Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015


 

Senator SESELJA(Australian Capital Territory) (11:21): I am really pleased to follow the particularly ridiculous rant that we just heard from Senator Bilyk. I am pleased to speak as someone who did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. My father and his family came from the former Yugoslavia. On a very modest income my dad raised six of us. He took cleaning jobs, as we all did, in order to make sure we got by. I am not going to be lectured to by Senator Bilyk about silver spoons. What a ridiculous statement.

 

Senator Bilyk:Touchy!

 

Senator SESELJA:I know what it is to work, as do my family, as do those on this side. You sit there after this ridiculous rant, this ridiculous piece of class warfare. Some of the statements in Senator Bilyk's contribution are beneath even Senator Bilyk, like saying that you should not be saying to people, 'If you want to buy a house, you should try and get a good job.' What is the alternative?

 

Senator Bilyk:That's not the context it was said in, is it?

 

Senator SESELJA:What is the alternative? What advice do you give your kids? Do you say, 'Kids, if you want to get ahead in life, if you want to buy a house, the best thing is to be on welfare'? Is that what you are saying? Or that the best thing is to get the lowest paying job you can possibly find? What a ridiculous comment.

 

Senator Bilyk:Take it all out of context, as you always do.

 

Senator SESELJA:This is what you are bringing the level of debate to. Some of us, on this side, know what it is to work for a living.

 

Senator Bilyk:Can you name them?

 

Senator SESELJA:We know what it is to do it tough and to work our way through life.

 

Senator Jacinta Collins:Come on, Zed. How do you justify these measures?

 

Senator SESELJA:Taking a cleaning job, as I did, when I was in high school and when I was at university—

 

Senator Bilyk interjecting

 

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Dastyari): I remind the Senate that previous contributions were heard in silence, and I believe that this one should be heard in silence as well.

 

Senator SESELJA:Thank you, Acting Deputy President Dastyari. Jobs like cleaning, which I took on and my family took on, are not nice jobs. Most people do not aspire to be cleaners, but cleaning needs to be done, it is important work and many of us will take the jobs that are on offer. Senator Bilyk, I am certainly not going to be lectured by you. I am not going to be lectured by you on this or any other issue. It was a ridiculous contribution, and I think anyone who witnessed it would have seen what a ridiculous contribution it was.

 

Senator Bilyk talked about jobs and said, 'You haven't created any of the jobs.' We have created 330,000. That is how many have been created in the two years since we came to office. That is a good start. We have a long way to go, but that is a good start. That is only through determined policy, most of which is opposed by those on the other side, and by supporting business to employ people, having free trade agreements, not allowing corrupt unions to shut down workplaces, cutting red tape for business and instant asset write-offs—all of these things come together. All of these things are about growing the economy and growing jobs. Instead of Senator Bilyk's view of how to get ahead in the world, we say: 'You can aspire to have a job. We want you to have a job. We want to create more jobs. We want to create better jobs.' That is what we are about, not this idea that you go straight out of school and onto welfare.

 

That is fundamentally what this bill is about. It is about saying to young people, 'We don't want you going straight from school to Centrelink. What we want you to do is go from school to further training, through TAFE or university, or get into a job, a good job, as good a job as you can get—sometimes starting at the bottom and working your way up, other times moving into already reasonably paid jobs and then looking to make your way in the world.' That is what this bill is about. It is about not selling our young people the vision that the best thing to do is to go straight from school to Centrelink. We have a different view of the world from those on the other side.

 

Let us talk about jobs. There have been 330,000 new jobs since we were elected, an average of 23,000 new jobs per month. What was Labor's record? When they left office, the average was 3,600 jobs per month. Which would you rather see? Would you rather the coalition's record of creating 23,000 jobs a month, on average, or would you rather what happened under Labor, in better world economic conditions, when 3,600 jobs were created per month?

 

That is what we are about and that is why we continue to make decisions that are about growing our economy and providing opportunities for our young people so that they can have the best possible jobs. It is so that those who want to work, those who are willing to do the hard work, whether it is by getting a good education and training or simply by getting out there into the workforce, having a go and working hard—sometimes doing the jobs that other people do not want to do so that you can get ahead—can. We want to give people opportunities across the board.

 

This bill is just a part of that. There is the $5½ million Jobs and Small Business package; it is all about providing jobs and opportunities. To get people into jobs, we have also invested $18.3 million in additional work experience places which give on-the-job experience and connection to an employer. We are running intensive support trials for vulnerable job seekers, to the value of $55.2 million. We are providing $19.4 million worth of support for youth with mental health conditions and $22.1 million worth of help to vulnerable young migrants and refugees. We are helping parents prepare for employment, through $18.9 million of funding. These trials are all focused on those most in need. It is about helping them prepare for work, find work and stay in work, because that is what we are about. I encourage those in this place today to not get caught up in the scare campaigns from the Labor Party but actually look at the facts and look at this bill in that context.

 

There are five elements to this bill before us today. The first amends ordinary waiting periods. This bill will exclude widow allowance claims from the one-week ordinary waiting period for working-age payments, to be implemented from 1 July 2015—that is, this bill will reintroduce schedule 3 of the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 4) Bill 2014, excluding widow allowance claimants. In regards to age requirements for various Commonwealth payments, this bill will delay till 1 July 2016 the start date for the measure increasing the age of eligibility for Newstart sickness allowance—that is, reintroduce schedule 6 of budget measures No. 4 bill's Newstart date. With regard to income support waiting periods, this bill will introduce a revised, four-week waiting period for youth income support from 1 July 2016—that is, introduce a replacement for the measure provided by schedule 7, which required young people with full capacity to serve a six-month waiting period. It amends the low-income supplement so that it will cease from 1 July 2017.

 

Finally, in regards to indexation, this bill will reintroduce the following changes to Australian government payments provided by schedule 1 of budget measures No. 4 bill: it will maintain at level for three years the income-free areas for all working-age allowances, other than student payments, and for parenting payment single from the existing start date of 1 July 2015; and it will maintain at level for three years the income-free areas and other means-tested thresholds for student payments, including the student income bank limits, with a Newstart date of 1 January 2016.

 

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which I chair, held an inquiry into this bill. It was clear that of the five measures contained in the bill the income support waiting period was the one which obviously had the most commentary, so that is the element which I will be focusing on today. In this measure, from 1 July 2016, young people under the age of 25 who are the most job ready and who apply for youth allowance or special benefit will need to serve a four-week waiting period before becoming eligible for one of those payments.

 

It is important from the outset to be clear about who this legislation affects. We are talking about those young people who are job ready, and to be job ready is to be classified as such by the Job Seeker Classification Instrument. It means people who live in areas with good employment opportunities, it means young people who have reasonable language, literacy and numeracy skills and it means people who have some recent work experience. If a young person does not fit into one of these categories, it means they are not captured by this legislation. So, again, let's be clear: we are talking about young people under 25 who are job ready. Remember that when we hear the rantings of some of those opposite, particularly Senator Bilyk. If you are unable to work, if you are studying, if you have carer or parenting responsibilities, if you are homeless, if you have mental health issues—the list goes and on and on—you are excluded from this measure by virtue of your vulnerability.

 

This measure will save $200 million by introducing the four-week waiting period, but we will see additional support services for young people looking for work—something like $375 million. It is primarily not about saving money. It is about saying that, if you are job ready, the best thing to do when you get out of school is not to go straight down to Centrelink. I would have thought that was a reasonable thing to say. I would have thought most parents would want to see that for their kids: that their kids do not just get out of school and go straight onto Centrelink. We want them to go out and do further study or further training or get a job. Surely, that should be what we are aiming for. From the contribution of Senator Bilyk as expressed in some of her language, she seems to be equating for young people that it is no different if you get a job or if you are on welfare. Apparently, that is just as good a path to prosperity, that is just as good a path to purchasing your own home and getting some financial security. Of course it is not. We want to see people getting jobs. We want to see people having the dignity of work. We want to see people having the opportunity to contribute through work to the broader society, through our economy, and to their own financial stability and all of the value which goes with that. Those on the other side would denigrate that and would consign people to systemic welfare. We do not want to see that.

 

But let's be clear: the four-week waiting period is not just arbitrary or free time for a job ready young person. During these four weeks, young job seekers will be meeting with a jobactive provider. They will be agreeing to a job plan. They will need to develop an up-to-date resume. They will be creating a job seeker profile on the JobSearch website. And they must provide satisfactory evidence of looking for work with up to 20 job applications. This is because we want young people in work. It is not just good for the economy; it is good for them; it is good for their families; it is good for their future prosperity. It is good for all of their outcomes in the future if they get a stable job, if they get a good job, if they are able to over time earn more money and if they are able to get a better job—one that pays them not just for their basic needs but for some of the luxuries in life as well. We all want that for our kids. We want that for all Australians, if they are prepared to work, if they are prepared to do what it takes.

 

I said earlier that many of us have taken jobs that were not ideal, that were not our favourite job. That is where most people start. They start at the local fast food store, they start with cleaning, they start at the local newsagency or they start doing the paper run—whatever that work might be. It teaches them about work ethic, it teaches them about the value of money; it teaches them all sorts of skills that they cannot get in other places. It is a fantastic thing. That is at the heart of what the coalition would like to see for all Australians, particularly for all of our young people as they make their way through the world.

 

I do note the safeguards and I will go through some of them. Our welfare system is in place for those who need it, and there are sometimes circumstances where young people have particular hardships and need a bit of extra help. I have talked about all the exemptions. We heard in the committee that this measure—when we take into account all of the exemptions for vulnerable job seekers, for people experiencing mental health, for people experiencing homelessness and for all sorts of other issues—actually applies to less than half of the job seekers in this cohort. That is why I found it interesting that we heard from a number of witnesses who would say, 'We're concerned about this vulnerable group or that vulnerable group.' This measure will not apply to those vulnerable groups. That is the good news. It is applying to those who are job ready. We are saying to you: 'If you are job ready and if you are not studying or if you are not doing further training, what you should be doing is doing all you can to get out there and try to get a job.'

 

We also heard interesting evidence from the department about the number of jobs that are available and the kinds of surveys they did of employers. They did a number of surveys of employers to seek their views on how they go with trying to recruit. This is a quote from the committee hearing:

 

When we talk to employers about trying to recruit for lower skilled vacancies—

 

It is based on a survey—

 

28 per cent of them say they have trouble filling those vacancies. These are jobs such as labourers, sales assistants and waiters. Employers are struggling to get suitable candidates presenting for those jobs and those who do present are not suitable. Those are some of the indicators that suggest to us that we need to work with the group of more job ready job seekers in employment services to act as quickly as possible to get them into work.

 

There we have further evidence presented to the committee—ignored by the Labor Party and ignored by the Greens—that in lower skilled jobs we have many employers, and that a significant proportion of those employers surveyed said: 'We simply can't find people to fill these positions. We simply can't find them.'

 

We know there are pockets where it is very difficult to get a job. We know there are some regional areas where it is particularly difficult to get a job. Those places are where the government have been rolling out more programs. We have relocation allowances for those who have to go more than 90 minutes away. It is difficult in some areas to find a job. There is no doubt about that. That is why the government have said, 'We want to grow the economy and make job opportunities in those areas better.' We know there are pockets, particularly in some regional areas and parts of our cities, where it is difficult and so we have said, 'If you have to go further or even relocate for a job'—as many Australians do—'we will provide you with financial assistance to get that done.'

 

I have listed several initiatives of the government. On the one hand, we are saying, 'If you are struggling, we will do all we can to help. If you are genuinely struggling because of issues outside your control such as being in a particularly high unemployment area, we will give you a relocation allowance. If it is about training, we will give you support. If it is about mental health issues, we will give you support. If it is about homelessness or other vulnerabilities, we will give you support.' We also say, 'For those people who are particularly vulnerable, this measure will not apply to you.' I think that is fair.

 

For those who are job ready, we say, 'You should be out there looking for a job.' We say, 'Your first port of call after school should not be going down to Centrelink.' I think most Australians would accept that as reasonable. They would accept as reasonable that we do what we can to look after those who are most vulnerable and that we say to those who can look after themselves, 'You need to get out there and make a fist of it.' There is a brief waiting period and then people who cannot find a job after that time will have access to these kinds of payments, even if they are job ready.

 

We have heard from employers, and they say they are struggling to find people to fill some jobs in lower skilled areas. For many of these jobs you do not need qualifications. You just need to be ready to go out there and have a go. You need to be ready to go and do your best and work hard. Some of them are not the most glamorous jobs. They are not. Let's be clear about that. But hundreds of thousands or even millions of Australians started out in jobs they did not necessarily like and were not necessarily the jobs they always dreamed of. But they were a start. They earned an income and had an opportunity. People take those opportunities and make the best of them. They gain skills, they gain experience over time and then they get jobs which are more suitable, which they prefer, which pay them better and which give them more opportunities.

I think that some of the nonsense we have heard from the other side, as I said earlier, reflects poorly on those individual senators. We should do all we can to help vulnerable job seekers. We have. More than half of job seekers are exempt from this measure. That shows how far we are going to ensure that those who are most vulnerable are not touched by this measure. We are talking about those who are job ready. We are talking about those who can go out there and get a job. Our simple message to those who are job ready and do not have the kind of vulnerabilities that get raised by various groups is: 'Don't just go straight down to the Centrelink office after school. That is not the right pathway. Go and find a job. Go and get further training. It will be better for you, our society and our economy if you take up those opportunities and contribute.' I commend this bill to the Senate.