House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Social Security Legislation Amendment (Family Participation Measures) Bill 2011; Second Reading

1:02 pm

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will introduce amendments by giving effect to the teenage parent and jobless families trials which were announced in the Building Australia’s Future Workforce package in the 2011-12 budget. This is an important bill because it will address social inclusion, lift educational attainment and also increase workforce participation. The bill will be accompanied by a legislative instrument which will outline limited circumstances where a parenting payment recipient with a youngest child aged less than six years can be required to attend interviews and develop a participation plan with the Department of Human Services. For teenage parent trial participants, parents can also be required to do the activities set out in the participation plan. Trial participants who do not meet these requirements can have their income support payment suspended until they do.

Joblessness among families is a significant social and economic problem in Australia, and we have one of the highest proportions of children living in jobless families in the OECD. There are currently some 257,000 jobless families with dependent children who are on income support and who have no reported income over the last year or more. Being in a jobless family where no adult has a job for a significant period of time is associated with higher rates of poverty, poorer health status and lower education attainment for both parents and their children.

There are around 11,000 teenage parents currently on parenting payments in Australia. The vast majority of these parents have not completed year 12 and over a quarter only have primary school as their highest level of attained education. That said, there are some teenage parents who do very well for themselves and their children. However, there is also very clear evidence that becoming a teenage parent carries with it a greater risk of poor life outcomes for both parents and children.

This bill, therefore, will provide new services and new opportunities and will require new responsibilities to boost the educational attainment and job readiness of the parents, the wellbeing of children and the functioning of families with young children in some of the most disadvantaged locations in the country. By introducing requirements for trial participants—which means they must access local services and attend activities if they want to continue to receive parenting payment—the government is sending a very clear message that it is the responsibility of the parent to make the most of the opportunities available to them.

The trial participants will be teenage parents in the 10 locations who do not have year 12 or equivalent, have children who are not yet six years old and are in receipt of parenting payment. There will be some 4,000 teen parents in total participating in the trial. The government is sending a very clear message to parents in the jobless families trial that attending Centrelink interviews and workshops and developing a participation plan are important steps towards being work-ready once children start school. There will be some 22,000 parents a year participating in the jobless families trial. The two trials require that selected parents in the 10 locations must plan to use the services available to their local communities whilst they are on parenting payment and before they are required to look for work. The specific and additional focus for teenage parent trial participants is that the parent must work towards attaining year 12 or equivalent whilst also spending time doing child-centred activities. Of course, some teen parents have dropped out of school even before becoming pregnant, so going back to their old school might not be an attractive or even possible option for them.

Each of the trial locations will have specially tailored opportunities for teen parents to re-engage with education, including options for studying without having to put their children into child care. There will be people who can help the teenage parents to navigate the variety of services available, including, for example, helping them enrol in a course or go along to an activity for the first time. The government has invested in ensuring that there are extra services (such as Youth Connections and Communities for Children) in the trial locations to make sure parents get the help they need to participate.

The bill will make necessary changes to the social security law so that parents subject to the new requirements do not lose entitlement to other non-participation payments (such as family tax benefit) due to failure to comply with the new requirements. Parents in the trials will not be subject to the jobseeker compliance framework.

Parents who are particularly vulnerable will be assessed by Centrelink and offered more intensive support via case coordination. This new approach helps Centrelink better identify a parent's needs and allows them to provide more appropriate referrals and better services at the time that they are needed most. This support may also extend to exempting the parent from certain aspects of the trial for a period of time. This is worthy and vital legislation, and I commend the bill to the House.

Leave granted for second reading debate to continue immediately.

1:09 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Family Participation Measures) Bill 2011. This bill, as we have heard from the minister—and from others in the Senate two days ago—announces pilot programs in the area of social security and welfare which were mentioned in the 2011-12 budget. There are two measures: a teenage parent participation pilot and a jobless families participation pilot. The cost of these measures is $43.7 million over four years. I note—as the minister also noted—that the government announced additional expenditure of $80 million over four years to provide extra training places for single and teenage parents who are in receipt of income support, so these pilot programs, as well as costing $43.7 million over four years, do link into those additional programs which provide support, places to go and extra help for the vulnerable people who are covered by the two pilots.

I now turn to a consideration of the basic elements of the teenage parents participation pilot, which are as follows. These pilots are to be conducted in 10 targeted local government areas. Parents on income support will be required to attend six-monthly interviews with Centrelink once their child turns six months of age. Once the child is 12 months old, the purpose of the interview with Centrelink will be to develop a participation plan. The participation plan will be compulsory and is to be aimed at improving education outcomes for the parent by focusing on school completion, foundation skills or certificate-level qualifications as well as focusing on the health and education of the participation plan child. Support for the participation plan is to continue until the parent achieves year 12 completion or the child turns six years of age. Clearly, the pilot seeks to address a growing issue of concern: the number of teenage parents who have failed to complete year 12 or an equivalent qualification. Alarmingly, more than 50 per cent of teenage parents were on welfare support before becoming a parent, and a massive 80 per cent of them have not completed their year 12 studies.

We on this side of the House do not suppose that every parent who is a teenager is vulnerable, has problems or needs to be specifically investigated by departments. But we do recognise, as does the government, that there is an issue of teenage parents falling out of school and therefore falling out of the workforce and finding it that much more difficult later in life to get back on the treadmill of a job and a pathway to an opportunity which has unfortunately gone missing. We recognise that young people who have failed to complete their schooling are generally highly disadvantaged in the job market and that they have limited future career possibilities. In addition, when they do find employment, they are more likely to earn lower incomes than are those students who achieved a year 12 qualification. However, the evidence clearly shows that those between 20 and 24 years of age are more likely to be unemployed if they have not completed their year 12 studies. This very well-intentioned pilot is clearly about making sure that mothers—and it nearly always is mothers—who are leaving school to bring up children who they have had while they are teenagers need to be assisted to get back into the workforce and to have the maximum help that we can offer them as government and non-government organisations so that they are properly catered for into the future. As I said, it is a well-intentioned pilot program.

The additional pressures of raising a young child further decrease the likelihood of a teenage parent's securing employment. Many teenage mothers raise their child on their own with little or no support from the baby's father. In 2008 it was estimated that around 60 per cent of teenage mothers had no male partner by the time they gave birth. Without this support, and in some instances without support from their own families, teenage parents are in a difficult position. By having the mechanisms in place to introduce vulnerable young mothers to organisations and to parenting groups, they can develop a support network and access the advice and assistance that they need to care for the child. The next step, of course, is to get them back into school—whether it be their school, a TAFE facility, a community college or a registered training organisation—so that they will be better placed to provide for their family into the future. This, for them, is about overcoming those initial barriers that tell them that they do not have a chance, that they are not worth it, that school and TAFE are places that are no longer for them and also that they perhaps do not need to take the level of responsibility for their own lives and the welfare of their children that we would expect them to.

So that is the teenage parents participation pilot, and what I would say about it is that a lot of the efforts that it talks about should be and are going on in the community already. Perhaps more can be done to bring the linkages together, but in announcing a pilot over 10 separate locations what are we doing about the teenage parents in the other locations? What will happen from this pilot that will lead to future government policy? And isn't it a bit of a cop-out anyway for the government to couch its messages about mutual obligations—which it talks up, because it gets a good response in the community, which recognises the necessity for them—in pilots that are not necessarily going to transfer well into public policy?

I know that research will be done. I am not sure how effective it will be. But I do come back to the point that all of these support mechanisms that we are talking about to surround teenage parents are actually already there in the community. How much of the $47 million that we are allocating to this is going to go to additional staff in our government departments, including Centrelink and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations? Those staff do good work and we recognise that, but I am always wary when I see dollars allocated to administration and to coordination. When a program is surrounded by all of these good words, you still need to drill down and ask: what is happening? What is happening at the teenager's school? What is happening in the teenager's family? What is happening in their town?

The federal government dollars that have been allocated are going towards coordination efforts, meetings at Centrelink and bringing together the various providers—perhaps around a table to talk about it on a case management basis. All of these are very well intentioned, I know, but it is a significant allocation of taxpayers' dollars for services that I know, as a local member, and that other local members will also know, happen already. They are not always connected very well. The dots are not always joined up very well. But we have youth connections, we have facilities for NGOs and we have organisations that look after teen parents. We have the state government departments and we have the state schools.

If I look at my daughter's school, which is in a town that unhappily has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Australia, and consider the friends that she had at school who fell pregnant during years 11 and 12, one of the things I can say is how well that school looked after those kids and how well it linked them into the services in the community. By announcing this pilot, the government is saying: 'We've got 10 areas we are going to focus on, and we are going to do something that hasn't been done before. We're also going to spend a lot of money doing it.' The coalition does not disagree with this legislation about teenage participation pilots at all, but we really do want to make those points.

We also know in this area that, the longer the time that someone spends out of the workforce, the more they struggle to re-engage down the track. That is one thing that I am totally aware of from my meetings with employment participation agencies—if I can scoop them up under that one umbrella—around the country and with bodies that look for jobs for vulnerable people, that work with youth and that try to connect youth as they leave school. We need to make it clear, not just to teenage parents but to young people, that education is an absolutely valid choice, that there is nothing scary about setting foot on the grounds of a TAFE, a community college or any other educational institution, and that when the time comes in your life to get into education, to learn something and to get a certificate and you find the one that means something to you and that can get you a job then that should be an absolutely logical step that you take.

Intergenerational unemployment is a real risk and the reality is that many of our teenage parents come from families who themselves have been supported predominantly by the welfare system. Currently, there are more than 530,000 children younger than 15 who are living with parents who do not work, and there is a strong likelihood of the cycle of dependency being repeated. It is a statistic that has been around as long as I have been in politics—that is, our very poor standing in OECD terms relating to our intergenerational unemployment. It is so bad, in fact, that I have met families who do not talk about collecting a benefit from Centrelink, who do not recognise that with a welfare cheque comes an responsibility to look for work or to participate in training, but who actually talk about going to Centrelink to pick up their pay—so strong and so entrenched is the message of no work and joblessness. I do not blame those individuals at all, because in many cases their life circumstances have not led them to any other choice. That is where the tough love of government policy really needs to take effect.

As I said, the decision has been made for this pilot to be undertaken in areas identified as having higher than average levels of disadvantage. Currently there are around 11,000 teenage parents in Australia, so this really will only scratch the surface. Teenage parents will be required to attend Centrelink once their child turns six months so they can formulate a plan to return to schooling once their child is a year old. Fully-subsidised child care will be provided to enable them to return to school at this 12-month mark. I do have real concerns about the fully-subsidised child care. This is not because it is not a good thing—it is—but because of the shortages of nought to two-year-old places and that that shortage is becoming exacerbated with every passing day because of the government's new rules around child-to-staff ratios that are forcing childcare centres to reduce the number of places. This government really will have a task ahead of it to ensure that those places are available in convenient and suitable locations for these parents.

At the heart of this measure—if it becomes policy, and there is no reason why it should not—there is the need for the teenage parent to have really good child care so that they can educate themselves. You cannot do that with a newborn baby in the room, so we have to have child care that is affordable and available for teenage parents. Because of the new rules that I have just mentioned, which reduce the number of nought to two places, I visit childcare centres all the time that say, 'We've decided that it is not going to pay to have babies, so our youngest room will have toddlers,' and they will just start at two-year-olds, saying, 'We won't do nought to twos anymore'. I also meet a lot of childcare providers who say that they are having to cut down on the number of nought to two places they have, and everywhere I go I say, 'Where is your waiting list?' It is in the nought to twos—sometimes as many as 50. I do not know how the Centrelink case managers and the people who fill in numerous pages about compliance in relation to this measure are going to answer the question: 'Where is my child going to go for child care that I can really feel comfortable with as a nervous new mother? Where is my child going to go so that I can go to TAFE or back to school or back to community college?' I would simply say to the government that, with $47 million attached to this and the other significant dollars with all the training places et cetera, it is all going to fall in a heap if the child care is not available.

I also remain concerned as to how Centrelink plans to monitor school attendance and compliance with the rest of the employment pathway plan. In particular, teenage parents will be required at these interviews they attend to outline how they will maximise the health and education of their children. Part of making this work is ensuring that they do adhere to those commitments. But it is not really the role of Centrelink to look at the health and education of a child. It is slightly outside their role. Their job in this respect is to complete an employment pathway plan and to interview the teenage parent. It is not an unfriendly exercise, because there is really nothing to do when the baby is six months. That is about saying: 'Okay, let's get something happening here. Let's make a plan so that when your child turns one you do start doing something that is in your own interest and also, because of the vulnerability of the children of teenage parents, we'll keep an eye on that as well.' How this actually happens in the real world is not clear to me at all. Again, we have the Labor government announcing rather grand plans and initiatives. People should not make the mistake of thinking that they will translate well in a real world situation.

I want to talk about the other pilot, the jobless families pilot, which is the subject of this legislation. It will commence on 1 July 2012. As with the teenage parents pilot, it will be run in 10 local government areas. It introduces new participation requirements and support services for parents who have been on income support for over two years or who are aged under 23 and are in a targeted local government area. They will be required to attend compulsory workshops and interviews and set personal and family goals. They will receive assistance to target prevocational barriers to engage in the community and to improve the health and education outcomes for children. They will have access to 52 weeks of jobs, education and training child care fee assistance, which pays any childcare fee gap, effectively making child care cost free. This also links to $71.1 million which is provided in other government programs, $19.4 million of which is to be spent on children for community services, which the minister recently mentioned was going to be enhanced in these targeted areas.

I know that all these things happen with clients of Centrelink, our job services agencies and our disability employment service providers. They conduct workshops, they talk to people about setting family goals. It might be that the people in this jobless families participation pilot do not have those activity test requirements, but if we give them those requirements, which essentially is what we seem to be doing here, the services and the provision of those services does already exist. Again I question where the $47 million is going to significantly add value?

One of the most frustrating things for me is going to a town and seeing something provided by one service, something provided by another service around the corner, and other related activities somewhere else—no-one entirely talking to each other because, let us face it, there is a bit of competition between them in attracting the government funding to run the services. If we simply said, 'Everybody sit around the same table, talk about this particular family, talk about this particular teenage parent and work out what you are going to do,' it would be a common sense local initiative that would not require so much money.

Remember: where you create a program like this you create significant compliance as well. You have a computer system, you have forms to fill in. At interviews an amazing number of boxes have to be ticked and questions have to be asked, but you have to remember the experience of the individual. These are vulnerable members of our community and they are sitting in a chair across from somebody who is staring at a computer screen with a program that has been provided by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Those people who sit at the computer screen tell me they sometimes spend 50 per cent to 60 per cent of their time filling in forms in order to serve the great IT system within the department. I have seen this in many situations. The person sitting there wonders: 'Is this person interested in me? Do they want to know about my problems? Are they, in fact, someone who is trained to understand my problems or are they someone who is really, really good at compliance, who can sit in front of his computer screen and give all the answers to make the department happy?'

I know I am being a little unfair and I am probably exaggerating to get my point across, but it is a valid point. When I talk to the people who run these case management exercises that is the single thing they say: 'We would like to speak to people. We would like to empathise with our clients. We would like to say, "We see you, we hear you, we understand what your life is like," but instead we are sitting in front of a computer screen moving the mouse and just glancing occasionally at them.' It is not a good way to do business.

Despite the investment we are making in our jobless families participation pilot, there is no requirement for the families to commit to taking work. Compliance with the employment pathway plan should be a given. I understand with the teenage parents it is about getting them back to school, so we do not want to be withdrawing dollars or support. But in this case, compliance with the employment pathway plan is about being a young person without a job. So once again we have a prime example of how the Labor Party has watered down the compliance regime: talking tough about mutual obligation, making the public think that that is what they are doing, but not really doing it. We absolutely have to ensure that jobseekers follow through on their commitments and accept responsibility for their financial futures.

Indigenous families are chronically overrepresented in the cohort of welfare dependent families, with around 40 per cent of Indigenous children living in jobless families. Here the challenge to break this cycle is absolutely paramount. I see this tragedy firsthand in a number of places in my electorate, with families camping outside local pubs waiting for opening time: grandma, mum, dad and a handful of toddlers running around—it is absolutely heartbreaking to witness. It is a battle that we do have to win, and it often does require a firm hand.

The coalition has a proud track record of welfare reform. We stand firm in our commitment to mutual obligation. Welfare payments need to be viewed as a temporary safety net—there to support people when they are down but intrinsically linked to the support mechanisms that will help raise them up. That is why a program such as Work for the Dole has such an important role to play. It reiterates that in order to receive income support one has subsequent obligations to look for work, and in the absence of paid employment to give back to the society that supports you. More than 600,000 people have benefited from time in Work for the Dole, with programs across the country helping get job seekers job ready. It has taught real-life skills that are needed in every workplace: punctuality, teamwork, appearance and work ethic. I would like to reiterate that the coalition sees Work for the Dole as a labour market program.

We certainly witnessed great success during our time in government but, unfortunately, since the Rudd-Gillard governments came in unemployment has risen. The government chose to water down mutual obligation when it came to power by changing the requirement for job seekers to undertake a Work for the Dole activity after six months, which was the case when we were in government, to 12 months. This government is actually helping to allow people to languish on welfare. The departmental secretary reinforced Labor's position by writing to employment services providers and urging them to be more lenient on job seekers' noncompliance. But compliance has a critical role to play in getting job seekers off welfare and into work. The coalition has never lost sight of this, opposing Labor's frequent attempts to water it down. We face an increasingly complex demographic challenge in the Australian workforce; we have an ageing population and we will face significant skills challenges into the future. But we still have an extraordinarily high number of long-term unemployed job seekers. We need to ensure that those who can work do work.

The coalition moved amendments in the Senate yesterday, one of which the Greens supported, I am happy to say. Our amendments sought to maintain the ability of the secretary to intervene in extenuating circumstances. I actually remain quite bewildered at Labor's decision to introduce this clause—that is, that the secretary cannot intervene. There must always be scope for the secretary to intervene when we are talking about vulnerable people. In addition to the amendment moved to this bill in the Senate, where the bill was introduced, we will move further amendments here to address the need for real penalties to apply in the case of jobless family participants so that we can follow through on requiring an employment participation plan. If there are no teeth then there may not be any agreement by the participant to go ahead.

I foreshadow that we will move those amendments in the consideration in detail stage and repeat that, despite the concerns that I have indicated, the coalition will be supporting this bill. It takes some positive albeit rather baby steps towards reinforcing the responsibilities that come with the right to welfare, and it provides a basis for supporting teenage parents and jobless families to help them realise a brighter future.

1:33 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset can I just say that I am proud to be associated with a government that, at a period of time when most of the advanced world was shedding jobs phenomenally, was able to create them. We had an economy that was stronger than most of the rest of the world and we have survived today. This is even to the extent that, when the Leader of the Opposition trawls around the country talking down the economy, the minute he gets a chance to go overseas and thinks that no-one is watching he is praising it.

We have done a lot in employment, job growth and finding work here. I just wanted to note that in the context of the contribution that has just been made, which tried to suggest otherwise. We are always looking for ways to improve job outcomes, not just because of the economic benefit that flows from that but also because of the fact that it provides opportunity for people to do within their lives the types of things that they want to see within themselves individually, for their families, for their friends and for their communities.

Particularly in Western Sydney, where we have stubbornly higher than national average unemployment, we are always looking for ways to find meaningful work, and there are a number of ways that we seek to do it. Certainly since becoming the member for Chifley last year I have spoken at length in this place and elsewhere about the need for our young people to remain at school as long as possible. In an electorate like Chifley, where there are households that have multiple generations of people who have been on some sort of income support, it is important that we give young people the tools and the motivation to get skilled to get a job and to get ahead.

In my first speech to this place I nominated lifting local school retention rates as one of my main priorities as a member of parliament. I commented in that speech that retention rates in Chifley were stubbornly lower than the national average and I lauded, for example, three trade training centres that had been promised and said how I hoped they would lift the number of students staying on in years 11 and 12. Last week I had the opportunity of inspecting the progress of construction at the Loyola trade centre at Mount Druitt. I am excited about the momentum that is building around this centre, which has started delivering trade qualifications in commercial cookery, electrotechnology and hairdressing. Students are lining up in great numbers to begin studying automotive, carpentry, shopfitting and metal fabrication when classes resume in February.

I see these centres and other initiatives in our schools as delivering opportunities to young people—not just opportunities to study but opportunities to find work—and these are opportunities for life. It is why I am supporting this legislation today. I am not comfortable with opportunities like these passing people by, particularly because of changing circumstances—some of which include the need to raise young children and the family responsibilities that come with that.

There are roughly 11,000 teenage parents in Australia. They receive a parenting payment, and more than 90 per cent of them have not completed year 12. A quarter of them claim primary school as their highest level of education. Certainly when economic conditions change—when they tighten, when they are harder and when jobs are lost—this lack of a skills base is one of the greatest disadvantages that people, particularly in the electorate that I am proud to represent, have. Having grown up in those areas, I know that the people there have enormous hearts, are willing, keen and enthusiastic and want to get involved but sometimes a lack of qualifications holds them back.

Not only are many teenage parents missing out on opportunities for a stable future but so too are their children. There is clear evidence that becoming a parent as a teenager brings with it greater risk of poor life outcomes for both the parent and the child. There is also evidence that coming from a family where no adult has a job for a significant period is associated with high rates of poverty, poorer health status and lower education attainment for the child and the parent.

This bill will allow for the commencement of two trials: the teenage parent trial and the jobless family trial. These trials will be implemented in 10 disadvantaged communities across Australia. It is hoped they will lead to improved family functioning. The jobless family trial will amend the arrangement that currently requires parenting payment recipients to look for a job for at least 15 hours per week once their youngest child turns six. The trial will now extend that requirement to where the youngest child is less than six years of age. Some might claim that we are taking parents away from their primary role of caring for their child, but we believe there are enormous benefits that flow from being able to get people in a position where they are training and seeking work. Already there are many services available in local communities which families can use while they are parenting, such as playgroups and play schools. Other often free services, like TAFE courses, baby health clinics and community courses in cooking or financial management, can also improve family outcomes. Making use of services like these while children are young can improve the chances of welfare recipients becoming financially independent once their children are at school. Children themselves are more likely to be school ready when they turn six.

The teenage parent trial will require participants to access local services and attend activities in order to continue receiving the parenting payment. The government is sending the clear message that it is the responsibility of the parent to make the most of the opportunities available to them. Trial participants will be teenage parents who have not attained year 12 or an equivalent qualification, or who have children who are not yet six, and are in receipt of the parenting payment.

In order to facilitate these trials the Gillard government has invested in extra services like Youth Connections and Communities for Children in the trial locations. Communities for Children is also making great headway in suburbs like Mount Druitt. A few months ago the Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services, Julie Collins, visited Mount Druitt. We were very happy to have her visit. The state government announced support in Mount Druitt to help families.

There are also a number of other services helping families in Bidwill. They are helping young parents cope with their new-found responsibilities as parents. Sometimes this is approved in some suburbs within Chifley. There is enormous pressure on families who do not have support networks. Some of the work that is being done to invest in that support has been hugely beneficial. I congratulate UnitingCare on their work in Bidwill. The NewPIN program has made some important contributions to improving family life and improving the role of young parents in our area.

So that the trial participants can navigate the array of services available to them, there will be people to help them enrol in a course or attend an activity for the first time. It is anticipated that these trials will positively impact 4,000 teenage parents and 22,000 parents in jobless families. Parents who fail to comply with these requirements will have income support payments suspended until they do so; however, family tax benefit will continue to be paid.

It has to be emphasised that the government is providing participants with all the support they need to comply with the requirement to attend activities or to complete secondary education or the equivalent. There are a range of safety measures in place to ensure that those most at risk will get the support they need. Parents who are particularly vulnerable will be assessed by Centrelink and offered more intensive support via case coordination. Centrelink is going to be required to identify a parent's needs and provide more appropriate referrals and better services. This additional support may include exempting the parent from certain aspects of the trial for a period of time.

The government will ensure that these trials are monitored closely throughout their implementation. That is fundamental. This will ensure that parents are achieving the desired goal and that it is remaining fair to those participating. Overall the greatest focus needs to remain on how to improve access to education early on for parents, particularly for young people. As I said earlier, their greatest level of education attainment might be attending primary school or in some areas the early years of high school. That denies them so many opportunities not just to participate in the workplace but to equip them to navigate their way through community life. As I said at the beginning of my contribution to this debate, that is why I feel so strongly that being able to find ways to ensure students stay on as long as they possibly can in school is critical.

I refer to the fact that we have had trade training centres open. With years 11 and 12 counting as the first years of an apprenticeship, people are finding this is definitely keeping students in school longer. At Loyola, for instance, they have the Nicholas Owen Program for students who just do not have the enthusiasm for school and who, as a result their lack of engagement, create social problems in school. They have found other ways to keep the kids in longer. They found that a lot of the students in the Nicholas Owen Program were attracted to a trade type course. The students are enrolled in carpentry and trained on the way through. They are retained in school while building their skills.

When students do not stay on in school as long as they possibly can it can affect them greatly, particularly when economic circumstances become bad and they are unable to hold onto employment. Hopefully, through the initiatives being discussed in this legislation, especially where intergenerational unemployment has gripped so many families in suburbs north of Mount Druitt in the seat I represent, we will see those people able to get a faster track and faster focus on education—

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! It being 1.45 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The honourable member for Chifley will have the opportunity to continue his remarks at a later hour.