House debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Social Security Legislation Amendment (Connecting People with Jobs) Bill 2010

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 21 October, on motion by Ms Kate Ellis:

That this bill be now read a second time.

10:59 am

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to speak today on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Connecting People with Jobs) Bill 2010. This bill seeks to amend the Social Security Act by increasing the unemployment non-payment period for job-seekers who have received relocation funding under the Connecting People with Jobs program. This legislation will support this pilot program, which is remarkably similar to a pilot program run by the Howard government back in 2005.

Unemployment currently stands at 5.1 per cent seasonally adjusted—ABS September. Whilst unemployment is decreasing, there are many suburbs and towns in Australia where there is still disproportionately high unemployment. There are high numbers of long-term unemployed, and often intergenerational unemployment is a real issue. Welfare dependency is a real concern and it is vital that job-seekers are assisted to take up employment where opportunities present themselves. The alternative is to see job-seekers become further detached from the labour market and more likely to stay on unemployment benefits for the long term.

This relocation pilot will enable people in these areas to move from these areas in order to take up a job. It gives people a chance to move off welfare benefits and into paid employment and ultimately gives them a chance for a better life. This funding can be used to assist in paying for flights, temporary accommodation and removalists. Too often people may be deterred from taking up employment elsewhere as they just cannot bear these re-establishment costs. This pilot aims to help cover the costs.

The coalition maintains that those in receipt of unemployment benefits must recognise that they have a subsequent responsibility to look for work and contribute back to the society that supports them. To this end, those who are supported off welfare and provided with additional funding to assist in their taking up work elsewhere have a further responsibility to do the right thing.

The coalition has long espoused the concept of mutual obligation. The Labor government has done its best to wind back mutual obligation, with job-seekers now only required to undertake an activity such as Work for the Dole after 12 months unemployment. This does nothing to assist job-seekers to gain or maintain work skills. However, it must now be said that this particular legislation is a turn-up for the books as it reminds people of their responsibility. Where job-seekers have been funded by the Commonwealth to assist in their relocation for full-time, ongoing work—in some cases up to $9,000 for this relocation—increasing their non-payment period from eight weeks to 12 weeks if they leave their job within the first six months should provide the necessary disincentive for people.

This policy is in line with the coalition’s support for giving people a hand up, not a handout, and we support the bill.

11:02 am

Photo of Kirsten LivermoreKirsten Livermore (Capricornia, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to add my support to the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Connecting People with Jobs) Bill 2010. I know that all members of the House would support measures that are about trying to assist unemployed people, particularly those who have been unemployed for a long time, to be given opportunities, given incentives and given assistance to seek work. This legislation recognises that in some cases people will need to be given encouragement and assistance to relocate, to move away from their current home and set up in another part of Australia where there are better job opportunities and more demand for labour. This is something we announced during the election just a couple of months ago. The Connecting People with Jobs initiative is a two-year relocation trial that will encourage 2,000 long-term unemployed job-seekers, I believe people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, to move from areas of high unemployment and relocate to take up a full-time job or an apprenticeship in a place with greater opportunities.

Those people who are eligible to take part in the Connecting People with Jobs trial will be eligible for $3,000 if they move to a metropolitan area and an additional $3,000—so up to $6,000—if they move to a regional area. Members who, like me, represent regional areas, particularly those that are experiencing skills shortages in many sectors, will really welcome that. There is also recognition that job seekers who are moving with their families will need some added assistance, so there is $3,000 on top of the base rate for those job seekers who are moving with their dependent children. Employers who are participating in this trial will also be given a wage subsidy as part of the encouragement that we are trying to put in place, firstly, for long-term unemployed people to seek these opportunities and, secondly, to add to the incentive for that relocation to take place.

The bill that is before us today does not actually put in place the relocation trial. This legislation puts in place the ‘stick’ part of the ‘carrot and stick’ equation. We have also announced that under the Connecting People with Jobs trial there will be a penalty for people who take up the additional payments to relocate but who subsequently do not continue in that full-time employment. This is based on the principle that compliance is a very important element of our social security system and, where people are given benefits—particularly, in this case, quite substantial incentive payments—those must come with conditions. We are requiring cooperation from people who take up this opportunity and receive those payments. This bill will impose a 12-week non-payment period on those job seekers who leave their full-time employment within six months of starting, either voluntarily or because they are sacked for misconduct. At the moment unemployed people can be subject to an eight-week non-payment period if they leave work without a reasonable excuse, but, given the additional benefits and incentives that are being paid to the 2,000 job seekers participating in the Connecting People with Jobs trial, we are going to extend that non-payment period to 12 weeks to act as a disincentive for people to walk away from jobs after they have relocated.

It is very important to note that this penalty will not be imposed recklessly or without due consideration by Centrelink. Centrelink retain a very important discretion as to whether they reduce or do not impose this 12-week unemployment non-payment period. They will be able to take into consideration matters such as the exact reason for a person leaving a job, whether they will suffer undue financial hardship and whether a person is in a group of people classed as being particularly vulnerable. I think all members would see that this penalty cannot be placed on people as a blanket penalty. We would hope that, if given the opportunity to relocate, people would take that with a good attitude and a positive determination to make it work, but we understand that relocation to a new job and a new home comes with stresses and difficulties, so we have to keep a pretty open mind about how that penalty would be imposed.

Not only do I want to speak on this bill to give my support to something that I think is a very sensible and constructive measure; I also want to talk about it from a local point of view. This trial is about connecting people with jobs. In my own local context I want to talk about connecting people with jobs but also connecting people with communities and with their families. The place that I represent includes a lot of coalmining towns. There are fantastic job opportunities, there is great demand for people to work, but also quite a lot is asked of the people who take up those jobs and work in the coal industry.

Increasingly, the coal industry is being based on fly-in fly-out operations or drive-in drive-out operations. The coalmining towns of the Bowen Basin that have housed the mining workforce, have built strong communities and have raised families for the last 30-odd years, are now starting to stand up and say: ‘This is enough. We want to claim our communities back. We want to speak up on behalf of our coalminers to say to the companies that increasing and exclusive reliance on fly-in fly-out or drive-in drive-out operations is placing a strain on people that has to be recognised. It’s all very well for that money to go into the bank, whether it is on an individual level or a company or even state or national level, but we really can’t ignore the price that some individuals, families and communities are paying in order for the industry to continue to be structured in the way that it is.’

This has really come to a head in the community of Moranbah. People might have even seen this on the 7.30 Report. On Tuesday night there was a terrific story, and I really thank the ABC for the effort and time they have taken to come out to Moranbah to get to know the people there and put the community’s story out there for everyone to see. Moranbah is the community that has really taken the lead in this fight against exclusive fly-in fly-out operations. It is a very strong community, one of the first mining towns that were set up in the Bowen Basin, and I guess it has the critical mass to take a stand.

At issue is BMA—BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance—and their application to start a new mine called Caval Ridge, near Moranbah, and to operate that with a complete fly-in fly-out workforce. Where that is different from what has happened in the past is that all the mining towns have had work camps, donga arrangements, dotted around the Bowen Basin, but they have been primarily for contractors, and this is really the first time that a company have said that they will not make provision for accommodation and will not have anyone permanently located in Moranbah. They are going to run this new Caval Ridge operation as a total fly-in fly-out operation.

I have attended two of the community meetings now. At the first one there were about 300 people; at the second one there were 400 people. There will be another meeting next Wednesday night. I have never seen anything like this in Moranbah, where really all aspects of the community, people from right across the board, have come together. It is the small business people in town, the council, the workers themselves, their families and the union, the CFMEU, all coming together. They are being quite reasonable. They are not saying, ‘You can’t have any fly-in fly-out workers.’ BMA put in an application to the Queensland government initially for the environmental impact statement for this mine on the basis of 30 to 70. They were saying, ‘We’ll have 70 per cent fly-in fly-out and we’ll have 30 per cent located here and provide them with accommodation et cetera.’ The community are being quite reasonable and saying, ‘We accept that,’ but BMA are now going back to the state government and saying, ‘Actually, no, forget the 70-30; we’re going to go with 100 per cent fly-in fly-out.’ So, quite understandably, the small business people are saying: ‘It’s all very well for BMA to want to come and make money out of this community, but we’ve actually invested a lot of our money into our businesses. If you have a complete fly-in fly-out workforce, people are basically just driving past, the money goes out of town and you’re not putting anything back into the community from a business point of view or from a social point of view.’

Mr Deputy Speaker, I understand that you are giving me some very generous latitude, and I thank you for that. Particularly when this bill refers to connecting people with jobs, I want to join with the people of my electorate in Moranbah, Collinsville, Dysart and all of the mining towns as they really start to take the fight up to the mining companies and say, ‘Yes, it’s all very well to connect people with jobs, but it can’t be at the cost of their connection with the community and their families.’ We are really starting to see what is happening at the other end with the social problems that occur in places like Mackay and to a lesser extent Rockhampton. I am sure that many people in your electorate on the Sunshine Coast, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper, would be starting to participate in a lot of this fly-in fly-out activity. It really is starting to take its toll on what have been terrific, strong communities in my electorate, whether in terms of the number of car accidents, the number of road deaths or the number of broken families that are starting to become the casualties of what otherwise is a prosperous industry that is very important to our country.

So today I want to add my voice to those of the people in places like Moranbah and other communities in the Bowen Basin to say that I think that this is really just the start of this fight. Of course mining towns will continue to work with the mining companies, but they do not want to be exploited by the mining companies; they want some of these social and community dimensions to be taken into account alongside the expansion of this industry. In closing, I note that the Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare is here. I commend her for this initiative announced during the election and give my support to this bill.

11:16 am

Photo of Dick AdamsDick Adams (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper, I thank you for assisting me to be here to speak. The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Connecting People with Jobs) Bill 2010 puts in place the compliance component of the government’s Connecting People with Jobs proposal. This was an election commitment announced by the Prime Minister on 11 August 2010. I have talked to many training organisations that have had students finish their courses. But then they cannot place them easily, because it takes a fair bit of trust and courage by businesses to take on a youngster that has been unemployed for, maybe, a longer period of time. This is soul-destroying for the younger person who has just finished a good hands-on training program or course but then has to find a job requiring those skills. This often means they have to move away from their support base and travel to other areas. This is an emerging issue within the job market.

The Connecting People with Jobs proposal is an active regional labour market strategy establishing a trial relocation assistance package aimed at connecting job seekers with employment opportunities elsewhere in Australia. The trial is proposed to run over two years from 1 January 2011 and offers additional support to up to 2,000 job seekers who have been unemployed for more than 12 months to relocate to take up an identified ongoing full-time job or apprenticeship. It provides reimbursement of up to $6,000 for actual expenses incurred in relocating to regional areas, or $3,000 for relocation to metropolitan areas. Families with dependent children will have access to an additional $3,000.

To be eligible to participate in this trial, job seekers must come from areas with unemployment rates higher than the national unemployment rate. Job seekers who receive relocation assistance and subsequently leave that position within six months from commencement without reasonable excuse will not be paid unemployment benefits for 12 weeks—up from the current eight weeks—for leaving employment voluntarily. Amendments to social security legislation are required to implement this increased non-payment period.

Employers who employ job seekers who receive relocation assistance will receive a subsidy of up to $2,500 in recognition of the additional support and assistance individuals will receive in the early stages of their employment. This program has a lot of potential and can be of great benefit to the rural sector, which has seasonal shortages. There is an opportunity now for some of the job companies to develop teams of agricultural workers to move around and go to where the work is. Getting young workers who have been unemployed for a long period of time to be job ready is quite a task and needs special programs to equip them not only for work away from the support systems but also to work in groups and in teams.

We have many of those needs in Tasmania in the rural sector, where there is always a need to organise job seekers and working people into organised teams and organised ways, and also to have a period so that those people know where their work is. There are enormous amounts of work in this area getting the fruit off the vines and pruning, but we need to organise it so that it is much easier and better. Getting vegies up, lifting the potatoes, working in the contractors area, using the spud lifters, cutting the cauliflower, cutting the broccoli and getting the sprouts off takes a lot of people. A lot of women are involved in this casual work throughout Tasmania and those crews need to be able to move around and be better organised. We need to pull this together in a much more organised way than we do at the present time. Lots of cherries have been planted in Tasmania, maybe in anticipation that the New Zealanders are going to flood us with apples. In those areas it takes a lot of people to get the fruit off at certain times. But we need to have people who are trained that can continually come around and have a full year of work in an organised way. This can be organised if we take enough effort and put enough time and thought into it. It also means that we need to make sure that modern management practices are used on the employer’s side. I am thinking about fencing contractors and fencers as well. Of course, we have done these things in the past with the shearing industry. For 100 years itinerant workers have taken the wool off the sheep’s back by moving around and working throughout our great nation.

Having an organised structure gives dignity to working people so that they can use their skills, organise their year’s work and know when it is going to happen. Being able to work in that sort of situation is still not organised as well as it could be at this present stage. I am hopeful that programs like the one here may be able to be seen as a way of interface between the employer, the employees and the job seekers. We may need to look at those sometime in the future.

Only recently I was in my electorate in Gagebrook at a graduation of young people who had finished a course of working in environmental considerations and horticulture at a wildlife park where they had gained considerable skills. Just about all of them turned up for the graduation ceremony. But the talk there between employers, who had given them some work experience and work, was about getting that next transfer to a broader spectrum of employers. That was the issue on the table and it needs to be addressed.

I have also experienced the issues in child care in this area. Women who work in the vegetable pick-up areas need child care when the work is available, just as on the coast they need child care when the fleet comes in and when they are splitting the fish, opening scallops et cetera. Getting the right models to fit modern work is one of the challenges that confronts us, and a bill like this is endeavouring to deal with that by connecting employers to employees and job seekers.

So I think the opportunity we have here is good. I understand this program is over several years and that it will be monitored in that time. I think that is a good thing. I think there are a number of pluses and a lot of things we can gain from it. This program of course shows very much the government’s commitment to social inclusion, which is important in all regional development and regional development policy that exists in our country, ensuring that isolated communities can develop some self-help schemes to help put things in place.

So I really support this program. I hope that we can make it work and I look forward to being able to look at broader aspects of this process of connecting job seekers and employers and those that are seeking a skills base. I certainly give my full support to this bill.

11:27 am

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak briefly on Social Security Legislation Amendment (Connecting People with Jobs) Bill 2010. I was not expecting to but my colleague from Greenway is occupied in the House and will be up very shortly. I have to say, while the minister is here, that when I first saw this bill on the agenda I actually got excited. I am excited by this bill and I mean that genuinely. In this country of ours I know that we have regions around Australia that have everything that you need to make a good life—job opportunities, low vacancy rates, good property prices that people can afford, and good schools that have room for more kids without additional infrastructure—and are great places to live. Yet we quite often in Australia tend to settle in the city in which we were born or where we first arrived as migrants, and stay there. In spite of efforts by many people to find other options and other places to live, it is actually quite difficult in this country, when there are so many options, to look at what they are.

This particular trial introduces the capacity for people from areas of high unemployment to move to other places where there are job opportunities. It is a two-year relocation trial that will encourage job seekers in high areas of unemployment, who have been unemployed for longer than 12 months, to relocate to take up full-time jobs including apprenticeships.

They will be assisted in that—there will be a reimbursement of $3,000 for people who move to a metropolitan area, and an additional $3,000 for moving to a regional area, making that $6,000; and for those relocating with dependant children, an additional $3,000 relocation assistance. It has been found, looking at past relocation trials, that, where families decide to move, the likelihood of success is far higher—as you would expect, perhaps not because moving with children makes you more successful, but deciding to move with children perhaps shows a level of commitment which is far higher. The employer also will be given assistance of $2,500 for a wage subsidy, in recognition that there may be additional support needed in the early stages of their employment in a new location.

There are a number of elements to this trial which make it quite likely to succeed, and, again, I am really looking forward myself to observing, as I know the government is, how this works over the two-year trial. It focuses particularly on areas of high unemployment. We all know that, in areas of high unemployment, there are people with skills who would be working if they lived elsewhere. So we have a body of workers who are particularly suited to this kind of project.

In my area of Parramatta we have a particular group of highly-skilled migrants, for whom unemployment for 12 months is quite often a very short period. Skilled migrants come to Australia with all their skills but without the networks and experience in the local industry that Australian-born workers of an equivalent age have. We all know that, if you are in engineering or science or any of the skilled areas, who you know, and your networks, are quite often the basis for getting employment in your mid-career—not advertisements; in fact, many jobs are not advertised at all. So in my area I am quite shocked at times to find people with extraordinary skill levels who have been unemployed for quite some period of time. So I know for them, in a new country, the knowledge of where the opportunities are in regional areas would be very hard to come by. This really does provide an incentive. I notice, in a lot of the material that I am reading, that the $6,000—or the amount depending on where you are moving to—is talked about at an incentive, but if you have been unemployed for 12 months or more, it is more than an incentive; it actually makes it possible. For many people who have been unemployed, particularly with families, for extended periods of time, the cost of moving elsewhere is quite prohibitive, and the fear of not being able to find work, or not being able to sustain work, can cause some freezing on behalf of the unemployed person. So, in my electorate, I know there will be many people for whom this program, should it be extended at some point, would be very valuable.

I notice the member for Greenway has arrived, so I will give her the opportunity to contribute. I thank the House for the opportunity to make a brief statement. Thank you.

11:32 am

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to rise today in support of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Connecting People with Jobs) Bill 2010. I think we would all agree that there is no dignity in unemployment and there is no dignity in welfare dependency. Dignity comes from work and a sense of achievement. I think it is interesting that, when you look at wellness rankings around the world—studies that are undertaken into health—one of the central determinants of a person’s health and wellness is whether they have a job. So it is really central to our society that we have people in work and who benefit from the intangible benefits that work provides, not just a pay packet. Australia has enjoyed 20 years of economic growth; however, not everyone has been able to benefit from the prosperity that this growth brings. It is something that bothers me greatly in other areas of society—the divides that emerge in our society.

One area I am particularly concerned about is the digital divide. Now that we are in the information age, the digital divide becomes so much more relevant to everything we do, from education to work to the ability to actually have a job and have long-term employment.

It is interesting to note that, in 2007, the professor of social work at UNSW, Tony Vinson, released a study of disadvantaged communities across Australia. The report, entitled Dropping off the edge, highlighted that disadvantage had become entrenched in many communities across Australia. It revealed that an individual’s postcode still plays a major role in shaping their lot in life, and I personally believe that is something we must all address.

Everyone in this parliament must make it their own mission to destroy once and for all the cycle of poverty that exists in communities across Australia. There is no silver bullet, unfortunately, when it comes to tackling the cycle of poverty. It is a falsehood to argue that one policy measure is enough to successfully wage war on the scourge that is poverty. Nevertheless, you cannot effectively tackle poverty unless you address its fundamental causes. The Vinson report emphasised the way in which low levels of educational attainment and high levels of unemployment have a direct effect on poverty.

This government understands the importance of education in tackling poverty and ensuring Australians enjoy the best quality of life. Central to this is education. It is the great enabler. It empowers individuals to overcome intergenerational unemployment, poverty and crime. For instance, in 2006 the OECD released a report entitled Starting strong II: early childhood education and care, which found that there is a direct correlation between an individual’s level of early childhood development and their entry into employment. That is why this government is undertaking important reforms to the early childhood education sector, to provide health checks for young children and guarantee universal access to high-quality preschool. I commend the minister for that. That is why we are committed to making every school a great school through measures such as trade training centres and the computers in schools program. That is why we set a national target that, by 2020, 20 per cent of higher education enrolments at undergraduate level will be of people from low socioeconomic status backgrounds.

Tackling unemployment is also central to our fight against poverty. Fifteen per cent of Australian families with children under 15 are jobless families. In more than 128,000 of these families the parents have not worked for the past three years. The 2009 OECD Employment Outlook highlights the implications of unemployment, particularly to Australian society. The report warns that in Australia unemployment is a far greater cause of poverty than in most other countries in the OECD. According to the OECD, in 2009, 55 per cent of jobless households in Australia were relatively poor, compared with an OECD average of 37 per cent. I think those statistics alone should make us all think that our mission here should certainly be to address that. The report also highlights the importance of employment in the fight against poverty. For instance, according to the OECD only three per cent of households with at least one person working are poor, and the working poor represent 15 per cent of the poor population, compared with the OECD average of over 60 per cent.

The University of Sydney’s Workplace Research Centre has published a significant amount of research into the issue of long-term unemployment. These reports consistently concluded that the longer an individual is unemployed, the harder it is for them to secure employment. I am sure we have all seen constituents for whom that is true. It is a double-edged sword: the long-term unemployed suffer a loss of confidence that makes it harder for them to find a job, whilst employers can be reluctant to hire people who have been out of work for a long time. Again, you can see why this leads to a cycle of poor economic and social health for our society.

In the current global economic climate, long-term unemployment continues to pose a major challenge. Although Australia has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the developed world, that is no cause for complacency. The economic stimulus helped shield many Australian jobs from the worst of the recession. In fact, it saved 200,000 Australians from losing their job and their financial security. However, we must remain vigilant. We must not forget there are still many people across the country who are doing it tough—indeed, I am sure, in our own electorates.

Data published by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations revealed a growth in the number of people who have been receiving Newstart allowance payments for over 12 months. The longer an individual is unemployed, the more likely it is that they will become a discouraged job seeker who will eventually give up on finding a job and become dependent on welfare payments. That is why this bill is so important. It is about tackling unemployment, particularly the long-term kind. In doing so, this bill is an important component of the government’s commitment to destroying the cycle of poverty. The Connecting People with Jobs initiative is a two-year relocation trial that will encourage job seekers in areas of high unemployment who have been unemployed for longer than 12 months to relocate to take a full-time job, including an apprenticeship. As part of this package, job seekers who relocate to metro areas will be reimbursed $3,000, whilst job seekers who move to regional areas will receive $6,000. Job seekers who relocate with their dependent children will receive an additional $3,000. As an incentive for employers to take part in this program, a relocation wage subsidy of $2,500 will be offered.

The bill also creates an incentive for individuals to stay in their new location. This bill amends the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to extend to 12 weeks the period of nonpayment of income support should a relocating job seeker leave their job within the first six months without good cause. I note, however, that Centrelink will have the discretion to reduce or not impose this 12-week unemployment non-payment period on a case-by-case basis, as it should be, such as when it would place a vulnerable job seeker in great financial hardship. As a result of the Fair Work Act we can also be sure that individuals who find employment as a result of this scheme will enjoy a decent wage and fair working conditions.

The Connecting People with Jobs initiative will have a number of important economic benefits by increasing our labour force participation rates. As our population ages we need to increase the level of employment participation in order to remain competitive and maintain our economic growth. By assisting the long-term unemployed to find work this bill is part of the government’s plan to increase Australia’s participation rate and boost our international competitiveness. Importantly, this bill ensures that people across Australia who have not enjoyed the benefits of the past two decades of economic growth will now be in a position to do so because they have a job.

I strongly support this bill because I believe it will help transform the lives of some of the most disadvantaged members of Australian society—the long-term unemployed—and in doing so it will help to tackle the vicious cycle of poverty. It will boost our labour force participation rates and, by helping the long-term unemployed find work, we can ensure that everyone benefits from the prosperity created by Australia’s economic growth.

11:41 am

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare) Share this | | Hansard source

in reply—The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Connecting People with Jobs) Bill 2010 is a key component of the government’s Connecting People with Jobs trial and aims to improve labour mobility and improve support for long-term unemployed job seekers. I thank the members who have contributed to this debate: the member for Greenway—and I note her athletic abilities she displayed in order to get here from the other chamber to contribute and put her support for these measures on the record—the member for Capricornia, the member for Lyons and the member for Parramatta, who is very excited about these measures. I also note the support of the opposition and the remarks of the member for Farrer.

Whilst the member Farrer did indicate the coalition’s support, because she said this is very similar to a coalition pilot program that was in force, I want to put on the record the differences for the benefit of the House. The previous coalition government did put in place a very small pilot program but the evaluation of that pilot showed that it selected people who in many cases would have gone on to get jobs themselves anyway. In essence, it was providing a plane ticket, a train ticket and relocation costs. Whereas this is a national initiative which is targeted in particular at long-term unemployed people and people in areas of high unemployment.

Under this trial, job seekers who relocate to take up an ongoing full-time position or apprenticeship will be reimbursed up to $9,000 for relocation expenses and other needed supports. Under the trial, job seekers will be eligible for reimbursement of up to $3,000 for relocating to a metropolitan area or $6,000 for moving to fill a job in a regional area. They may be eligible for an additional $3,000 if they are relocating with their family.

We know that relocation often has high costs, especially when it involves moving interstate and across the country. These job seekers have sought employment in their current locations already for at least 12 months but they may lack the resources to take up employment further afield. It was part of Labor’s election commitment also that employers be eligible for a wage subsidy of $2,500 to create an upfront incentive for taking on these long-term unemployed job seekers. This is in recognition of the additional support and assistance that individuals will need in the early stages of their employment in a new location.

While this trial will encourage the long-term unemployed to relocate to take up a job, the bill seeks to create an incentive for individuals to stay in their new location and to keep them in sustainable employment there. Specifically, this bill seeks to strengthen the associated compliance measures for job seekers who have been assisted to relocate for a job under the trial by extending to 12 weeks the period of non-payment of income support should a relocating job seeker leave their job within the first six months as a result of a voluntary act or as a result of misconduct. Previously, a job seeker was subject to an eight-week period of nonpayment. This bill does not alter existing mechanisms for exemptions for such non-payment period penalties that are administered by Centrelink.

We know that the national unemployment rate currently sits at 5.1 per cent, down from 5.7 per cent a year ago. However, the truth is that the employment situation across Australia varies greatly. In this modern age there is a need for greater labour mobility, and relocating parts of the workforce to meet employers’ demand is an effective method of achieving this. The Connecting People with Jobs trial will enhance the flexibility of the labour market by encouraging additional relocation activity and helping to better match labour supply with demand. The funds for relocation under this trial will provide job seekers with assistance for things such as airfares, removalists, temporary accommodation and post-placement support and mentoring. It will provide employers with the workers they need to grow their businesses and will help to get people off income support and into sustainable jobs—we all know how important that is for them as individuals, for their families and for our national economy. In summary, I commend this bill to the House and look forward to seeing a successful trial with some great results for the long-term unemployed.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.