SOCIAL SECURITY AMENDMENT (TRAINING INCENTIVES) BILL 2009
Debate resumed from 16 June, on motion by Senator Wong:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (5.34 pm)-I rise to speak on theSocial Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009, a bill which the opposition will not be opposing. This bill presents two key elements: firstly, it undertakes to provide a new temporary training supplement of a proposed $41 60 per fortnight to eligible job seekers on Newstart allowance or parenting payment who undertake approved training to assist them to achieve a year 12 completion or its equivalent because they currently do not hold it; secondly, it undertakes to amend the participation requirements for certain young people requiring them to either earn or learn-to use the government’s language-in order to be eligible for youth allowance. The temporary training supplement is, as I mentioned, a supplement which the opposition will not be opposing. Not every person leaves school with year 12 or equivalent qualifications, and their reasons for doing so are quite varied. At the time of their leaving, joining the workforce immediately may have been inviting but, as history has shown, more often than not those without qualifications are indeed in a high-risk group for becoming unemployed during times of economic downturn. With this supplement, it is envisaged that these people will use it to return to training to upgrade their qualifications in order to find employment, an opportunity that some will utilise and make the most of. However, there are some who may not take up this opportunity and it is therefore important that for the short time-just two years-that this supplement is going to be available, that it will actually provide benefit to the people it is aiming to assist.
It is obvious that the introduction of this supplement is because of the economic downturn, a downturn which those opposite have certainly exacerbated. As we know, all too sadly, in economic downturns one of the first indicators is rising unemployment, and clearly this training supplement is to provide assistance to those most likely to be unemployed during the difficult times we are currently experiencing. Having said that, the supplement certainly should not be used to hide or mask the unemployment level as it rises. What we are seeing is that, rather than address the issue of future rising unemployment levels, the Rudd government, to some extent, want to disguise them behind a temporary training assistance support payment. There is no real guidance from the government on how they will guarantee that people undertaking this training will find employment afterwards or about training areas which will give more assistance to those people undertaking it and seeking to find a job after they complete that training.
To find employment you need to hold a set of skills or qualifications which business and employers are in need of. Obviously the needs of employers and businesses are constantly changing, and the sort of training that is offered should certainly reflect the changed needs of business and employers. Business needs to be convinced that the short training that is being undertaken will in some way be of benefit to them if they are to subsequently employ that person. Training for training’s sake is not the answer and it is not an automatic pass into the workforce. Businesses do need to be encouraged to employ. Business confidence needs to be boosted and encouragement given for those employers to recruit employees back into the workforce as economic conditions improve.
Businesses and employers have to be encouraged to sign up to taking on these job seekers once they have completed this training. Again, the Rudd government has failed to define how it will achieve this. The Rudd government has indeed failed to define a clear pathway between training and job. The opposition is obviously not opposed to training, but we do believe that it is only one element in assisting someone to get a job. As I have said, the opposition does not oppose the supplement, but we do believe that it is critical to demonstrate how it will lead to employment.
Young people can find it particularly hard to obtain employment during a time of economic downturn. The 15 to 24 age range is hard hit, and the second part of this bill proposes to remove qualification to youth allowance for those aged 15 to 20 years who are unemployed and looking for full-time work. It amends the participation requirements for these young people, requiring them to either earn or learn to be eligible for youth allowance.
The opposition obviously supports any measures that will re-engage youth, and therefore supports this approach. Over the last 12 months we have seen the number of teenagers who are not in fulltime education or employment increase from 205,500 to 244,800. In economic downturns, as I mentioned, youth unemployment does increase proportionately. The coalition supports the offer of training for young Australians who wish to gain additional skills. However, I must repeat that training itself will not help reduce youth unemployment.
Providing training and education can certainly boost employability, but it cannot guarantee employment if there are no jobs to give. If there are no jobs then training should not be used as a ploy to keep the unemployment figures down. The opposition will watch carefully over the labour force figures, particularly the figures on youth unemployment. It is important to keep people engaged in the workforce, to keep job seekers actively looking for employment and to encourage business confidence so that they will employ these job seekers. Sadly, the track record of this government has been one where they have taken a car door to business confidence and consumer confidence. We recall all too well straight after the 2007 election and through 2008 when the government were talking down the economy and when the government were axing business and consumer confidence by talking of inflation genies escaping from bottles. There is no doubt that that led to a slowing of growth in Australia before we started to feel the effects of the global financial situation. Sadly, that has resulted in unemployment rising higher and faster than it need to have done so, so I certainly hope that the government have learnt their lesson from 2008.
When you are in a responsible position, as a Prime Minister or a Treasurer, you have a particular responsibility to talk about the strengths and the positive fundamentals of the Australian economy. I would urge the government to adopt that tack because when you are a government, when you are a Prime Minister and when you are a Treasurer, language certainly does matter. In conclusion, the Rudd government should not be attempting to distort and manipulate unemployment levels by pushing people who would otherwise be actively seeking work into training in order to claim income support payments. We want to see an official employment rate which is truly reflective of the number of people who are employed and the number of people who are not employed in Australia. We as an opposition support anything which can assist people who are seeking work to get better trained and to be more employable, but we would urge the government to be positive about the fundamentals of the Australian economy and to not seek to use this measure to in some way mask the true unemployment rate.