Thursday, 17 March 2016
Paterson Electorate: Unemployment
Today I rise to address the issue of unemployment in my electorate. By way of backgrounding, in 2015 over 300,000 jobs were created across the nation. That is the strongest calendar year in jobs growth since 2006. In fact, this government has a very strong record when it comes to creating jobs. Around 421,400, to January 2016, have been created since this government came to office. The unemployment rate across all ages in September 2015 in Australia was 5.5 per cent. In New South Wales it was 4.9 per cent. But in my region, the Hunter Valley, it was 6.6 per cent. What is even more discouraging is the youth unemployment rate, which has increased since we came to government in 1996. Nationally, it is encouraging that the seasonally adjusted youth 15- to 24-year-old unemployment rate has declined from 14.1 per cent in January 2015 to stand at 12.7 per cent in January 2016.
If I can just provide a bit of background in there. When we were elected to office, the youth unemployment rate in my region was 25.6 per cent. When we lost office in 2007, it was 7.3 per cent. In 2014, it was eight per cent. In 2015, it was 16 per cent. One of the reasons that unemployment has gone up is the closure of many companies, predominantly because the mining boom is over. Sandvik had invested $50 million to open a new facility at Heatherbrae in 2012, with 600 people and lots of apprentices. By May 2013, it was losing workers, cutting 43. In 2013, another 100 jobs were gone. The Kurri Hydro site, which employed 500 directly and around another 1,000 people indirectly, closed in 2014. There has been a massive downturn.
There was the great promise that the Hunter Economic Zone would create 10,000 jobs with $2 billion worth of investment. Sadly, due to some planning issues, that has not come to fruition. I think there is one company there, Ullrich Aluminium, and a little power generation plant. More needs to be done.
That is why this week it was great to join the Prime Minister in launching the Hunter RDA's new program, the Smart Specialisation Strategy for the Hunter Region. We have led the way. This is the first of its kind being delivered in Australia. I congratulate the board in particular for their management, investigation and development of this process. As we transition to a new economy, we have to get things right. We have to develop innovation, investment, infrastructure and open markets.
The government has committed $1.1 billion towards doing this, but youth unemployment cannot be addressed unless we get two key factors right. No. one is that we need to get out young people job steady and job ready. Last week I announced in my area the Transition to Work program, where the Salvation Army, Workskil Australia and Mai-Wel were all given Transition to Work programs. These are very personalised programs to train, develop and get a job-steady job-ready young people into the workforce, but more needs to be done.
We have an extensive Jobactive network throughout the region, with 54 sites across the Hunter. But, as I said, more needs to be done. We need to incentivise and encourage, and remove the barriers for people to invest in the creation of new jobs—new technologies. We have some dynamic industries in the Hunter, based across innovation and technology—nowhere more so than through Defence industries and some of the technologies there.
Some of the old jobs are gone. With the downturn in the mining industry over 10,000 jobs have gone from our region and that has had a massive impact. But we need to work collaboratively with the councils, the state government and the federal government—all the departments coming together—to try to work towards building a solution. We can do it. We did it after BHP closed the doors. We reinvented the region with advanced medical research facilities and with a new and reinvigorated University of Newcastle, which took on new curriculum and rebuilt, redeveloped and retired debt. It trained young people.
What we have seen is people in the Hunter with the spirit to develop, design, innovate and create. Again, I congratulate the RDA on their fine work, but we all need to work together because while ever there is one person out of a job who wants a job, that is one person too many. I am determined to work as hard as I can—as I did when I was elected in 1996 and while we were in government through to 2007—to address this situation.