of job vacancies. We on this side of the House understand that governments do not create jobs—businesses do. That is why we are working to attract investment to the region and to give local businesses the confidence they need to employ staff.
Our policies—such as cutting red tape and repealing the carbon tax—will save businesses time and money. The Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, and the Minerals Council of Australia recently took the unprecedented step of releasing a joint statement. The
Australia's carbon tax is one of the highest in the world. It is making our key industries less competitive every day it stays in place.
Most businesses have been unable to pass their carbon tax-related costs on to the customer. For small business especially, this has been a major burden that has reduced profitability, supressed employment and added to already difficult conditions.
Acting now to repeal the carbon tax would boost business confidence and should be part of a broader national push to reduce higher energy costs.
Delaying the repeal until the new Senate sits would not achieve anything for the environment. It would simply expose business to increasing and damaging uncertainty over the electricity prices they will be obliged to pay from 1 July 2014.
They go on to urge the Senate to repeal the carbon tax as soon as possible, and you would think the Leader of the Opposition, after Labor's significant defeat at the September 2013 election, would urge his Labor colleagues to respect the will of the Australian people. But I guess that is too much to expect from a party that in a period of just three years gave us two prime ministers, two treasurers, five assistant treasurers and six ministers for small business.
Repealing the carbon tax is a request made by businesses of all shapes and sizes across Australia. But that is not all we are doing to help business. Later this week, the first regulation repeal day will be held in parliament. We will begin slashing unnecessary red and green tape to save businesses time and money. And, of particular interest to my electorate, we are providing $6.5 million for 25 research projects to ensure the continued sustainability of Australian fisheries, including expanding the Status of key Australian fish stocks report to include more species. We have suspended Labor's flawed marine management plan, and we have created a new plan based on science and consultation with our stakeholders. Last month we announced $4.75 million for Hervey Bay roads. We have also announced funding to finish flood repairs at the Port of Bundaberg to help the sugar industry, because the coalition understands that the delivery of well-planned infrastructure in a timely manner is vital to helping businesses get their product to market. It also facilitates service delivery to regional Australia and provides long-term employment and opportunities for training and development. So, together, over the next 10 years, the Abbott and Newman governments will spend $6.7 billion upgrading the ailing Bruce Highway.
I also look forward to delivering on our commitment to establish a national stronger regions fund. Councils and community groups will be able to apply for grants for capital works that will regenerate the community in areas with high unemployment, like my electorate of Hinkler. But as a former business owner, I understand that infrastructure is not the only hurdle regional businesses have to overcome. Here in Australia regulation is high, input costs are high, labour costs are high and the Australian dollar is high, which of course makes profits low. All of this makes it difficult to expand. Our policies are giving businesses the confidence they need to employ staff. Earlier this year, Assistant Minister for Employment, Luke Hartsuyker, and I met with Impact, a local Job Services Australia provider. During the visit Impact advised us that the majority of their clients have a number of barriers to overcome before they can gain employment. Many are suffering from mental illness, relationship and family breakdown, lack of the soft skills, social isolation, poor communication and low self-esteem.
Bundaberg's labour market comprises a high proportion of small- to medium-sized businesses, with few large employers. And unfortunately small businesses are not typically in a position to invest the time in training people without those soft skills. Job seekers who do not swim when they are thrown in the deep end are promptly returned to the unemployment queue. To combat this problem, Impact has established five social enterprises to provide entry-level employment opportunities. These include a jam-making business that operates from Apple Tree Creek in Bundaberg; a car detailing business; a fishing lure manufacturer; professional cleaning and home maintenance; and a drive-through laundry. Entry-level employees are mentored and supported for six months so they can gain the necessary skills before transitioning to the open labour market. These enterprises have also provided Impact with another income stream, surplus to that provided by the government funding.
While we were at Impact I met a young job seeker who was highly motivated but financially and socially disadvantaged. Talking to him, I discovered he had an arrangement with the Impact board member—Bundaberg Regional Council Deputy Mayor, David Batt. Councillor Batt promised to buy him a tie when he was successful in his endeavours, and, given the job seeker's enthusiasm, I pulled the blue striped tie I was wearing from my neck and donated it to the cause. Unfortunately it was only the second time I had worn the tie, but he was very appreciative, and I have every confidence he will put it to good use.
We are currently reviewing every aspect of Job Services Australia—a review of the system to strike the right balance in flexible service delivery with an aim to implement a streamlined, more effective system from 2015. The key goal of the Job Services system is to get more people into work, and there are organisations like IMPACT that are making this goal a reality. Mr Hartsuyker and I also met with members of various local chamber of commerce groups to discuss the coalition's plan to deliver a stronger economy with more jobs. Unemployment is the single biggest issue in my region, and I am thankful that the minister could take the time to hear from locals and to outline how the government is working to get more people into work. This bill starts that process, and I commend it to the House.
I rise today to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. As the House is aware, this bill introduces two new programs. Firstly, a Job Commitment Bonus, which will go to eligible job seekers between the ages of 18 and 30 who find and hold onto a job for at least 12 months, after having been on Newstart or Youth Allowance for more than a year. Secondly, it introduces the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program, which provides eligible job seekers with financial assistance to move in order to find a job in a regional centre or, in certain cases, another metropolitan area.
The opposition will be voting for these measures because we support any attempt to improve youth employment levels, but we do have substantial concerns about this government's approach to jobs more broadly—their lack of a more comprehensive plan and their failure to guarantee the future of other important programs that can impact on young lives at risk of a life in the unemployment queue.
If there is one word to characterise todays labour market it is uncertainty. Yes, last month's job results surprised most economists on the upside, but it was just one month in an otherwise bleak six or so months, and we need to look at the bigger picture. At six per cent the unemployment level announced in February is higher than at any point during the global financial crisis. But even this does not fully reflect the severity of the situation, since the large number of job losses announced since the election are yet to be factored into this unemployment data.
The prevailing theme of this government's first six months has been announcement after announcement of job losses—whether it was the 5,000 job cuts announced at Qantas; the 2,900 direct jobs at Holden; the 2,500 jobs at Toyota; the 1,100 jobs at Rio Tinto in Gove; the 544 at Electrolux; the 200 at Peabody Energy; the 110 at Simplot; or the 200 at Caterpillar. We have seen this government sit on their hands as many thousands of people across Australia have lost their livelihoods, and many thousands of families have lost their means of subsistence.
All in all, across 28 major companies that have announced job cuts since the last election, there are 27,300 jobs that will be leaving Australia over the next few years. These 27,300 jobs demonstrate the substantial uncertainty present in our labour market at the moment. And this uncertainty in the labour market is most pronounced among our young people, as other speakers have said. As the first Youth Unemployment Monitor from the Brotherhood of St Laurence has shown, the current levels of youth unemployment should be a huge concern for all members in this place. I want to acknowledge the work being done by Tony Nicholson and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, as well as a number of other groups in this country who share our concern for youth unemployment.
The unemployment level among youth in Australia is at 12.2 per cent, more than double the aggregate rate. In the Logan area, which is a big part of my own electorate of Rankin, youth unemployment is at an unacceptable 16.5 per cent. In some regions, including much of the state of Tasmania, youth unemployment levels are over 20 per cent, or one in five of all young people. It is no wonder, given those sorts of numbers, that the Brotherhood of St Laurence has described these findings as 'the crisis of youth unemployment'.
My real concern is that youth unemployment could worsen as a result of the actions of this government, including in my own electorate. One recent study by academics from Griffith University, Charles Darwin University, and the University of Newcastle has investigated the future employment vulnerability of regions around Australia. It found that five of the 13 red alert suburbs in metropolitan South-East Queensland that have been identified as having entrenched disadvantage are in Rankin, as are three of the nine suburbs identified for emerging disadvantage. But perhaps the most troubling aspect of this new research into employment vulnerability is the warning that radical austerity would make the situation worse, causing already vulnerable suburbs to become even more vulnerable. The authors specifically single out trades training, a measure already cut by the Abbott government, as crucial to combating spatial patterns of unemployment. Cuts like this will effect already disadvantaged areas via a double whammy effect, of job market inefficiency and a lack of region specific information about job possibilities.
Because of our concerns about youth unemployment, and the regional vulnerability of employment in the face of future cuts, the opposition will be supporting the measures introduced in this legislation. We understand that in the face of rising unemployment it is even harder for less experienced young workers to find a job. This is one of the reasons we will be supporting the incentive provided by the Job Commitment Bonus for young Australians.
We are also supporting the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program, as it really is an extension of the existing Move to Work program of the previous Labor government. This sort of relocation incentive is useful for some members of the community in some cases, though in the past it has had a fairly low take-up rate.
The issue we have with the government's approach is that the two programs introduced in this bill merely scratch the surface of what is really needed to combat the weaknesses and uncertainties in the current labour market. I want to touch on three specific concerns I have with their approach.
The first is the failure of this government to present any credible plans to improve the broader jobs market, and look after the workers effected by current uncertainty. Well over a month since Toyota announced the closure of their Australian manufacturing operations, this government is yet to present to Toyota workers with a plan for the future. It is hard to understand this government's callous disregard for people facing an uncertain future after the closure of these major companies. The only explanation for what the opposition leader called this 'wilful neglect' is that this government is anti-jobs. They bend over backwards to find jobs for former Howard government cabinet ministers, but they have not turned their mind to the broader workforce.
The Australian people deserve a government who will do all they can to fight for Australian jobs, and this government has shown themselves to not be up to this task. While this government's anti-jobs approach is devastating for those facing job losses today, their lack of vision for the jobs of the future is even more troubling. The reality of the situation is that the vast majority of the 27,000 job losses over the last five months, announced by the 28 companies I mentioned earlier, are likely gone forever—at least in their most recent form. Because of the government's lack of a plan, the young people of Australia will be hit the hardest by our approach. The youth of Australia need a government who can actually articulate a plan for future jobs, one that goes beyond the Prime Minister's glossy brochures promising a million jobs, without any consideration of how to get there.
My second concern about this area of policy is the refusal of the government to guarantee the future of several programs proven to improve the job prospects of young people. It was revealed recently in Senate estimates that the Abbott government has not allocated government funding for the tremendously important Youth Connections scheme past the end of this calendar year. The Youth Connections program provides individualised support to young people at risk of not obtaining a year 12 certificate by re-engaging them in education and giving them pathways to future study and employment, which is so crucial to their job prospects for the rest of their lives. I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit the Logan Youth Connections program run by BoysTown in Woodridge and Kingston in my electorate. I saw firsthand very recently the hugely valuable and life-changing support being provided to young people through this program, as well as the passion and dedication that the talented staff at BoysTown have for the at-risk youth in our community. I want to take this opportunity to commend them for their work.
The program goes well beyond education alone, and it really assists young people to overcome barriers to social cohesion, rebuild their resilience and self-confidence, and re-engage with their community. For many of the young people who enter the Youth Connections program, the alternative paths for them are very bleak—substance abuse, crime or mental health problems. The reviews of this program conducted by what used to be called DEEWR, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Mission Australia and the Brotherhood of St Laurence have been hugely positive. In the first half of 2012 alone, the DEEWR review found that the Youth Connections program had resulted in 4,115 young people commencing or re-engaging in education. For each one of those 4,115 young people, Youth Connections has been a force for good in their lives, improving job prospects for all involved.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence review of the program found that most graduates had maintained some form of outcome several years later. Many had gone on to tertiary study and some were concurrently working and studying—a tremendous outcome. The impact in our Indigenous community has been particularly substantial, with 5,750 Indigenous young people benefiting from Youth Connections in 2010-11, and with 35 per cent recording sustained improvement in their engagement with school and 23 per cent making significant progress.
The Mission Australia study estimated that, if the 30,000 young people that had been supported by Youth Connections each year instead ended up on Newstart, the potential cost to government from income support payments alone would be upwards of $390 million a year, or around $2 billion over five years. With the rising problem of youth unemployment, this government must commit to extending this program beyond the end of this year. That way the great people working in this area and the kids they are helping will get a little bit of certainty in an otherwise uncertain market.
The government's refusal to guarantee future funding of the Youth Connections program comes after the brutal attacks on education funding that have already been announced. In just the first six months of this government, we have seen a backflip on needs-based schools funding and cuts to trade training centres. In the context of rising youth unemployment, there is absolutely no sense in cutting trade training centres, which exist to prepare young people for employment. The trade training centres rolled out by the former Labor government across Australia, including in almost every major regional centre along the Queensland coast from Gold Coast to Bowen, have been hugely successful in bringing school students closer to local industry. The current trade training centres cover programs from aviation engineering to building, horticulture, manufacturing, electrotechnology, allied health, mechanics, plumbing, boat building and panel beating. In Queensland alone, the government has diverted funding from the 123 further proposed trade training centres. Thousands of young people will miss out on the skills, the training and the industry connections that these centres would provide. The government's plan for future jobs should have programs like Youth Connections and trade training centres at the forefront, as these programs are what are going to ensure we have the dynamic, skilled young workers required for the future.
My third concern with the legislation before the House today is the large number of people across Australia who have been excluded by the design of the jobs commitment bonus program—many of them in my community. The new section 861(12) of the Social Security Act would amend the definition of Australian resident to explicitly exclude special category visa holders for the purpose of the bonus. This means that New Zealanders arriving in Australia before 2001 on protected visas who are currently eligible for Centrelink payments have been explicitly excluded in this program. This, to my knowledge, is the first time in the Social Security Act that protected special category visa holders have been explicitly excluded. In my electorate of Rankin, we have a large population of people who may be affected by this change, and I am worried by the precedent that this legislation would set.
As I said before, we will be supporting the introduction of these incentive based programs today, but we need to do more and not less to properly address youth unemployment and prepare for the jobs of the future. The most important focus of our policy response must be on fostering conditions that see the jobs of the future created and the skills and human capital required for these jobs becoming widespread in our community.
If the government are really concerned about tackling youth unemployment, I call on them again to restore and commit to the further funding for Youth Connections and to reconsider their cuts to trade training. If we want Australia to have the dynamic and nimble workforce necessary for Australia to compete globally, we need to go beyond the financial incentives introduced in this bill and really commit to addressing the underlying factors at work in growing our economy and proving that inclusion and growth are complementary and not at odds.
It certainly is in the news, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will come to that, you can be sure, to be sure. This bill we are debating, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014 makes provision to assist long-term unemployed people transition from welfare payments to paid employment. That is important to me as the elected member for Braddon, and I will speak about that in a moment. It will be achieved through the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job measure. Prior to the election the coalition committed to implementing these two programs. As the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, he wants this government to be known as a government that delivers on its commitments, and this legislation does just that. These two programs build on the Tasmanian employment program which was launched six months early by the Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon. Eric Abetz, and me shortly after the 7 September federal election. The Tasmanian employment program provides support for businesses that employ long-term unemployed.
It has been an interesting hour or so as I have listened in my office and then trotted on down to the chamber to listen to the last few contributions from my opponents opposite. They talk about being concerned about jobs. Well, so are we. But the difference between us and them is that we know what to do about it. The honourable member from the other side who spoke previously said, 'Let's talk about the actions of this government.' I am happy to talk about the actions of this government because we are talking about action. We are not talking about platitudes, we are not talking about spin and we are not talking about deceit. We are talking about getting on and delivering on what we said we would deliver. We are getting on with building the economy.
Everybody knows, and elections have now proven, that the public cannot be conned. Labor have no plan to build the economy, only a plan that would trash the economy, and they proved that in six years of sitting on this side of the chamber. I could pass over the many cheap shots that have been made in the last half hour or so, but I probably won't—I'm not that way inclined! Before I get warmed up on that, let me say first that the Job Commitment Bonus is important for Braddon. It is extremely important for the north-west and west coast of Tasmania and King Island because my electorate has a significant problem with intergenerational unemployment and a growing problem with underemployment. Not only are children learning from their parents how to live and survive on welfare, with no impetus to seek gainful employment, but unfortunately they are learning from their grandparents. So this measure will go some way to highlighting the financial benefits of getting out of bed, looking for and gaining gainful employment and breaking that cycle of intergenerational unemployment.
These two programs are fundamentally important to job seekers in my electorate because Tasmania has the highest levels of unemployment in the nation. In the midst of that unfortunate set of statistics, my electorate of Braddon has the worst unemployment levels in the state of Tasmania. Unemployment is the only significant economic indicator that Tasmania tops. How unfortunate is that? At the weekend—and I will come back to this—the people of Tasmania overwhelmingly understood the challenge that is before us and put their faith and their vote in a Will Hodgman-led Liberal government.
Tasmania's unemployment rate is 7.3 per cent, which is 1.3 per cent—so nearly 25 per cent—higher than the national rate of six per cent. Youth unemployment on the west and north-west coast of Tasmania, which was highlighted in the last fortnight or so by the report of the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, is 21 per cent, the worst in the nation. That is something I am very, very concerned about and something that I am actually ashamed of. But it is not surprising because for the last six years the Tasmanian economy has faced the double whammy of an incompetent federal government and a weak minority government in coalition with the industry-hating, jobs-destroying Australian Greens. That is why I went on the record so strongly last week saying that the Tasmanian election, held over the weekend, would be the most important election in a generation. I am pleased to have sitting next to me this evening my colleague from Lyons. Lyons has experienced extraordinary losses of jobs, particularly around the demise of the forest industry. Mr Hutchinson as well as my colleague Mr Nikolic know full well the extreme damage that has been done to our beautiful state. The people have now passed judgement on Labor and the Greens, not once but twice.
This bill is just one of the many measures the coalition is putting forward to cut unemployment in Tasmania and around the country. This is a major challenge and there are many more things that need to be done, such as scrapping the carbon tax, scrapping the mining tax and repealing a billion dollars worth of green and red tape imposed on businesses which we are going to be doing through the repeal day next week.
There is a challenge ahead, there is no doubt about that. Let me go to some of the matters that have been raised by previous speakers. I notice that a bit of attention has been drawn to trade training centres, so let's just put the record straight. The problem with the Labor Party is they always think they know best. Well, a little bit of humility would not go astray because on this side of the House we do not always think we know best. That is why we talk and we consult with industry, with small business, with medium business and with big business to find out what the challenges are and where government policy is failing to meet the needs. When it comes to trade training centres we have not abandoned that scheme at all, but we will be rebadging them as trade skill centres. But the important point about these educational facilities is that they are going to be designed more to increase industry and school cooperation. We are going to be doing that. We are going to be trying to strengthen the links with industry and our communities and to enhance the governance arrangements to ensure industry has a say about the delivery of qualifications.
The Labor Party must have a tin ear, because for year upon year industry and business have been saying that what is being delivered through government policy has not been meeting their expectations and that we have not seen the delivery of qualifications that suit small business and industry. We are going to improve the training delivery so that it benefits the schools, the students and industry—for example, by working with local training organisations, business and industry to identify opportunities for apprenticeships or traineeships that will allow students to undertake their senior secondary school studies while doing an apprenticeship or traineeship. We are also looking to have better student support services—for example, career advice, mentoring and student counselling services to help students do well at their studies and to more successfully make the move from school to the workforce.
Contrary to the two previous speakers, we are not abandoning in any way, shape or form the support that will be provided to our young people to build the whole trade sector in this country. It is important for us to put some of the truths on the table. We are not sitting on our hands. Everybody with any degree of common sense would see that for six years this country went backwards at a rate of knots. This government does not intend for one moment to sit on its hands while we watch the economy get trashed. We will not. The job is ahead and we will continue to do what has to be done to get this country, this economy and our communities back on track.
Labor claims to be the friend of the worker. Well, I am not so sure about that. They were in office for six years, which by comparison to the Hawke-Keating years and the Howard-Costello years was not that long—thank goodness for that! But over that time, we saw employment for the young people of Australia rise from 9.9 per cent to 12.7 per cent. An additional 55,000 young Australians were unemployed after six years of a Labor government. So I do not think it is any good form at all to be spoken down to by those opposite. They had six years to get this economy back on track and what did they do? They trashed it!
They also said that we are a government of no action. They talk about, 'Where are the jobs; where is the plan for jobs?'. Well, what about the East West Link? Let's talk about infrastructure. What about the 3,200 jobs that will be provided through construction? What about the 10,000 jobs that will be on board with the WestConnex? What about the 8,600 jobs with the Pacific Highway upgrade? And the 3,500 coal jobs in Victoria—the list goes on and on.
There is confidence being restored to this nation. That confidence is being restored on the back of a majority government, a government with a plan, a government with a commitment to rebuild this economy, to get our spending under control and to get the budget back into the black as soon as we possibly can. But they have left us with a huge mess to clean up, and they sit there each and every day as though nothing has gone wrong at all. I do not know how they sleep at night.
Let me return to my own electorate and my own state. As I said earlier, there is much challenge ahead of us. But on Saturday just gone, the great news is that the people of Tasmania saw fit to put their confidence in a majority Liberal government led by Will Hodgman. After 16 years of Labor, the last four years in bed with the Greens to the point where they put two Greens in cabinet, our state has been trashed, our forestry industry has been wrecked, health outcomes are the worst in the country, educational outcomes are the worst in the country and infrastructure spending is the least in the country. Thank goodness a majority government has been restored in Tasmania.
I will take a few moments to talk about the character of the new premier of Tasmania. Will Hodgman is a good man. He has shown persistence, he has shown humility, he has shown a real desire to consult and he has a desire to really understand the needs of our community. He has been rewarded for those attributes on Saturday, with an overwhelming victory in the state of Tasmania—just like in the national capital—to lead and to rebuild the economy of Tasmania.
This bill today is about trying to get people back into employment—and man, do we need that in Tasmania! I know the scene well. As I have said in this place on a number of occasions, I spent eight years in the Tasmanian parliament and I know the challenges that are being faced by our communities. They have woken today, the first working business day of a new future—a brighter picture future. I say to the people of Tasmania from this honoured place where I stand that it is time to put shoulder to shoulder and to work together with the new government to get the Tasmanian economy back on track. It will be tough. There will be tough decisions, as Will has said right through the campaign, that will have to be undertaken. There will be rebuilding to be done and not everybody will like every decision, but if we are to rebuild a future for our children and our children's children the time has come. We cannot wait any longer to get the Tasmanian economy back on track. We have to do whatever it takes, otherwise we will leave a legacy that will bring us nothing less than shame, shame, shame.
I say with a great deal of passion tonight that I wish Will and the new Liberal team all the very best as they rebuild the Tasmanian economy and as they restore confidence in our great state. I say to those people who may get a chance to listen to or read this: if you are in business, or an investor in Australia, think again and give Tasmania reconsideration. We deserve it. There is stability now and there is a brighter future.
It is pleasing to see a bill before the House in relation to youth unemployment, even though the measures in this Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014 are a mere fraction of what needs to be done. The relocation allowance and the incentive to stay in work are positive, but they just do not go to the root causes of youth unemployment. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has launched a campaign in relation to youth unemployment. The My Chance, Our Future campaign is aimed at drawing attention to youth unemployment. Last month the brotherhood, as part of that campaign, published its Australian youth unemployment snapshot. The snapshot draws on ABS data to demonstrate the need to take action to reduce unemployment among people 24 and younger.
Queensland's figures are distressing. Three of the brotherhood's 10 hotspots for youth unemployment are in Queensland: Wide Bay with 17.6 per cent youth unemployment; Moreton Bay north, the area around Redcliffe, with 18.1 per cent youth unemployment; and Cairns with 20.5 per cent youth unemployment. In inner-city Brisbane youth unemployment is also unacceptably high. The Parliamentary Library information shows that it was at 11.1 per cent as at December 2013. Since the election of the LNP state government in 2012, unemployment has been on the rise in Queensland. When the LNP were elected in March 2012 unemployment was 5.5 per cent seasonally adjusted. In February 2014 it was 6.2 per cent seasonally adjusted. In January this year Jobs Australia observed:
Despite Australia’s relatively healthy economy, young people continue to experience high levels of unemployment. The national unemployment rate was 5.8% in November 2013, yet the unemployment rate of teenagers was 16.5% and for youth aged 15-24 it was 12.4%.
Young people were hit harder by the Global Financial Crisis … than older people, and its impact lingers. At the height of the GFC in 2008-09 the unemployment rate for 15-24 year olds rose by around four percentage points, while for teenagers it rose by six points. This compared with an overall rise in the national unemployment rate of around two points.
Jobs Australia specifically noted that teenage and youth unemployment rates indicate a need to support young people to make the successful transition from school to employment. It also noted that the casualisation of the workforce has meant that when young people do get a job it is more likely to be part time or casual.
Jobs Australia and the brotherhood have identified the need to support young people's transition to work through measures such as meaningful work experience, improving employability and creating opportunities for young people within communities. The brotherhood has noted the improvements in education attainment that have been made and has said that the next step in fighting youth unemployment is to bolster programs that build work readiness among Australian youth. It went on to state that what is needed is a service that has these key elements—and I will cite the report because I think it is really important to talk about what is actually needed to address youth unemployment in this country. The first element the report mentions is employability skills. The report states:
Employers have identified that young job seekers are often not job-ready. They need employees who are reliable, willing to learn and able to fit into the workplace. A Youth Transitions Service—
which the brotherhood is advocating for—
would focus on building ‘employability’ skills such as punctuality, the ability to work in a team and having a practical understanding of workplace expectations—all of which are essential for successfully moving into work.
Another element that is called for is work experience. The report states:
Access to real workplace experience is critical to building work readiness. A Youth Transitions Service would connect young people to real-life opportunities to get a taste of varied workplace environments and obtain meaningful work experience and volunteering placements. This would enable young people to try out different jobs, build their personal networks and mentors and learn about the world of work and the available options.
Another element is coaching. The report states:
Intensive and sustained coaching would assist a young person identify their strengths and aspirations to make sure they are on the pathway to secure their first job. Parents also have a critical role to play. A Youth Transitions Service should also focus on directly engaging with parents to support their children’s transition to work.
The brotherhood also raised the elements of vocational guidance and rapid action. The report states that a youth transitions service could proactively scan the environment to find out where there are disengaged young people and get in touch with them. Connecting with local employers is obviously an important step to take to find out how best to address youth unemployment through finding the skills that are needed and to build links and connections. In other words, the brotherhood has called for real strategic action to get young people into work, not just fiddling at the edges of payments. This bill is a missed opportunity for the government.
Labor has always stood for jobs. In government Labor worked to address youth unemployment by supporting young people to finish school and get the training and higher education they need for well-paying jobs. Labor improved training, improved engagement and improved employment services for young people. Under Labor the successful Youth Connections Program assisted more than 71,000 young Australians. The great success of that program has been acknowledged. It kept people at school and a number of people who went through that program went through further education, including tertiary education. The member for Rankin addressed that issue in his earlier speech in support of this bill and the proposition before the House.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence snapshot acknowledges the significance of the Youth Connections Program. That program assists young people not fully engaged in education or employment through, as the brotherhood has described it, 'outreach and re-engagement activities, case management and initiatives that build youth service capacity'. Jobs Australia also said about the Youth Connections Program:
The Youth Connections Programme has been successful in preventing and addressing disengagement from education, training and employment and helping young people achieve long term outcomes. The strengths of Youth Connections include flexibility, capacity to provide intensive and holistic support, and outreach with the most disengaged.
The Youth Connections Program has received acclaim from bodies with an interest in dealing with the youth unemployment problem. In fact, the brotherhood have described this as a youth unemployment crisis. That is the scale of the issue we are looking at.
Jobs Australia has recommended that the services provided under Youth Connections continue beyond 2014. We know that presently there is no guarantee of funding continuing beyond 2014. In fact, it has been revealed that there is no money allocated for the program to continue beyond 2014. If the government are considering defunding this program, which unfortunately seems very likely, with a view to making savings, I caution them to be very wary of false economies. In other words, are there really net savings to be made from discontinuing this program or are we being penny-wise and pound-foolish by failing to provide a program that has a track record of success in re-engaging young people? It is clear from the statistics that there is a youth unemployment problem in this nation. We must act to assist young people to get into work. If the government is considering de-funding this program, I would caution it to be wary of false economies. In government, Labor made a record investment in skills and training for smarter jobs and a stronger nation. In total, the former Labor government invested over $19 billion in skills funding between 2008-09 and 2012-13. This was a 77 per cent increase compared to the former Howard government investment.
The former Labor government was delivering a training guarantee, including rolling out a national entitlement to a publicly funded minimum of certificate level III qualification, a guaranteed training place for all Australians. It was giving all Australians access to over $90,000 worth of training to get a diploma or an advanced diploma through HECS style loans of the VET FEE-HELP program introduced in 2009. It was opening up access to university education by uncapping the number of places universities offer, meaning no-one who wanted to go to university would miss out because of funding caps.
During the federal election campaign, Labor announced changes to job services and training to give workers losing their jobs a Jobs, Training and Apprenticeships Guarantee. This would have ensured they would receive immediate help finding work and learning the skills needed by local employers. It would have given business a greater say in the type of training provided to jobseekers, ensuring taxpayer-funded employment services were relevant to businesses' needs by consulting with local businesses. Under that guarantee, workers were to receive employment services within two business days of losing their job, and we know that early intervention is really important.
Labor's reforms were aimed at building on the existing training guarantee by building better links between employment service providers, training providers and local employers. Labor had announced Jobs and Training Boards aimed at connecting local businesses, employment services and training providers to make sure that training services matched business needs. Of course, Labor's most significant achievement in government when it comes to jobs was careful and successful stewardship of our economy, which shielded Australian working families from the worst effects of the global financial crisis.
As Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer said of the former Labor government's legacy:
Unemployment remained low under Labor until the financial crisis hit hard, but … it rose much less and began falling more quickly again than elsewhere due to Labor’s stimulus packages and the RBA’s emergency rate cuts.
That remains Labor’s biggest triumph: keeping hundreds of thousands of people out of unemployment, with all the attendant budgetary and social costs (and the longer-term impact on participation and mobility). And more than 900,000 jobs created in the past five years has also been a solid achievement.
In contrast, the Liberal-National government has failed to support training, and it has failed to support jobs. The Abbott government has already broken Mr Abbott's promise that there would be no cuts to education, by cutting $1 billion from training, cancelling 650 future Trades Training Centres. At the same time as it is reducing Australians' access to vocational training, unbelievably, the Abbott government is opening loopholes to allow greater use of subclass 457 visas. The use of temporary skilled worker visas should not be accompanied by cuts to training. Demand for foreign skilled workers indicates that more investment in training is needed, not less.
When it comes to jobs, the Abbott government's record is dire. Over 60,000 full-time jobs have been lost since the Abbott government took office. We have seen job losses announced at Qantas, 5,000 jobs; at Toyota, 2,500 direct jobs; at Holden, 2,900 direct jobs; at Rio Tinto at the Gove refinery, 1,100 jobs; at Electrolux in Orange, 544 jobs; at Simplot, 110 jobs; at Peabody, more than 200 jobs; at Caterpillar, 200 jobs, and many other indirect jobs. Sadly, we know that this will lead to even more job losses.
And a disturbing theme is arising from this government: blaming workers for their own job losses. We saw it with the attempts to characterise SPC workers' conditions as too generous. We are seeing it now with the attacks on penalty rates. But Australians will not fall for claims that wages are too high. Australians know that, as Matt Cowgill has observed, since 2000, Australian real wages have not kept pace with productivity growth. The labour share of national income has been reducing, and in 2011 reached its lowest point in at least fifty years. Meanwhile, labour productivity has had a period of sustained growth. Last year, Austrade reported on the Conference Board data showing that Australian labour productivity, measured in GDP per hour, grew at an average annual rate of more than one per cent over the 10 years to 2012. This exceeded many major developed economies, including the UK, Germany, Canada, France and Italy.
Instead of a government that blames workers and working conditions, Australians deserve a government that will fight for jobs and support workers and job seekers. While measures to support young people in work are to be welcomed, we still must focus on giving them the skills and experience to get a job in the first place. While Labor supports this legislation and the principle of encouraging young people to find employment, Labor does not want to see these payments to job seekers replacing wage subsidies or support for employers to employ young people, nor do we want it be at the expense of investment in training and higher education for young people.
The Abbott Liberal National government is failing young people. It has done nothing at all about youth unemployment other than to rush this bill into the parliament after youth unemployment figures became the focus of national attention. And the punitive measure in the bill, increasing the non-payment period to 26 weeks, implies that there is a problem with young people leaving jobs without a good reason. This is yet another example of the Liberals and Nationals blaming their failures on the very people who it has failed, young people. Instead of implying that youth unemployment is attributable to young people leaving jobs, the government should act on the recommendations of organisations like Brotherhood of St Laurence and Jobs Australia and provide real support to get young people into work out of school. To transition them from school into work is the key. The measures in this bill will be supported, but as my colleague the member for Rankin said, they barely scratch the surface. This government needs to fight for jobs, and take real action to get young people into work.
I always welcome the opportunity to speak on bills. Obviously, I do not support the amendments. I think the original bill, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014, is really the issue and really what adds value here. It is always interesting to look back on the recent history of employment in Australia. The opposition makes much of talking about Holden, Toyota and Qantas, to the exclusion of Mitsubishi—forgotten—and Ford—also forgotten. It is very easy to point the finger at us with more recent situations and to completely neglect or whitewash away the past—even what happened at Gove.
For years we have been talking in this place, on our side anyway, about the additional costs that have come from the opposition. The Labor Party's approach to high-emission industries and, thanks to the carbon tax, their determination by the other side to close down the aluminium industry in this country is effectively being achieved. They shed crocodile tears for the jobs lost in Gove, when that exact industry was almost specifically targeted by the carbon tax and was highlighted as an industry at risk. Mission accomplished Labor Party! Pat yourselves on the back. That is what you did when you got the carbon tax through. Job losses have come from that and real people have been impacted. This is the reality.
For Qantas, $106 million: yes, I bet that would be really good for the company's future. Just whack that sort of money on, all to the exclusion of the impact on climate. Anyone who has been to China, who has been on the streets of those cities, would know where so much CO2 is coming from. So many Australian jobs have been lost as result of industry being undermined by the Labor Party's carbon tax, yet other places like China more than account for any savings. I am not sure whether there has been a reduction of CO2 due to this carbon tax. There have been jobs lost, there is no doubt about that, but not so much on the climate side of things. This is what comes from the actions of the other side.
I heard the last speaker, the member for Griffith, talking about youth unemployment. I recall, back in 2007, when there was a change in government, the youth unemployment was 9.9 per cent—that is tragic, there is no doubt about that. Of course, under Labor it went up to 12.7 per cent—again we do not hear too much about that. That is not exactly the enviablerecord they talk about on the other side. An additional 55,000 young Australians were unemployed after six years of Labor. In the last month, 80,000 extra full-time jobs that have been created in this country. Unfortunately, balanced against that was a loss of part-time jobs.
In the hospitality sector, shops do not want to open on Sundays. In the shopping centres in Perth and in my area at Kingsway shopping centre, many shops do not open on Sunday because they cannot afford to. There is a reason for that. Many jobs have gone because of the cost of opening—$6 or $7 for a cup of coffee to cover the new wages awards brought in by the other side—that is great! Jobs lost, but whatever you do, don't talk about penalty rates. Blow the jobs: that is view of the Labor, and do not talk about penalty rates.
I should really proceed to more positive points. This bill is a lot more positive than the past six years have been. Whenever I speak at a citizenship ceremony, I always say that some people call this country 'the lucky country'. I call it a country where there is opportunity, where, if you want to make the most of your education, then work hard and achieve your best and you can be successful. If you have a good attitude and work hard at your job, you can maximise your opportunities. There are places in the world where your family will either give you a better chance of getting a good job or undermine your chances of a good job or education. There are places in the world where your religion will do the same thing—it either works for you or it works against you. Thank god this is not a country where cultural issues get in the way of success. In this country, if people work hard, it is does not matter about their background. In this country, people's destiny is in the palm of our hand and if they work hard, they will succeed. Thank god this is a country like that.
Look around: the numbers of people who have come here from other countries is an endorsement of these opportunities. The reason so many people want to come here is that this great country is a land of opportunity. It is also something of a criticism of the places people have come from. I know there are a lot of New Zealanders in this country. We see the All Blacks jersey pulled out so often in the rugby season, but if New Zealand were such a great place, they would still be living there.
Of course, there is a reason for us to be positive. In the last month almost 50,000 net jobs were created and the participation rate rose to 64.8 per cent. The unemployment rate was not good but it held steady at six per cent rather than going to 6.25 per cent as the previous government had predicted. Although there was a reduction in part-time jobs, 80,000 new full-time jobs were created. So, there is a lot to be positive about. I see confidence returning in WA, particularly. More jobs are being advertised again. The Roy Hill project, owned mainly by the often maligned Gina Rinehart, is gearing up and that is great news for Western Australia. Labor and the Greens want to continue to undermine Western Australia's future with the mining tax and the carbon tax. As everyone knows, a good result at the 5 April Senate election will see three Liberal senators able to assist the men, women and children of Western Australia to a better future.
In Cowan, I am encouraged by an increase in job advertisements on the streets and in the businesses of the light industrial suburbs of Malaga, Gnangara and Wangara. Just the other day I saw Centurion Garage Doors, a great manufacturer in Cowan, advertising for installers on Hartman Drive—this is very encouraging. In Cowan, the unemployment rate is 4.5 per cent, which is lower than the Western Australian rate of 5.9 per cent. Despite these figures being better than many other electorates and states I know that they could be better and that is why I support this bill.
Specifically on this bill, the first point I would like to note is that, like any good government, if you say it before an election then you must do it after the election. This is a point of difference between us and our predecessors. This bill is essentially about bringing into effect two election commitments—the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program—both of which will come into effect from 1 July 2014. It is important to keep in mind that jobs are created through economic activity and prosperity. The role of government is to facilitate the circumstances of that prosperity and, where possible, pull the hurdles out of the way. Our key policies in achieving this include getting rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax, and getting rid of excessive red tape. For individual Australians who are out of work, getting a job is vitally important and this government is determined to assist them. For the youth and those wishing to get a job regardless of its location this bill and this government are here to help. We are determined to combat the damaging effects of unemployment on people, because we know that being out of work for an extended period can cause harm by reducing a person's skills, confidence and sense of pride. Without self-confidence, a person is already becoming uncompetitive and the longer a person is unemployed the greater the harm taking place.
The first element of this bill is our proposal of a Job Commitment Bonus. This new payment will be available to young Australians aged 18-30 who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, who are already in receipt of a Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance, and who go on to get and hold down a job. The payment is split into two parts. To achieve the first bonus, worth $2,500, an eligible young job seeker must remain in employment and off income support for 12 months. The second part is worth $4,000 and is paid when the person remains in employment and off income support for an additional 12 months. That comes to 24 months in total. This is a much welcomed initiative because it targets the building of a better jobs culture—a culture, as the minister said, of commitment to the world of work rather than the world of welfare. This is what the Job Commitment Bonus is about—to achieve its objectives it will reward those young Australians who demonstrate a dedication to work.
I also greatly support the second significant initiative of this bill, being the acknowledgement that job seekers face costs and sometimes those costs, such as moving, can be significant and can stop a person taking up a job. To combat this problem, the government, through this legislation, will introduce the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program to provide funding to eligible job seekers to meet the costs of moving to take up a job. Eligible job seekers can access up to $6,000 for relocation to a regional area to take up a job. Sometimes it works the other way—people move to a metropolitan area from the regions—and, in this case, $3,000 can be made available. Even relocation from higher unemployment metropolitan areas to another metropolitan area can attract $3,000. Where a family with dependent children is moving, up to an extra $3,000 can also be granted in recognition of the additional costs for a family to move.
There are a number of great benefits generated through this bill. These programs are measures designed to support job seekers, but there has to be a commitment on the part of those taking up the support of the government and taxpayers; there has to be a commitment by those people who want to access this money. It is therefore appropriate that, if the person does not remain in the job for at least six months, there should be a penalty in the form of a 26-week non-payment period before they can access unemployment benefits again in the absence of a reasonable excuse for leaving the employment. This bill will provide effective support to job seekers whilst also holding them to account for that support. The great value in these measures is that this acts as a partnership in many ways—the government and the taxpayers give the hand up and the unemployed person commits to moving and staying in work. The end result is greater participation which helps build economic prosperity. This is good for the individual, good for the business doing the employing, and good for the government and the taxpayers who do not have to pay unemployment payments.
At the start I spoke about this country being the land of opportunity, and it is through this bill and these measures that we, the government, can enshrine these opportunities. We will be there for the job seekers of our nation to ensure that opportunities are not out of reach due to costs of relocation and to lock in a positive culture of participation, not unproductive entitlement. This bill is about hope, reward and opportunity for those who may feel employment is out of reach, and it is about an acknowledgement that no lifetime should be wasted because of a culture of low expectations and desperation due to welfare dependency.
There is little doubt, and the people know it, that the coalition inherited an economy in transition. The lives of Australians have been held back by $123 billion in projected deficits and, without change, the economy is heading towards being $667 billion in debt. The good news is that, through these initiatives, we can increase productivity, grow the economy, reduce debt and get people into jobs and off unemployment benefits. I therefore commend the bill to the House.
I am pleased to support the amendment moved by the opposition to the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. It is timely that we are having a discussion about employment participation. Last Thursday, unemployment figures showed that a further 10,000 Australians had lost their job last month and that there are now over 742,000 Australians out of work. The aggregate hours worked fell nearly one per cent, down 14 million hours. In my home state of Victoria, the participation rate fell from 64.8 per cent to 64.5 per cent, and our unemployment rate, at 6.4 per cent, is the worst since January 2002. In Broadmeadows, just north of my electorate, unemployment has risen by 25 per cent in the past six months, from 10.3 per cent to 12.8 per cent. Unemployment across Glenroy, Hadfield and Fawkner in my electorate is of particular concern. It now sits at 6.9 per cent, which is higher than the national unemployment rate of six per cent and higher than the Victorian unemployment rate. This higher than average unemployment rate will not be helped by the loss of Ford and other manufacturers associated with that company. Qantas job losses will also affect this community because of its traditional employment links with Tullamarine Airport.
Against this background, the decision by the federal government to allow employers to bring in unlimited numbers of foreign workers is a lunatic move, which will cost Australian jobs and bring back the rorts which took place before that loophole was closed. We already have over one million temporary entrants in Australia who have work rights. It is plain crazy to increase the 457 visa program. This program's application is already way too high. In 2009-10, there were 68,000 457 visas granted. Last year the figure had risen to over 126,000 temporary migrant worker visas. If you allow employers to bring in as many 457 workers as they like once a sponsorship is approved, this figure will continue to skyrocket. The workers concerned are prepared to work for less than Australian workers, which suits employers, but the 457 visa program is a dagger at the heart of Australian workers, who end up working for less than decent wages and conditions, or languishing indefinitely without any work at all.
We need to cap and reduce the temporary migrant worker programs and give job opportunities and job security to young Australians. The temporary and permanent migrant worker programs are a recipe for more young Australians to be out of work, with all the negative consequences that unemployment has in relation to mental health, drugs, crime and social harmony. I find it remarkable that almost 750 occupations have so few Australian workers available that they are eligible for the 457 visa program: caravan park managers, grape growers, cooks, IT workers—you name it; it is claimed we are short of workers in the field. It is just not so.
The ABC reporter Matt Peacock produced a very insightful piece of reporting on 6 March about the ripping off of thousands of abattoir workers in Australia on working holiday, or 417, visas. At the Scone meatworks in the New South Wales Upper Hunter Valley, serious concerns have emerged about excessive hours of work, gross underpayments of pay and entitlements, and mistreatment of employees, including sexual harassment. Grant Courtney from the Meat Workers Union Newcastle and Northern Branch says that some of the international workers—often Taiwanese backpackers—are not even being paid half the Australian minimum wage. Investigations also revealed backpackers being encouraged not to pay tax by using ABN numbers. It is unacceptable that this can go on.
A lot of the abuse of temporary workers occurs through labour hire companies. In the meatworkers example, the Scone site is owned by Primo Australia, who used the labour hire company Scottwell International. Scottwell, in turn, recruited Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean employees to work in abattoirs across Australia. Matt Peacock reported that it has 19 different abattoirs across three states employing more than 1,100 people. Grant Courtney, from the meat workers union, says that these subcontracting arrangements, and the use of labour agencies, should not happen. I agree with him. It is a recipe for the kinds of abuses that Matt Peacock's report identified. The workers who come to meatworks should be directly employed by the company. They should be paid Australian wages and conditions, and they should pay Australian taxes. If the work runs out, they can be let go, the same as other workers are let go.
Furthermore, the Victorian Liberal government has written to the Commonwealth seeking to have the population threshold for regional migration agreements lifted to allow—of all places—Geelong to be included. The workers at Ford, Alcoa and other industries in Geelong who now stand to lose their jobs are entitled to a fair crack at the jobs that will become available in future in that region, without having to face ferocious competition for entry-level, low-wage jobs from foreign workers who are willing to work for much less.
The bill before the House is called Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. I am all in favour of increased employment participation, but we now have a workforce participation rate lower than it has been for years. In my home state of Victoria, participation is down from 64.8 per cent to 64.5 per cent, with an unemployment rate as bad as anything since January 2002. Unemployment in Broadmeadows has jumped 25 per cent in the six months of the Abbott government. So, why on earth does the government want to increase the temporary migrant worker program instead of giving the unemployed people of Broadmeadows a go? The December quarter figures showed that unemployment in the city of Moreland, which is in the heart of my electorate, has increased by over 25 per cent in just 12 months. Local unemployment climbed from 4.1 per cent in December 2012 to 5.6 per cent in December 2013. In Moreland, there are now 1,249 extra people unemployed compared with 12 months ago. A total of 4,675 local people are now out of work. This increase has been across the board: Brunswick, up from 3.6 per cent to 5 per cent; Coburg, up from 3.7 per cent to 5 per cent; and the north of Moreland, up from 5.1 per cent to 6.9 per cent. As I said earlier, this figure of 6.9 per cent—covering Glenroy, Hadfield and Fawkner—is of particular concern, being higher than the national unemployment rate and higher than the Victorian unemployment rate.
I am dismayed that the federal and state governments have twiddled their thumbs as Holden, Toyota, Alcoa and Qantas have announced the sacking of thousands of workers. This will have adverse effects on my electorate and on Victorians more broadly. This government's disdain for manufacturing in general, motor vehicle manufacturing in particular, makes it not only an anti-South Australian government—on the weekend, many South Australians made it clear that they have worked that out—but also an anti-Victorian government.
Youth unemployment is a big issue for Australia and for young Australians. According to a recent report by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, youth unemployment has reached a crisis point. The organisation says the figures show an average of 12.4 per cent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were out of work in the year to January. It says that figure has topped 20 per cent in some parts of the country, including Cairns in Far North Queensland, west and north-west Tasmania and northern Adelaide. In the Hume region, north of my electorate, the rate has hit 17.5 per cent. The executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Tony Nicholson, has—correctly in my view—described the result as a disaster. He said:
What it means for all these young people is that they're at risk of never being able to get a foothold in the world of work.
And in our modern economy that means that they're really being sentenced to a lifetime of poverty.
I think he is absolutely right. In many respects, we are failing the younger generation in terms of housing affordability and job security. We are letting them down. I am very concerned about the loss of jobs since the new government came to office. The government has failed to support jobs. I am concerned that they have few or no plans to deal with the increased level of unemployment. We have seen Qantas announce 5,000 job losses; 2,500 direct jobs at Toyota; 2,900 direct jobs at Holden; 1,100 jobs at Rio Tinto at the Gove refinery; 544 jobs at Electrolux in Orange; 110 jobs at Simplot; more than 200 jobs at Peabody; 200 jobs at Caterpillar; and many other indirect jobs. Sadly, we all know that these sorts of job losses have knock-on consequences and lead to even more job losses.
Australians deserve a government that will fight for jobs and support workers and job seekers. While measures to support young people in work are to be welcomed—and we do welcome them—we must focus on giving young people the skills and experience to get a job in the first place. Tony Nicholson has called on the federal government to invest in a national strategy to turn things around. He said:
Overwhelmingly we know that these young people need advice about their career paths, they need opportunities to gain basic skills, they need mentoring, but over and above all that, what they need is an opportunity to gain work experience in a real work place with a real employer.
In government, Labor focused on supporting young people to finish school and get the training and higher education they need for well-paying jobs. We believe in a strong public provider that underpins a high-quality VET system, which is why we support TAFE. Labor improved training and employment services for young people. Governments cannot expect young people to gain well-paid jobs without providing education, training and support. Governments cannot expect young people to easily find work with unemployment on the increase in the way that I have outlined to the House.
I think we should be looking to the Scandinavian models for guidance. There, an emphasis is placed on the long term and policies to mitigate the harsher effects of capitalism are in place. Denmark, for example, has a system of 'flexicurity', which makes it easier for employers to sack people but provides support and training for the unemployed.
An active labour market policy in Nordic countries helps improve qualifications among the unemployed through courses and education and also encourages the unemployed to actively focus on job seeking. The social security net is not passive in the sense that people may choose freely between working or not; rather, it provides a secure income as long as the demand for active participation in the labour market is met. Participation in the labour market is also supported by welfare schemes such as child care. An extensive childcare system has a direct welfare effect for families and helps to socialise children. It also helps to ensure gender equality in terms of opportunities to participate in the labour market.
Regrettably, this government obsessively believes in self-correcting free markets and that workers who have lost their jobs can move seamlessly into other work. At the same time, they disparage welfare and talk up the various myths of neo-liberal economic doctrine. However, the welfare state in Nordic countries is considered to be a strength when it comes to economic development. Not only does the welfare state benefit the whole population but also it has a positive effect on the economy.
The public sector and welfare services have helped these countries develop a highly skilled workforce and a high level of employment. Norway, for example, has 3.3 per cent unemployment, where we have six per cent unemployment. This, combined with a stable civil society, a strong democratic tradition and an effective regulatory framework has led to the emergence in the region of extensive social capital, which is one of the main pillars of the Nordic economies.
I support the opposition's amendment. I urge the government to get fair dinkum about boosting the labour force participation rate. To do this, it needs to cut back its migrant worker programs. The smaller economies of Northern Europe, which have not been trying to boost population growth with high migration programs, have most successfully had high labour force participation rates. I urge the government to support Australian jobs and Australian young people, who I fear are being done a real disservice by the policies that we are pursuing now. I commend the amendment to the House.
I rise to support the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. This government believes that the best form of welfare is work and that, where people are able to work, they should be encouraged and supported to do so. This bill will provide assistance to enable the long-term unemployed, particularly young job seekers, to find and keep a job. The bill introduces two measures that will achieve these objectives: the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program. This government is determined to prevent young job seekers falling into long-term welfare dependency, and we are eager to reward positive pro-work behaviours.
The Job Commitment Bonus will be available to young Australians aged 18 to 30 who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. If they are able to get and keep a job for 12 months or more, regardless of whether they receive Newstart allowance or youth allowance, they will be eligible for payment under the scheme. The Job Commitment Bonus will make available two payments: $2,500 can be received when an eligible young job seeker remains in employment and off income support for 12 months and a further $4,000 will be available after the job seeker remains in employment and off income support for an additional 12 months. The Job Commitment Bonus will reward young Australians who successfully break the cycle of welfare and demonstrate a strong and ongoing commitment to work.
This bill also introduces the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Program. This program provides financial support to job seekers who have been receiving Newstart allowance, youth allowance or parenting payment for at least the preceding 12 months in order to relocate to take up employment or an apprenticeship. The majority of long-term unemployed people do not choose or want to be unemployed. Most long-term unemployed people are eager to break into the job market and secure meaningful employment, but, through no fault of their own, find themselves in an environment where there are simply not enough jobs available. This government believes that in these circumstances we should play an active and responsible role, encouraging job seekers to relocate to regions where there is available employment. The result of doing this is twofold. Firstly, we are able to better match job seekers with available jobs, breaking the cycle of welfare dependency. Secondly, we are reducing the pressures on regions with high unemployment whilst increasing the workforce in areas where there is a clearly identified demand for work.
The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Program will make available up to $6,000 to support eligible job seekers who relocate to a regional area to take up a job and up to $3,000 to support eligible job seekers who relocate to a metropolitan area from a regional area to take up a job. This payment will also be available to eligible job seekers who relocate from a metropolitan area with a higher unemployment rate to one with a lower unemployment rate to take up a job. In addition to these amounts, families with dependent children will be provided with up to an extra $3,000, in recognition of the extra costs associated with relocating the family. These measures will offer real assistance to long-term unemployed people who relocate to take up work. Given the significant investment on behalf of the government, it is appropriate that we have strong guidelines in place to ensure that those who receive assistance to relocate to take up a job stay in that job rather than return to welfare. This bill will amend the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 so that participants who leave employment without a reasonable excuse within six months of receiving a relocation payment will incur a 26-week non-payment period before becoming eligible to receive unemployment benefits again.
This government understands that there is a principal need to support and to encourage young Australians into long-term, viable employment. It was recently reported in The Australian that the number of people on benefits has reached a 15-year high with 840,000 people now receiving either Newstart allowance or youth allowance, representing an increase of 44,000 people against last year's figures. Given the former government's poor economic management, which resulted in an additional 200,000 more people in unemployment lines, it is not surprising that young Australians are struggling to secure meaningful employment. Finding yourself unemployed carries both economic and social impacts. It affects people's personal and professional lives. The impact of unemployment extends beyond the financial costs of welfare payments. It can also lead to a loss of one's pride, reduced self-esteem and confidence. It erodes a person's skill set, making the task of securing employment even more difficult in the long term. Failing to break the cycle of unemployment can contribute to an unhealthy and unsustainable dependence on welfare.
In addressing these issues, the government needs to pursue a range of measures in order to achieve the desired results of lower unemployment and of greater workforce participation. But first and foremost Australia needs a strong and prosperous economy that supports sustainable business. This is why the government will repeal the carbon tax and remove $1 billion worth of red and green tape per year, making business more productive, more competitive and placing it into a stronger position to generate job growth. It is business, not government, that creates jobs. This government is committed to establishing the right environment for business to thrive.
We are also committed to building a bigger and stronger national workforce in order to meet future economic and social demands. We will achieve this through programs such as the Trade Support Loans, to encourage the take-up of traineeships and apprenticeships, the reintroduction of a purposeful Work for the Dole program and the measures introduced in this bill. It is abundantly clear that long-term unemployed job seekers need a hand up not a handout.
The reality is that after six years of Labor government it is now more difficult for people to find work. When Labor took office in 2007, the unemployment rate across Australia was 4.3 per cent, with the average unemployment rate over the final year of the Howard government being 4.45 per cent. When Labor left office last year, the unemployment rate had climbed to 5.8 per cent, with the unemployment rate over the final years of the Gillard-Rudd government averaging 5.5 per cent—an entire percentage point higher than the comparable period under the Howard government. Couple this with a retraction of the workforce participation rate and it should come as no surprise that there are an additional 200,000 people queuing in unemployment lines. These numbers show the difficulties facing job seekers and illustrate the need for programs that will lead people off welfare and into employment.
The measures outlined in this bill are geared towards addressing what is, perhaps, an even more concerning trend across Australia—that is, the alarmingly high rate of unemployment amongst our youth. It was reported last month that youth unemployment in Australia has reached a crisis point with figures released by the Brotherhood of St Laurence showing that 12.4 per cent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were out of work. I recently had the opportunity to meet with the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Mr Tony Nicholson, to discuss my local priorities of lifting school retention rates and the youth unemployment rate in Dobell. As noted by the member for Wills, Mr Nicholson described the current national youth unemployment rate, saying:
What it means for all these young people is that they're at risk of never being able to get a foothold in the world of work.
And in our modern economy that means that they're really being sentenced to a lifetime of poverty.
As the mother of two young men, I am all too aware of the challenges facing young job seekers in my electorate of Dobell. Across the Central Coast we see a daily exodus of over 30,000 people travelling to Sydney, Newcastle, the Hunter or other areas for work, often spending four hours doing the daily commute. The volume of people commuting for employment means valuable time is spent in motor vehicles and on trains rather than with families. With our local unemployment rate of 6.88 per cent—which sits well above the national average—our mature workers are not exempt from the struggles of unemployment, so it is not hard to see why our youngest job seekers struggle to break into the labour market.
For job seekers on the Central Coast aged between 15 and 19 years, the average youth unemployment rate for the period 2012-13 was 16 per cent, with a high of 24.6 per cent in the month of February. Of equal concern is that the number of 15- to 19-year-olds participating in the workforce has fallen from 67.3 per cent in 2008-09 to 60.7 per cent in 2012-13. During this period the rate fell as low as 50 per cent. This means that across the Central Coast the percentage of young people in employment has declined by seven per cent. In regional areas such as the Central Coast, this can be a major contributing factor in the heightening of welfare dependence—reinforcing the need for more jobs and the need to increase the number of people in the workforce so that we can meet the economic and social challenges of today and tomorrow. This bill offers real incentives to bring people out of welfare dependency and into rewarding employment. In Dobell we have 5,314 recipients of the Newstart allowance, and 70 per cent of this number have been receiving the allowance for a period of more than 12 months.
This bill implements measures to reduce the long-term unemployment rate of people aged 18 to 30 years. In Dobell, 1,190 recipients of the Newstart allowance fall into this age category, with 64 per cent having received the allowance for a period of more than 12 months. Dobell is a great example of what this bill means to many young job seekers, with its measures having the ability to encourage around 750 people off welfare and into meaningful and rewarding employment.
We have heard those opposite speak of the success of the Youth Connections program, and no-one would dispute its success in some regions. But let's be clear at the outset: it was Labor that provided no new funding beyond the current year for Youth Connections. Unlike Labor, we are committed to meaningful training that leads to a job or improved productivity in the workplace—not training for training's sake. This government is committed to restoring hope, reward and opportunity to the people of Australia. With a stronger economy and responsible assistance to the long-term unemployed, we will achieve fewer people on welfare and more people in meaningful jobs. This bill will encourage more people to take up work and reward them for staying in meaningful employment and off welfare. I commend this bill to the House.
I am pleased to be participating in the debate on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014, particularly as it focuses on how we can create opportunities for young people to get off benefits and find their way into jobs. We all know that the most important thing we can do to ensure that a young person does not suffer a life of long periods of unemployment is to ensure that they finish school, because there is a very stubborn correlation between the completion of high school and long-term unemployment. So the first thing we need to do to ensure that young people find their way into work is to ensure that they get a decent education, and that is why investing in our school system is so important.
The second thing you can do is to ensure that we are working with, and not against, the economic cycle to ensure that the government withdraws when the economy is growing and that we provide the right sorts of stimulus to the economy when it is slowing down, to keep businesses alive, to keeps jobs growing and to ensure that young people leaving school have the opportunity that we did when we left school—to find a job.
The bill before the House creates some incentives to get a job and to keep a job through two measures. The bill introduces the job commitment bonus, which is a tax-free payment of $2,500 for young Australians aged between 18 and 30 who have been receiving either Newstart or the youth allowance for a period of 12 months. They get it if they remain in gainful employment for a further 12-month period. It also allows young Australians to qualify for a further tax-free payment of $4,000 if they remain in gainful employment for another 12 months—that is, a maximum of 24 months in total. So, over two years you have the capacity to receive an incentive payment of $6,500. I know when I was a young person $6,500 probably would have helped me pay off the bills I had accrued before I had got myself into work or would have helped me buy a car to get to and from work or to meet the other expenses of being in employment. So that part of the package is welcomed by those of us on this side of the House.
The second part of the package is about labour force mobility—about encouraging people to move from the place where potential workers are to the place where the jobs are—and that is the relocation assistance to take up a job. It provides financial assistance of $3,000 or $6,000 for long-term unemployed people—that is, job seekers on Newstart, youth allowance or parenting payments who have been there for at least 12 months. The $3,000 payment is for people moving from a regional area to a metropolitan area; the $6,000 is for people moving from a metropolitan area to a regional area. We might cavil about the wisdom of that in some areas. For example, the area we are standing in at the moment is probably defined as a metropolitan area under the legislation; it is an area of very low unemployment by national standards. If somebody were to move here from a nearby regional area with higher unemployment—such as Yass or Goulburn—they probably would not attract the higher payment, although the rent and other costs of living in Canberra are higher. But in the scheme of things, these are small criticisms that should not take away from the overall support that we on this side of the House give to the legislation.
I come from the Illawarra area, where we have the second-highest youth unemployment rate in the state. The member for Parramatta, who is here at the bench with me today, represents an area that also has very high youth unemployment. And we know that we need to do better as a country, and we are two local members committed to ensuring that we create opportunities for our young people so we do not win the gold and silver medals when it comes to high youth unemployment.
I support the bill, and I am sure the member for Parramatta supports the bill, because it is an extension of what Labor was doing when we were in government. In government Labor focused on supporting young people to finish school, to get the training and higher education they needed, as well as the well-paying jobs of the future. As I said at the outset, the best thing we can do to ensure that is invest in our school education system, and our tertiary education system—particularly our TAFE system.
That is why we reformed and rebuilt skills in the training sector, so it was responsive to the skills shortages that exist nationally and regionally. Last year our Move to Work program provided practical and financial assistance for job seekers who were willing to move outside their local area to take up ongoing employment or an apprenticeship. Overall we invested over $2.4 billion, and put industry at the centre of the National Training System. We delivered the skilled workers that employers need, and made sure that the training actually led to jobs at the other end. I will have something to say about that in a moment, when I focus on a number of very successful programs in my own electorate that are at threat of not receiving ongoing funding.
In 2012 there were about 1.9 million students in the public system, up from 1.67 million in 2007—a 13.8 per cent increase in the number of VET students entering training—and that is a good outcome. Some 1.54 million of these VET places were Commonwealth funded, an increase of almost 25 per cent from the 1.24 million in 2007. All of this paints a picture of how, when we were in government, we were committed to training. While this legislation does not go to training, and while it does not go towards supporting people to make them more employable, it is a part of the picture because it is creating incentives.
Our $57.5 million Apprentice Kickstart initiative supported 21,000 building, construction and engineering apprentices by tripling the incentives for the employers in the first year of taking on an apprentice—and made sure skills in the sector were continuing to develop during what was a weaker time in the construction industry. I mention this because it is important that while we are creating incentives for young people to move to a place where they might find work, or to move into an area where they get can and keep a job, it is also important that we work on the incentives for employers to take on an apprentice or trainee and offer them work.
In government Labor increased financial support for families by $4,000, to encourage teenagers to stay in school or TAFE, and we did this through a range of mechanisms. Our initiatives left the incoming coalition government with one of the lowest unemployment rates among major, advanced economies, at 5.7 per cent. That is still too high, and I know the member for Parramatta shares this view, for the reasons I set out earlier, but it is a rate that would be the envy of many countries around the world.
Job creation was a part of the DNA of the Labor government, I do not believe it is a part of the DNA of the current government. Current labour force figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics have confirmed that unemployment remained worryingly high at six per cent in February. Before the election the Prime Minister promised he would create one million jobs in five years—that is around 200,000 jobs a year, and we have not had a very good start. After six months as Prime Minister Mr Abbott should have created around 100,000 jobs to be on target, but the reality is very different. He has created 33,700 jobs, so he is already more than 65,000 jobs behind, with no sign of closing the gap.
In my electorate of Throsby we have one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in New South Wales—at 16.5 percent youth unemployment in the Illawarra is well over the state average of 11.8 per cent, and the national average, which is currently at around 12.5 per cent. These people look to government, look to business and look to community leaders to put in place the programs and policies that will help them find their way into a job—and if they have a job, to ensure that it is a good and secure job, so that they can provide for themselves and their families and their future.
It is not the first time we have had a tough unemployment outlook in our region. However, in the past we saw a Labor government willing to put in place the right series of programs to ensure we had the region's back. Under Labor, vocational education and training systems were much better resourced, and clearly more heavily funded than we are looking at today. While this bill goes some way to addressing the problem of youth unemployment, mere financial incentives are not enough.
I want to talk about the Better Futures program. The government needs to commit to continuing the funding for this program. Ten communities around Australia were identified as communities that had unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment, and unacceptably high levels of another generation of young people who are potentially entering a situation of long-term unemployment. This program seeks to close the gap in social disadvantage for people facing significant barriers to work, and the risk of long-term unemployment, because it is not only a waste of life but it is also a heavy financial burden on the community.
Better Futures works to turn this around by identifying groups of people in 10 local government areas around Australia, and it then engages with the local community to tailor employment programs to deal with specific local circumstances and demand. One of the 10 areas identified was Shellharbour, in my electorate. In fact, I share this Shellharbour with the new member for Gilmore, and I hope that she also will be a supporter of this important program, because this should be beyond party politics. It goes together with the excellent work that has been done by our local employment coordinators, using the resources of their Flexible Funding Pool—another program that could face the chop in just a few weeks time, upon the release of the report of the commission of horrors, the National Commission of Audit.
The intensive and innovative Young at Heart program takes a group of disadvantaged young people, and provides them with training that they need for a Certificate III in Aged Care—plus hours of local work they experience in the aged care sector. We have a similar program run by the community sector, providing retail traineeships for young people. Many of these people have been out work for years and years, and this is the first job they have had in a long time. Not only is it providing them with income but it is providing them with the social connections and the personal relationships that are necessary for them to have a fulfilling life. I am pleased to say that all of the participants that have been engaged in these programs have been guaranteed work in this sector, and have taken up gainful employment in the Illawarra.
My favourite story comes from Michelle, whom I met at the official graduation of the Young at Heart program with her husband and two kids. Michelle had been out of the workforce for nine years, but thanks to Young at Heart Michelle had found her way back into the workforce and into a job that she loves. Another great story came from Candice from Mount Warrigal in my electorate. She decided to enter the program so that she could be a positive role model for her kids and show them how important it is to give back to the community. Candice is now taking a further step and is studying to become a registered nurse. Neither of these stories would have been possible without the intervention—the intensive intervention—of the Better Futures and the Flexible Funding Pool programs of the former government. These two women are just two of about 40 young people in the Illawarra who have so far completed the Young at Heart program and are looking after our older Australians in needy locations throughout the region. This is just one of more than 20 programs run by Better Futures in the Illawarra region, actively combating rising levels of unemployment.
There are two more programs that I could talk about. This is the part of the equation that needs to be considered because incentives to work through the legislation that is being debated before the House today are important—and that is what it enjoys our support. But unless you deal with these other things, we are at risk of leaving another generation behind. I have in mind a program that was funded under the previous government through Better Futures, but the contract was not honoured under the new government. Illawarra Area Child Care, for its Future Education and Care project, was going to be providing flexible childcare arrangements for young mums trying to get into the workforce—single mums in shiftwork. As you and I would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, in shiftwork there is not a lot of child care available for you. We were plugging that gap through the specialised program. Another program being run by WEA Illawarra was providing networking arrangements. It is not what you know but who you know, we are often told. The WEA were ensuring that these people connected with whom you need to know to get a job.
I support the legislation; it is good legislation. But if we overlook and fail to fund these other important programs, like Better Futures and the Flexible Funding Pool that is available through our LEPs, we will not address that scourge of long-term unemployment for our young people. We can do better as a country.
The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014 is an important bill because it is about one of the most important things that we can do as a parliament and as a government, and that is to help people get into work. I want to speak today specifically from the perspective of the portfolio that I am helping the Prime Minister with, and that is from an Indigenous employment perspective.
All members of this chamber would be aware that at the beginning of this year the Prime Minister made the annual Closing the Gap statement to parliament. In that statement he reported against six key indicators of progress. In two of those indicators we were, in fact, ahead of the game. In a few of those indicators we were pretty much exactly where we should be but had not moved a great deal. But in one indicator out of the six that were reported at the start of the year, we, in fact, were going backwards, where the gap was getting larger not narrower. That indicator was in employment. This is particularly disturbing because in some respects it is the most important indicator. We know that if people have a job then most other things tend to take care of themselves. They tend to be able to look after their children better. Your physical and mental health is better. Your housing tends to be better if you have a job. And, of course, having a job gives tremendous dignity and gives tremendous economic empowerment. There is great pride in holding a job and contributing to our broader community. So it was disturbing that the employment gap had, in fact, gone backwards over the last six years and had not significantly improved.
The numbers show that only 46 per cent of Indigenous people of working age are actually in work. What is even more concerning are the remote numbers. When you look at those figures in remote areas, only 30 per cent of Indigenous people of working age are in employment, and only 18 per cent of the 17- to 24-year-olds are in full-time work or training. That is 18 per cent, which is extraordinary. Those people are the future leaders of those communities, but 82 per cent are not in study or in employment today. That is the situation today when you look at those figures—46 per cent overall in work, only 30 per cent in the remote areas and only 18 per cent of the younger generation. When you look at the demographics, you see that about 50 per cent of the Indigenous population of Australia are below the age of 19 years. So the problem today is already very large; it is getting bigger and the demographics show that the proportion of young people entering workforce age is going to get even larger in the years ahead.
We can see when we look at those figures that we simply have to do things differently—and it is getting more urgent every single year for us to do things differently. This indeed is part of the reason why the Prime Minister has made Indigenous employment not just a priority for the Indigenous Affairs portfolio but a priority for the government overall. I raise these matters in this debate because the bill in front of us will assist us in addressing this great national priority. This bill is not Indigenous specific—it covers all Australians—but it will greatly assist Indigenous people who are out of work today and address some of those appalling statistics that I have outlined.
So what will this bill do? In essence, it provides two significant financial incentives for unemployed people to take up jobs and to keep those jobs. Firstly, it provides an incentive to hold a job for two years or more. It does this through what is called the Job Commitment Bonus, which gives $2,500 to an 18- to 30-year-old person who holds down a job for 12 months. Then, if the person holds down the job for a further 12 months, there is a further $4,000 bonus. That is a $6,500 commitment. Secondly, the bill offers incentives for a person to move to where a job is located. It does this through a measure that will give up to $6,000 to those who move to a regional area for a job and up to $3,000 to those who move to a city from a region or from a city with higher unemployment. And it provides an extra $3,000 on top of that first relocation payment for job seekers with kids.
These two measures provide very substantial financial incentives and they will make a difference. I would put to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the House that the relocation assistance is particularly important for those in remote communities who want to move to a larger economic centre to take up a job. As you would well know, many of the remote communities simply do not have jobs available in their communities today. Often there is terrific work being done by the leaders in those communities to create further opportunities right there in those geographical locations, but frequently there are simply not enough jobs for the young people to go from school immediately into employment.
For those people in remote communities who do want to move to take up a job, there are sometimes significant impediments to do so. There are cultural barriers, there are Indigenous specific barriers; but also, when you analyse it, there is frequently very little financial incentive to get off welfare in a remote community and take up employment in a larger economic centre. This is particularly the case when you look at the whole package of economic incentives, including housing. Take, for example, a couple who might have a few children and who are currently unemployed in their remote community. Should they want to move even temporarily to take up a job in a larger economic centre, yes their wage would be slightly higher but, in the process, they would lose other benefits, particularly housing benefits. So, net overall, the financial gain that family would have would actually be very small. When you consider the small financial increment which that family might get from moving from the remote location to the larger economic centre versus the additional work and the loss of leisure time, being away from their family and homelands and the potential loss of their social house, which they may have had for many years, then you can see that it is not always a good deal for them to take up that opportunity in the short term.
An Indigenous grandmother from Hope Vale on Cape York Peninsula coined, for this disincentive to take up employment, the 'welfare pedestal' that her people were sitting on. By that she meant that the system presently creates a pedestal that people sit on, such that they have to take a step down off the pedestal onto the first employment step before they can start the staircase of further opportunity, and that creates a significant disincentive for many people. This bill will change that equation somewhat. It will partly address this welfare pedestal by providing additional financial incentives for people who are on welfare to take up opportunities elsewhere, should they choose to do so. Other measures to address the pedestal are also being considered through the Forrest review on Indigenous employment and training. We know that financial implications are not the only things that prevent a person or encourage a person orbiting from one location to another and perhaps going backwards and forwards, but of course they are an important consideration. I am hopeful that the measures which are outlined in this bill will make a difference in providing opportunities for more families to take up work if they choose to do so.
I visited Palm Island last week with the member for Herbert and we saw some inspiring things there. One was a family who had built their own home on Indigenous land. We believe it is the first home built on Indigenous land on a homeownership basis and the construction price was much lower than the government-delivered social housing. It was heartening to see that positive development, as well as the increased school attendance on Palm Island which had come about from our school attendance officers who have been put in place. I was also interested to learn from the local people on Palm Island that many young people under the age of 30 generally had a desire to work, even if that did involve moving to Townsville, which is not far away from the island. It is currently difficult for them to do so, but the right attitude was clearly present.
Perhaps it is hard for those of us who do not have their background to understand how insurmountable some of the obstacles are for them to take that step of getting employment somewhere else and perhaps orbiting backwards and forwards. If you or your family have limited resources, that first step of moving, of paying a bond and so on, might be exceptionally hard. This is where the measures of this bill will be vitally important. The important thing here is opportunity; that is what this bill provides. It provides that opportunity and it gives people the choice to take it up if they choose to do so. We would like them to consider that and to work out if it makes sense for those individuals and for the families concerned.
Finally, let me briefly mention the differences that the measures that this bill makes compared to some previous measures that were in place. There are several different changes that are being put in place in this bill and which are different to previous schemes. Firstly, it is only the long-term unemployed who are eligible to take up the assistance which is on offer through this bill, and not redundant workers—there are other measures for redundant workers through Jobs Services Australia. Secondly, the bill specifically encourages mobility to those regional areas where there are jobs and where there are labour shortages—that is a specific goal of this particular bill. Thirdly, it is worth more than the previous scheme, which on average only gave $1,600 for people with no dependents and $3,600 for people with dependents. This scheme offers a total value of up to $15,500 for a family if they choose to take up all of the opportunities which it provides.
Finally, an important difference is that the non-payment period will increase from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. The reason that is important is because all of the research shows that 26 weeks is one of those tipping points; that if a person gets to 26 weeks of employment, having been unemployed for some time beforehand, then they are highly likely to stick it out from there on. This package provides those payments at 26 weeks only and not payments earlier on.
This is the ethos that we should all share; wanting to get and encouraging people to take up work where it is—to provide incentives for people to move, should they want to, to take up those jobs. We know—as I said at the outset—that if people have work then they are empowered and have dignity, they have the ability to look after their family better, their mental health and their physical health is going to be better and they are going to have a better outlook on life, including better housing. I commend this bill for improving the employment prospects not just of Indigenous people but of all Australians across this great nation.
I rise to speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Franklin in relation to the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. Whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, that amendment states that the House notes that if the government were serious about addressing youth unemployment it would be providing more support for workers whose jobs will be lost, as recently announced, and would be providing more support and training for young people. Secondly, it calls on the government to review publicly by 30 June 2015 the impact of the extension of the non-payment period for recipients of the Relocation Assistance to Take up a Job if the person is unable to work for the required six months.
Broadly speaking, any legislation that encourages increased employment and participation in ongoing meaningful work is a good thing, so Labor is very pleased to be supporting this bill with that amendment. There are two very specific components of the bill that provide the purpose here. The first one goes to the Job Commitment Bonus, which enables young Australians aged 18 to 30 and who have been receiving a Newstart Allowance or a Youth Allowance—other than an apprentice or a full-time student—for a period of at least 12 months to be eligible to receive a tax-free payment of $2,500 if they remain in gainful work and off income support for a continuous period of at least 12 months.
There is another component of this bill, which goes to the Relocation Assistance to Take up a Job. That aspect of the bill will provide some financial assistance for long-term unemployed job seekers with participation requirements and who have been receiving Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance—again, other than an apprentice or full-time student—or a parenting payment for at least the preceding 12 months. That is enabling them to relocate for the purposes of commencing ongoing employment. That program is demand driven and will provide up to $6,000 to support eligible job seekers who will relocate to a regional area other than a metropolitan area or a regional area, or up to $3,000 to support eligible job seekers to relocate into a metropolitan area. Those two aspects are components that Labor readily lends our support to.
But while Labor is supporting this bill and the measures it encompasses—both the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program—it is timely for members of this House to reflect on how we might create the very best environment with the very best conditions and incentives for Australians—both young and old—to gain and maintain meaningful, well-paid jobs for today and the future. Governments themselves cannot expect young people to get well-paid jobs without investing in education and training, and without cultivating the right social and economic conditions for job creation. This government is failing on these fronts. They have whipped up a storm about a budget emergency that does not exist, creating unwarranted fear and anxiety in the community rather than creating new jobs. They have goaded major companies to leave our shores and, indeed, some are leaving Australia to do business. And when the government is not blaming workers for the collapse of those industries, we have a prime minister who has perversely suggested that those employees losing their jobs are somehow being liberated.
This is a government that is dismantling a once-in-a-generation, life-changing infrastructure project that would have delivered superfast broadband nationwide and is replacing it with a hotchpotch of mixed and already out-of-date technologies. This government has torn up the independent education funding model and given up on the notion that we should address the growing inequalities in school funding and resources. Rather than tackle the systemic causes of inequality, this government prefers to maintain the status quo and indeed reward those states who have failed to invest adequately in education themselves. They will be handed precious Commonwealth funds with no requirement to meet any of the recommended education targets and loadings to ensure that no child is left behind.
The outlook for higher education is no less bleak. Conservative state governments across Australia are starving our TAFE colleges of critical funds and resources. In New South Wales the state Liberal government has cut more than $1.8 billion from its education budget. In my electorate of Newcastle our schools and TAFEs are hurting. Hunter TAFE has undergone a dramatic period of rationalisation, shedding up to 60 staff. Courses in information technology and ship and boat building have been scrapped. Mining and manufacturing apprenticeship enrolments have dropped by almost half. These are tough times for the young men and women in Newcastle seeking further education and training. The long-term economic prosperity of our region depends on more people getting higher education qualifications, but this government is making access to higher education harder, not easier, for young people. John Hartigan, the former CEO of News Limited Australia, said, 'Make no mistake: no skills, no job, no quality of life.'
That the Abbott government has no plan for Australian industry and Australian jobs is especially worrying. More job cuts are announced every week. Overall unemployment figures are rising, job creation is low and the jobs of the future hang in limbo. Tony Abbott, as the opposition leader, said that he did not want to lead a nation that does not make things, but he has no plans to ensure the future of Australian manufacturing. Australians deserve a government that will fight for jobs and support workers and job seekers. My Labor colleagues and I are very concerned about the job loss announcements that have been made since the new government came to office. The government has in fact steadfastly refused to support some of those industries that have asked for our assistance and thus the jobs contained in those industries. Tens of thousands of cuts have been announced since they took office, and the list keeps growing.
While the cuts and job losses include jobs at small businesses around the country, they also include large multinational companies who now believe that their future in Australia needs to be drastically cut back or that they need to leave our shores altogether. Companies like Qantas, Toyota, Holden, Rio Tinto, Electrolux, Simplot and Caterpillar have all announced that their workforces will be significantly shrinking in Australia. In my electorate of Newcastle, Brindabella Airlines, Bluetongue Brewery, Sensis, WesTrac, UGL and EDI have all announced major direct job losses and some have announced closures.
I am afraid that more job loss announcements are on the way. Today my colleagues the members for Charlton, Gellibrand and Port Adelaide supported the important motion flagging the danger that the shipbuilding industry in Australia faces if we do not see action from this government soon. As I have raised previously in this place, Forgacs, a major shipbuilder and employer in Newcastle, has flagged the potential of 900 jobs being lost if this government does not bring forward major naval shipbuilding contracts. In 2013 Labor made a commitment to bring forward the contracts to replace HMAS Success and HMAS Sirius to ensure the industry had a future in Australia. Unfortunately, this government has made no such commitment, so the future of shipbuilders like Forgacs in Newcastle, BAE Systems in Melbourne and ASC in Adelaide remains uncertain. Instead of planning for future work and job creation, Forgacs are forced to face the prospect of closing their shipyards in Carrington and Tomago. I again call on this government to support the shipbuilding industry in Australia, to bring forward the naval shipbuilding contracts before it is too late, to secure our naval shipbuilding capacity and to keep highly skilled workers employed in Australia.
The workers at Forgacs are in a similar position to thousands of other employees at government agencies and departments located in my electorate who just do not know what their future is. Thought bubbles from the government that flags potential cuts at a number of government agencies are still hovering above the heads of workers in Newcastle. Employees at the CSIRO Energy Centre, the ATO, ABC Radio, the Defence Materiel Organisation, Customs and Centrelink have all been placed under pressure by this government with worry—undue or perhaps due, we simply do not know. The government continues to sit on the commission of cuts report for political reasons while workers around the country are waiting to know if they will have a job in the future. Leaks are regular as it tests the waters again with the public, but those workers continue to face uncertainty. That is just not good enough.
We have seen the unemployment rate under this government rise to six per cent—a rate not seen throughout the global financial crisis and a rate that has not been seen since Prime Minister Abbott last had influence over the employment portfolio as the minister for employment under the Howard Liberal government. This troublingly high unemployment rate of six per cent does not take into account the thousands of recently announced job losses I have just mentioned, so we know there is more pain to come.
On the other side of the unemployment rate equation to job losses is job creation. Before the election Prime Minister Abbott promised he would create one million jobs in five years—that is, 200,000 jobs year. After six months with this Prime Minister, this government should have created 100,000 jobs to be on target. Instead, only 33,700 jobs have been created. The government is lagging behind on both sides of the equation and failing the Australian people.
Youth unemployment is a huge issue for Australia, and for young Australians in particular. In government, Labor focused on supporting young people to finish school, to get the training and higher education they need for well-paying jobs. Based on the ABS's latest national labour market statistics, the national youth unemployment rate is double that of the overall rate, with 12.2 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds unemployed. Converted to overall numbers, that is 40 per cent of all unemployed Australians. In other words, more than one in three unemployed Australians are young, between the ages of 15 and 24. That is astonishing and it is something that we cannot allow to be maintained in Australia. Our young people deserve and expect much better. In my electorate of Newcastle, the youth unemployment rate is 13 percent. Again, this is more than double the national average.
As stated in the recent youth unemployment report prepared by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, there are a number of things government needs to do to improve opportunities for young people to gain and maintain employment. The report calls on governments to invest in young people; to invest to improve employability skills; to invest to provide better real work experience opportunities; to invest to provide coaching and vocational guidance; and to invest to connect young people with employment opportunities.
When in government, Labor took this investment in youth seriously and vastly improved training and employment services for young people. We also committed to continue to improve opportunities, announcing changes to job services to provide a Jobs, Training and Apprenticeship Guarantee. The guarantee would have meant that every Australian would have had access to telephone and on-line career advice, skills appraisals, assistance with resume writing, be engaged with an employment service provider and would be starting to work on return-to-work plans within two days of registration.
In government, Labor made a record investment in skills and training for smarter jobs and a smarter, stronger nation. Labor believes in a strong public provider that underpins a high quality VET system. This is why we support TAFE. We devoted resources and energy into vastly improving the fragmented and poorly funded system that the Howard government had left us, a system that conservative state governments continue to undermine. My electorate of Newcastle benefited enormously from Labor's investment in training and education, with every one of my high schools having a Trades Training Centre or being a part of a consortium to that has access to a Trades Training Centre. It is deeply worrying that the government does not support these centres and the continuation of this program. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. Importantly, this bill puts in place two of the coalition's key election commitments. These are the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take up a Job Program. Both these commitments will commence on 1 July 2014 and they are an important part of our plan to put the economy back on track.
Let me set the scene for why this government needs to legislate policy such as what we are doing here at the moment to kick-start our economy, to drive jobs creation. We are talking about the creation of long-term sustainable jobs. We are not talking about what happened in my electorate of Corangamite several years ago, when the then industry minister Mr Combet gave $40 million to Alcoa, saying it would put Alcoa on a long-term, jobs sustainable footing. That has been an unmitigated disaster. We now see Alcoa is closing. I cannot tell you what grief that is causing right throughout the Geelong region. Labor's legacy is 200,000 more unemployed, $123 billion in cumulative deficits across the forward estimates, a gross debt heading towards $667 billion, and the world's biggest carbon tax.
Let us not forget the damage the carbon tax is doing. In manufacturing alone, this is a $1.1 billion hit on jobs. In my region, in Corangamite, in Geelong, the people of Geelong understand the damage the carbon tax is doing. This is a tax on jobs. This is a tax on the people of Geelong. That is why we are so determined to repeal the carbon tax. Labor's legacy of debt and deficit is a shameful one indeed. This is the fastest deterioration in debt in modern Australian history. Labor's debt is already costing the Australian public $10 billion a year in net interest payments. It is important that we understand these figures in the context of the employment rate. When Labor was voted out of office last year, there were 200,000 more unemployed Australians than in November 2007, when the coalition was last in government. The number of unemployed Australians went from 492,000 in November 2007 to 691,000 in September 2013. Contrast this to the record under the Howard government, where the number of unemployed people decreased by 269,000 during the coalition's time in office. I think it is fair to say the coalition is recognised by Australians as better economic managers, for a very important reason. We understand the importance of running the budget responsibility. We understand the importance of building a strong and prosperous economy, a safe and secure Australia.
Last week in Geelong, I attended the Geelong Manufacturing Council dinner. It was a terrific function, bringing together many of our finest manufacturers. I would like to remind the member for Newcastle—despite the spin and the deception that we continue to here from Labor—about our commitment to long-term, sustainable jobs. We have a bright manufacturing future. I come from a very proud manufacturing region. There are many wonderful stories to be told in manufacturing. We have great opportunities and great potential, but all we hear from those opposite is a dragging down of our economy, a dragging down of our potential and, frankly, that is unacceptable.
Labor's track record in unemployment is completely shameful. I look at what has happened since the carbon tax was introduce—102,000 more Australians are now unemployed. Labor continues to block the repeal of this job-destroying carbon tax and the job-destroying mining tax. During Labor's time in office, unemployment went from 4.4 per cent in November 2007 to 5.5 per cent in September 2013. Labor left us with an unemployment rate across Australia that has now risen to six per cent and, on Labor's own figures, is forecast to rise to 6.25 per cent. It is clear that the member for Newcastle has not read her own party's documentation and her own party's forecasts because this is the unemployment rate that Labor created. This is the unemployment rate that Labor forecast and it is going up because of Labor's reckless management of our economy and its reckless regard for the importance of long-term jobs creation.
This morning, an article published in the Financial Review looked at Labor's unwillingness to support a raft of savings measures that this government has on the table to get the economy back on track and to create the conditions that lead to new jobs. I refer to the article, 'Labor's tax block will cost "$1,800 per person"'. The headlines tell the story—and we have laughter from members opposite! I am sorry to see that there is laughter on such a serious matter. This is not a laughing matter. These are Labor cuts. The intransigence of Labor could cause a $45 billion black hole in the economy. As I mentioned, some of the savings measures were championed by Labor in its dying days as it tried to pick up the pieces after a six-year spending spree.
The government is taking the necessary action to turn this economy around. Unfortunately, those opposite fail to see the reality. They are now actually denying their own savings measures. So yes, those opposite have rightly earned the title 'government change deniers'. It is unfortunate that those opposite continue to laugh because it is a really serious situation that we now face as we see, due to Labor, the unemployment rate. I am very proud of the measures we are taking to create long-term jobs to build confidence and to build new opportunities. I look at what is happening at my own electorate at Corangamite.
I am working as a member of the economic review panel chaired by minister Macfarlane and we are working very hard. We have announced a growth fund. We are working very hard on our review of the South Australian and the Victorian economies. Our focus is on growing long-term jobs, investing in new and emerging industries, in biosciences, in food processing, in IT communications and in advanced manufacturing. I was very proud to join the minister in announcing $5 million for Carbon Revolution, an incredible company that is building another 150 new jobs with the work that it is doing in developing a world-class carbon fibre automotive wheel, taking Australian innovation to the world. As I said, there are some wonderful stories. This is another example of where Ford workers, who are grappling with the demise of Ford manufacturing and the car industry under Labor, are now being employed in this new company. We are working very hard to help these traditional manufacturing workers transition to new and exciting opportunities like the one we are seeing at Carbon Revolution.
The coalition believes that every Australian who is capable of working should have the opportunity to do so. It is very important for the broader economy and also for the individual. This bill and the programs it sets up are designed to help people, like those who are without a job in my electorate, find work and stay off welfare. These programs are part of the coalition's economic plan that the Australian people voted for in September last year. We are delivering on these important election commitments, just as we are delivering on a whole host of our commitments across all sectors of the economy.
As we have heard, the Job Commitment Bonus is a new payment. Unsurprisingly, there was no equivalent payment under the former Labor government. This bonus rewards people aged between 18 and 30 to get and keep a job and remain off welfare. Eligible young jobseekers will receive $2,500 after 12 months in continuous employment and they will receive a further $4,000 if they remain in continuous employment and off welfare for another 12 months. This is a fantastic investment by this government to help young, long-term unemployed Australians to move away from welfare dependency, to learn the value of working and to find and keep a job. As I mentioned in this House previously, in this debate, jobseekers will have to meet the following criteria to qualify for further bonus payments—they need to be aged between 18 and 30, they need to get a job and remain unemployed for 12 months and, as I mentioned, after another 12 months they can be eligible for the second payment of $4,000.
Importantly, employment can be full-time, part-time, casual or shift work. Another great initiative championed by this bill is the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program, which gives people the opportunity to go where they need to go for work. It is one thing to say 'Go to where the work is,' but it is not always that easy.