Monday, 26 September 2022
Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Today I am introducing the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022, which amends the social security law and related elements of the veterans and family laws. This will make clear that the law operates in the same way when participants access self-employment services through the Self-Employment Assistance program as through the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, or NEIS.
Small businesses are a vital part of the Australian economy, with 2.4 million small businesses actively trading and employing around 4.7 million people. Supporting and encouraging the development of new small businesses can give Australians the opportunity to be their own boss and own a business that offers them secure work and financial independence.
Self-employment is an excellent alternative to traditional employment for Australians who want to use their existing skills and experience in a work environment of their choice. It also assists Australians who struggle to apply their skills in other labour market settings to use those skills and succeed. That's why people with disability—who still face significant challenges having their skills recognised by employers—are more than 40 per cent more likely to be self-employed than the general population.
The Labor government has a strong history of supporting new small businesses. It was the Hawke government that launched the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, or NEIS program, in 1985 to help unemployed Australians create their own employment opportunities. Since then, NEIS has successfully helped over 198,000 Australians to start and run small businesses.
NEIS achieved excellent outcomes for the diverse range of participants who accessed its services. Three months after exiting the program 82 per cent of participants remained in employment and 68 per cent were still running their businesses. More than half of the participants who accessed NEIS over the past seven years were women.
Since the onset of COVID, NEIS helped many businesses pivot to deliver services in new and innovative ways and to remain viable. This demonstrated that government can play a key role in helping businesses adapt in uncertain times.
The services available under NEIS were expanded when it was replaced by the new Self-Employment Assistance program on 1 July 2022.
Eligible people interested in self-employment will be able to receive free help to generate and validate business ideas, so they can make informed decisions about whether self-employment is a good fit for them and their families.
Participants in the program who want to develop their skills and prepare their business can access free accredited training and help to prepare a comprehensive business plan.
Eligible business owners who have recently started trading, or who need help to adapt their business in a changing economic environment, will be able to access appropriate business mentoring and advice.
As was the case under NEIS, eligible income support recipients who access the program can receive a self-employment allowance from the government. This helps supplement the income a participant earns from their business, so they can reinvest their business's earnings back into the business.
Self-Employment Assistance is building on the NEIS program's legacy of success by continuing its valuable support, but through more flexible services that help a wider range of people secure their future.
This bill will update the social security, veterans' and family laws to make clear that Self-Employment Assistance payments will be treated in the same way by the law as other NEIS payments. The same will apply if the employment secretary notifies a different name for Self-Employment Assistance. The bill will therefore provide increased clarity for participants as they support themselves while establishing their businesses.
Self-employment continues to be a viable pathway for many to help them move off income support, earn their own income and contribute economically to their communities. However, it takes time and other support to establish a small business, including financial support.
To support and foster self-employment opportunities we bring this bill to the parliament.
The bill also makes a small number of minor technical amendments to clarify or remove redundant material from the social security law, consequent to the recent streamlined participation requirements act.
I commend this bill to the chamber.
I rise to speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022. The former coalition government transformed the way employment services are being delivered with the introduction of Workforce Australia. From 4 July 2022, Workforce Australia has brought together all of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment's workforce, employment and skills initiatives under one single identity. Workforce Australia replaced jobactive and the current employment services network. The New Employment Services Model, also known as Workforce Australia, is now in place and is providing more personalised services to better target jobseeker needs, invest in those jobseekers who need it and make greater use of digital technology. This bill is a result of that change. It is a technical bill that effects changes in the name of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, NEIS—as a result of the change to Workforce Australia—to the Self-Employment Assistance program, to ensure that payments made under it are treated in the same way as for other NEIS payments.
The coalition is passionate about Australians getting off welfare and into work. When we left office in May 2022, the unemployment rate was 3.9 per cent—an almost 50-year low. This did not happen by dissent. Getting people off welfare and into work was at the forefront of every decision the previous government made. The coalition government's previous employment services system, jobactive, saw nearly two million placements since it was established in 2015. The success of this system was a key factor in keeping our unemployment rate low.
The new employment services model, Workforce Australia, was developed by the previous coalition government over a number of years and commenced on 4 July 2022. The new model seeks to build on the success of jobactive and give jobseekers the best opportunity to find employment through a tailor-made approach. The former coalition government spent a number of years working with jobseekers, providers, peak bodies and employers on developing a model that works for all and supports a pathway for Australians off welfare and into work. It will eventually become a one-stop shop for Australians and Australian businesses to find work, retrain and find access to other government initiatives in employment and skills. This bill continues the realisation of that policy scheme and architecture and will assist in achieving the intentions of that scheme.
The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, known as NEIS, has helped almost 200,000 people start their own business since it commenced in 1985, many of whom may otherwise have continued to rely on social security or veterans entitlements payments. The program helps people move off income support by creating their own job. In turn, many of these businesses have created work for additional people.
The Self-Employment Assistance program commenced on 1 July 2022 to replace NEIS assistance throughout Australia. There is one exception, which is Norfolk Island, where NEIS will continue because there is an existing deed in place that does not expire until 2023.
Turning to the detail of the bill, in addition to the assistance available to help participants start and maintain their own viable small business, such as small business training, coaching, mentoring and other support, Self-Employment Assistance and other NEIS participants can receive a fortnightly payment of $642.70—equal to the single no children rate of Jobseeker payment—for 39 weeks and, if eligible, rent assistance for up to 26 weeks.
The main amendments in the bill in schedule 1 will make clear that the family, social security and veterans entitlements laws operate in the same way in relation to Self-Employment Assistance payments as for other NEIS payments. This is necessary because of the name change. These changes are primarily in sections relating to the treatment of entitlements, and they clarify in legislation that the Self-Employment Assistance payments are to be treated in the same way as for other NEIS payments. For example, the Family Law Act 1975 defines 'income tested pension, allowance or benefit' as a pension allowance or benefit prescribed by the Family Law Regulations. For that purpose, those regulations refer to payments made under NEIS so that such payments are included within the definition. This must be changed to reflect the Self-Employment Assistance program. This is an appropriate change, as Self-Employment Assistance is similar to other NEIS assistance, the difference being that Self-Employment Assistance participants will have more flexibility in choosing and accessing the support that best suits their circumstances.
Schedule 1 also means that, if Self-Employment Assistance is given a different name, the family, social security and veterans entitlements laws will continue to operate in the same way—provided that the employment secretary makes a notifiable instrument giving notice of the change—without the need for a future bill. This is worthwhile because it means we can spend less of the chamber's time with bills like this and focus more on further measures to support employment in Australia.
With the new employment services model in place, it builds on work done by the former coalition government in getting more Australians into employment. Indeed, the record of the former coalition government's investment in Australia's workforce had the consequence of reducing Australia's level of welfare dependency to the lowest level in 30 years. Under the former coalition government Australia was successfully brought through the pandemic, and with that came historic low-unemployment rates. The unemployment figure of 3.5 per cent is a testament to that. From the time our Liberal-National coalition came to government in 2013 to the May election in 2022, some 1.8 million Australians came into work with the benefit of the policy frameworks that we established.
We were determined, from being first elected in 2013, to put in place strong economic policies and labour market programs to stimulate a recovery of the economy and to support Australians into work. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the strong economic management of the previous coalition government had supported the creation of over 1.5 million jobs. The economy was growing, Australia had a record labour force participation, the unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent in March 2022 and the budget was in balance for the first time in 11 years. The then government's long-term plan for jobs and growth meant that we entered the COVID-19 crisis from a position of economic strength.
Our former employment services programs played an essential role in supporting economic recovery by increasing labour force participation and helping workers transition to new jobs. These programs, which included jobactive, Youth Jobs PaTH Program, Transition to Work and ParentsNext, are working and they helped to ensure that Australia bounced back from COVID-19 and that we saw more Australians getting into work. Thanks to these programs, hundreds of thousands of Australians have been assisted to improve their employability and to gain employment, with jobactive having supported over two million job placements since its introduction in 2015.
To assist Australians back into work after this once-in-a-century pandemic, we improved services for the most affected regions and the most disadvantaged jobseekers. Across 25 regions we established a presence with the local jobs program, with a funding of $62.8 million. Employment facilitators developed local jobs plans in 25 regions, in collaboration with local stakeholders, employers and training organisations.
The New Employment Services Model, known as Workforce Australia, is now in place and is providing more personalised services to better target jobseeker needs, invest in those jobseekers who need it and make greater use of digital technology. Workforce Australia was the biggest reform to employment services since the Howard government's reforms in the 1990s. This is a strong demonstration of the previous government's commitment to helping Australians into work and to modernising one of the most significant expenditure areas of government. That is a record which this side of the House takes pride in, and we continue to work, if now from opposition, on supporting the provision of increased employment opportunities.
I want to briefly highlight, as part of this policy architecture, some of the other significant achievements. The Morrison government funded $6.2 million for 26 jobs fairs from June 2021 to June 2022. There were 47 jobs fairs held between July 2019 and December 2021. We introduced the Employer Reporting Line for businesses to report instances where individuals were not meeting their responsibility to seek work and not taking that responsibility seriously—for example, through submitting inappropriate job applications, failing to attend job interviews or refusing a suitable offer of employment.
ParentsNext is a pre-employment program that helps parents plan and prepare for work before their youngest child starts school. The former coalition government expanded ParentsNext, so more Australian parents will be in a position to access vital assistance to help them prepare for or return to work, providing a $24.7 million boost, as a result, to employment services.
This bill builds on a policy architecture established and championed by the previous coalition government with a view to getting more Australians into work, and it's been a very successful program.
Small businesses play an integral role in the Australian economy, with almost half of the employment in the private non-financial sector and over a third of production, and certainly in my community it is small business that holds up our community. In regional areas, like my electorate, small businesses count for approximately 35 per cent of all business types and, on average, employ around 10 people. Of these small businesses, those with one to four employees are likely to expand, and those with no employees are likely to employ staff as they grow. The importance of small business, particularly in the regions, cannot be understated. In this context, as a member with a large regional electorate, I support and encourage any incentives that assist individuals to start up businesses.
The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme has helped over 198,000 people start their own businesses since it commenced in 1985. Consistent with the scheme's intent, many of those who used the scheme would have otherwise continued to rely on social security or veterans' entitlements payments. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations website heralds the success of the program and provides some individual success stories. For example, there's the story of Mostafa, an immigrant from Iran with a degree in computer skills. Mostafa started a business in Sydney called MAZ3D, a 'stretch ceilings' business that prints high-resolution images directly onto ceilings. Mostafa would not have started his own business if it wasn't for the scheme. Similarly, designer Simone began producing face masks for her community in Melbourne when it went into lockdown, which was a departure from her existing clothing business. These are just two of the many success stories that you can find on the department's website.
The scheme has demonstrated success in providing a pathway to nearly 200,000 Australians to move off government assistance and into their own employment. At the same time I've got to say that, while this scheme has been operating for a very long time—since 1985—very few people actually know about the scheme. If you calculate it out, it averages out at just over 5,000 participants per year—5,351 to be precise. And so I pose the question to government: how are we marketing this scheme? When I talk to people who are Centrelink recipients, people who are creative, people who could really do well with their own business, they have no idea about this scheme at all. Similarly, when I talk to small businesses and say, 'How did you start?', particularly those that are just beginning and in that first year of business, they too have no idea about this scheme. I do wonder whether perhaps, in the jobactive world, providers didn't encourage people to consider this scheme. But I really hope that under the new Workforce Australia, and as we move forward, we can get the message out there: that you too can own your own business, and, if you are creative and if you have ideas for a business, as many people do, this is an excellent program to help you flourish and to help you turn that dream into a reality.
In closing, I extend my support for this bill and for the scheme. But I urge government to find a way for us to really amplify this scheme and to encourage more Australians to be like Mostafa and Simone and pursue their own economic independence, particularly in our regions.
I rise to speak on the second reading of this bill, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill, specifically on the NEIS program. Just to put some context at the beginning of my contribution: we live in a remarkable time, with such low unemployment in this country. We are hearing, month after month, ABS statistics talking about records being broken going back into the 1970s. It's a truly remarkable time. We recognise that there are some external factors that have contributed to the extremely low unemployment rate. Of course, COVID-19 clearly had a significant impact on the supply side of the workforce with the closing of the international border, which meant we were unable to maintain our migration program for a two-year period.
There was an initial good dividend from that in the sense that clearly we've got unemployment to a remarkably low figure—in fact, lower than, when I studied economics, some of the members of academia said unemployment could get to. Five per cent used to be the notional full-employment proposition, taking into account transitions et cetera in the labour market. To have unemployment in the threes is truly remarkable, and that's been a great outcome for all those people that might not have had a job were it not for the circumstances we're in right now, but it's equally putting an enormous amount of pressure on businesses who desperately need more workers and can't get them at the moment. We do feel for those businesses with those challenge. The precarious situation we're in right now with such remarkably low unemployment will potentially lead some businesses to make the kinds of decisions we do not want them to make—that is, perhaps scaling down production, perhaps not being able to maintain output at the levels they would otherwise if they were able to get the employees they need.
This is, of course, impacting different sectors and different geographical regions of the country. These challenges are not always the same everywhere around the country. Far from it; they tend to have unique challenges depending on the skills that are required and the geographical region of where our businesses are located. Obviously we're in a beautiful and enormous continent, and it's not so easy in this country for people to relocate vast distances to satisfy a high demand for jobs. Equally, we don't have a situation where there's particularly high unemployment anywhere in this country at the moment. So there's not a circumstance where people are looking to leave any part of the country because they can't find work. That's a good thing, but it brings about those challenges.
The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme has been around since 1985, with the Hawke government. Previous speakers have talked about how there has been around 200,000 participants in that scheme over that 37-year period. Yes, I suppose when you divide that by 37 years, it would be nice for that annual number to be higher. Nonetheless, not many of these schemes survive multiple changes of government and are still here 37 years later, and that probably reflects the fact that all sides of politics have seen value in the NEIS scheme—though it's perhaps to be known by a different name once we've finished debating this legislation.
The member for Mayo mentioned that it's not a very well-known or understood scheme. I've known about it for a long, long time. My mother happened to work in the federal department in this very program about 20 or 25 years ago, so maybe I know it particularly well because of that reason. Nonetheless, it's something that all sides of politics are supporting to continue into the future. We in the Liberal Party particularly want to support it and do anything we can to help people start a business and create a job. Having just made comments about the challenges that businesses have at the moment in employing people, that doesn't detract at all from the value of someone creating a new job in our economy and a new business in our economy. Let's be honest: unemployment is most probably not going to have a three in front of it into the future; we can't count on that, and we want to see every lever being pulled that allows us to increase the size of our labour market.
To do that, what we say on this side of the chamber is that we want to see more businesses created. We want to see the economic pie and the employment pie get larger. That's nothing against people like, frankly, all of us in this chamber, who are employees—and very proudly—but we really need to do everything we can to back someone who wants to be self-employed, to back someone who sees some value in the independence that you get from starting your own business. Of course, there are many, many people in this chamber that have started a business and that have certainly had all of the exhilaration and stress that comes with starting a business. Yes, there is the independence of being in command of your own destiny, but, of course, there is the stress of not having the salary, the pay packet that you can absolutely count on. There is the stress of knowing that you've got to be out and hoping that the customers are going to be there into the future, hopefully, growing your business but certainly maintaining it at a level that ensures that you're earning the income that you need. Those are the economic heroes of this country: people who take that risk to start their own business, hopefully for that business to succeed and grow and, in fact, for them not just to be self-employed but themselves in that business to employ lot more people in that business as they grow it into the future.
We all know the statistics. There are successful businesses, but 30 per cent of businesses—it's certainly been the case in the past—fail in the first 12 months, 70 per cent in the first three years. So it's a huge risk that people take when they go to start a business. Of course, at the moment, in a environment of such low unemployment, it is probably more and more tempting than ever for people to decide to take a job rather than create a new business. And we know that, for the years and decades into the future, it's people making the decision today to start a new business and maybe—certainly hopefully—for them to not be amongst the statistics of those businesses that don't succeed in the first year or in the first three years but in fact create a business that gets through those first few years and grows in the years after, perhaps in 5 or 10 years becoming the sort of business that went from something that someone established as a sole proprietor to a business that is employing a handful, if not a dozen, if not tens or hundreds of Australians. Those businesses need to be created now, even in a time when unemployment is low, because they'll be paying a real dividend when, perhaps, unemployment won't be so low. Certainly, hopefully, we want to keep unemployment low continuously, but we also want our economy increasing. We want more jobs being created in our economy, and to do that we need people to start businesses.
That's what NEIS has done. It's been there since 1985 to support people who are unemployed and see an idea or an opportunity for them to start a business and need help and support to get off the ground. By enrolling in NEIS and getting the financial support through there along with the other elements of the program, that, hopefully, puts them in the best place we can put them in to back them for their business to be successful.
It's not just financial assistance, of course, through NEIS and its future incarnation. We also know that people do need a lot of support around the skills to start a business. You might have a skill for the business that you want to establish and run, but just having that skill isn't enough to run a successful business. You of course also need the skills of running a business: some basic bookkeeping and accounting skills, the ability to develop a business plan and understanding what the government rules and regulations are around the particular going concern that you are planning to launch as your own enterprise.
I know that over the years NEIS has done a lot and been a good way of putting people in the program in touch with other supports that government has to make sure people are equipped with those skills. Despite the difficulty in succeeding when you start a business—or probably because of that difficulty—we want to support people, giving them the best chance possible for their idea and for that business that they want to pursue as a self-employed person. That means having the financial support payments in place and, of course, having other support structures from government in place to support them is hopefully going to give them the best chance of them being successful not only to employ themselves but, of course, to grow a business that might, in fact, employ a lot more Australians.
We in the coalition are very proud of the record specific to business creation but also just generally the number of jobs that were created that the shadow minister talked about, with 1.8 million jobs created between the time we came to government in 2013 and the recent May election. Governments obviously do a lot of very important things, but creating 1.8 million jobs is a tremendous legacy of our nine years in government. If we hadn't created those 1.8 million jobs, we would be facing a very different set of challenges right now. That's 1.8 million more people in work. That's 1.8 million more people paying income tax, contributing to the economic growth of this nation and helping us to weather some very significant economic challenges that are coming our way at the moment. Those 1.8 million people, coupled with the entirety of a very strong labour market that, again, we left, meant at the election in May we had put this country in one of the strongest positions of any country in the world.
We have global challenges coming our way. They are many, varied and significant, unfortunately. We're seeing a manifestation of those already, with interest rates going up. We hope it won't be the case but do fear just what impact these interest rate rises are going to have on all Australians that borrow money, that own their home and owe a lot of money to the bank. When we think about this legislation and this program, with people starting a business and how challenging it is, when you look at your business plan you'll suddenly realise, if you are borrowing money to start that business, what your interest rate was going to be six months ago, what you were counting on it being, and now what it is likely you will need to count on it being into the future. Of course, we don't know how much further interest rates will go up beyond the increases that have already been announced over the last few months by the Reserve Bank, but these are some of the challenges that will befall the Australian economy in the not-too-distant future.
We're all here to work as hard as we can to look after our economy, in particular. It's things like creating 1.8 million jobs in a nine-year period of time that put us, the coalition, in a position to be able to say, 'We certainly used those nine years to continue to do what coalition governments do best, and that is grow our economy and keep improving the wealth of this nation and the economic security of the people that live in this nation.' That's the position we find ourselves in, going into difficult times.
This bill to facilitate transitions into the future for the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme is one that I'm very pleased to support, as the coalition are pleased to support it. It is part of a framework that we left behind to this new government of strong, robust systems to help people start businesses and, by starting those businesses, grow our economy to the benefit of all Australians. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022. The former coalition government was transformative in respect to the way employment services were being delivered Australia-wide, most notably with the introduction of Workforce Australia. From July of this year, Workforce Australia has brought together the Department of Education, Skills and Employment's workforce employment skills initiatives under one single identity, replacing jobactive and the current employment services network. Workforce Australia is now in place, providing more personalised services to better target jobseeker needs, investing in those jobseekers who need it and making greater use of digital technology. This bill is a result of that change. Changing the name of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme to the Self-Employment Assistance program serves an important purpose in ensuring that payments made under it are treated in the same way as other NEIS payments.
The coalition cares about getting Australians off welfare and into work. The unemployment rate sat at an almost 50-year low when we left government in May 2022, with just 3.9 per cent of Australians unemployed. This was not an accident. Getting people off welfare and into work was at the crux of the previous coalition government's policy. The government's previous employment services system, jobactive, saw nearly two million placements since it was established in 2015. The success of this system was a key factor in keeping our unemployment rate low.
The new Workforce Australia model seeks to build on the success of jobactive, giving jobseekers the best opportunity to find employment through a tailor-made approach. The former coalition government spent several years working with jobseekers, providers, peak bodies and employers on developing a model that works for all and supports a pathway for Australians off welfare and into work. This model was informed by all key stakeholders and is the culmination of much reflection and advice on how to best serve Australians wanting to re-enter the workforce. In the future, Workforce Australia will be the one-stop shop for Australians and Australian businesses to find work and retrain.
The bill itself is merely technical, allowing streamlined efficiency and ensuring access to payments. Schedule 1 of the bill ensures that the Social Security Act and the Veterans' Entitlements Act operate in the same way in relation to self-employment assistance payments as other NEIS payments. This schedule also ensures any name changes of these acts will not require future bills, streamlining the legislative process. Schedule 2 of the bill simply makes more minor technical amendments to the social security law, removing redundant notes and simplifying complexities that merely function as confusing red tape. I stress that this bill is technical in nature but, importantly, it streamlines policy and ensures funds keep getting paid to Australians on support payments.
Prior to the pandemic hitting, the coalition government had reduced welfare dependency to its lowest level in 30 years, getting Australians into jobs. From entering and exiting government, we helped 1.8 million Australians into work. For a moment, let us not think about the abstract numbers; let us think about the reality for Australians. Let us think about the unimaginable number of people now working towards their futures not reliant on government support. Let us think of the freedom they have in employment, the independence reached for so many more Australians. That is why these numbers matter. We were determined from when we were first elected to government in 2013 to put in place the strong economic policies and labour market programs that allowed the economy to recover and support Australians into work.
The previous government's long-term plan for jobs and growth meant that we entered the pandemic crisis from a position of economic strength. Our former employment services program played an essential role in supporting economic recovery by increasing labour force participation and helping workers transition to new jobs. These programs, including jobactive, the Youth Jobs PaTH, Transition to Work and ParentsNext, are working and have ensured that we bounce back from COVID-19 and continue the pathway of getting more Australians back into work. These programs have aided hundreds of thousands of Australians to improve their employability and gain employment, with jobactive having supported over two million job placements since its introduction in 2015.
There was $62.8 million invested in supporting employment in 25 regions through our Local Jobs Program. We coordinated the Workforce Australia reform, the biggest reform to employment services since the Howard government's reforms in the 1990s. In the coalition's last three years in government, 73 job fairs were funded which attracted tens of thousands of jobseekers and thousands of exhibitors. With social security being such a large expenditure area for the government, the previous coalition government recognised the need for scrutiny, careful planning and, importantly, thoughtful execution. At every step of the way, our government improved employee opportunities and we'll continue to do that, even if now from opposition.
The former coalition government's commitment to employment services was strong and focused, isolating those service where government expenditure would be most efficient and most socially beneficial to Australians. When Labor last left office, the youth unemployment rate was 12.7 per cent. In January 2020 under a coalition government the youth unemployment rate was nine per cent, 2.6 points lower than pre-COVID levels in March 2020. Youth unemployment is such an important number to drive down, because we know that by investing in jobs for young people we are supporting them today and also supporting them and our communities into the future. This is testament to the former coalition government's concerted investment to give young Australians the right assistance and encouragement to develop new skills; to become work-ready; to get a job or look at another job or a better job through the pathway; and to stay in a job.
The former coalition government's Youth Jobs PaTH program helps young people gain the skills and work experience needed to get and keep a job. It also supports businesses to trial young people in the workplace and offers a financial incentive when they hire them, which is so crucial, because we know businesses and small businesses want to support young people and they want to invest in their communities. But we also know that young people don't have that experience that older employees have. So it's important that we encourage business to invest in those young people, and they can learn those skills on the job. What we have seen is that this program is working, with 67 per cent of completed internships resulting in immediate employment for those young people, and a further eight per cent recording a job placement within three months.
Transition to Work participants receive intensive pre-employment support to develop practical skills to get a job; to connect them with educational training if that is what they need; and, really importantly, to find local job opportunities to connect them with jobs that are suited to them in their area. In Casey, we have a thriving agricultural industry, but, like many industries, it also has many skills shortages. Transition to Work participants will be trained and pushed into opportunities that align with the agricultural industry of Casey, which is one practical example of how this program works. And part of that is to connect them with the relevant local community services—because we know that local community services are in touch with local industries in their area—to find those jobs, providing great opportunities for those on the program and also for local businesses and local communities. Since its commencement, over 64,000 young people have found job placements—that's 64,000 young people finding their feet in the workforce and working for themselves and for their community and for their country. And, as I said, these 64,000 young people are not just finding jobs for today. These are jobs that they will have for the future, so it's an investment now and in the future. When we invest in our young people, we're investing in the short term and the long term of our communities. The former coalition government gave immense focus to what is so crucial to our country: the success of our young people.
My electorate of Casey has had remarkable success in recent years regarding work outcomes. We are fortunate that Casey has over the years of the previous coalition government consistently tracked lower in the unemployment rates when compared to greater Melbourne, Victoria and Australia. On top of this our gross regional product has steadily risen, even considering the decrease in population in our area. This hallmark of productivity is another example of the success of the former coalition government's policies, with the median weekly incomes for all the individuals, families and households of my electorate of Casey beating those for Victoria and Australia. However, while these numbers are positive, more needs to be done.
Like many areas, Casey is struggling with skill shortages. We have opportunities to continue to upskill our young people. I'll continue to advocate and work with our local providers in this regard. We also need to look at immigration and understand that by investing in targeted immigration we're creating new jobs for Australians, because the biggest handbrake on business in Casey is a lack of workers. Forever and a day a business will invest in a new market and grow, and they will add employees after the fact. I was talking to a business—and this was the first time I've heard this in 15 years in business—and that business said they will not grow a new market before employing people. Now they look to employ a person and then create the demand. It is staggering and unprecedented in business for someone to look at that. It shows the challenges we face with the skill shortages. It also shows the long-term impacts and challenges that our economy will have because if business is not prepared to grow and look at those opportunities for growth then it will hurt jobs in the long term. If businesses aren't hiring, because they've decided to be conservative, then as more young people come into the workforce we'll be in a lot of trouble. These skill shortages link to the outcomes we're talking about today.
We can talk about the millions in funding and how the averages of certain metrics have risen or fallen, but ultimately we cannot find ourselves lost in discussions of numbers. This discussion is about people—people once reliant on social security finding their footing in the workplace, feeling the freedom of being in control of what they do and earning money for all their efforts. There truly is dignity in work.
I am proud to support this bill and I commend this bill to the House.
I thank the member for Casey for his contribution. In rising to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022 I firstly want to recognise the history of this scheme, going back to 1985. Some 200,000 people have taken the opportunity to start their own business since its commencement. Many of them would otherwise have continued to rely on social security or veterans entitlements payments.
I say at the outset that nothing pleases me more than seeing somebody who has gone through some struggles in life, and maybe been on a social security payment of some sort, be able to find their way back into the workforce or start their own business. I say that because we well know the impact of long-term unemployment on people's health and welfare. As we look at some of those impacts it's important to bear in mind, as a number of speakers have already mentioned in this debate, that at the end of the day we're talking about a program and at the end of that program are people. Those people might be individuals or they might have a wife and kids, they might have a family. Ultimately what we're seeking to do with all of these programs is give these people a hand up to be able to live to their full potential.
That is why I support programs such as this and other programs like the Australian Small Business Advisory Service and the mentoring and support we provide to small business through those programs. We know that, if people are long-term unemployed or disconnected from the workforce, there are a range of impacts on their lives: loss of income, most evident; for some of them, social exclusion and loss of freedom in that they don't have the capacity to do what they used to be able to do; loss of skills; for some, psychological harm; and, for some, ill health and loss of motivation. It can impair or undermine relationships in the family and in the broader community. Certainly I've seen situations in my community where kids were playing in local sporting teams and, sadly, one of their parents became unemployed and those kids were no longer playing sport and no longer connected to those support groups that help them grow and become better people. They're just some of the issues that you can see quite readily with people on long-term unemployment.
Programs like NEIS are so vital in helping those who have a motivation to start their own business take that step—and it is a big step. It is certainly not for the faint hearted. There are plenty in this chamber who have run their own small business over the years. As I talk to many of my small businesses around my electorate, I hear of the challenges that they face every day: getting new employees or working with their existing staff; being paid by suppliers or by customers on time, depending on the business that they're in; dealing with supply chain constraints, as we are seeing at the moment; and dealing with the impact of COVID over the last couple of years. For many of these small businesses their house is on the line each and every day and so is their family's future and welfare. I'm pleased to say that, when we were last in government as a coalition government, we had a tremendous track record in this space, seeing not only the growth of small business across our country through programs such as NEIS but also more generally and, more importantly, the additional number of people in our workforce as a result of our policies—some 1.8 million people.
In addition to that, the coalition government transformed the way employment services are being delivered across the country, with the introduction of Workforce Australia. This commenced on 4 July this year. Workforce Australia brought together the Department of Education, Skills and Employment's workforce, employment and skills initiatives under one single identity. I was recently talking to one of my new local Workforce Australia providers, and I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of their clients who they'd successfully placed into work locally. Both of them were tremendous success stories. They had been long-term unemployed for a significant period of time and had worked with previous employment service providers with not a lot of success. Since coming on board with Workways they had both obtained new jobs and were very appreciative of that opportunity that was being provided.
That's so important in terms of the measures that were implemented by the former coalition government that I, and my colleagues here on this side, were part of. At the end of the day, we were passionate about getting Australians off welfare and into work, for many of the reasons I outlined earlier. We've seen that that brings an enormous benefit to our society as a whole. The other day, the finance minister and the Treasurer reflected on the budget bottom line improvement, because the government's paying out less in welfare payments than were budgeted for. That's a direct result of the former coalition government's work across the economy but particularly in the employment space. We saw the unemployment rate in May 2022, when we left government, at 3.9 percent—a 50-year low. That doesn't happen by accident. It happens by supporting people to build their skills and capability to enter into work or to start their own business and giving them the confidence to do so. The coalition government's previous employment services system saw nearly two million placements since it was established in 2015. The success of this system was a key to getting our unemployment rate so low.
In addition, a couple of speakers have reflected that, in part, this also reflects the fact that, during the COVID period, our borders were closed and we didn't have the overseas migration that we had had, and our businesses had to increasingly turn to the locally available workforce. I acknowledge also the comments of the members for Casey and Sturt—and I know the member for Barker is here in the chamber, too—in relation to the issues that that has provided for our agricultural sector and the workforce shortages and difficulties they face. Equally I've had that discussion with businesses in my electorate.
As I reflect on the discussion I had recently at a committee hearing with the Reserve Bank Governor, I remember well the day when I started in the workforce—and, in those days, businesses trained staff. Now, we talk a lot in this place about training packages and skills incentives and a whole range of things. I don't remember many of those being in place when I started in the workforce—some 40 years ago, roughly. I would say—and even the Reserve Bank Governor reflected on this in our hearing the other day—that it is incumbent on the business sector to be prepared to start training its workforce again. We can't just have a situation where employers continue to pinch staff from another employer or rely on the people that they need for their workforce being in the market. They need to start training within their businesses again.
Now, can we fill some of those gaps with a considered, thoughtful, immigration process? Absolutely. But we also need to take into account the other impacts that is going to have. I acknowledge, as the member for Sturt said, that labour mobility is an issue when you have house prices at the level you do, rents at the level you do and rental vacancies at the low levels you do; it is also hard for people to move to areas around our country to take on job opportunities that may be there. So all of these things need to be looked at as we move forward.
To return to the bill: the bill makes some consequential amendments, but, importantly, it keeps the program in place and ensures that it's consistent across the board. But I'll go back to my earlier comments: it is the former coalition government that set up the systems and the processes that we now have in place that underpin our record low rates of unemployment. I would like to see those rates continue to fall as we continue to see people trained and encouraged to enter into the workforce and fill the jobs and skills gaps that we presently have—because we still have some 1.3 million Australians that are unemployed or underemployed. You can't tell me there are not the skills and the capabilities in many of those people to fill the many jobs we have on offer in this country.
So am I calling on the government to continue to do and to build on the work that we did when we were in government? Absolutely, because we've demonstrated in the figures that what we put in place works. But I'm also issuing a challenge to the business community to take up the mantle and the challenge: to start training their workforce, to fill some of these gaps, to create the skilled workforce we need for the future. But I commend this bill to the House.
Workforce Australia is the latest program that governments of both persuasions have now accepted. This was conceived by the previous government, and it has been accepted by the new government, as another iteration of the Commonwealth Employment Service, which I can trace back all the way to when I first came into this parliament.
This is about getting people who wouldn't otherwise get into a job get into a job. Everyone needs a little bit of help, a little bit of a push, a little bit of education, a little bit of training and a little bit of support sometimes. Governments of all persuasions since 1990, when I came here, have had a view that, if we can help these people along the way, just a little bit, we can get them into a job and change their lives. It's a life-changing experience to go from long-term unemployment, or generational unemployment, into a job. It does change people's lives because they have socialisation and they have the income to do the things they need to do. We also know that, once somebody's in a job, they can get a better job. If you're in a job, you can get a better job because you're employed.
I had a young woman come to me one day when I ran a small business, and she said: 'Look, Mr Broadbent, I can't get a job because I haven't got a CV. I'll come and work far you for nothing so I can get a CV to say that I've been in work.' Of course, my business always paid over the award, and, because of her enthusiasm, we put her on. She worked for us for a long time and then went on to do other things, with her CV in her hand and my recommendation for the next job.
I had another person whose mum came to me and said: 'Look, my daughter has just failed VCE'—no names, no pack drill—'and she's just at home doing nothing. She's lost all her confidence.' I said, 'Bring her in.' We gave her a job. She went on to manage businesses like mine all over our district. She had the talent, but there had just been a glitch along the way.
A lot of these people who we're talking about now are people who are that close to getting into work. The difficulty is that—from the old Commonwealth Employment Service all the way through every iteration of government and what they've done—for the people it's hard to get into work we don't always put the effort in that we should. They're the ones that are on the margins of our society. They're living on a razor's edge. They're the ones who really, really struggle.
Sometimes, as I said before, it's generational and it's about family—'We don't work in our family.' For families like mine and lots of others, like the member for Barker and all the members who have spoken, we were in the fields at 15. We didn't get a choice; in the school holidays you went to work. That was it—finished. You had to find a way. I remember bringing my first cheque home to my father, and he said, 'I can't believe that you've done this much work.' I was cutting and packing swedes—I was cutting my fingers more than I was cutting the swedes!—and I got a great appreciation for just how brilliant these workers in the field were and what they could do. I can remember—and I don't want to get off track here—starting my row of digging up these swedes and the guy working next to me, after I'd gone 10 feet up the row, had finished his row. These people could really work.
Every government has wanted to find a way to help people into work. This legislation is actually born out of quite a few years of investment in how we can do this better. That's what the previous government wanted to do. It asked, 'How can we do this better so we can literally find a job for these people or encourage them?' There are a number of different ways that have been outlined by every speaker on how we might do that. It doesn't matter whether you want to change from unemployment to start your own small business, which this helps through, which we've had all the way along. Some 200,000 people have created their own business and gone on to employ other people in that business. So that's been a worthwhile investment by government.
Has every dollar we've spent meant that we got an outcome? No. There are people in our community who find it really hard. Another person I ran across a while ago had been very well employed for a long time. Then she fell on difficult times, through some mental challenges and other issues around family and things that she needed to do. Then when it came time to getting back into work she found she'd lost all her skills, she'd lost her confidence and she'd lost her ability to interact in a workplace. She thought she should get a better job than those that were on offer. So the period of non-employment went on and on—until the point, I dare say, when she became unemployable. But, because of some of the programs that we've got in place, she's now training for a brand new job, and she will go on and do great things. She'll go on and be very good at what she does.
I want to pay tribute to the Public Service here, who are putting in an enormous amount of work. This is a technical bill to advance and confirm and introduce the program put in place, Workforce Australia—it's new name—and the technical things around it to get Workforce Australia as part of the conversation. The Public Service have had the people that this helps in their focus. Importantly, whilst politicians may set the parameters of what we desire, we rely on our public servants to deliver on this. An enormous amount of consideration has gone into Workforce Australia, by the previous government and accepted by this government, as a program to take us forward.
I think it's good legislation. I think it will make quite a difference to the numbers of people. When you're down to 3½ per cent unemployment in this country there are a lot of jobs out there, and we need our communities to fill the positions that are there. We're not getting the opportunities from backpackers to fill up all the agricultural jobs in my electorate. We're not getting very high immigration, at this time, because of COVID and the things that have happened. We're not getting the normal opportunities that come through and allow people to stay unemployed because they can't compete in the workplace. These people can now compete in the workplace, because there are employers out there that are desperate for employees.
There's not one member that can stand up in this House and say there are not loads of vacancies in their electorates. Cafe after cafe has a sign at the door saying, 'We need staff.' It's everywhere you go. Why are some of our cafes and hospitality venues closing on Monday and Tuesday? Pubs closing on Monday and Tuesday! Have you ever heard anything like it? It's because they can't get the staff to open more than the days that they have.
There's a lot of incentive for government to pour a lot of energy into those on the margins. For every iteration of this, only four per cent of employers are coming to Workforce Australia. They're finding other ways to entice employees. They're paying over the award. They're giving upfront cash incentives to people to come to work for them. They're giving them special rosters so that they can come and work for them. Every employer's done that over the years. If you've got a good employee and you want to keep that employee, you will bend over backwards to fit in with their needs and their lifestyle.
With all of these jobactive centres, which it was previously but is now Workforce Australia, we're putting in place something that should make a difference to somebody who was on the margins and needs a job. We want them to live a full, active and participating life in the Australian community.
I think there are some things that we could do that wouldn't be acceptable to a lot of people, like give some refugees out there who are not allowed to work an opportunity to work. I would be giving them an opportunity to work today if it were up to me. There are refugees here on certain classes of visa where they can't work. We need those people. Right now, we need those people. We've made concessions during COVID. We've made all sorts of concessions on immigration and citizenship. We've made concessions all over the place because of COVID. I think we can say Australia now has a real need to extend its employment base with any opportunity it can.
The other thing is that there is a whole lot of emphasis here on a skilled workforce coming in. As far as I'm concerned, we need an unskilled workforce coming in! We need any workforce coming in. If we're going to bring people into the country, we need a workforce coming in. People say, 'They'd be a burden on the community.' No, they would get a job straightaway. More than that, their children and their children's children will be of great benefit to this country, as was the case for the people who came after the war. I don't think people that came from your country, Deputy Speaker Georganas, had a whole lot of skills when they arrived here and they didn't have much money, but—by gee!—they've done pretty well since, haven't they? I think there is a real opportunity for us to look very carefully at our immigration program. But that's only one part of it.
This is all about people who are actually in this country today and the opportunities we want to give them. All of the legislation, all the way through, is focused straight out on the people who haven't got a job today, who may need some training and skills. There are a number of opportunities within this legislation to give effect to Workforce Australia. Workforce Australia, as I said before, has been born out of people considering, 'How can we as a nation do something better?' That's why we're supporting this bill. How can we do something better? How can we get that one person who is missing out on the opportunities of life because they are not participating within the workforce? That participation is crucial to the health and wellbeing of them, their families and their communities.
I find around footy clubs, cricket clubs, tennis clubs, soccer clubs—whatever the sporting club is—there's not much unemployment. Do you know why? It's because Johnny says: 'Dad's got a bit of a job out at the farm. Can you come in?' They learn to be participants within the workforce. Once they are participants within the workforce, they have the discipline. They know where to go. They know how to go about it. I find there is far less drug use and far less delinquency if they are connected to a sporting club or somehow based in the community. I member lots of kids in Pakenham working for Evergreen Turf or McDonald's. That would be their start. Someone would say, 'I'm at McDonald's; you should come to McDonald's, too.' That would be their start. They go to work for Hungry Jacks. That is one whole area of major activity. They are usually kids who haven't had a stumble, haven't had a fall. They come from working families. We need, and we always will, to help those people that come from Struggle Street or who come from families that are not as supportive as they could be and need government help. I think that is where government help should come in. That is what Workforce Australia will do. I believe it's of great benefit to Australia.
I've got plenty in my community who would say, 'Take their benefits away and they'll soon get a job.' It doesn't work like that for everybody. One of my responsibilities as a member of parliament is to always remember those that I represent who can't help themselves and need a helping hand. I remember that, always. I would expect every other member of parliament has those. Within a family, for the kids that are doing well, Dad lets them go and Mum lets them go. The kids that are not doing well get all the support. Our communities are no different. Workforce Australia goes a long way towards helping the kid in the family that's not doing that well. So I commend this bill to the House, and I hope that all the allocation of funds here and all the effort that has gone into this will be hugely successful.
Before I begin my contribution on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022, I want to say what a blessing it was to hear the member for Monash, someone who's been in this place on and off since 1990, speak about what is very much the long view. I don't know whether he will thank me for this—and I expect the member for Burt has an even more exaggerated example, given that I think he might be younger than me.
Oh, it's changed, has it? The member for Monash entered the place in 1990. I experienced some change in 1990 as well, the member for Monash might be interested to learn. I moved from primary school to high school in that year. That is how long the member for Monash has been in this place. It underscores one thing, and that is that the long view is important in politics. It is important in life, but it is particularly important in politics—and I want to talk a little bit more about the long view.
There are a couple of other things. I think the member for Monash said that I might have been in the field at 15. If only, Member for Monash! At eight I was driving a tractor, albeit I drove it through a fence and got scolded by my father. I will never forget the dressing down I got. I think the words were: 'That's what you get when you ask a boy to do a man's job.' Indeed, at about 10 or 12 when I was in the packing shed and I triumphantly told him that I could lift a 20 kilogram bag of onions, he said, 'Great; stand there and do it all day.'
So you are right: many of us have been privileged to be early adopters when it comes to employment. I say 'privileged' in the sense that I wouldn't exchange for anything any of those experiences I had with my father in his various businesses on the farm and engaging with people. Indeed, I credit having worked in our packing shed over a number of years for my subsequent career in criminal law, because almost everyone who worked for us was on bail. It was an element in society who, back then, could only find that kind of employment. My dad was particularly enthusiastic about employing people who were down on their luck. It was those experiences which led me to not be scared, if you like, when it came to practising in that law.
But I spoke about the long view, and I want to take the opportunity to wind back the clock a little bit. It's 2013 and I am a candidate for election. The then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the coalition had determined a plan. I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, that you would have been across this document and perhaps reading it with a more critical eye than I. I was effectively trying to rote learn it in the event that I might be asked questions about the document and be unable to answer them. That was a famous example that I wasn't keen to repeat.
I particularly remember reading one of the elements of that plan, which back then I thought was a ridiculous stretch target. For perhaps the member for Groom and the member for Menzies, who weren't in the place or involved in that campaign, it was a statement made before the 2000 election as follows: 'We will generate one million new jobs over the next five years and two million new jobs within a decade by growing a bigger, more productive and prosperous economy.' I remember reading that in my office and thinking, 'My goodness; there's no way any government would be able to achieve the creation of a million jobs in five years and definitely not two million within 10 years.' In any event, the Abbott government was elected in 2013, and we know that subsequently that administration became the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments.
I might take this opportunity to reflect on the question: how did we go relative to that stretch target? I will start with the five-year goal. The answer to that question is that it was achieved almost to the day: a million jobs in five years. That was a credit as much to the Australian people as it was to the government of the day, but I will say, as someone who sat in countless party rooms and countless committee meetings, during those years there was a steely focus on getting Australians into jobs. We were often mocked for saying the best form of welfare is, of course, a job, but in any event we achieved that million-job target.
The next question was: could we dream of achieving two million within 10 years? Of course, at the point of the pandemic, we had reached 1.5 million new jobs, three-quarters of the way to that target. On leaving government some 8½ years after coming to government, we had achieved 1.8 million new jobs towards a target of two million in 10 years, so I suggest to you that it was on target, notwithstanding that you would have expected that, given the pandemic, we would have been blown substantially off course.
The point about that is that you might end the conversation there and say 1.8 million jobs were on track, but I will rush forward to today. It's estimated that there are 400,000 unfilled jobs in the economy today. When you realise that those estimates are borne of statistics that came out of our metropolitan centres and electorates like mine, member for Groom's, the member for Durack's or the member for Nicholls—all the job vacancies that you're talking to your employers about aren't included in those statistics, so I think we can comfortably accept that there are at least another 400,000, if not more, jobs. There are probably 800,000 unfilled places in the economy today. As we heard from the member for Monash, not one person in this place would dare suggest they've never had an employer tell them they don't have unfilled jobs. We all do; we hear it everyday. I'm sure you hear, like I do, the collateral issue with availability of accommodation in our respective communities.
So, if you add the 1.8 million to the 800,000 our nation has created some 2.6 million jobs—albeit not all of them filled, because we are having some trouble filling them. That's a hell of an achievement and one which I hope for those opposite will be a legacy that they can continue. Why do I say I hope they can continue it? Because each and every one of those jobs filled is a real Australian in a real family better for that job.
One of the high points of my career wasn't an acquittal, wasn't well-drafted submissions in the High Court, the Supreme Court or these things but in fact occurred one afternoon in the Mount Gambier Magistrates Court. I'd just made submissions on behalf of a client of mine who had been, let's say, naughty. An employer in the region who sat in the back of the room and heard my submission knew me and said, 'Tony, any chance I could have a chat to your client about a job?' I said, 'Absolutely, he'd love a job, but are you sure?' 'Yes, I am. But I tell you what: he'll need to get to a particular post office on Monday. This is in a remote centre'—this is a pastoralist—'and if he gets there on Monday at eight o'clock, I will be there picking up my mail. I'll take him with me and he'll have a job.' The highlight wasn't the fact that that was arranged but the fact that, about two years later, he came back into my office having worked remotely for those two years for the employer mentioned. He came into my office and said: 'Tony, I've worked for two years for Employer X. What do I do with all the money?' He was asking me for financial advice—probably the worst person he could seek any guidance from in that regard! And so I directed him to someone who could provide him with some advice about his savings. I sat back in my chair and thought to myself, 'What a difference one job had made to this man, his wife, his children'—and it was an opportunity. It was an opportunity that employer provided to him—in an unusual setting; I'm not sure too many employers sit in the back of courtrooms waiting for people to walk out of the dock and offering them employment.
You see, that's what we do in this place: we build opportunities. We build environments in which employers can prosper so that they can offer opportunities to employees—opportunities potentially to improve their life, to turn their lives around or simply to go to a better, more skilled, higher paying job. That's why I rise in support of this bill. It's a bill that continues, if you like, the continuum of work, which is a bill that was conceived by those of us in this place and effectively adopted by those opposite. It continues that long journey, one that has been navigated by various governments in various parliaments, towards getting as many Australians as practicable into employment.
I want to make it very clear: an unemployment rate below four per cent in this nation is something we should celebrate. The fact that we're in such a strong position is a product in no small measure of the work of the former government, which stood us in good stead vis-a-vis the pandemic. But I want those opposite to be under no illusion. When your unemployment rate is at around four per cent—and the natural rate of unemployment probably sits at around four per cent—there is a lot of work to do to shift those remaining Australians into employment, notwithstanding the close-to-one-million jobs that are available. Many of those jobs are in my electorate. Anyone who is keen for a job—my staff hate it when I do this—can reach out to my office; I'm happy to put you in touch with employers who will take you on. I do it from time to time. My staff go, 'Oh, no,' but then all we end up getting are employers asking to be put on my list for if anyone actually does call.
In any event, I want to be clear for those opposite: it's a difficult challenge. We need to get as many of these Australians into employment as possible, for their benefit, mostly. I think it's fair to say that, when you're operating at a rate at or below the natural rate of unemployment, the return on investment by government in terms of placing someone in employment—long-term unemployed people or people with particular difficulties—and the cost associated with doing that at that rate is a challenge, but it's one we need to accept and work towards, because ultimately it's about making a difference for those particular Australians.
I reasonably anticipate that the individual I spoke about, had it not been for this particular employer who for some reason found it in his heart to offer this young lad a chance, would have spent every day from that day in court to today unemployed. Instead, he has gone about his life and worked in a setting that suits him, supporting his family, and he did that because someone was prepared to take a punt. This bill is about providing the requisite supports to ensure that people can transition from those very difficult settings into employment or into employment via self-employment, which of course is another important pathway, particularly when—I remind the House—there are many hundreds of thousands of small businesses and microbusinesses that operate successfully and in increasing numbers.
My final contribution is to remind the House that not only is it a particularly good thing for the individuals involved to find themselves in employment but it's also an age-old measure: if we can get people into employment, they go from being someone who is in receipt of a welfare payment, a transfer payment from government, to someone who's making a contribution to general revenue. We've just come out of the back end of the AFL grand final. It's the best example you'll find in civic life, in the industrial relations space, of a two-goal turnaround. Instead of someone taking a transfer payment via a payment from welfare, they're making a contribution. It's the fact we got 1.8 million Australians over the last term of government into employment which has meant we are in such a strong position to deal with the pandemic.
I rise to speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022. This legislation is about creating opportunity and fostering entrepreneurial spirit, which should be encouraged wherever possible—and opportunity was the theme of my maiden speech. The prosperity of my own electorate of Nicholls is founded on that great Australian ideal of having a go. Sometimes it's also about getting a go—or, as our egalitarian streak demands, getting a fair go. And the coalition believes in a fair go. We transformed the way employment services are delivered with the introduction of Workforce Australia bringing together the Department of Education, Skills and Employment's workforce employment skills initiatives under one single identity. Workforce Australia replaced jobactive and the current employment services network and has delivered more personalised services to better target jobseeker needs, investing in those jobseekers who need it and making greater use of digital technology.
The bill, which I'm happy to support, is a result of that change led by the previous coalition government. 'Jobs, jobs, jobs' was the mantra for the coalition government and it remains the case of us in opposition. We are passionate about getting Australians off welfare and into work, so much so that when we left office in May 2022 the unemployment rate nationally was at a 50-year low, just 3.9 per cent. It has since fallen to 3.5 per cent, irrefutable proof that the new government inherited a strong economy that on so many measures had already returned to, or exceeded, pre-pandemic levels. During its time in government the coalition helped 1.8 million Australians into work, with 1.5 million able to find work by March 2020 when the nation faced the unprecedented challenge of the global pandemic.
It's worth reflecting that, when the pandemic struck, Australia had record labour force participation. The unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent in March 2020, and the budget was in balance for the first time in 11 years. The pandemic required an enormous response and many sacrifices. It required a government willing to step up and support Australians through the social and economic turmoil, which it did through the JobKeeper program. The coalition had in place long-term plans for jobs and growth, and, as a result, our recovery from the pandemic has been extremely strong. We entered the crisis from a position of economic strength, and our policies have played an essential role in supporting economic recovery by increasing labour force participation and helping workers transition into new jobs. The coalition worked hard to assist Australians back into work after the pandemic, including targeted support for our most affected regions and our most disadvantaged jobseekers.
Twenty-five regions were able to support employment through our $62.8 million local jobs program. Employment facilitators developed local jobs plans in 25 regions in collaboration with local stakeholders, employers and training organisations. When collaboration happens between government and people in local areas—and I see this all the time in regional areas—you get success. When it's dictated to from the top, from Canberra, sometimes the success is limited.
The Goulburn-Murray Employment Region, which takes in the electorate of Nicholls, was a beneficiary. The Goulburn-Murray local jobs plan sought to address barriers to employment, including adequacy of public transport connections across the region; lack of affordable housing, in part driven by the pandemic; the impact of the pandemic on the seasonal workforce; and the shift of workers away from the hospitality and tourism sectors to jobs that were less likely to be impacted by COVID. Brokering opportunities for youth skill development and employment including apprenticeships, traineeship, micro-credentialing, work experience and work placement is part of the plan we put in place. Maximising the extent to which local positions were filled by local jobseekers was part of that plan, and it is helping reinvigorate the local economy and industry post pandemic. Boosting employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander jobseekers, in collaboration with local Indigenous organisations—and I emphasise the collaboration—was part of the plan. Identifying pathways for local jobseekers to be upskilled to meet the needs of major projects, including the infrastructure works planned through the region—much of that infrastructure delivered by the coalition government—was also part of that plan. So, too, was supporting jobseekers—in particular people with disabilities, culturally and linguistically diverse cohorts, those of mature age and youth—to align with our local labour needs. Workforce Australia was the biggest reform to employment services since the Howard government's reforms in the nineties, and it continues to serve the nation well. As I said earlier, this bill is a result of that change.
The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, known as the NEIS, had helped almost 200,000 people start their own business since it commenced in 1985, many of whom may otherwise have had to continue to rely on social security or veterans' entitlements payments. Under the scheme, people moved off income support by creating their own job. In turn, many of these businesses have created work for other people. The Self-Employment Assistance program commenced on 1 July 2022 to replace NEIS assistance through Australia. In addition to the assistance available to help participants start and maintain their own viable small business, Self-Employment Assistance and other NEIS participants can receive a fortnightly payment of $642.70, equal to the single, no children, rate of JobSeeker payment for 39 weeks and, if eligible, rent assistance for up to 26 weeks. This bill makes it simpler to align these payments with family, social security and veterans' entitlement laws.
I go back to the theme of opportunity—that thing I talked about in my maiden speech. It's something that's so important to me. It's important to the Nationals. And it's important to the electorate of Nicholls.
One of Australia's most successful business owners, Visy Industries' founder, Richard Pratt, started his life in Australia in Nicholls in 1938. He embraced the opportunity that Australia had offered. Richard Pratt was educated at Grahamvale Primary School and Shepparton high school, before going on to University High School and then a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Melbourne in 1953. In 1965, following the death of his father, Leon, Richard took over the cardboard corrugation company which, at the time, had an annual turnover of $5 million. Over the next 40 years, he build Visy into one of the world's largest packaging companies, with revenue of more than $3 billion—amazing success, born in the heart of Nicholls.
I won't be so bold as to predict that a business of such proportion will emerge from this scheme. But I can assure the House that, without opportunity—without the chance to have a go and the government supporting people who have a go—it definitely won't happen.
Many of the people who do take up this scheme will have more modest ambitions, at least initially. They'll want to create for themselves the opportunity to create business and to be financially independent.
Nichols is a great electorate, filled with examples of people who started with very little and forged a path in business. The furphy is not unfamiliar in this place, but you might not be as well acquainted with Australia's oldest continuously-operating family business, which now operates as J Furphy & Sons and Furphy Foundry. From time to time, maybe there are a few furphies told in this place! But let me tell you about the Furphies from Shepparton, after whom that expression, 'the furphy', was named. Both of those divisions—J Furphy & Sons and Furphy Foundry—are owned by fifth-generation descendants of the company founder, John Furphy. Furphy was 22 when he began his blacksmith and wheelwright business, servicing the needs of the small agricultural community of Kyneton and later moving to Shepparton.
John Furphy would invent, produce and market agricultural equipment, including the famous Furphy water cart, which led to the 'furphy' becoming part of our language, because that's where the World War I soldiers gathered to exchange gossip, around the water cooler, which was the Furphy tank. Or Mawson's, another family business that started in 1927 when Barney Mawson decided to invest in a 1.5-tonne, four-cylinder, petrol-powered Chevrolet truck. The truck replaced the wood drays delivering firewood to the Cohuna Butter Factory, and, over the years, the family business grew, carting produce to market, and firewood. After World War II, it expanded into construction, quarrying and roadmaking. Today Mawson's, through its construction and concrete and quarries divisions, is a major employer in Nicholls. It has played a significant role in building the infrastructure that supports our great industries.
Around 35 per cent of all heavy transport vehicles registered in Victoria are registered in the electorate of Nicholls. Many of those businesses have grown from the opportunity provided by agriculture and food processing. Many started with a single truck, often one of the cheap and plentiful army surplus supply vehicles made available after the Second World War. Many were migrant families who settled in the region and started growing fruit before recognising there was also a need to transport it. They have been over many decades early adopters of new technology and clever innovators.
The region continues to foster opportunities, including Cannatrak, which is establishing a state-of-the-art medicinal cannabis supply chain in Shepparton, which will dramatically decrease our reliance on imported products. The pandemic demonstrated the vulnerability of global supply chains and the need to bolster domestic capability, something the coalition government was very quick to recognise and act on. Where would Australia have been in those early months of the pandemic without Med-Con, a small entrepreneurial company based in Shepparton that was the nation's only surgical mask manufacturer at the time? Med-Con began in 1989 with machinery designed and developed locally with government support and was able to ramp up production to produce personal protective equipment for Australia, which we so desperately needed during the pandemic. Med-Con successfully created a niche market before the pandemic based on quality and reliability despite intense competition from cheaper imported masks. As the global demand skyrocketed, it quickly became the only reliable supplier.
As the member for Nicholls, I haven't forgotten—and I will never forget—the critical role Med-Con played in helping us with our mask supplies during the pandemic when we couldn't get supplies from overseas. But, unfortunately, many large customers, including the Victorian government, have again started sourcing from overseas. This is both disappointing and short-sighted. Business can be tough, and we're all familiar with the statistic that 20 per cent of start-ups fail in the first year and 60 per cent within three years, but that's not a reason not to try or a reason not to provide opportunity. That percentage would be better if we could partner with people who are having a crack on their own, look after them, and try to give them every chance to succeed. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Many who initially fail take those learnings and try again and ultimately succeed. Often all it takes is a good idea and determination.
I am really pleased to support this legislation and the opportunity it gives Australians to create secure work for themselves and financial independence by starting their own business.
I rise to speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores, the threat to businesses across Australia and in my seat of Durack were seen as potentially devastating. From the small businesses on the main streets in Broome and Geraldton to the smaller strips throughout the Wheatbelt, together with the large mining giants of the Pilbara, it seemed that no one was safe.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the coalition's strong economic management had supported the creation of over 1.5 million jobs, and, as my friend and colleague the member for Barker reminded us in this place earlier, perhaps it was more like 1.8 million. We saw that the economy was growing. Australia had record labour force participation and in March 2022 unemployment was 5.2 per cent.
We were determined when first elected to government in 2013 to put in place the strong economic policies and labour market programs that would allow our economy to bounce back and, most importantly. support Australians into work. We have to remind ourselves sometimes of exactly what the coalition inherited when we first came into government in 2013. When Labor left office, the youth unemployment rate was 12.7 per cent. In January 2022, the youth unemployment rate was at nine per cent, some 2.6 points lower than pre-COVID levels. Before the pandemic, welfare dependency had fallen to its lowest level in 30 years, from 16.5 per cent under Labor to 13.5 per cent in June 2019 under the coalition government. We reduced the tax rate for small businesses from 30 per cent to 25 per cent, the lowest rate in 50 years. But potentially our most significant achievement in government was balancing the budget in 2018-19 for the first time in 11 years. This was significant, considering the debt we had inherited from those opposite.
The coalition's long-term plan for jobs and growth meant that we entered the pandemic from a position of economic strength, and this is something that we should be incredibly proud of. The alternative had Labor been in power and able to continue with their economically damaging policies, as we saw during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era, may have left Australia in an incredibly vulnerable position. When we left office in May 2022, the unemployment rate was at 3.9 per cent, an almost 50-year low. The Albanese government also has us to thank for the current unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent, a rate that I sincerely hope that we are able to maintain. But this did not happen by accident. Getting people off welfare and into work was a priority of the coalition whilst we were in government. After all, as we have said many times, the best form of welfare is a job. It is not just a saying; it's true. It has also been a core value of mine that the best way to support my vulnerable constituents throughout my electorate of Durack is to create opportunities for independence and self-reliance. It is not always easy to lift yourself out of difficult circumstances, and this is where government can make a tangible difference by providing a helping hand.
The coalition government transformed the way that employment services are being delivered, with the introduction of Workforce Australia. Earlier this year Workforce Australia brought together all of the relevant departments under one single identity, replacing jobactive and the current employment services network. This new model is now in place and is providing more personalised services to better target jobseeker needs, invest in those jobseekers who need it and make greater use of digital technology. We spent a number of years working with jobseekers, providers, peak bodies and employers on developing a model that works for all and supports a pathway for Australians to get off welfare and get into a job. The new model seeks to build on the success of jobactive and give jobseekers the best opportunity to find employment through a tailor-made approach. This bill is a result of that change and will ensure the intentions of making Workforce Australia a one-stop shop for Australians and Australian businesses to find work, retain work and find access to other government initiatives in employment and skills.
Due to the introduction of Workforce Australia, which came into effect on 4 July, this bill effects changes in the name of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, or NEIS, program, ensuring that payments made under it are treated in the same way as for other NEIS payments. The main amendments in the bill will make sure that the family, social security and veterans entitlements laws operate in the same way in relation to self-employment assistance payments as for other NEIS payments because of the name change. Since it commenced in 1985, NEIS has helped almost 200,000 people start their own businesses and move off income support by creating their own jobs. Importantly, many of these people have then gone on to create employment opportunities for additional people. What a remarkable achievement that must be!
The Self-Employment Assistance program commenced on 1 July 2022 to replace NEIS assistance throughout Australia. Self-Employment Assistance program and NEIS participants can now receive a fortnightly payment of $642.70 for 39 weeks and, if eligible, rent assistance for up to 26 weeks. Workforce Australia was the biggest reform to employment services since the Howard government's reforms in the 1990s. It shows our commitment to help Australians into work and modernises one of the biggest expenditure areas of government. It was reform like this that allowed the coalition government to leave behind a strong legacy that the Albanese government, quite frankly, are very lucky to have inherited. I'm very proud to stand on that record and continue to work where I can on improving employment opportunities for constituents in my electorate of Durack and for Australians more broadly. I commend the bill to the House.
I want to reflect on the contribution of the member for Monash and the member for Barker's comment. The member for Monash came here in 1990, and the member for Barker started high school at that time. In 1990, I was an 11-year-old child working onsite for my father as a concreter—something I wouldn't recommend to other children out there! But, in rising to speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022, I think back to that time, and it really highlights why this is something that is very important to me.
Although I can assure you that I didn't really appreciate having to work with my father every weekend or every holiday—it was simply the expectation of a small business that I'd be there pushing a wheelbarrow, helping along—I look back at it, and I realise just how lucky I was to get that take-off ramp into employment from an early age. I was lucky to understand at a very, very early age—before I could possibly articulate it—the value that I could bring to others and to a community by being involved in the workforce. There were probably even values that I was building in myself.
I was doing nothing more than pushing a wheelbarrow half filled with concrete—if that—alongside my father, trying to prove that I was a big and strong concreter like him and the rest of the gentlemen there. But what I was really doing was getting an understanding of reward for effort at an early age. I don't know what I was first paid. In fact, I don't think I was paid early on, and I'm probably getting my father into trouble in some sort of IR form here, but that was how we worked. We got on, and, as time went by, I was able to maintain a wage. I'm paying small tribute here to my father, but that ability to understand that at such an early age was vital to everything that's followed for me. I know that, if I spoke to many others in this place or in the good electorate of Groom, there would be other people who had that benefit.
As grateful as I am for that, my father was also an employer of many other people, and I remember working side by side with a gentleman by the name of Dean Bachelor. He was a country lad who came up from Warialda looking for a job. He was 18, and my father decided to teach him how to be a concreter. Back then there was pretty good money to be made in concreting, and I understand there's pretty good money to be made now. It wasn't a bad job. Dean was able to learn the skills of the trade not just to be able to be a labourer but to be able to finish jobs. He progressed and he came up. He went from being a guy who had a lot of energy and enthusiasm to being someone who had skills and the ability to earn money and to keep a family, and he went on, actually, to take that. After working for my father, he worked in excavator equipment hire and became quite a good truck driver. I'll be down later on this year to see him at the Lights on the Hill monument, in your very electorate. I recall the values that first job provided him. It's so important to focus on them.
The third anecdote I'd add to this trilogy is how important, how crucial, work can be to someone. I was at the Oakey mine, the New Acland Coal Mine, recently talking to a dear old friend, Dave O'Dwyer, the general manager out there. He reminds me how different life was when we both graduated as mining engineers. There were no jobs for mining engineers at the time. The cycle was in its nadir. It was fantastic to watch him get the opportunity to become a general manager—not through direct employment. He became a truck driver. That was the job available to him. By taking that job, it gave him a world of experience he wouldn't have had otherwise. It broadened his capabilities and was a key stepping stone on his path to assuming the role that he has.
In all these ways, this bill speaks very much to the heart of these coalition values that we hold so dear, that the best form of welfare is a job. The best thing we can do for someone is to teach them how to fish and to give them the understanding of their value as a person. I think that's an important point to make. When we talk about employment, we talk about what we're able to achieve by helping people into employment. We're not talking about businesses or employment figures; we're talking about the impact on people, on their lives, their families.
I would reflect that this is not just an Australian trait. I had the pleasure of sitting with quite a few leaders of the local Syrian community who've chosen to make Toowoomba their home. What astounds me is that the first thing they want to tell me, when they come in, is how many of them are employed. It's a joy. You see the pride on their faces, talking about how their community has come in, got jobs in Australia, and they're committing. They want to be part of this great opportunity that's before them. Whether it's young children coming in or Syrians having to change their jobs to fit the opportunities here in Australia, they're so proud of this opportunity to build their lives, to become strong, contributing members of society.
A job is what gives a person dignity, a sense of purpose, a way of providing for themselves and their family. I think it's a value for us, to have some humility in that and understanding that, when we talk about people who need this little bit of help that these programs provide, we're talking about people who are but a hair's-breadth away from us, in many cases. I gave the example of how fortunate I was to have that early job. But that opportunity isn't for everybody. I acknowledge that, and I think we should all have a sense of humility. I think it's important that we provide that assistance to help people come into employment, to reap the benefits of it.
It's quite right that we have programs like this that are built upon so much work from both sides of the House. Previous governments of either persuasion have seen fit to pour energy, effort and thought into this. What we're trying to do here is to continue this, because it is so vitally important. It is probably the issue on the lips of most Australians at the moment. Addressing costs of living is clearly there, but it's also about how we provide enough workers for our workforce to see through these challenging times in front of us.
I was recently at the Cambooya pub, the Bull and Barley, talking to staff there about how difficult it was to get someone to run the pizza ovens. It seems like that would be such an easy thing to fill, and it simply isn't. Just finding people to come out and do that work is incredibly difficult right now. That extends everywhere. I think the member for Barker made the point on immigration. We often talk about skilled immigration. Seen in a broader context, there are entry levels, ramps, into employment at every level at the moment. We need to see that provided, and I'm encouraged by the government's statements on this that this is an area where we can provide some relief.
The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme is helping people go beyond just securing employment, supporting them to move off income support by creating their own jobs. What we're seeing is the opportunity here to provide the market with more options. Of course, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution for people who are looking to come out of unemployment, be it short term or long term. It's fantastic to think that the ability to start a job creates the ability then to employ others—to give others the opportunity and the benefit of employment.
I want to speak to why this is so important to me. I've seen the impacts of long-term unemployment. I was in the UK during the GFC, and I watched the impacts that played out across a number of sectors. Entire industries floundered and fell apart. People who had every reason to expect long-term employment had it taken away from them by factors completely beyond their control. I know we saw that in Australia; I'd argue there was a stronger impact in the UK. The comparison I would make is to anyone who's had the unfortunate experience of having to do mass lay-offs on a mine site and seen very good workers being told there's no longer a job for them. It's very, very difficult. I think back on my own workforces and the impact on mental health and physical health that follows periods of long-term unemployment. It's very, very important for us to address that and make sure that we're doing everything we can to help people out of that.
It would be appropriate to give some praise to a group in my electorate, Base Services, a wonderful initiative run by Nat and Tiff Spary. The entire focus of Base Services is helping people who may have had some challenging backgrounds—who may have had a lack of educational opportunities, who in some cases have come out of prison and in some cases have had drug abuse issues—and giving them a pathway back into employment. I've been absolutely blessed in my time as the member for Groom to be provided the opportunity to sit and speak with these groups as they go through their training. Just the other night, I was at the graduation ceremony for their hospitality cert I students. It's a starting point for these guys to come into employment. What Base Services does is absolutely fantastic. It doesn't just give them training; it gets them on the job and gets them into employment immediately, so they come out the other side with a diverse range of skills. Of the 15 people who went into the program at the start of this year, 14 have graduated. At the graduation ceremony the other night, 12 of those already had jobs. It's a great example of how investing in people works.
Even better, at the graduation ceremony I had the opportunity to talk with a young man—I won't mention his name—who had entered the program having come out of prison previously. He talked about what employment meant to him—how it had changed his life. One of the things he'd been worried about was that, coming into employment, he'd have to leave Toowoomba, where his former associates were, to start a new life. But what he found was that with employment he was surrounding himself with like-minded people. He was giving himself the opportunity to very much take control of his own life. It was absolutely fantastic to hear him talk about how he'd been able to find accommodation, how he'd been able to set himself up with a car and how, through employment, he'd been able to provide further educational opportunities for himself.
I think this is why we on this side of the House hold these truths to be so important. What we're talking about is what our American cousins would label the pursuit of happiness—the ability for people to find value in themselves, to build value in themselves and to seek reward for effort from that. I'll draw my contribution to a close at that point.
For the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022, as I said when I introduced it, the programs have already had their names changed from New Enterprise Incentive Scheme to the Self-Employment Assistance program. That hadn't been corrected in a number of bills, and this legislation will correct that in those other bills. I commend it to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.