Monday, 19 October 2020
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) recognises that young Australians have disproportionately felt the economic and social pain that the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and recession have brought;
(2) notes that young people:
(a) are facing an extraordinary jobs crisis, and:
(i) in March 2020, 15 per cent of all jobs were filled by young people yet 40 per cent of all jobs lost since then were young Australians aged 14 to 24;
(ii) there are now over 345,900 young Australians out of work; and
(iii) nearly 2 in 5 young people are now unemployed or need more work;
(b) are struggling to afford life’s essentials, and:
(i) 70 per cent of young Australians are now concerned about their financial wellbeing;
(ii) young people have missed payments for household bills at a rate of 2 to 3 times the general population; and
(iii) 52 per cent of young renters and 45 per cent of young mortgage holders were concerned about their ability to make housing payments in July 2020;
(c) are suffering severe social disruption, and:
(i) many have missed out on once in a lifetime milestones and rites of passage;
(ii) more feel isolated due to lockdowns with some schools closed, campus life extinguished, and social gatherings restricted or prohibited; and
(iii) 51 per cent of young people felt their mental health had worsened during the crisis;
(d) are grappling with disruptions to education and training, and:
(i) many feel their motivation and career plans have been dented; and
(ii) 53 per cent feel their study has been negatively affected; and
(e) feel they don’t have a voice in politics—52 per cent of young people felt they had a say ‘none of the time’ in public affairs; and
(3) calls on the Government to work with young people and urgently design a comprehensive COVID-19 youth recovery strategy that gets young Australians through this crisis and builds their futures.
There is no doubt that this pandemic has affected all Australians. All Australians have been doing it tough, but it has been young Australians that, in many ways, have felt the significant brunt of the lockdowns and the things that we've had to do to keep our community safe. There have been both short-and long-term impacts on their economic security but also their way of life, which has been disrupted. When I have talked to young people around this country, and I have had ongoing Zoom conferences around this country with young people, they talk about a number of issues, but are very clear that they're all interconnected. Young people are seeing the connection between their mental health and their economic insecurity. The disruption to their lives is interconnected. What they have been calling for, and rightly so, is a coordinated, holistic response from government. We are more than seven months into the crisis and, unfortunately, this government has provided no holistic plan to support young people through this difficult time, to help build their futures for the long term and to give them hope.
It is disappointing that the minister for youth has been completely silent. We haven't even seen a press release since the budget, talking about young people and making sure young people's voices are heard. When we look at some of the challenges, we see that young people held 15 per cent of all jobs in March but accounted for around 40 per cent of the job losses. One in three young Australians are now without a job or in need of more hours. The longer this goes on the more it will hurt these young people. Fifty-one per cent of young people feel their mental health has worsened and 53 per cent feel their study has been negatively affected, according to headspace data. There is some extraordinary strain and they aren't getting the support they need. Forty-four per cent of young people living out of home could not make rent or mortgage repayments in May, according to ANU data. One reason is that 26 per cent of workers are casual and with less than 12 months service, making them ineligible for JobKeeper. Many of these young people missed out, and this is compared to 6.5 per cent of all other age groups. This has meant that those aged 18 to 24 were also more likely to make early super withdrawals. According to ME Bank, 30 per cent of young people have done so, compared to the population average of eight per cent.
It's hard to overstate the long-term challenges that young people will face. This generation, unfortunately, may well have the odds stacked against them. They will try to enter the workforce and the housing market, and they will recommence or commence education in the midst of a recession for the first time in 30 years. This has long-term impacts. A Productivity Commission report found that those entering the workforce during a weak labour market are offered lower starting wages and young workers are pushed to take part-time work and roles for which they do not use their qualifications. Modelling by Ernst & Young found that this meant that 21-year-olds are likely to miss out on up to $32,000 of income over 10 years. This was in the wake of the GFC and, of course, we are now seeing the challenges of the current recession.
We need to act urgently. Unfortunately, we need more than the marketing slogans and short-term measures that the Morrison government has been offering. The government's hiring credit subsidy scheme is not really a plan for the long term. While it may help some young people in the short term, it is not a long-term plan. We need a youth recovery strategy that's a comprehensive analysis of how policy areas interact and impact young people and we need a clear plan of what needs to be done by government to get young people through the COVID recession and the many years that lie ahead.
What young people need now is hope. This government and the minister for youth are not providing that. I call on the minister to deliver a youth recovery strategy, because that's what young people want.
I'm pleased to speak today on the member for Kingston's motion as it gives me a chance to rebut the convoluted claims that the Morrison government is not delivering for young Australians. If Labor members opposite took the time to read the budget properly, they would see that this government has delivered for Australians right across the board. No amount of creative licence from the Labor Party can distort this simple fact.
The Australian people know better than to listen to the Labor Party's fraudulent claims regarding economic management. They have learnt the hard way. The Labor Party have an inexcusable track record of reckless spending, with no plan to create jobs for our youth. The Morrison government, on the other hand, is committed to supporting young Australians through the challenges associated with COVID-19. We understand that young Australians have been adversely affected by the pandemic, which is why we developed the 2020 budget and the economic recovery plan that pave the road to recovery and secure the future for all Australians, especially our young people.
Since the beginning of the pandemic we have delivered more than $126 billion in initiatives to provide for all Australians, including young people, in areas like employment, income and mental health support. With the addition of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, more than $300 billion has gone out the door to support all Australians, including young Australians, during the economic crisis of this pandemic. The next step of our nation's economic recovery is the 2020 Morrison government budget, which is all about jobs.
The Morrison government's JobMaker plan in the 2020 budget in particular will invest in Australians for Australians, without increasing taxes and imposing unnecessary financial burdens on our next generation. The intergenerational theft that has occurred through reckless spending under previous Labor governments is not part of the Morrison government's agenda. You heard it again from the member for Kingston. While those opposite are yet to say whether they will support the JobMaker plan when it comes to the House and the Senate, they're happy to stand in this place and ask for more support for young Australians without offering to support the measures that are currently on the table. The member for Kingston outlined in her speech that she really wants to see another plan—more documentation, a plan to make a plan to make a plan. That's what the Labor Party loves so much. At the end of all that they really want to bake in billions of dollars worth of spending for the next decade or two, which will leave an ongoing financial burden for future generations—
Opposition members interjecting—
whereas the Morrison government, with the 2020 budget and the JobMaker scheme, is providing targeted support to get young people back into jobs this financial year and the next financial year. That is the support that's on the table right now. Labor members opposite should spend less time interjecting and more time walking into the House or the Senate, or walking in front of TV cameras, and saying that they will support young people through the JobMaker initiative to help them get a job, just like the Morrison government is doing.
The JobMaker plan will stimulate employment uptake. It will support more than half a million jobs for young Australians. The credit will invest in skills and training programs to ensure that young people who are struggling to find work at the moment get back on their feet before we lose this generation to long-term unemployment. The JobMaker hiring credit constitutes approximately $4 billion in support, providing a wage subsidy of up to $200 a week for 12 months, to support those young people into employment. It will incentivise businesses to take on additional employees—above and beyond their current FTE level—that are young jobseekers. It targets those aged 16 to 35, because we know the scale of the challenge.
The ABS shows that young people aged under 35 are four times more likely to have lost their jobs or have had their hours cut. So, when the Labor Party stand up here and say that we're not providing enough support for all ages and all Australians, they can't escape the fact that young people aged under 35 are four times more likely to have suffered over the COVID pandemic. It is important that they get specific support to enter back into the workforce before we lose them to long-term unemployment.
The need is greatest in Labor electorates—the electorates of those who are yet to commit to supporting this important financial measure. Of the 45 electorates with an average age of 35 and under, only 10 are in coalition seats. The electorates that need it the most have Labor MPs that are currently refusing to get out and publicly back the JobMaker plan that is here. The support is here and ready to go as part of the 2020 budget. So, if anything good comes out of the motion, I hope it is that the Labor Party will support the Morrison government's JobMaker scheme.
Young Australians are being devastated by the current COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying recession. In my electorate young people are doing it particularly tough. I recently held a forum in my electorate with the Foundation for Young Australians to hear from young Australians in the electorate—and it was heartbreaking to hear their stories. That first decade after leaving school should be a time of hope and opportunity, a time when young Australians set out in the world, plan for the future and chase their dreams. But COVID-19 means that it is currently a time of fear and anxiety. The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that the national youth unemployment rate is now 14.5 per cent. Analysis from the Foundation for Young Australians suggests that the youth unemployment rate in my electorate may be closer to 30 per cent—more than four times the overall unemployment rate.
Eight months, three weeks and two days—that's how long ago this pandemic began in Australia. It's been almost 9 months of seeing this pandemic and recession devastate young Australians and almost 9 months of financial stress. Yet we still see no comprehensive plan from the Morrison government to support young Australians. We've seen, at best, short-term bandaid fixes and marketing slogans from the Morrison government. Nine months into the COVID pandemic, at the federal budget, we finally saw one policy for young Australians. We saw one 12-month hiring subsidy for young Australians, with a marketing slogan and much media fanfare—no comprehensive strategy for job creation or skills investment, but an announcement. Sadly, though, we've seen this before from this government—and it doesn't end well.
In 2013, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government needed an announcement for older unemployed Australians. Their answer was another wage subsidy, with a marketing slogan—the Restart Program. When it was announced, Restart was a $520 million program to help 32,000 older Australians into a job every year. But, in the delivery—and it's always the punchline for the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government; the delta between announcement and delivery—the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government spent less than half the money, helped only a third as many people into jobs in total and kept only half of those who did get work in work for more than six months. It is what happens when you have a one-off policy instead of a comprehensive plan. It is what happens when you spend more time on the marketing than on the delivery. Now they are recycling this failed policy as a solution for unemployed young people.
In the seven years that those opposite have been in power we have seen Australians increasingly pushed into insecure work, with no security and no entitlements. Nowhere have we seen this more starkly than in the industries where young Australians are most often employed—retail, hospitality and the arts. They are the industries hit hardest by the pandemic and the health restrictions, and they are the industries with the highest rates of casual workers. It shouldn't surprise us then that, while 15 per cent of all jobs are filled by young people, 40 per cent of jobs lost during the pandemic were those done by young Australians. But the Morrison government in designing its JobKeeper package chose not to support them. Almost one million casual workers are not eligible for assistance, because they are short-term casuals. More than a quarter of short-term casuals who don't meet the eligibility criteria for JobKeeper are young Australians.
But the Morrison government isn't just slugging young people in the present; it is also mugging their future. What would the Morrison government have a young person do who has lost their job, can't pay the bills and is not eligible for JobKeeper, like many of the 30 per cent of young unemployed in my electorate? Their answer is: drain your super account, which could leave you up to $100,000 worse off in retirement. Mortgage your future.
What's the Morrison government's plan for young Australians who want to invest now in the skills that they will need to get a job in the future? Double the cost of a university degree. Yes, in the middle of a global pandemic and recession those opposite want to saddle students who will be graduating into the worst recession in a century with even more student debt. Young people are bearing the brunt of this pandemic and recession, and they are being left behind by the policy decisions made by the Morrison government. Is it any wonder that 52 per cent of young people don't feel they are represented in public affairs in this country? That is why this motion is so important and why I am rising to support it. Young people deserve better than marketing slogans and policies that leave them worse off than when they started. Young people deserve better than the Morrison government. Young people deserve a comprehensive plan to address the impact of this COVID-19 pandemic on them specifically—a plan that is designed with them, not just for them; a plan that listens to the needs of young Australians, involves them in our democratic process and gets them through this immediate crisis and builds into their future.
It is well known that when an economic recession hits, the young are the most likely to be affected. With COVID, predictably, the young have born the brunt of job losses. However, the good news is that we know that job losses, particularly youth unemployment, could have been so much worse were it not for the actions of the Morrison government. I am proud that the Morrison government was quick to recognise the need to provide support through the COVID-19 pandemic to help those who have lost their jobs. These are jobs that people lost through no fault of their own but because of a crisis brought to bear upon this country by COVID-19, not seen by most of us in this chamber in our lifetime.
JobKeeper has been central to the Morrison government's plan for young people. JobKeeper is helping to ensure that young people have a job to return to. In my home state of Victoria, where COVID has been the most devastating, the Morrison government has delivered more than $27 billion in economic support. We've also extended JobKeeper for another six months, which is estimated to see an additional $16.8 billion to be paid to Victorians in the December and March quarters. This will benefit the young in my electorate, and it will benefit the young right across Victoria.
But it is not just JobKeeper that is providing support for those doing it tough. Tax relief is also for the young, as it is for all Australians. We are providing tax relief for more than 11 million hard-working Australians. Significantly, those tax cuts are going to those who are on low- and middle-income salaries. This means more money in the pockets of those most likely to spend it into small businesses across the country. Spending into the economy will help create more jobs, particularly for the young, and the virtuous cycle continues.
Our budget was designed with a view to the future. We understand that getting the young onto the escalator of having a job is key to their future. It is the key to preventing them falling into the trap of becoming long-term unemployed. Our budget provides hope for them and for all Australians as we face this COVID crisis together. Our economic recovery plan for Australia will create jobs, rebuild our economy and secure Australia's future, particularly for the young.
A key feature of this year's budget which supports young people is the $4 billion JobMaker Hiring Credit. This provides businesses with an incentive to take on additional employees between the ages of 16 and 32 years of age. Around 450,000 positions for young Australians will be supported through the JobMaker Hiring Credit. The government is also investing an additional $1.2 billion through the Boosting Apprenticeships wage subsidy to support 100,000 new apprentices and trainees. This is a plan for the young and for their future.
The establishment of a $1 billion JobTrainer Fund will support up to 340,700 additional free or low-fee training places. We need our young to be employed, but, more importantly, we need them trained and ready for their future, for the future that awaits them. We will continue to invest record amounts into skills and training to make sure that Australians have the skills to get the jobs for now and into the future. We are also investing $252 million over two years to support the delivery of 50,000 higher education short courses in areas including teaching, health, information technology, science and agriculture. These are the jobs of the 21st century. We know these jobs are going to be here for our future, and we need our graduates to be job ready for that future.
I also continue to hear daily from my electorate of Higgins that the youth are doing it especially tough as a result of the second lockdown in Victoria, and I'm proud that our mental health services are being further funded to include more funding for Lifeline, Beyond Blue, headspace and Kids Helpline and that Medicare-funded psychological services are being lifted from 10 to 20. I wish to conclude by saying to all young Australians, particularly those in my electorate of Higgins: I am here for you, I proudly represent you, and the Morrison government and I will back you all the way.
I rise to support this very important motion from the member for Kingston. We know that no other young generation has gone through what this generation of youth are going through in Australia and right around the world. We know that young Australians have been disproportionately impacted as a result of this pandemic and what it means socially, economically and in terms of people's futures—how they think about what they want to become, how they think about where their place is in the world. As young people move from adolescence into adulthood, they will face a range of short- and long-term consequences that are going to impact on their social, economic and emotional security.
Here are some shocking statistics. Young people held 15 per cent of the 40 per cent of jobs lost in March at the onset of the pandemic. Nearly two in five young people are unemployed or underemployed. Fifty-one per cent of young people have felt their mental health worsen. Fifty-three per cent feel their study has been adversely impacted. According to the ANU, 44 per cent of young people living out of home could not make rent or mortgage payments in May. Thirty per cent of young people have made early superannuation withdrawals compared to the population average of eight per cent overall.
Of course, young people are far more than mere statistics. Greenway is a relatively young electorate. By median age, it is among the top 25 youngest in the country. What we are facing locally is the possibility of a lost generation if nothing is to done help our young Australians. This is a government that has abandoned young people over the past seven years, and we're seeing it again in this parliament. This government's American-style university fee hikes will see more and more young people saddled with increasing debt, just for trying to get an education and get ahead. They're facing shocking unemployment, and many of them are missing out on invaluable work experience in the formative years after school. They are grappling with disrupted education and training and severe housing stress, not to mention the toll on their mental health that all these challenges are causing. These aren't abstract buzzwords. These are real experiences.
Recently I engaged with a young Australian in my electorate, Harmony from Quakers Hill, as part of the Foundation for Young Australians Local and Vocal initiative. She explained to me how keenly the impacts of this pandemic were being felt by young Australians and how she believed more needed to be done to support them. Her key message to me was threefold: we need a plan; there needs to be a comprehensive strategy that is capable of being implemented; and governments need to think long term about young people. I'm very fortunate to represent constituents like Harmony in Greenway, but there are thousands upon thousands of Harmonys right around the country crying out for help, and it seems, unfortunately, that this government have turned their back on them.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, Labor has been calling for a COVID-19 youth recovery strategy. It must be genuinely co-designed with young people, include a comprehensive consideration of how various policy areas interact and how they impact on young Australians, and outline clear short-, medium- and long-term goals and targets—precisely what Harmony told me. The last time a federal government implemented a national youth strategy was in 2010, a whole decade ago, which could well be a million years ago now. Young people are now living through conditions and facing challenges that were inconceivable then. Rather than a coordinated response to support young Australians, what have we seen from the Minister for Youth and Sport? Mostly just silence. When Labor and large cohorts of the public pointed out the government's stunning failure to articulate support for women in the budget, the Minister for Families and Social Services flagged that women benefit from road construction, so there's nothing to see here: 'Just more bubble talk,' it was asserted. What an insult! Equally insulting is young people having to wait with bated breath to hear what, if anything, this embattled, missing-in-action minister for youth has to say about them. We aren't holding our breath, but I certainly hold out hope for the next generation of young people.
In essence, young people need more than marketing slogans and short-term measures from their governments. Whilst this Prime Minister loves a flashy photo-op, it's not going to get young people into work, nor will it deliver affordable housing or accessible education. They need a holistic, long-term plan to get them through this crisis and into secure careers and a comfortable life.
I'd have to say that the last 12 months for youth in Cowper have been difficult. Over the last nine months through this pandemic we've seen massive job losses, particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors in Cowper. In addition, the youth of Cowper, particularly those in high school and year 12 this year, have had their education, their sport and their social life interrupted. It must be absolutely devastating for them to have to go through a pandemic in their final year and not be able to enjoy what we enjoyed over the years. But I've made it very clear to the young people in my electorate that I intend to and am doing things for them. Prior to the pandemic, I'd arranged for a youth forum for employment, which morphed into a youth jobs forum. Unfortunately, we were in the throes of organising that when this pandemic hit, but it hasn't been forgotten. We're bringing it back to ensure that we return to what we saw prior to this pandemic, with the unemployment rate of over 23 per cent for youth in Cowper having fallen to 13 per cent just before the pandemic. That's something that I will continue to work on—to get those numbers back down to what was the national average. That is my commitment to the young people of Cowper.
This government has also shown a commitment to the young people of Cowper through many key measures. Firstly, there is the JobKeeper program. I've spoken to a number of young people who worked for one of the local hotels or sporting goods stores, who've told me that JobKeeper kept them in touch with their employer, kept them afloat, and allowed them to keep their dignity during this pandemic such that they could say: 'I'm not on JobSeeker; I'm still with my employer; I'm still out there working'—if they could, if the doors hadn't been closed as per the restrictions. I've had many young people, and not just young people, come to me and say, 'Could you please pass on our thanks for JobKeeper, otherwise we wouldn't know what we would be doing right now'. This government provided that lifeline.
For those who fell through the cracks, this government also provided JobSeeker, the coronavirus supplement: an additional $550 a fortnight. That has now been reduced to $250 a fortnight. Many of those, clearly, were young people. Anecdotally, I had shop owners tell me that they had their biggest months ever because people had that money and were able to spend it; they were able to support themselves. In some instances, the biggest problem that business owners faced was not being able to get stock in because everything had been shut down. So that JobSeeker program also supported our young people throughout Cowper.
Two weeks ago we had the federal budget, and this government introduced the JobMaker hiring credit program. I've already had businesses ring me to say that they're going to put on additional employees. In fact, Damien Campbell from PRD Real Estate in Coffs Harbour said he would create three new positions. In addition, we had the 10,000 additional places for the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. Ms Sarah Robins is one of these young people. She's a 34-year-old psychologist who said she would have had to wait a few more years to buy her first house but because of this program she's already been made eligible.
And, of course, we made a record investment into mental health. I'm very pleased to say that Kempsey in my electorate has received funding for a mental health program there.
So, I'm supportive of this government's measures to support young people, and I'll continue to do the same in my electorate.
I'm pleased to support this motion before the Chamber today. For context, the motion discusses the importance of understanding the impacts of the COVID pandemic on young people and calls on the government to take an holistic national strategy around dealing with that, but I'll make the point here that for many young people there were already issues that were playing out significantly for them that they were talking to members of parliament and attempting to get messages to government about pre-pandemic.
There were three key issues that came through to me at the various forums and events that I attended when I talked to young people. The first is climate change. Young people were very concerned about their future in a world where we weren't taking our responsibility for doing our part to address climate change seriously. I believe that that continues to be an area of concern and, indeed, is a missed opportunity in the government's response to the pandemic—that is, not seeing this as an opportunity to look at where we can use response to climate change to actually create jobs, create new industries and build up employing industries.
The second thing that young people were already talking to me about was education. We know the story of the massive loss of apprenticeship numbers under the Abbott, then Turnbull and now Morrison government. No matter how many times they make announcements in this space, they never deliver. In, I think, the 2018 budget there was a big announcement on apprenticeships. They were going to create 300,000 new apprenticeships. The following year there was the same announcement but they downgraded the number to 80,000, because we still hadn't reached that, and still we're seeing over 140,000 fewer apprentices in training and taking that opportunity compared to when the Liberals came to government in 2013.
The third big area that young people have been talking to me and the local media and the local trade union about is the casualisation and exploitation of them as young workers in the local economy—and I believe this is translated across Australia. Young people are not being given information on their rights at work. They are being exploited and doing unpaid stints at work. They are being left vulnerable. They're not even being sacked; they just don't get any more shifts if they stand up for themselves or their rights.
These were issues that were in our communities prior to the pandemic. The reality is that the pandemic has highlighted where these big equity gaps are in our communities, and, as other speakers on this side have indicated, many of those are particularly where young people are. We've seen young people particularly hit by the industries that were affected by—what had to happen—a responsible health response to the pandemic because, of course, they were in industries that heavy rely on casualised workforces. Hospitality and retail are the obvious ones, and tourism more broadly.
In my area we have the major university, the University of Wollongong. I've consistently met with students, particularly, I have to say, international students who were really left on their own. Those young people were in a desperate state, and I really thank our local Rotary who stepped up to provide support with the student bodies over at the university. But young people were right there at the forefront of that, and now they're concerned that the government's proposals will simply take them back to continuing ongoing, casualised, exploitative, unreliable work, whereas we should be seeing this as an opportunity to create a better workplace for young people where they can have meaningful jobs, safe jobs, properly remunerated and protected jobs and long-term careers established from those.
Obviously the other big issue young people have been lobbying myself about locally is the university reforms that the government's put in place. So many of them with their dreams of following careers are looking at fees that have doubled for their university course. I acknowledge our wonderful year 12 students. They go into their HSC studies next week, and as so many people have said as part of the campaign, 'You've got this,' and 'We want to hear from you.'