Second Reading - Employment Participation
I rise to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. I note the member for Scullin's arguments. The coalition does have a plan, and this bill is part of it. The coalition is committed to helping Australians to find and retain a job. We do not underestimate the size of the challenge, particularly in places with historically high levels of intergenerational unemployment, like those in my electorate of Hinkler. This government is committed to ensuring that any Australian who is capable of working can get a job. We are helping job seekers into work by introducing a Seniors Employment Incentive Payment. This is important in areas that have an older-than-average population, such as Wide Bay-Burnett. A business will receive a payment of up to $3,250 if they hire a job seeker over the age of 50 who has been unemployed for at least six months and is receiving income support. This bill also introduces the job commitment bonus to encourage long-term unemployed young Australians to find a job and remain off welfare. The payment will be available to people aged 18 to 30 who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. They will receive $2,500 when they remain off unemployment for 12 months and a further $4,000 when they have held down a job for two years.
Employment gives people the ability to pay their own way and to provide for their own families. The people of this great nation should be able to depend on their elected representatives for assistance when they need it, but that does not mean that we should be building a nation of dependants.
The coalition has a proven track record of growing the economy, reducing debt and getting people into work and off unemployment benefits. The former Australian Treasurer Peter Costello delivered 10 budget surpluses, cleared all debt, cut taxes and put $60 billion in the Future Fund. In the final year of the Howard government the local unemployment rate was just six per cent in my electorate of Hinkler. Under the Rudd and Gillard governments the unemployment rate increased to 9.6 per cent. That is the fourth highest unemployment rate by electorate in the country.
The coalition made it clear prior to September 7 last year that if elected we would revitalise the Howard government's Work for the Dole program. Under the Howard government, on average, one in three people who participated in Work for the Dole got a job. The Labor government altered the scheme. Under Labor's scheme, Work for the Dole was not compulsory. After 12 months on the dole job seekers aged between 18 and 49 are instead asked to undertake work experience activities for six months in every year. The coalition is moving to re-establish an effective scheme that will benefit all stakeholders.
Hardworking constituents often complain to me that under the current system people receiving unemployment benefits are not required to give anything back to the community. Australians who are able to work must be encouraged to work for a living. We are fortunate to live in a country where the government provides a safety net to those who find themselves without employment. People living in other countries are not quite so lucky. Requiring Australians to work for the dole will ensure the obligation is mutual.
Work for the dole programs create opportunities by giving people soft skills like routine, structure, presentation skills and, most importantly, access to potential employers. Unfortunately, in many cases of intergenerational welfare parents have not taught these skills to their children. Punctuality, teamwork and commitment are things a person typically learns at a young age.
The coalition is determined to prevent young people from sliding into long-term welfare dependency by rewarding positive pro-work behaviours. The employers that I have spoken to say they are more than willing to train young people, but they need the basics before they start work. They struggle to find people who dress appropriately, arrive on time and have the right attitude, because enthusiasm trumps experience every time. As I indicated in my maiden speech, I intend to do everything I can to create the hope, opportunity and reward that the young people of my electorate deserve. We know the effects of long-term unemployment on individuals, families and communities can be extremely damaging. Unemployment and financial hardship are often contributing factors in cases of domestic violence, marital breakdown, drug and alcohol abuse, poor nutrition, health problems and declining school attendance. And as we see regularly in my electorate, boredom leads to vandalism, and that leads to general nuisance behaviour. Unemployment affects every sector of our community, including schools and councils, and ties up our valuable emergency resources.
I recently joined state MPs Ted Sorensen and Anne Maddern to meet a local organisation that works to address youth homelessness. They are funded to help 16 people per year in their shelter but actually assist about 50. Anecdotally, they say there has been an increase in youth homelessness in our region, and they attribute that increase in part to a decline in the soft skills I mentioned earlier. While any number of issues contribute to homelessness, they say fewer parents in the region are teaching their children the domestic skills needed to care for themselves as young adults. Fortunately, there are many hardworking organisations trying to address this issue so that the same problem will not beset future generations. My electorate office is regularly contacted by people complaining that Centrelink has failed them—and in some cases, on further investigation, my staff discover the constituent has exhausted their advance payments or their loans from Centrelink, or they have failed to attend a meeting with their job service provider, or have failed to provide the necessary forms. Or, quite frankly—they just do not want to work.
Unfortunately there are many people with a sense of entitlement who ruin the reputation of those who genuinely need support. And for those who want to work, being unemployed for an extended period can erode their skills, confidence and sense of purpose and pride, which can lead to a cycle that makes it even harder to find work. I recognise that one of the major barriers to finding employment in the Hinkler electorate is the number of job vacancies. We on this side of the House understand that governments do not create jobs—businesses do. That is why we are working to attract investment to the region and to give local businesses the confidence they need to employ staff.
Our policies—such as cutting red tape and repealing the carbon tax—will save businesses time and money. The Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, and the Minerals Council of Australia recently took the unprecedented step of releasing a joint statement. The
Australia's carbon tax is one of the highest in the world. It is making our key industries less competitive every day it stays in place.
Most businesses have been unable to pass their carbon tax-related costs on to the customer. For small business especially, this has been a major burden that has reduced profitability, supressed employment and added to already difficult conditions.
Acting now to repeal the carbon tax would boost business confidence and should be part of a broader national push to reduce higher energy costs.
Delaying the repeal until the new Senate sits would not achieve anything for the environment. It would simply expose business to increasing and damaging uncertainty over the electricity prices they will be obliged to pay from 1 July 2014.
They go on to urge the Senate to repeal the carbon tax as soon as possible, and you would think the Leader of the Opposition, after Labor's significant defeat at the September 2013 election, would urge his Labor colleagues to respect the will of the Australian people. But I guess that is too much to expect from a party that in a period of just three years gave us two prime ministers, two treasurers, five assistant treasurers and six ministers for small business.
Repealing the carbon tax is a request made by businesses of all shapes and sizes across Australia. But that is not all we are doing to help business. Later this week, the first regulation repeal day will be held in parliament. We will begin slashing unnecessary red and green tape to save businesses time and money. And, of particular interest to my electorate, we are providing $6.5 million for 25 research projects to ensure the continued sustainability of Australian fisheries, including expanding the Status of key Australian fish stocks report to include more species. We have suspended Labor's flawed marine management plan, and we have created a new plan based on science and consultation with our stakeholders. Last month we announced $4.75 million for Hervey Bay roads. We have also announced funding to finish flood repairs at the Port of Bundaberg to help the sugar industry, because the coalition understands that the delivery of well-planned infrastructure in a timely manner is vital to helping businesses get their product to market. It also facilitates service delivery to regional Australia and provides long-term employment and opportunities for training and development. So, together, over the next 10 years, the Abbott and Newman governments will spend $6.7 billion upgrading the ailing Bruce Highway.
I also look forward to delivering on our commitment to establish a national stronger regions fund. Councils and community groups will be able to apply for grants for capital works that will regenerate the community in areas with high unemployment, like my electorate of Hinkler. But as a former business owner, I understand that infrastructure is not the only hurdle regional businesses have to overcome. Here in Australia regulation is high, input costs are high, labour costs are high and the Australian dollar is high, which of course makes profits low. All of this makes it difficult to expand. Our policies are giving businesses the confidence they need to employ staff. Earlier this year, Assistant Minister for Employment, Luke Hartsuyker, and I met with Impact, a local Job Services Australia provider. During the visit Impact advised us that the majority of their clients have a number of barriers to overcome before they can gain employment. Many are suffering from mental illness, relationship and family breakdown, lack of the soft skills, social isolation, poor communication and low self-esteem.
Bundaberg's labour market comprises a high proportion of small- to medium-sized businesses, with few large employers. And unfortunately small businesses are not typically in a position to invest the time in training people without those soft skills. Job seekers who do not swim when they are thrown in the deep end are promptly returned to the unemployment queue. To combat this problem, Impact has established five social enterprises to provide entry-level employment opportunities. These include a jam-making business that operates from Apple Tree Creek in Bundaberg; a car detailing business; a fishing lure manufacturer; professional cleaning and home maintenance; and a drive-through laundry. Entry-level employees are mentored and supported for six months so they can gain the necessary skills before transitioning to the open labour market. These enterprises have also provided Impact with another income stream, surplus to that provided by the government funding.
While we were at Impact I met a young job seeker who was highly motivated but financially and socially disadvantaged. Talking to him, I discovered he had an arrangement with the Impact board member—Bundaberg Regional Council Deputy Mayor, David Batt. Councillor Batt promised to buy him a tie when he was successful in his endeavours, and, given the job seeker's enthusiasm, I pulled the blue striped tie I was wearing from my neck and donated it to the cause. Unfortunately it was only the second time I had worn the tie, but he was very appreciative, and I have every confidence he will put it to good use.
We are currently reviewing every aspect of Job Services Australia—a review of the system to strike the right balance in flexible service delivery with an aim to implement a streamlined, more effective system from 2015. The key goal of the Job Services system is to get more people into work, and there are organisations like IMPACT that are making this goal a reality. Mr Hartsuyker and I also met with members of various local chamber of commerce groups to discuss the coalition's plan to deliver a stronger economy with more jobs. Unemployment is the single biggest issue in my region, and I am thankful that the minister could take the time to hear from locals and to outline how the government is working to get more people into work. This bill starts that process, and I commend it to the House.