Second Reading – Job Seeker Compliance Bill

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (11:16): I rise to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Further Strengthening Job Seeker Compliance) Bill 2015. This bill ensures that Australians who are looking for work and receiving financial assistance meet their mutual obligations to taxpayers. It is not unreasonable for taxpayers to expect that those they are assisting financially will do a few simple things to help themselves and to show their appreciation.

I know that many people in my electorate are doing it tough, but my belief is that you can achieve anything if you are willing to work for it, and work hard. From my personal experience, money was incredibly tight in my family as I grew up. Anything I wanted above the essentials, I had to pay for myself. There is only one way to find money to pay for essentials and other things, and that is to go to work. Both my parents worked incredibly hard, and they taught me that persistence and determination will always beat natural talent, because regardless of natural talent, if you do not turn your hand to what needs to be done, you will not be successful.

I note the contribution of my good friend and colleague the member for Mallee. He spoke about what happens when you stand around with your hands in your pockets. In my family, if you stood around with your hands in your pockets, you got a job. Consequently, my mother used to put me and my brothers outside to work. I think—and I did not realise this until much later in life—that may well have been to get us out of the way. However, it was a good upbringing and it certainly taught us a good work ethic.

At the age of 14 I got my first paid job. Work has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Basically, being without work meant no food—it was all fairly straightforward. My first paid job was filling bags with ice on a Thursday night for $4.00 an hour or 10c a bag, whichever was less. Consequently, I learnt very quickly what it is that you should be doing when you go to work. I might not have been the best at everything I did, but I was reliable and I kept turning up. To the people in my electorate and to the youth that might be listening to this speech, my advice to you is this: keep showing up, listen, work hard and take advice, certainly do not let things get you down, and be determined.

After graduating from public high school at Kepnock State High, I got my first full-time job as an electrical apprentice at the Fairymead Sugar Mill, which unfortunately is now defunct and has been demolished. I saved enough money from that job to move to Brisbane and go to university. I put myself through a four-year degree in engineering at QUT. So it has been a very long and tortuous path to come to this place. Before being elected to represent the great electorate of Hinkler—from Bundy to the Bay and the Bush—I ran my own consulting business, a retail arm and a few other bits and pieces, as well as acquiring some farming operations consecutively, which certainly taught me the value of hard work and, of course, how to pay people’s wages.

I would say to the people in my electorate this: if a Woongarra farm boy like me can get into this place, into the cold rooms in Canberra, then anyone in my electorate can achieve anything if they are willing to do the work. Once again, my advice to them is this: take what job is in front of you, because if you wait for perfect you will wait forever. However, I recognise there are currently several challenges to gaining employment in the Hinkler region, including a lack of job vacancies. Unemployment in my electorate is unacceptably high.

The coalition government has introduced a range of measures to support job seekers and encourage businesses to employ. I will come back to that. Firstly I would like to speak a little more specifically about the measures in this bill. This bill builds on the measures we introduced last year to apply a no-show no-pay rule to attendance at appointments and the payment of welfare. Before we introduced the changes, only 65 per cent of job seekers who missed an initial appointment actually turned up for their second rescheduled appointment. By comparison, in June 2015 over 90 per cent of job seekers are now attending their rescheduled appointments. Between September 2014 and March 2015, the average payment suspension period fell from 5.2 to 3.1 business days. That is quite an achievement. It means more job seekers are doing the right thing and taking advantage of the help that is on offer, which is substantial. It also saves jobactive organisations and other agencies time and money. They can spend more time helping people find work and less time pursuing job seekers and reporting noncompliance. The no-pay rule will be extended to other mutual obligation requirements, such as entering into a job plan. Job plans list the activities that a job seeker must do in return for their income support, such as looking for work and participating in activities like Work for the Dole.

I make the point that job plans take into account personal circumstances, which may impact a person’s ability to comply with the requirements. Unfortunately, some job seekers are refusing to enter into job plans—can you believe that? They are, in effect, saying, ‘I would like the taxpayer’s money, but do not expect anything from me in return.’ I would like to see them try that with an employer.

I would like to talk briefly about one of my former employers at the Moreton mill, a chief engineer by the name of Graham ‘Sharky’ Williams. Graham was an incredible personnel manager who held a lot of respect from everybody that worked there. Every time we hired an apprentice, he opened with the same line: after he introduced himself, he would ask the apprentice if they knew what size shoe he wore. At that stage the poor apprentice, on their first day of work, was nervous and did not know quite what to say, and the boss told him it was a size 10 and if they played up they would find out what he would do with it. It is all figurative, but he got the best out of the people who worked at the plant simply because he encouraged them to persist and to keep showing up.

Under this bill, payment will be suspended until the job seeker accepts the job plan. There are safeguards in the system so that those with a reasonable and genuine excuse for noncompliance will not be penalised. Unfortunately, some job seekers are treating their meetings with jobactive and Work for the Dole with contempt by not behaving appropriately. If a job seeker does not behave appropriately at an appointment, payment may be suspended until the job seeker attends a new appointment and does behave appropriately. In the past, it has taken up to five weeks for a financial penalty to be applied. This is too long, and makes the penalty less effective. Under this bill, those who do the wrong thing will have their penalties deducted from their next fortnightly payment. Job seekers who do not undertake adequate job search efforts without good reason will have their payments immediately suspended until they demonstrate adequate job search efforts.

Australia’s income support system is there as a safety net for those people who genuinely cannot find work—we have one of the best social security systems in the world—as opposed to supporting those who simply do not want to go to work. That is why we have introduced measures to ensure job seekers accept the offer of a suitable job when it is made—not jobs that are beyond their skill set but jobs they are capable of doing. An eight-week nonpayment penalty can now be applied to job seekers who refuse work without good reason or fail to start a job as planned. I have had many jobs that I did not like every part of. In fact, I do not recall ever holding a job where I liked everything 100 per cent. But that is the reality of working life. All of these changes are important in helping maintain public confidence and trust in our social security system.

Earlier I mentioned that we had introduced a range of measures to support job seekers and make them stand out in what is a highly competitive jobs market. Through Work for the Dole, the National Work Experience Program and the Green Army, job seekers are learning important skills while contributing to their communities. Young people can also gain new skills through the reinstated Australian Defence Force gap year. The 2015 budget included $330 million for a youth employment strategy to help young people transition from school to work. Young job seekers who find a job and stay off welfare for 12 months will receive a job commitment bonus of $2,500, and a further $4,000 at 24 months. These are substantial incentives. We are providing concessional trade support loans of up to $20,000 and spending $200 million each year to lift apprenticeship completion rates. We are also providing up to $9,000 to help people relocate to take up a job.

Giving genuine job seekers the hand up they deserve is just one piece of the puzzle. We are also taking steps to give businesses the confidence they need to expand, because ultimately it is businesses that create jobs and employ. Businesses that employ young or mature age job seekers can access wage subsidies of up to $10,000. We have reduced the company tax rate to its lowest level in 50 years and are allowing small businesses to claim an immediate tax deduction for each asset they purchase up to $20,000. There are a range of grants to assist businesses to innovate, conduct industry research and expand into new export markets. Off the back of the free trade agreements we have signed, I am sure businesses will be successful. There is the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme for job seekers who have an idea for a new business but need some advice to get it off the ground. As you can see, the coalition government is doing everything it can to ensure our social security system is robust and fair, and to help people into work.

I will continue to work hard to attract the investment into Hinkler that we desperately need—things like the Knauf manufacturing plant, and our proposal for a dive wreck of Hervey Bay, with HMAS Tobruk, which could potentially add $5 million to our local economy. But I cannot do it alone. We all have a role to play in creating local jobs for current and future generations. There are two simple things people in my community can do to boost our local economy—they can shop locally and buy from our local businesses, and they can tell everyone just how good our region is. You should never talk down your local region—our regions are the best thing we have going for us. Going to work is not only good for the individual and their family. When the local employment rate is high, the entire community benefits. There is nothing more substantial for a person than to be able to find their own way through life and to pay their own way. I commend the bill to the House.

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