Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:28 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Assistant Minister for Social Services (Senator Fifield) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to the ‘earn or learn’ policy.

Senator Fifield gave a response to my question about whether 'earn or learn' is dead, buried and cremated'. It would be no surprise to many people that the government is planning to continue with its cruel, harsh, 'earn or learn' policy, which condemns anybody under 30-years-old to going six months without any form of income support. Could you think of any policy better designed to make it even harder for young people to find work? I cannot. To condemn people to live on nothing will not help people find work; in fact it makes it even harder for people to find work. It means that people cannot afford even the basic costs of living. They cannot even afford to meet the requirements to buy proper clothes in which to attend interviews, let alone be able to put a roof over their heads.

We know that if young people are kicked off income support for six months they will not be able to maintain their rent and they will not be able to maintain accommodation, making it even harder for them to find work. Bearing in mind the ill-considered policy of making people try to apply for 40 jobs a month that has been kicked out—unfortunately, they are still not sensible enough to realise just how bad the so-called 'earn or learn' policy is. When is this government going to realise that this will make it even harder for young people to find work? It is cruel and it is harsh.

Minister Morrison is apparently clueless about what to do instead of kicking young people off income support for six months. He said: 'Please, put something on the table'. He obviously is not listening to a whole range of community organisations, people who have been working to support young unemployed people into work. They have certainly been talking to my office and to me, and I am sure they have been trying to talk to the government. They have presented evidence to a couple of Senate inquiries about could be done. But the government is apparently not listening.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence, for example, have done extensive work with young people, helping them into work. I know they have documented this for government and for all of us, so that we can see the evidence. Some of the key things is establishing contact between young people and employers; mentoring them in the workplace; providing individualised supports that actually meet the specific young person's needs, not just a one-size-fits-all approach; case management with individualised support; not training for training's sake, but providing appropriate training that actually supports people into work. We need to make sure that young people have actually got housing, that they are able to access the basics. These are really important steps when you are helping people into work. In other words, kicking them off income support is one of the worst things you can do, because they need to be able to access the basics. We need to make sure that people are able to stay in school and that they are supported to stay in school. They need support to transition from school into further training or into things like apprenticeships and the workplace.

We need to deal with the issues around inequality because that is one of the things that the Senate income inequality committee inquiry found; we need to be addressing inequality because inequality also adds to people's inability to gain access to work.

Minister Morrison, there are plenty of ideas around if you only open your eyes and look at them. I could not believe it when I heard him say: 'If you have an alternative, come to us and put it to us and we might think about kicking young people off income support for six months'. Of course the department is still working on this. We heard that at estimates. And, yes, they might be working on some alternatives, but let's stop them wasting their time working on a cruel, harsh, mean policy. It is another one of your massive great big barnacles that needs to be cleaned off and dropped. It is cruel, it is inappropriate and it will not work. Drop it. Kill it.

Question agreed to.