I need to start by congratulating Senator Ryan for that new Olympic event, which is speed legislation reading. Congratulations, Senator Ryan!
The bill before us is the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Increased Employment Participation) Bill 2014. As people know, this particular bill is focused quite clearly on young people and ensuring that people stay in work, have opportunities to take up work with the intention that retaining work is a good thing, and also have the opportunity to, if there is work available in an area where they are not currently living, get some support for them and their family to be able to move to that area. On that basis, the intent of this bill is really very valuable. We support fully the intent and we also support fully any action that is going to be implemented in our country to look at the worrisome issue of youth unemployment.
We all know that there are particular issues around youth unemployment, and the statistics over the years have continued to show that this is not limited to one particular geographic location. When we have a look at the stats, they show that young people-no matter whether they live in the capital cities or whether they live in the suburbs, regional Australia or remote Australia-are going to face special issues around actual job opportunities, skills opportunities and staying in work so that you can build up work experience and get career experience.
What brought a lot of focus onto this issue, even though it has been a topic of conversation for many years, was the very valuable work of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. They released a quite confronting document that showed, without doubt, that the issue of youth unemployment was something that every person in this nation should feel concern about and which we, as parliamentarians, no matter on which side of the parliament we sit, must acknowledge. We must also develop a strategic and co-operative way of working together to ensure that we do provide young people in particular with respect and also with the opportunities to find their own places in the workforce.
This is not a contest. I always worry when we focus on one group, one demographic, in our community because then, as I saw quite recently-I was very pleased to be able to attend an international conference on what was happening across our world on a whole range of issues. We talked at that conference specifically about the issues of young people and their opportunities for education and employment. But when we were in that discussion, what tended to happen was that other groups with needs felt that we were disrespecting their needs by focusing so clearly on areas of youth. So while I really think it is important that we do take forward measures to look at this particular group, we must always do that within a context of understanding that the value of work, the right to work, is there for all of us no matter what our age, our gender or our abilities. We need to be able to link that together.
I wanted to put that on record because sometimes we are so busy compartmentalising these issues that we forget that we need to be engaging and inclusive in the discussions. So the processes we have here can relate to all ages. This particular legislation is limited to young people, but it is important that we talk about the kinds of issues that we can implement solutions for to ensure that everybody has an effective option for work. I am not going to use this opportunity to speak to look at the areas around job creation; we can do that in many places.
The first thing you need if you are looking for work is a job, so we can put in all the effort we can around issues of training and skills development-and we do. We can introduce things like this legislation, which is an incentive payment for people who stay in work over a long period of time and for people who relocate. We can put all of that into our ideas box and work through effective processes of promotion around this, but if there is no work available, if you do not have jobs or job creation in the overall scheme, then this kind of work is useless. Within that context we must remember that we have to create jobs: attractive jobs and jobs that are able to include people from all backgrounds and give them an opportunity to get into worthwhile work. That worthwhile work must always ensure that we have effective wages and conditions. One thing we do not need in this nation is any kind of creation of a double level of employment processes so that we have special jobs that are not that well paid so that we can churn people through into that area of employment rather than looking at what this legislation is about, which is people being able to seek work and obtain work and keep their jobs.
As a party, we support the concept of this legislation. We see that it is really important that people understand that it is more than just attaining employment; the whole idea is that you retain employment. For every job opportunity there needs to be an expectation that that is going to be a long-term employment opportunity.
Too often, in the past-this goes back a long time; back to when I worked in the Commonwealth Public Service-there seemed to be a result focused basis for the program. So getting a job, in itself, finished the exercise. All our programs were focused around people obtaining work. As soon as the jobseeker found work the file was closed. There was no longer any kind of interaction between the jobseeker-the person who had now obtained a job-and the range of supports that were available for them. Way too often we were, in that context, seeing what we called the 'job churn'. People would get a job, work for a while and then, for whatever reason, the job would end.
People would be in and out of employment without establishing that security-the relationship with the workplace-so that they could see that work is valuable in itself and they could think about their own self development. People can look at completing a task but also at the development of a career. And that means that we have worthwhile work.
In this legislation the job commitment bonus is designed, I believe, to ensure that we do not have that churn and that we have opportunities for people to find work and then be rewarded not just by their employer-which would be the natural process-but by the system. The system has talked about the fact that we want people in work. The system itself provides a reward at the end of a 12-month period, if people have retained their employment, and then again at the end of a 24-month period.
I think the concept of having that interaction over the extended 24 months is a very positive aspect of this legislation. It is an incentive. The incentive gives the person who is in the workplace the sense that they have achieved. I would imagine that the expectation and the hope of the people who have drawn this policy together is that if you have retained work for a period of 24 months you have then established a work pattern in your own life. You will have established that part of your life involves regular work. You will accept the rules and responsibilities of attendance and working with a team-all those elements that sometimes we think people just know naturally. But knowing how to operate within a workplace is not an innate skill. You need to achieve that through effective skills, by working within a team and by seeing effective role models who have already been in that situation. So work becomes a natural expectation of your life.
The retention bonus is something that we support strongly. I have no idea where the figures came from. Certainly I have not found, from what I have read in the background to the legislation, where the figures of $2,500 and $4,000 have come from. I do not know whether there is any particular link to that. They are reasonable amounts of money, particularly as they are tax fee-which is an advantage, I would imagine! I am not sure whether there has been any particular modelling around those amounts of money. But I do think that a young person would find that that was something that was valuable. They would be able to see that the bonus is a worthwhile reward. We certainly respect that.
The relocation assistance is something that various governments over many years have talked about. We know that work is not available at an equal rate across the whole of the nation. I cannot say that that goes without saying, because I have already just said it! But in terms of the process, across the nation different enterprises start in different ways. There need to be some supports for people to make the very strong decision to move, because it is a big decision to change your life completely and make a move. I note that the relocation assistance varies depending on whether you are going between capital cities or between metropolitan areas and regional areas. That is perfectly reasonable.
Again, I do not know where the figures come from or the background to those amounts. Perhaps, if there is a rationale behind the figures in this bill the minister, in future discussions on this bill, could let us know, because there are always arguments about the quantum. But we strongly support the concept of a relocation allowance.
The issue about which our side of politics is concerned is the bite in that area-that if people receiving income support leave work for any reason they will lose their payments for 26 weeks if they have to go back into the system. That is a very long time and it seems, from what I have read in the background to this bill, that there is no appeal rights within that process. So if you leave work in a way that is unacceptable to the decision-maker you have a penalty of 26 weeks, rather than the 12-week penalties that were in previous programs.
We are willing to hear the rationale behind that, and to have some discussion about it, but it seems that 26 weeks is a long period of time to be without payment. That fits into a whole lot of the discussion that we will be having over this week's budget in terms of the punitive elements that are going to be introduced into the system about access to welfare payments and general payments across the board.
I know that this bill was introduced before the budget-before we had changes to people's access to unemployment payments and how long you have to wait; the six months and so on-but I think we need to have a look at that whole system. It has always been a concern of mine that too often policy decisions and programs do not interact with the whole area as well as they could, and that you cannot make a decision about one payment-as this legislation does-without looking at what is going to happen with the whole system.
So in terms of an individual's responsibility and what is going to happen to them I am interested to know how this kind of penalty arrangement would interact with the budget proposal to have periods of long-term ineligibility for payments. I am interested in how those two things might interact.
The other area where there has been significant community feedback-and I know that the government has been getting the same communication as we have been getting-is around the issue of the exclusion from these payments for people who have a special category visa-an SCV holder. This will exclude New Zealanders, who are a particular quantum of people in our country, who have lived here for a certain period of time.
I have received a large amount of correspondence from many areas in Queensland where there is a very high population of people who fit into this SCV classification. There is a great deal of concern from these families and communities that they have been specifically excluded from these two payments. It is my understanding from the information that I have received that this is the first time that this particular group has been particularly excluded from payment. Not only are they concerned about this payment-and they have genuine reason to be concerned because there is quite a significant unemployment level amongst the young people of these communities-but they are also concerned about whether this is a precedent for future policy developments. There is a real concern that if the government decides to start excluding people who have not been excluded previously, that this will be a follow up and roll on for future policy. That is also an issue that we would like to hear back from the minister about in the summing up.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about something in this bill that gives me concern for another program which was a victim of the budget on Tuesday night. Again, I think it fits into the overall policy area, and it is a program called Youth Connections. It is a program which I have worked very closely with in communities in Queensland-particularly on the Sunshine Coast, an area which people may know. Not only is it extraordinarily beautiful but it also has very serious employment issues, particularly amongst young people. The program has been so successful in that region, and so positive, actually rebuilding the understanding amongst young people of their inclusion in society and the value of work and training for them.
We have fabulous statistics that talk about the number of people who have worked together in the community to look at the attraction of a work or study option, and also to understand what the links are-for yourself as an individual and also for your community-to gain the positive aspects of earning their own wage, building their own future and having study or work options.
It seems to me that this program, Youth Connections, is a valuable part of our response as a nation to the very issues of youth unemployment to which this bill we are discussing is another response. How we can have this segment of legislation, which is looking at incentive bonuses and support for moving, at the same time as we are cutting a program which is creating an awareness of the need for work and making people feel that they understand the importance of education that they, for whatever reason, have felt excluded from in their communities or families? All that valuable work links so well to the legislation which we are talking about now that it seems almost unbelievable that we are giving with one hand and pulling away with the other. Again, it is my concern that we are not looking across the board at a full and effective response to an issue about which we are all concerned.
There is no doubt that parliamentarians, leaders in the community, educators, our business community and enterprises are all concerned about the issues of unemployment in our nation and, in a very special way, about the loss of a whole generation. If we do not have people learning about the value of work and education when they are young and when they are making decisions themselves about school and further education-if we lose them then-the statistics show clearly that we could then lose them for life. The stats showed that if you do not actually engage in employment and see a future for yourself at that age then your prospects are going to be very bad. The prospects could well be intergenerational unemployment and intergenerational exclusion from our communities.
So we do have amendments that we will put forward and we will discuss further the concepts of the values of this program. But we cannot, and we must not, have this discussion without thinking in a more wide and engaging way about the full range of support we must give to young people to ensure that they have options for employment. There is no option for us; if we do not actually make effective legislation responses we are letting down the whole of the community. We are letting down the people who put us here and we are making sure that we are setting ourselves up for the kind of community that none of us want.
I think that the government pointed out in its budget speech the other night that they wanted us to be a more productive country. The best way to do that is to work with the young people to see what they need to have the support. I congratulate the people from Youth Connections. I have enjoyed working with them. I have been inspired by the work that they do. And that is from me, who is not using their services, just going along to so many of the events they run!
If we do not get people engaged then it does not matter about the job commitment bonus or the relocation assistance, because they will not be encouraged and inspired to use it. So we need the whole range of support. I think we have the ability to do that; I would hope we will. But I think that for the process and this particular piece of legislation that we agree with the concepts, but we just need to make sure that the people who need it most get it. On that basis, I would not actually be fulfilling my job if I did not think about those young kids who come from a New Zealander background and who need this support. I would not be fulfilling the promise I made to them that I would continue to try to bring their issues to this place.