House debates

Thursday, 10 November 2016


Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill 2016; Second Reading

1:03 pm

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Another concern that I have with this proposal is that, while it is designed to give young people a job, it could, in fact, negate the need for existing employees to work at certain times and certain industries like retail or hospitality or construction. In 2013, this was foreshadowed by the Fair Work Ombudsman in a report titled: 'Unpaid work arrangements: exploitation or experience?'

One of the key findings of the report was that a significant number of workers, particularly young workers, were asked and required to undertake unpaid job trials or unpaid training internships which actually went beyond any sort of reasonable training period. The report found that such arrangements, similar to the one being put forward by the government, effectively allowed for the performance of work on an unpaid basis when that work would normally have been undertaken by a paid employee. It should also be remembered that we are currently seeing a radical change in the landscape of our country's workforce. In August, Morgan Stanley flagged that under employment had hit a record in 9.3 per cent. Every month we are seeing the increased casualisation of our workforce, with fewer full-time jobs and a growing trend towards part-time and casual employment.

This internship proposal risks further fuelling that increasing trend, replacing young full-time and part-time workers with cheaper sporadic labour. For me, this represents a grave danger to the future prosperity of young Australians entering the workforce today. Too often I hear stories of exceptionally qualified young Australians struggling to find a job, whether it is a university graduate, a TAFE student or another enthusiastic young person who just wants to enter the workforce. Right across the nation, there are 272,400 young Australians who are out of work. We have a youth unemployment rate that is more than double the national average, but I reject the notion that the way to fix this issue is by introducing an intern program that will see more young people being paid below the minimum wage and performing roles that could have been filled by employees being paid a proper wage.

As I said earlier, Labor have always supported meaningful investment and initiatives that give young people a pathway towards long-term, stable and fulfilling employment. We acknowledge that there is a real need for investment and initiatives to help tackle our youth unemployment. I know this because in Longman, where I am from, there is nothing more important to local people than having a decent job. I have been at school award ceremonies and I have been in the local community in the last few weeks, and I have listened to parents talk about their aspirations for their children—aspirations like those I hold for my four sons. But if we allow this proposal to go through unchecked, we will run the risk of creating a situation like that in the United States, where employees are forced to compete against one another in what the Fair Work Ombudsman has described as a race to the bottom on wages.

What we need right now from this government is greater clarity and tighter regulations to protect young workers from exploitation. We need greater restrictions in place to ensure that businesses simply cannot keep churning through young interns at the expense of other workers being paid a proper wage. This is not only about ensuring that we protect workers; it is about accountability and making sure the taxpayers are getting value for money.

To conclude, we will await the outcome of the Senate inquiry into the broader implications of this policy. We will evaluate the outcomes in good faith and will propose sensible amendments that we believe are necessary to protect the interests of young Australian workers. But what we will not do is blindly follow the lead of the Turnbull government, because this is another example of their inability to properly formulate policy. There are no details and there is no substance—just empty words and slogans. We know that this is not good enough. We will keep holding those opposite to account in the national interest.

1:07 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to express my support for the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill. Let me be very frank: this bill is about jobs. It is very interesting to hear the member for Longman opposite talk about this issue and what is wrong with this bill when there are people in her electorate—in Morayfield and Caboolture—who have been on Newstart for years and who are just waiting for an opportunity, a chance, to get into the workforce.

This bill is about increasing job opportunities for Australians. It builds on the success of the coalition government's Work for the Dole program. This bill will give effect to the Youth Jobs PaTH Program, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in North Lakes, in my electorate of Petrie, on the very first day of the July election campaign. I was very pleased that he came to announce this. I thought it was a great practical program that would help further reduce youth unemployment. In the last three years—since the government was elected in 2013—youth unemployment in my region has fallen significantly. I will repeat that: it has fallen significantly in the last three years. This legislation will help to make it fall even further, I believe.

I make an effort to get around my electorate and meet many people from all walks of life. I also make an effort to get out and meet small-business owners and middle-sized business owners as well because they employ a lot of people. The feedback is valuable, and I pass it on here to different people. But one of the things that small business owners mention to me is staffing, and having good staff, and the fact that young people often do not have a good understanding of the values and behaviours that are expected in the workplace and in the recruitment process.

In a couple of weeks I will be running my fourth Job Seeker Boot Camp in the electorate of Petrie. It is a great program, and I would encourage other members in this House, from both sides, to perhaps take it up. I get employers from different fields. They might be from hospitality, manufacturing or trades. They might be professionals. I invite all the unemployed from my electorate to the Job Seeker Boot Camp. It is an opportunity for those employers to say, 'When I'm hiring, this is what I look for; when I'm hiring, we want people to turn up to work on time, to look the part.' I ran a small business before I came into this place, employing 15 people or so. I had a guy come in awhile back. He turned up and said, 'Have you got a job for me?' and he was wearing a Tupac shirt—I do not know whether you know who Tupac is; he is a deceased rapper, and he was on the shirt and holding up his middle finger. I said, 'There's nothing going at the moment', and he was about to walk out the door and I grabbed him, took him out the back and gave him a bit of advice that, if he is looking for work, then wearing a shirt with Tupac with his middle finger up is probably not a good way to turn up.

The Job Seeker Boot Camp is an opportunity for employers to say directly to those people on Newstart: if you are serious about work, here are some real tips that will help you. One of the other things employers say is that they look at the resume and if the jobseeker has moved around a lot, if they have been in a job five months here and six months there and nine months there, it often does not get too far. These are important tips that we can pass on to jobseekers who are on Newstart in all of our electorates. At the end of the day, I am sure those opposite and those on this side of the House want to see people have work. And the member for Longman is right when she says that jobs are important to people in her electorate. They are important to people in my electorate as well. People need a place to go on Monday morning.

Employability skill training through the PaTH program will give young people the opportunity to learn these vital skills and develop the attitude they should bring to the workplace. The first three weeks of training will help young people build practical industry skills, with a focus on concepts like working in a team, presentation and communication. The next three weeks will centre on advanced job preparation and job-hunting skills. The trial part, the second part of the PaTH program, is about the internship for four to 12 weeks. Internships are common. Many people opposite—including the member for Fenner, who I think has had 100 or so through his office—offer internships. Internships are often in unions and political offices. Why can't they be applied to business, where a person who has been on Newstart can come into a business with five, 10, 20 or 30 employees who have KPIs, who have goals, who are dressed ready for work every day? How will that rub off on that person who has perhaps been on Newstart for six, 12 or 18 months? I think it will rub off in a very positive way, a very practical way that will prepare that young person to land a job—perhaps their first job—that will see them in the workplace for years to come, paying income tax for the government to invest in essential services and perhaps doubling or tripling their Newstart income.

There will be some 120,000 placements over four years. These placements will help young jobseekers who have been in employment services for six months or more to gain valuable work experience within a real business. We will also provide an extra $200 on top of the welfare payment they already receive. This is an incentive payment. Those opposite talk about $4 an hour as though it is some sort of wage. That is not correct. They know that as well. This is an incentive payment on top of their Newstart payment. It is a little bonus, so to speak, that says to them: 'Look, come on: here's an opportunity. You pick the industry that you'd like to get involved with and we'll help you find an employer for you to get involved with. And here's an extra $200 a fortnight on top of Newstart to help you.' It is not an employment payment. It is an incentive payment.

I think it is a very practical way to help those young people, when we know high youth unemployment right around this country exists. It has been like that for years. This is an opportunity for the crossbenchers, for the Senate, for those opposite and for those on this side of the parliament to say, 'This is new. Let's give it a go.' How can it hurt? How can it hurt when young people have a real opportunity to get the valuable experience that employers often say they are looking for?

'Hire' is the third part. Businesses that decide to take on a PaTH program participant will receive a wage subsidy of between $6,500 and $10,000. This bonus is a smarter way of leveraging what taxpayers would otherwise spend on welfare payments. Of course, this occurs only in the hiring stage. In that third stage they are in the job for six months. It is not like 'you start tomorrow and here is the money'. It is a matter of working through this and, if you decide after the four- to 12-week period you want to move to stage 3 and hire this individual, and they work out, great; you offer them a full-time job. It is very practical.

On this side of the House we in the coalition government believe that the best form of welfare is a job. The ultimate goal is to break welfare dependency before this turns into lifelong dependency, and to move people into states of self-reliance so that when they wake up on Monday morning they have a job to go to, they have purpose and they can be participating in a very practical way, like the rest of us in this place are doing.

Australia cannot afford to leave thousands of young people to a lifetime of welfare dependency. We know that once a young person becomes unemployed for the long-term, and from what I understand it is particularly around that mark when they have been on Newstart for five years, their chances of successfully finding employment decline drastically.

The Youth Jobs PaTH program will not just prepare young Australians for work; it will provide them with real work experience and give employers incentives to take the jobseekers on. When you get someone who is new and has had no experience and has perhaps been on Newstart for six months or more, it is not like you bring them in on day one and they are actively producing in the company. Often you have to get another staff member to train them for four or five weeks to get them to where they need to go. Of course, not all businesses would be willing to do that, and that is why the incentive payment is there. The Youth Jobs PaTH program will not just prepare young Australians to work but give them the experience they need.

Importantly, the program will also help young people gain confidence both in themselves and in the fact that there are jobs out there. Do you know how many young people—and I guess older people, but in this case it applies to young people—have applied for jobs, saying they have sent off hundreds of resumes and they do not get anything back? Some employers do not even give them the courtesy of a letter back to say they have been unsuccessful. Can you imagine what this will do to those young people as far as confidence goes—to give them the confidence to turn up to work every day with other people who are actively employed full-time? I think it will be an enormous boost to their confidence, I really do. It will incentivise their transition into employment.

Labor's six years in office saw more than 500,000 jobs lost in small businesses alone. Now they have the audacity, when we have a plan for jobs and growth, to oppose the company tax cuts we want to implement and the extension of the instant asset tax write-off, which I believe will play such an important part in creating jobs. In the election campaign, what were the arguments the Leader of the Opposition put up? All he could say was that billion-dollar companies would be the winners from this and that all the profits would go to overseas investors. That is what it was. He spoke only about billion-dollar companies; he did not speak about small business or medium business, and that is where the potential is in relation to company tax cuts and increasing the instant asset tax write-off—the companies that turn over between $20 million and $50 million and employ perhaps 140 people. If you can increase their workforce by 10 per cent, that is 14 people.

I know there is a lot of talk about a small businesses turning over less than $10 million or whatever. Well, those businesses employ only about 20 people. So, if you increase the workforce there, you end up getting two extra. Where the jobs will make a difference is in those medium businesses. And I would say to the senators and to the crossbench that they need to look at that personally. I think it will make a real difference. We cannot improve jobs in this country if we cannot legislate the plan that we have, that we took to the election, in order to help people.

I have been out to some of the Work for the Dole trials in my electorate. There have been a number of them—Deception Bay Police-Citizens Youth Club, Redcliffe Police-Citizens Youth Club and some places in Margate. I have been out to visit the people who are involved in that program and to encourage them to tell me what they want to do when they get to work and to have some goals and to achieve them. A couple of them say, 'You know we don't want to be here, Luke.' And I say: 'Well, look at it this way: when you go for your next job interview you can say you've been working on this, this and this or that you've been volunteering for the local PCYC or helping this organisation. It will only help you get to where you want to go.'

I believe this PaTH program will play a big role. I ask members to open their eyes in relation to this. Let's test this—see how it goes for a few years. I believe it will have great results. We live in a country of tremendous opportunities. I believe it is so important for people to identify what it is that they want out of life and to go for it. I call upon both the House and the Senate—everyone in here—to support this plan for jobs and growth. Thank you.

1:22 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the Labor opposition to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill 2016. I say at the outset that Labor's position is not to oppose this bill in the House but to refer it to a Senate inquiry. I am the shadow minister for human services, and this bill will be administered by the agency of Centrelink. But it is important to put on record that this government does not care about welfare recipients. And while this bill promises action to help people find work, given the way the government treats age pensioners, disability support pensioners and the thousands of unemployed people across the country who want to work I have very little faith that it will do that. Ask anyone in a Centrelink office, 'Do you think the government wants to help you find a job or live with dignity?' and their response—after waiting, in many cases, for several hours on the phone or for many months for processing claims—will be universal: of course the answer will be no, they do not.

This bill is more of the same rhetoric from this government. All those who are unemployed, even through no fault of their own, are referred to as leaners and are characterised, as we heard from the member for Bowman the other day, as people who are deliberately trying to rip the system off, deliberately trying to undermine the welfare system in this country. Of course, that attitude is completely unacceptable. Members of this place, even on the other side, know that is not true when we see these people in our electorate offices almost every day—people who are long-term unemployed, people who are relying on the social security net that we have in this country and that we should be very proud of. The worst thing about this bill is that it does not actually seem to fix the problem, and it may even create a raft of new issues for people who are long-term unemployed, particularly young people.

From the outset, I have to note the incredibly bad acronym that has been chosen for this piece of legislation. It frankly makes no sense. That is always a bad sign. The acronym is: PaTH. For the illumination of those opposite, there is no 'A' in the title 'Prepare, Trial, Hire'. This speaks to what this bill appears to be—an election campaign thought bubble. I want to focus on that for a little while. It was announced throughout the election campaign and it was clearly announced without much thought, without much consultation and without any consideration given to the implications of such a scheme, which have been well enunciated by the member for Longman.

PaTH is allegedly designed to prepare young people for work by giving jobseekers pre-employment training and voluntary internships of four to 12 weeks. Jobseekers will receive an additional $200 per fortnight on top of their current payments while participating in this program. That all sounds fine, except there is nothing to back up that rhetoric. Businesses will be paid $1,000 to take on an intern and a subsidy of up to $10,000 if they hire them at the end of the internship, except there is no guarantee in this legislation that there will be a job at the end of this internship.

The previous member who spoke referred to the importance of giving people the experience of being employed, and no-one would disagree with those sentiments. But this legislation gives businesses the potential opportunity to use young people as cheap labour, as labour that can displace other workers who are employed, and to exploit this scheme by having people work for them who will cost them nothing. That is a very great risk under this legislation. This very risk underpins the fact that very little thought has been put into this legislation.

There are serious concerns about this program, both on this side of the chamber and out in the community. Programs like Work for the Dole are already hopelessly failing young people. In fact, only 10 per cent of participants end up in full-time work three months after exiting the program. No-one in this place on either side of the House likes to think that many, many thousands of young people somehow find themselves being long-term unemployed. It is really interesting that the government talks about unemployment rates being in single digit figures. In many electorates, particularly on the Central Coast and in the Hunter, which I am very familiar with, and I am sure in many other parts of this country, the unemployment rates for young people are not five or six per cent, not nine or 10 per cent but in fact 11 to 17 per cent, and even more in some places.

This policy has absolutely been developed on the run. It sounds good at first blush, but once you look into the detail the problems are exposed. According to the Interns Australia, the peak body for interns in this country, only one in five internships will lead to a job. This is not a good statistic. Has the government done its cost-benefit analysis on this so-called investment?

The 271,000 unemployed young people across Australia need help getting into jobs—we all agree with that. That means giving them the best possible education when they are at school and making sure that they have access to the best possible training. It also means creating new jobs. We heard a lot about jobs and growth at the last election, but we have not seen much in terms of action. The government's record is very poor on all these points. Our VET and TAFE systems are in trouble. We have seen widespread rorting by private colleges and providers. If you want young people to get into the workforce, why not start here? Why not start by helping create some new jobs?

Schemes like this have not worked in the past. The government's own figures show that, when it comes to Work for the Dole programs, nearly 90 per cent of participants are not in full-time work once they exit the program. The sad truth is Australia's youth are counting the cost of the Turnbull government's failure to develop a real jobs plan for the nation. If this is being put forward as a real jobs plan then it fails on all counts. Under the PaTH program, the opposition is concerned that young people will be forced to pay an even heavier price through the program's apparent flaws.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member may have a chance to complete her speech later today.