House debates

Monday, 22 March 2021

Private Members' Business

COVID-19: Employment

12:58 pm

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

The motion was unavailable at the time of publishing.

Last week we had some great news on employment figures. The national unemployment rate dropped from 6.4 per cent in January to 5.8 per cent in February. This is an outstanding result and it's no exaggeration to say it exceeded our expectations. Importantly, more than 40 per cent of the 88,700 new jobs created in that period went to young people. The Morrison government's job creation initiatives through the COVID pandemic have worked and they continue to work. But there is still one area that, historically, has not been good enough, and that is getting young people into work.

Youth unemployment in Australia is more than double the national unemployment rate, at 12.9 per cent. It's been somewhat encouraging to see this figure decrease in the last month, down by 1.1 per cent. In my home state of Queensland, the youth unemployment figure is even more concerning, at 15.1 per cent. Only South Australia's is higher.

In the Moreton Bay-North statistical area, which includes my electorate of Longman, the figure has historically been higher than state average. But why? Why is this the case, even before the pandemic struck? Why are there so many young people classed as unemployed compared with the national average? Firstly, young people often have little or no labour market experience and frequently lack relevant skills. Secondly, businesses face higher costs of investment and lower costs of termination when they're employing young workers. Younger people tend to move between joblessness, training and working, and are more likely to enter temporary and insecure employment. Youth employment has also been hard hit by COVID-19, as young people are overrepresented in industries that have been heavily affected by health restrictions, such as accommodation, food services, the arts and recreation.

This is why the Morrison government is focusing on initiatives that aim to get young people across the country, including in my electorate, into a job. We are committed to supporting young Australians back into jobs or training through the JobMaker hiring credit, the boosting apprenticeship commencements wage subsidy and the JobTrainer fund. We also want to ensure that all Australians, particularly young Australians, have every opportunity to succeed as we bounce back from the global pandemic and recession.

The $1 billion JobTrainer fund will provide around 300,000 additional free or low-fee training places to help young people, including school leavers and jobseekers, gain the skills they need to get a job. Crucially, the program targets training for jobs that are in demand. Participants can choose from a range of accredited diplomas, certificates and short courses in areas like health, aged and disability care; IT; and trades. So, if your age is between 17 and 24 and looking for work or looking for a career change, you may be able to study a free or low-fee course through JobTrainer.

Additionally, the Morrison government's $4 billion JobMaker hiring credit provides an incentive for businesses to employ young jobseekers who are between 16 and 35 years of age. The credit is available to employers who hire people in that age bracket who are receiving JobSeeker payments. The employer is paid at a rate of $200 per week for an employee under 30 years old, and at $100 for those between 30 and 35 years old. We're also investing heavily in employment services targeted at helping young Australians become job ready and to obtain and stay in a job. This includes $21.9 million to connect more young people to youth specialist employment services and targeted support like the Transition to Work service. Under this program, young people can get access to a Transition to Work provider and receive tailored, vocational and non-vocational support and advice.

There is also the Youth Jobs PaTH program, which helps young people gain the skills and work experience they need to obtain and keep a job. This includes a youth bonus wage subsidy of up to $10,000 to support the employment of young people. More than 116,000 young people have participated in at least one element of PaTH, and, of those, more than 62 per cent have received a job placement, which is great news.

The government is also encouraging employers to take on more apprentices and trainees through the boosting apprenticeships commencement wage subsidy. These entry-level positions are a key pathway to employment for young people. The wage subsidy will also help prevent any future skill shortage. Just this month we lifted the cap on places under this program and extended it by a full 12 months, given its massive success to date.

The youth employment rate in my electorate and across the country is simply not good enough. The other thing I'd like to implore young people to consider is fruit picking. We have a crisis in many agricultural areas, including my area. In my electorate of Longman, we are desperate for strawberry-pickers and berry-pickers, so please have a look at that. We've seen from the most recent unemployment data that this is working.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, it is. I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

1:04 pm

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

History tells us that young people are often the most vulnerable to economic shocks. While older generations are often better prepared to weather a weak labour market through alternative sources of income, younger generations have not had the luxury of time to accrue an equivalent security nest egg. During COVID, the hospitality, arts, retail and recreation industries, which collectively employ 45 per cent of young people were the first hit and they were the worst hit. Job losses in these sectors were exacerbated by the fact that more than half of hospitality staff and over one-third of retail, arts and recreation employees are casuals and were thus excluded from receiving JobKeeper altogether.

In my policy paper published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, I discussed the urgent need to evaluate the scarring effects of an economic recession on the youth labour market and to develop appropriately adapted labour market interventions to address the widening ravine of outcomes. I warned that, if we did not take action to prevent youth labour market scarring, the time-honoured covenant of generation-on-generation progress would be under threat and that existing intergenerational inequality would only widen.

Enter stage right the JobMaker hiring credit, the newest addition to the Morrison government's suite of rhyming marketing slogans designed to tackle record-low youth unemployment. JobMaker was a $4 billion hiring credit that was supposed to encourage employers to create new jobs for young people. So far so good. The details of this scheme immediately raised a few red flags, though. Wouldn't this credit create a Hunger Games style job market, which would pit older and younger workers against each other? What would stop an employer from sacking an older worker who works 40 hours a week and hiring two young people to work 20 hours a week each? Wouldn't this just increase rampant underemployment of young people and unemployment of older people?

Labor weren't alone in our apprehension of the scheme. The Treasury also had some concerns, suggesting that the JobMaker hiring credit would create only 45,000 new jobs and that most of these jobs would have been created without the subsidy in the first place. Treasury documents also revealed that the scheme would allow an employer to sack a full-time worker over 35 in order to get more hours out of multiple part-time workers, at no extra cost. However, never letting the truth get in the way of a good announcement, the Morrison government persisted.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that Labor and the Treasury had overlooked one key issue—that is, the Morrison government's inability to effectively implement any policy beyond the announcement. It turns out that the JobMaker hiring credit hasn't hurt older workers and hasn't boosted underemployment amongst younger workers because it hasn't actually done anything at all. The JobMaker scheme has created just 521 new jobs, with approximately $800,000 invested. That's 0.1 per cent of jobs promised and 0.02 per cent invested. It is so comical it almost feels like an episode of Utopia playing out.

The Treasurer suggested that the federal government was looking to overhaul the plan on the weekend, citing better than expected unemployment rates in February. He stated that the unemployment rate had fallen from 6.3 per cent to 5.8 per cent. That sounds great, and is technically true, but it doesn't accurately reflect youth unemployment, which this program was supposed to support. When you break unemployment down by age category it tells a much different story. The truth is that the youth unemployment rate is still higher than it was a year ago, by 109,000 people. Youth unemployment is at 12.9 per cent. There are currently 805,200 young people unemployed in Australia. For the Treasurer to say that the JobMaker scheme hasn't worked because unemployment is doing too well isn't spin; it is a flat-out lie. Right now we have a whole generation of young people who have no guarantee of sustainable or secure employment.

Before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the top issue that kept millennials and gen Z awake at night was the welfare of their family before subsequent concerns about career prospects and their long-term financial future. What started as a funny joke from the Betoota Advocate is now no longer funny to millions of young Australians who need more than an announcement in high-vis and a hard hat from Scotty from Marketing in order to pay their bills. Young people need a comprehensive plan that ensures that all Australians can look forward to a future that offers secure, decent jobs and a vibrant future for their families and their communities. This week I'll be leading by example and seeking leave to table the Lilley 2021-22 budget submission, which will improve the lives of northsiders by creating real jobs if implemented.

As for JobTrainer, I'd first like to point out an error in the member for Longman's motion. It isn't the government's $1 billion JobTrainer Fund. The federal government are contributing half of that—$500 million—while the states and territories are kicking in the remaining $500 million. It is a crisis of the federal government's own design. Since 2013 they've cut $3 billion from the TAFE and training budget and short-changed TAFE. (Time expired)

Mr LEESER (Berowra) (13:09): One of my great concerns since the pandemic began was about the unemployment of our young people, particularly the level of unemployment of our young people. Research from the previous global shocks indicates that the longer a person is on welfare the harder it is for them to get off welfare benefits. That's why it is critical that we get people off welfare and into a job. The research indicates something particularly for young people. In 2018, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia, poor labour market outcomes early on not only affect an individual's future employability but also have persistent negative effects on lifetime earnings. So, if a young person doesn't get a job early in their career, it makes them less employable later and it also affects their total earnings. Research has found a similar deterioration in labour market outcomes for younger workers who entered the labour market in Australia after the global financial crisis compared to previous cohorts.

Long-term unemployment is a human tragedy for each and every person who finds themselves in that situation. That's why the Morrison government has had a sustained focus on getting young people back into work. Young Australians have lost their jobs at greater levels than any other age group. That's because, as other speakers have said, young people tend to work in areas like accommodation, food services, arts and recreation, and those areas have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 lockdown. Encouragingly, almost all of the jobs that were lost since March last year have returned. Indeed, employment is now 3,600 above its pre-COVID level. However, the rate of youth unemployment is still too high. While the rest of the population has an unemployment rate of 5.8 per cent, the youth unemployment rate is 12.9 per cent. That's why we've particularly focused on a couple of measures which are the subject of this motion today: the $4 billion JobMaker Hiring Credit and the $2.4 billion Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy.

I want to spend a few minutes on the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy, which I think has been the runaway success of the government's youth employment programs. On 4 October last year, the government announced $1.2 billion to encourage employers to take up an apprentice through the subsidy scheme. That program has been such a runaway success. It was supposed to last for 12 months, but within five months 100,000 apprentices had been employed. Four hundred and thirty-two of those apprentices are in my electorate of Berowra. This doesn't surprise me. From going to and talking to businesses, they are all so keen at this point in time to give a young person a go and to give an apprentice a go. Whether it's in the automotive industry, in food production, in metalwork businesses or in oil and lubricant businesses, people are focused on getting the economy moving, and the wage subsidy has provided them the impetus that they need to employ young people. That's why, on 9 March, we announced that we would extend the program with an additional $1.2 billion investment to encourage even more businesses to take on apprentices and trainees. The cap has been lifted from the program and it has been extended to provide a full 12 months of support from the date of commencement.

The apprentice wage subsidy is one part of a series of programs that includes the JobMaker Hiring Credit. The JobMaker Hiring Credit is such an important program in encouraging businesses to take a young person who has been on welfare and give them a job, give them their first chance. Employers receive $200 a week for 12 months if they hire a young person in that category if they are aged between 16 and 29, or $100 a week if they hire an eligible young person between the ages of 30 and 35. It's expected that, after three years when the program has finished, around 450,000 people will have been supported by the JobMaker Hiring Credit. The investment in the JobMaker Hiring Credit and the wage subsidy program is bolstered by the initiatives that we have around the JobTrainer Fund, which is a combined federal-state initiative worth a billion dollars to provide subsidised and free courses to people who are looking to train up and transition into new employment opportunities, giving people the skills that they need and the tools that they need to succeed.

I want to finish by noting last week's labour force numbers. They are terrific numbers in terms of our recovery. We went from an unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent in January to 5.8 per cent in February. Around 88,700 new jobs were created, 40 per cent of those jobs went to young people and 80 per cent went to women. I'm also told that, on Friday, Seek had a record number of jobs advertised: 183,000. That is a terrific indicator of the opportunities for people in the Australian economy at this time. Our response to the unemployment crisis indicates how seriously we are taking these matters. (Time expired)

1:14 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to congratulate the member for Longman for moving this motion, because it gives us the opportunity to point out what a failure these government schemes—JobTrainer and JobMaker—have been, highlighted on no less than the front page of TheAustralian Financial Review today, where they looked at the JobMaker hiring credit. This was announced with all the fanfare by the Treasurer.It's a credit that goes to businesses for hiring workers between the ages of 16 and 35 years old. When it was announced, it was projected that it would deliver 450,000 jobs throughout Australia. Have a guess how many it's delivered. The number was reported on the front page of The Australian Financial Review today, and it's 521. By this point, it should have been delivering 10,000 jobs, yet it has delivered 521. I bet the member for Longman wasn't aware that that article was coming out when he submitted this motion saying what a success this JobMaker hiring credit has been, when, clearly, it has not, only delivering 521 jobs. It's been an abject failure. The coalition MPs may come in here and try to dispute these numbers, but they're there for all to see on the front page of the newspapers this morning.

The problem with this program is that it's specifically aimed at younger workers, but, if you look at the recovery of our economy post COVID, the areas where workforce participation has recovered is in younger workers. Younger workers are doing relatively better than older workers. The problem is with older workers. Many older workers—particularly those in their late 40s, 50s and 60s—are not getting the job opportunities during the recovery. Labor warned of this when this scheme was put in place. It's the older workers that have been forgotten by the Morrison government, yet it's the older workers that need the most support to get back into employment. We all know that, if you look at the JobSeeker figures at the moment, the majority of people that are receiving those payments are older workers. They're not younger workers; they are older workers. And what's the government's response to these older workers, who have worked hard for this country for many, many years and built the economic wealth that we're all benefiting from today? Their response is: 'If you're on JobSeeker, you've got to work to find 20 jobs per month. Not only that, we're going to set up a hotline so that employers can dob you older workers in for not trying hard enough to get a job.' That says everything about this government's approach to supporting older workers in our economy. The failure of the JobMaker hiring credit just proves that this government is all announcement and very bad at delivery when it comes to putting its money where its mouth is.

This motion also goes to JobTrainer. It is a fact that, in Australia, since the coalition government was elected in 2013, there are now 140,000 fewer apprentices. They announced an additional 300,000 training places two years ago. Where are they? Where are those additional training places? They haven't been delivered. Once again, it's all announcement and no delivery. They've cut $3 billion from TAFE. TAFE is the principal provider in our economy of vocational training, particularly to younger Australians. What's this government's approach? 'We'll decimate it. In concert with Liberal governments at the state level, we will decimate TAFE and remove funding for it.' And that's exactly what's occurred. What is the result? It's not as many people getting apprenticeships, not as many people finishing their trades, and a skills shortage in Australia. Whether it's hairdressers, carpenters, electricians, seafarers, cooks, welders, motor mechanics—in the Morrison government's economy, we now have a skills shortage in these very, very important trades.

What's the Liberal Party's solution? 'We'll just import workers. We'll bring them in on temporary visas. Don't worry about training Australians up to get the skills to take these jobs. We'll just import workers into the country.' Now that COVID-19 has stopped migration, we're all paying for it, particularly farmers and businesses in rural and regional Australia who simply cannot get any workers. Their crops are being left to rot and not being harvested. It's the result of skills shortages encouraged by this government's policies and encouraged by the fact that its solution to labour productivity and its solution to providing enough labour is importing foreign workers. It's all come crashing down with COVID and the stoppage of migration. If this government were serious, it'd be investing in education— (Time expired)

1:19 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government is proud to support young Australians throughout this difficult period to make sure they have the opportunity to secure employment and to progress with their lives. The previous speaker, the member for Kingsford Smith, made a number of disparaging remarks regarding the government's record. I would simply remind the member for Kingsford Smith of the experience that many young Australians had during the 1990s recession. Without wanting to reflect on your age, Deputy Speaker Wallace, I suspect you at least would remember that period. I was a young adult at that time, just coming out of high school and into secondary school, and I remember those experiences being a political awakening for me of the economic and human consequences when people find themselves unemployed. They find that they are not able to progress with their lives in the usual way, being able to do things like buy a home, advance their careers and provide security for their families. Of course for many people who were already in employment it meant taking a step backwards. The legacy of the 1990s recession, the recession we had to have under Paul Keating, led to a trail of human and social tragedy that far transcended the economic disruption, which was critical. Many of the people who lost their jobs never found jobs to be able to progress their careers again. Many suffered for years as they struggled to get ahead.

By comparison, since the COVID-19 recession that we had throughout last year, as a consequence of events outside our control, we have managed to turn around the economic circumstances and the job creation in a rapid period of time. That's because, firstly, we were prudent in the lead-up to the crisis, so we had the resources to throw at it to create the job opportunities for young Australians, and indeed all Australians, who found themselves displaced. But, critically, we had targeted measures to encourage employers to find a pathway for young Australians to get back into work. We did that because we understand how critical work is to people's sense of fulfilment and purpose in life. The very concept of dignity of work sits at the heart of who we are and what we stand for as a government. We know that once people are in a position to secure employment they're in a position to move ahead with their lives and, as I said before, secure employment, buy their own home, provide security and support for their family. That's then the foundation for them to then have retirement security as well.

Let's look at the hard facts. In February 2021 the youth unemployment rate stood at 12.9 per cent, more than double the unemployment rate for the overall labour force of 5.8 per cent. That is substantially down from where it was, where we saw young Australians bear the biggest brunt as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can take comfort in the numbers for unemployment overall, but we still need to keep targeting youth unemployment. That's why there have been critical measures like the JobMaker Hiring Credit, which is available to employers for each new job they create over the next 12 months for which they hire an eligible young Australian. Employers will receive up to $200 a week for 12 months if they hire an eligible young Australian aged between 16 and 29, or $100 if they hire an eligible young person aged between 30 and 35. The expectation is that with that investment to encourage or prompt employers to bring more workers on, and particularly to make sure that young Australians don't experience disruption once they finish their secondary school, their tertiary education and get into the work force, the expectation is not just that those young Australians will be able to go on and live fulfilling and productive lives, though we do expect that; they will not just go on and make a contribution to the collective wellbeing of society by taking care of themselves and their families and sharing the cost to society by paying tax, though they will; it is also expected that we will be able to provide 450,000 positions for young Australians to be able to live out their ambitions to secure employment so they can have the foundation for success in their lives. And we provided funding like $21.9 million to connect more young Australians to youth specialist employment services and targeted support services, including providing transition to work strategies for those who are leaving school and need opportunities as well.

This government understands clearly that young Australians, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, face barriers. Our job is to smooth them over and make sure they are able to go on and live the full success and dreams of their life.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Does the member for Goldstein wish to have an extension of time? There has been a delay with the member for Fraser.

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd be more than happy to talk further about the Morrison government's contributions. Deputy Speaker, it's good that you have provided more time for me to talk about the Morrison government's plans to assist young Australians to secure employment. I outlined already some of the measures that we have taken. We've also provided $699 million to the successful Youth Jobs PaTH program over four years from the 2020-21 budget year. This program helps young people gain the skills and work experience they need to obtain and keep a job. It includes a youth bonus wage subsidy of up to $10,000 to support the employment of young Australians.

But we should never lose sight of the challenges that young Australians face beyond simply securing work. The critical factor for young Australians to be able to provide security for themselves and their families in their working life and their retirement is the opportunity to purchase their own home. Disturbingly, since 1980 the average age at which a young Australian purchases their own home has gone from 24 years to 36 years. Why? Because a significant share of their income and the opportunity for them to have savings is taken away from them and held in compulsory superannuation. The consequences of this are very real. We have pushed out the average age at which young Australians buy their own home. They have less money available to them to purchase their own home. The average Australian between the age of 30 to 35 has $38,000 in superannuation, and a couple has up to $76,000 in superannuation. With other savings, that could be the foundation for a deposit to buy their own home.

We know that members on the other side of this chamber oppose the opportunities for young Australians to be able to buy their own home with their own savings, but what they ignore is the hypocrisy that those very same super funds that take and hold young Australians' money are allowed to use that money to buy properties that they own and that they rent back to the same super fund members. So there is an unlevel playing field where it favours fund managers and centralised capital at the expense of young Australians being able to buy their own home. I make no apology: that's wrong.

What we have engaged in is a form of economic social engineering. We have prioritised life's second biggest financial decision for young Australians ahead of their first: homeownership. Members in this chamber, I would hope, would support the opportunity for all Australians to buy their own home. We want to see a nation built from the citizens up, not from Canberra down. We do that through the greatest form of economic, social and political democratisation: and that is the power of individuals to form families as the foundation for community and country. The ultimate form of economic democratisation is through homeownership, which not just provides the foundation for the for the security of the family but provides the vehicle and leverage—

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I appreciate that the member for Goldstein has assisted the chamber in relation to an application for an extension of time, but he is straying somewhat from the topic of the motion

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker Wallace. I could never agree with that statement, because if people don't have jobs, they can't afford to buy their own home. If they don't have a job, they can't even contribute to their superannuation. So, even if you're part of the madness of the Australian Labor Party that's put super before homeownership, it is directly connected to the consequences of this motion.

As a Liberal, I believe that people should be able to make decisions based on the slipstream of their life: home first, super second, because it is the greatest form of economic democratisation in our nation. It empowers families and individuals to be able to be the foundation of the success of our country and to own our country. I make no apology in standing very firmly, on this motion or any, about how important homeownership is.

1:29 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

Today's motion talks about the government's commitment to Australians, particularly younger people. What I am particularly concerned about is: which young people and where? In my community, we have found that the recent scholarships and industry training hubs have cut our community out. I have concerns about just which young people will be able to benefit.

I recently wrote to Minister for Education and Youth regarding the Commonwealth Scholarships Program for Young Australians. This program is accessible to residents of the former Gosford LGA in Robertson but not residents of the former Wyong LGA in Dobell, despite Wyong and the former Gosford and Wyong councils being one LGA. There is no reason for young people living in Dobell to miss out on the scholarships. Their needs are just as great.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! It being 1.30, the time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Proceedings suspended from 13:30 to 16 : 01