House debates

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014; Second Reading

7:58 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise tonight to speak on the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No.1) Bill 2014. This bill calls on everyone and every business to contribute, to join, to grow the workforce, to boost productivity and to help build a stronger economy with more investment.

I have listened to the contribution of the previous speaker. The one thing missing from his contribution was financial responsibility. While it might be his party's creed to put the expenses of this generation onto our children and grandchildren, we need to take responsibility for the situation that we are in. Saying that the budget was fine, the state of the economy was fine and that Labor, over six years, had not trashed the economy of this wonderful country is merely a falsehood.

The other irony of what the previous speaker said, when talking about the elderly and the pensioners, is that as I have been getting around in my electorate it has been those very people who have been coming up to me, and saying, 'We understand why you are making these changes. We understand why a country has to live within its means.' Being financially responsible and living within your means was part of the upbringing for people of that generation. They understand that, regardless of what happens, the bills need to be paid.

This bill covers a range of different aspects of social services but there are a few things I would like to touch on that are relevant to my electorate. One is welfare dependency. Intergenerational welfare dependency in my part of the world is a huge problem. People are coming up to me and saying that they agree with this 'earn or learn' concept. Those people are coming up to me and saying, 'We are waiting for a work for the dole program come to our town.' The green army—it is not in this bill—will provide a similar outlet for younger people.

Quite often, elderly people are concerned about their children and their grandchildren and understand that having a job is vitally important for the self esteem of individuals and of the entire community. Aboriginal elders have come to me and said, 'We need to get these work for the dole programs going.' They understand that if people leave school—quite often in towns in my electorate they are leaving school at far too young an age—and they get into that welfare trap for six months, it is very difficult to get them back.

I was talking to the largest employer in Dubbo. He said that hardly any local people are turning up on his doorstep, now, asking for jobs. This is in a town with reasonably high unemployment. At the moment he is filling the shortfall with backpackers and people such as that. That is not a good outcome.

My aim in this place is to make sure that everyone in my electorate gets a chance at a job and a chance to understand and appreciate the rewards that come from a hard day's work. My aim is that everyone in my electorate gets a chance to earn money. My aim is to teach children that money does not just come out of an ATM; that there is an effort required. The sad reality is that in a lot of towns in my electorate there is a disconnection. Children are growing up not knowing what it is like to have a parent who goes to work. They are growing up thinking that every couple of weeks there will be money going into an ATM machine, and that that is their pay.

That is killing these towns, these communities and these people. That is the reason that the life expectancy of a child growing up in some of the towns in my electorate in the west is still 15 years less than for a child growing up in a wealthy or urban area. Hopelessness and despondency comes from having no employment.

There are other measures that need to be in place for people—not just when they leave school. Minister Scullion was in Dubbo last week or the week before and announced $1.6 million for the Get Real Program. This program aims to grab these kids when they are still in middle high school. The children sign a pledge. It says:

I willingly commit myself to participate in the Get Real Program and undertake that by my 17th birthday, I will be in full time education in school or TAFE, be undertaking industry training or be in full time employment.

A large number of these kids are Aboriginal boys and girls. They sign this pledge. What they get with the pledge is mentoring and someone who will help them with the difficulties of getting into employment and understanding the obligations and responsibilities of employment.

This idea that there are people who do not want to work—who choose to be unemployed and sit at home on the dole—is a myth. Back in 2004 or 2005, when I was the mayor of the Gwydir Shire, we had work for the dole under the Howard government. We had a team doing work on community infrastructure. They were painting the CWA hall and doing some fencing around the showground and the like. They turned up in a bus and it had 'work for the dole' on the side of it. I was thinking, 'That's not a good thing; that's demeaning for these people.' To thank them for the work they did we put on a barbecue for them in the last week. I was chatting to these people about what it was like being on work for the dole and they said, 'It is good. It is good to have a reason to get up in the morning. It is good to be able to look at what you have done for the day and the week and take satisfaction from that.'

The supervisor told me that the crew that finished up was nothing like the crew that started, because employers would start ringing up and saying, 'Have you got someone who could do this job?' and the participants would roll into proper work. So I totally disagree with the concept that the previous member in this debate was talking about: that there is despair in people who have been taken off the dole. We need to have the dignity of work. Unemployment flows through to other issues such as lawlessness, abuse of children, lack of attendance at school. If the adults in a household are undertaking meaningful employment during the day there is a fair chance that at night time they will be asleep, and not having a party. Therefore the children in those households will be asleep, so they might be able to attend school the next morning. If some people believe that that is some sort of victimisation, I disagree.

I stand proud with this budget and these measures because they are taking the difficult decisions the previous government pussyfooted around. We have had previous ministers in the Labor government come to my electorate and look concerned; they say the right things and are politically correct, and then walk away and make absolutely no change at all. To make change is not easy; it is not always popular. That is what this measure in this budget is doing.

Quite frankly, I do not doubt that the previous members do have people write to them with concerns. I will admit I have had some of my constituents write to me about their concerns. Some of them are justified and some of them are concerns about misinformation—this idea that people on pensions are going to be drastically affected and the like. But clearly the majority of people I have been in contact with understand this, and the fact that people are concerned across a wide range of our society probably indicates that this budget has hit the mark and that the load has been shared as fairly as it can be.

To go back to the earn or learn measure: we know there are some people who are just not suited for work. They may not have a disability but they just do not have the skills to maintain full-time employment. They are graded—from the top of my head, I think they have been identified as a category 3 or 4 person. They are exempt from the six-month measure. We need to care for the vulnerable in our society. There has also been talk of people in manual labour having to work until they are 70. If people have a physical injury or cannot work, there is still the disability support pension for those people. There is still the opportunity to make a career change and go into some other pursuit, as many of the shearers in my electorate do when they get to their 40s—mainly into agricultural pursuits—to get away from that difficult backbreaking work. I spent the first 30 years of my working life doing physical work; I understand it. I worked with people in shearing sheds. I have done it myself and so I understand it. If we get away from the doom and the gloom and the scare that is going on around this, what we are offering people with this bill is dignity—an opportunity for them to participate in society. Do not underestimate that desire.

I represent a large rural electorate—a third of New South Wales. It is one of the most agricultural electorates in the country. But I represent in this place more Aboriginal people than I do farmers, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I spend the clear majority of my time, when I am in my electorate, working with those communities and I can tell you they are not opposed to these measures. They, indeed, welcome these measures. I have had great conversations, mainly with older women, in those communities who despair for the chances of their children. But there are good things happening. There are good stories in my electorate, from these communities in what would be considered tough towns; there are more good stories than tough ones. There is the work that the Clontarf Foundation is doing—which this government, the previous government, state governments and private industry have supported—where we are getting young lads now from Coonamble who are working in the construction industry in Sydney. We have boys in Moree who are doing one day a week at the local GrainCorp depot and spending their school holidays working at a job for real money. If someone can explain to me why that is a bad thing I would like to hear it.

We care for those who are most vulnerable but if you are able-bodied, fit and healthy and of working age, you are not entitled to do nothing. It is not a way of life that you can choose. If you have difficulty with your health or if you have difficulty in meeting those requirements then as a society we should care for you—but it should not be a choice. I am proud of this budget. I am proud of this particular bill. I would like to acknowledge my colleague, Minister Andrews, who was in here a little while ago. This has taken a lot of courage and a lot of understanding of what is needed and the bills have my complete support.


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