Monday, 7 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question this afternoon is to the Minister for Youth and Sport, Senator Colbeck. A report out today from the Brotherhood of St Laurence states that youth unemployment was 'already stubbornly high before COVID'. Can the minister confirm the report's finding that one in three young Australians are unable to find any work or don't have enough hours of work to make ends meet?
Thanks, Senator, for the question. As I said in the chamber here last week, the youth unemployment rate, at 15.6 per cent, is too high. That's why this government has invested so much, which we have been criticised for by the opposition, in measures to support younger Australians to get back to work. In fact, the opposition has actually voted against some of those measures in this place. We recognised that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on younger Australians was going to be significant. That's why, as we worked our way through the COVID pandemic and in the budget that we released just a few weeks ago, we had such a significant effort focused towards getting younger Australians back to work. We invested $4 billion in the JobMaker hiring credit. We invested a significant amount of money to provide a 50 per cent wage subsidy for apprentices who were starting a new apprenticeship in businesses or recommencing. We want to keep younger Australians connected with their employers, and we want to provide incentives for employers to employ younger Australians, because we know the longer term effects of unemployment for younger Australians have a significant impact on their financial capacity over a period of time—
An honourable senator interjecting—
I'll take the interjection. That's exactly how I started my answer: the unemployment rate, at 15.6 per cent, is too high. I have acknowledged that. We've just been through a global pandemic, which is having a disproportionate impact on younger Australians. That's why this government has invested so heavily in measures to assist young Australians—
The measures that we've put in place to assist younger Australians back into work are not just about one single measure. We have invested in a number of measures to assist employers to take on younger Australians. We were criticised by those on the other side for focusing too much on younger Australians in our budget only a few weeks ago. They forget what they were saying just a few weeks ago, when they were criticising our budget for being so heavily focused on younger Australians and on assisting younger Australians to get back into work, with all of the programs that we put into place. We make no apology for focusing on younger Australians getting back to work. We recognise, as I said just a moment ago, that the impact on younger Australians who don't have work when they're young is over a longer period of time and more significant. We will do everything that we can to assist employers to get younger people back into work.
With the many measures that we've put in place to support younger Australians to get back into work, the unemployment rate will continue to improve. In fact, in some states it has improved over the recent period. In my home state of Tasmania, for example, the youth unemployment rate actually reduced over the last reporting period—
The point of order is on relevance. The minister is providing an answer about unemployment. The question was actually about underemployment. It asked specifically: 'How many young Australians are underemployed?' I ask you to direct the minister to be relevant to the question.
This is where the test of direct relevance, in my view, needs to be much more strictly applied than the test of relevance. It was a specific question that asked for a number, without any of what I'd call loaded or pejorative phrases. So, to be directly relevant, in my view the minister needs to address the issue of what was raised in the question, because it was specific and factual in nature.
Thank you, Mr President. As I said, the measures that we put in place in the budget are designed to increase employment among younger Australians, to get younger Australians back to work and to specifically encourage employers to employ younger Australians, and we will continue to focus on that area, because we understand what an important part of the economy—
Thank you. I acknowledge your ruling and I realise the minister only has 14 seconds left, so we would appreciate if he could answer the question: how many young Australians are underemployed?
On this particular issue, Senator Colbeck, I am going to ask that you come to the question, which was factual in nature, because there has been a period of time to comment more broadly, and there was no political content to the question. Senator Colbeck—or have you concluded your answer?
No. Thank you, Mr President. As I've said a number of times today, the number of people who are unemployed—and I'll add to that the number of young people who are underemployed—is too large. That is why we're investing so significantly—
Thank you. I acknowledge your previous rulings about the relationship between unemployment and underemployment, but the minister is again talking about unemployment. The question is, as you have pointed out, quite specific: how many young Australians are underemployed? We ask the minister in the last five seconds to answer the question.
Order! The minister did mention—
Honourable senators interjecting—
I'll answer the point of order when there's silence. It's only Monday, everyone. Now, on the point of order, Senator Keneally, the minister did mention underemployment then, as you got to your feet. I did hear him talk about both. However, I have not had to ask a minister to stop answering a question. But, when I have a specific question that says, 'How many are?' and, 'When will it return?' that is factual in nature, without any political loading or phrasing in the question, that requires an answer to be directly relevant. A directly relevant answer is not a broad commentary on the topic. So I'm going to remind ministers of that, because I've always said that if questions are specific in nature, without political phrasing, then 'directly relevant' is a very strict test. Where questions actually include arguable phrases and loaded terminology, ministers are allowed to respond in kind, but this was a very specific question about 'how many' and 'when shall it return', without loading; I'm happy to be corrected if the Hansard shows me otherwise. So I ask the minister to be very specific. Ministers always have the ability to take it on notice. We have five seconds remaining.
Order! Firstly, I'm going to take the point of order. But, Senator Keneally, he was talking about the timing of when the rate would return. That was directly relevant. That was actually the phrasing of the second part of the question. I cannot instruct a minister how to answer a question. Senator Keneally?
Your observation that the minister could take it on notice. Given that the minister has not advised the chamber of the number, I would ask that he take it on notice.