Social Services Youth Employment

I rise to join the debate on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015. This bill will see job seekers under 25 with nothing to live on for one month. The bill sees this government pressing ahead with changes to the eligibility age for Newstart, pushing job seekers who are between the ages of 22 and 24 onto the lower youth allowance. This is a cut of at least $48 a week, $2½ thousand a year, for young unemployed people. It distresses me to think that we have a government that is so intent on knowingly pushing young people into poverty.

It is particularly nasty for young people in my community, a community that has higher than average unemployment generally and very high youth unemployment. These figures do not reflect on a community where young people do not want to work, contrary to the assertions of those opposite and from some comments made by the member for Durack, suggesting that if they return to study they will not have to wait four weeks. I remind the House that the intention of this government, through its apprenticeships program, is that if they return to study they will go into debt. If they do a tertiary qualification in higher education, the intention is they will go into debt. In my electorate, it leaves us with a sinking feeling that there are some safety nets in here for those families who can afford to take on that debt. In my area families are reluctant to go into debt, so this is all bad news.

I am reminded of a conversation I had recently in my electorate office with a very, very concerned resident. He and his wife both worked all their lives. Their eldest child finished year 12, so had met all the things we want a young person to do. We want them to complete school. She is an active person in the community, playing representative basketball. She kept herself fit. She studied hard and got that VCE. At the end of the education process, like many of her classmates, she found it difficult to find a job. When suggested she go to Centrelink, she was mortified because she did not want to become someone reliant on the government. But when told about a job seeker number and that that was where you had to get them, off she went. He relayed to me how mortified he was, after years and years in the workforce and raising his family, when he found that his daughter could get very little support. She got a job seeker number but she had not been employed long enough to get the kind of assistance she needed to find a job.

This family took the tough decision. Their daughter is studying. At the cost of an $18,000 debt, she has enrolled in further study. I think that this is only one story coming out of our communities and I think that this legislation is going to embed those difficulties for people in my electorate. That is because finding a job is very difficult in my community. The young apply for jobs. Indeed, most weeks I receive emails from local young people, often with a university degree, who are finding it difficult to get jobs. People with trade qualifications are finding it difficult to get jobs. I recently met with some gentlemen in their late 20s, two of whom had PhDs, who were struggling to find jobs.

Those leaving school often have experience. Many of the young people in my electorate have had part-time jobs as they have studied and as they have completed secondary school—often more than one part-time job. They find very quickly that those part-time jobs do not hold much weight in what is a very tough employment situation that we have locally. Sometimes, they come to my office wanting work experience, thinking of volunteering in the office or perhaps asking if I could write a reference to assist them and work together with them to get a job. Some complain about the quality of the job service providers, as the father of that young lady did. Some are simply desperate to secure employment.

You will forgive me in this chamber if I mention how offended I am for the young people in my community when I hear the rhetoric coming from the other side that insinuates and implies that young people think that they want to leave school and go on the dole or that they are waiting the ideal job. The member for Durack did that much in her contribution that preceded mine, suggesting that kids cannot be fussy in the country, implying that somehow in the metropolitan areas they are. I am deeply offended by that kind of rhetoric on behalf of the young people in my community and their hardworking families. I want to put that on the record. These are motivated, quality and hardworking young adults who I referred to, not the stereotyped no-hopers sitting around playing video games that those opposite seem to think our electorates are crammed with. Many have a relatively long part-time work history alongside study, as I have mentioned. They are not waiting for their ideal job, as suggested by our Prime Minister.

The Abbott government has stated that this legislation will set a clear expectation that young people need to maximise their efforts to obtain work, implying that that is not already the case, implying that it is the fault of young people that this country's employment figures are where they are and implying that somehow young people are flawed and not trying hard enough. I have spent time listening to them, listening to their stories of how many positions they have applied for and assisting them to create CVs. Sometimes they have multiple CVs, because those with higher education qualifications may have a work history of having been employed in entry-level manual labour, so they have one CV for seeking those positions and one CV for seeking entry-level professional positions. They are struggling to get interviews for either, because the jobs are not there.

These are people who live a 45-minute drive—which is sometimes an hour and a half in peak hour—from the CBD of Melbourne, which is our primary employment sector. These are people living in an affordable area. They are from families who have purchased homes in affordable areas and raised their families there, only to find that now finding employment for young people is very difficult. This rehashed image may have worked the 1970s—this view of the old world—recalling demonised, stereotyped pictures of young people sunning themselves in Byron Bay on beaches rather than working, but it is misleading and this government knows it. Being in receipt of government income support already has a range of mutual obligations. Current activity tests and other participation requirements are already some of the strictest in the OECD. The assumption that those young people who cannot find work are simply not motivated and lack the will to work is not true.

I have seen no substantive evidence or research that shows that a lack of motivation is a major contributor to unemployment. Most likely, as I said, it is a lack of jobs, particularly entry-level jobs. It is the lack of qualifications, skills and experience that contributes to unemployment. It is the unwillingness of employers to take on a young person. The fact that youth unemployment is always consistently higher than the average shows this to be true. This youth unemployment increase has been on the rise since the global financial crisis and has steadily increased under this government. Rather than take that on board and get the jobs plan in place, they seek to find savings by punishing young people and by leaving them with no income for four weeks. That might work in some of the homes of those opposite, but it would not work in my home and it does not work in the homes of the people who live in the electorate of Lalor. Many of those families are already under financial pressure and this will be yet another burden for them to take into their family budget.

Some young people worry that their proud achievement of the year 12 completion—sometimes they are the first their family to do so—is clouded by the secondary school that they attended or by their ethnicity. I reassure them that our schools are rightly proud of their educational outcomes and of the well-rounded young adults who graduate; but this is not played out in the job application process. Indeed, there is significant motivation for finding employment, because trying to live on Newstart or youth allowance is incredibly difficult in itself. Youth allowance of $123.40 a week, in my view, is not much of an incentive to sit at home.

That is $18 a day. It is $8 for a zone 1/2 myki ticket. That $8 to get to a job interview in Melbourne's CBD. It is $18 for you to put petrol in the car if you have a licence, pay the insurance on the car, make the payments on the car and pay the registration on the car. That is if they finish school, they are 18 and they have a car. Guess what? Most employers would like them to be 18 and have a car and a licence to get that precious job. If they get up the line, get the interview and get short-listed, the demands on them are very great. So I do not believe that young people are sitting around at home on their measly $18 a day thinking that they are living the life of Riley. This puts enormous pressure on families. To cut the payment off for four weeks and to leave young people with nothing for four weeks is a punishment that they do not deserve. As I have said, Lalor is home to hardworking families on modest incomes, families who do not have deep reserves, families who struggle to meet all their bills and payments on time. My community has a high rate of mortgage stress and rental evictions. This will see many more young people staying at home for longer and longer periods of time.

One of the first things I did when I was elected to this place was to bring the service providers together to discuss the housing and homelessness issues our community faces. A basic human right is secure living circumstances, and this legislation will put young people in independent living situations at risk, driving young people to the payday lenders to cover their bills, to make their contribution to the rent if they are sharing a house with other young people. You can see this as it is happening in my electorate. Young things have found their first job, put some savings together, found some friends, created a share house and paid the bond. They may have been renting now for six or eight months. If one of them loses their job, there will be no income for four weeks. If that young person moves home, the rent for the other people in that share house increases. We are talking about putting added stresses onto young people, onto their living arrangements, onto their independence, and adding to the eviction pressures in my local community.

With no income, where will these young folk find the money for transport to attend a job, to go to the job provider, to attend interviews, to dress appropriately, to keep connected to the internet, to have a reliable computer? These are very serious things this government intends to do. But the worst of these measures is the signal they send into the community that somehow our young people are not trying hard enough, that somehow our young people are doing it easy. That is not the case in my electorate. It is not the case, I suspect, across this country. I agree with the member for Durack in that I do not believe it is the case in the country either.

I fear this is just another example of this government seeking to divide our community. It is just another example of this government seeking to find winners and losers, to reward the winners and to punish the losers. I think about what is happening in the apprenticeship area, and it gives me no more comfort at all. I think about the 25,000 apprentices who have sought to take up the loan offer given by this government. I remember back to the rhetoric about how good that was going to be for young people. Only 24,000 apprentices have taken up the Trade Support Loans debt scheme, compared to 192,000 Australian apprentices in 2012-13 who got the Tools For Your Trade payments. This government is seeking to divide. Now it wants to punish our young people. (Time expired)

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