Monday, 28 May 2012
Private Members' Business
I congratulate the member for Mayo on his best effort to politicise this debate, a very important debate, I believe, because as members of this place we must constantly and with excessive vigilance keep our eye on the capacity of people to live—to feed themselves, to house themselves and of course live a normal life. The member for Melbourne's motion proposes a number of increases in welfare payments and in particular an increase of $50 in the Newstart allowance, or what people more commonly know as the dole.
When I was selected here in 1996, I was asked what my priorities were. In response I stole an old Neville Wran line that said there were only three issues in politics: 'jobs, jobs and jobs'. The best thing we can ever do as elected representatives to give people a leg up to ensure that they can house and feed themselves, and provide an opportunity to prosper in life, is to give them a job. When I was elected in 1996 the unemployment rate in my electorate was in excess of 10 per cent—I think around 13½ per cent—and of course youth unemployment was probably in the order of 30 per cent. Today the national unemployment rate is less than five per cent, something I would not have dreamed I would see in this place in my time. But even more surprising and more rewarding is the unemployment rate in my electorate which is now just 3.5 per cent, an amazing outcome which shows how far we have come.
What frustrates me is that, notwithstanding that very low unemployment rate and the additional diversity we have in our economy and the growth rate we have in our economy, I still have pockets where you will find large numbers of unemployed people, typically young people. Nothing frustrates me more, as the local member representing a seat with an unemployment rate of 3½ per cent, than to see kids sitting around my shopping centres with baseball caps on backwards, idle and not participating in the labour market. My very strong view is that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to break the cycle for those who have never known either their parents or their grandparents to work. They have never known what it is like or simply just do not understand the concept of setting an alarm clock to wake to go to work each morning. We will not shift people out of this cycle by providing additional incentives to stay unemployed. As a government we are doing a range of things. We do not let kids leave school now unless they have got further education or a job to go to. We are investing $3 billion in skills to ensure that Australians have the opportunity to take up those jobs that are on offer because of the health in our economy, unlike that of many of our OECD partners. We need to continue to focus on that goal. We need to get those kids out of that cycle. We need to put people into work.
I am advised that the proposal being put forward by the member for Melbourne amounts to a cost of some $13 billion over the forward estimates. I ask myself: what else could we be doing with that $13 billion? I would much rather be spending it on further investments in young people in particular to get them into work, to get them job ready, to get them skilled. We have seen this weekend the controversy over skilled migration. The controversy is there because we simply do not have the people and the skills to fill these jobs locally. What a tragedy that I still have kids sitting around idle, that I have retrenched workers at Hydro aluminium, but we still have not positioned ourselves sufficiently to ensure we can fill those jobs available in the mining sector. I understand the sentiments of the member for Melbourne; I know this motion is well motivated. But, again, I do not think you get people off unemployment by giving them an additional incentive to stay there.