Matter of Public Importance - Employment

29 November 2016

Mister Speaker

Many of the people who voted for me in the last election were patients I had seen as children. The fact that they gave me their vote was personally very gratifying, but to me it was a sign that I must do the best I can for them. I know what will make their lives and the lives of their families better, possibly for generations: good health care, good housing and, most of all, work—especially work.

There are over 36,000 people aged 15 to 29 in my electorate. Our economy is changing. TAFE has been decimated. Many adolescents and young adults are struggling to get adequate jobs, training and long-term work. Traditional manufacturing industry is going, never to come back; farming, once a powerful force in my electorate of Macarthur, is less and less significant; and apprenticeships are few and far between. Many young people leave school aware that they will struggle to find meaningful work or post-school education. I know, as a father of six, how stressful it is for the entire family to have to find training and work after school for adolescents. I believe that my generation did not have the pressure that this current generation faces to find work. I know that many are disappointed and may face years of looking for jobs with only a poorly-paid part-time job as their reward. I know the stress that that will cause to families and children, and the poor self-esteem that long periods searching for jobs and the demeaning social security atmosphere promoted by this government will cause.

When I was an adolescent we lived not far from the Postmaster-General's training college, where many thousands were trained as telephone technicians. About three kilometres away—or two miles in the old money—were the Chullora Railway Workshops, where many thousands were trained as metalworkers, boilermakers, electricians, carpenters and toolmakers. I know those days have gone, but I recognise how important those jobs were to my schoolmates and to local families. I know how important meaningful employment is to young people. I have seen the despair that comes from months, even years, of looking for work. I know we can do better to foster employment.

Instead of encouraging young people to train, this government has cut assistance to apprentices by nearly a billion dollars. We have seen apprentice numbers plummet by nearly 130,000. In New South Wales, we have seen TAFE funding cut dramatically even in the last few weeks—job losses, course cuts and a dramatic increase in fees. For many young Australians, particularly in my electorate, TAFE is no longer affordable. We are told we are facing a housing construction boom—much of it is going to be in in my electorate of Macarthur. However, we are not training nearly enough electricians, carpenters, plumbers and builders. Will we have to import them from overseas? The government tells young people, time and again, to get a job, but it has done very little to develop those jobs and provide meaningful and affordable training.

Youth unemployment has been an issue in Australia for some time. The rate of youth unemployment is between three and 3½ times the general rate. However, it is important to realise that the problems go far deeper and are now far more complex than a simple statistic tells us. Reasons to note for that are that young, unskilled jobseekers are very vulnerable to any economic downturn; that they are very vulnerable to exploitation, particularly as a consequence of low levels of unionisation—again, fostered by this government; one problem we never hear them talk about is youth exploitation—and that underemployment and the lengthy spells of unemployment are worsening, almost of a daily basis, and have been in the last three years. We must do better for our youth.

A tick up in economic activity—the sort of selective economic stimulus hinted at by the Reserve Bank in recent months—would make a huge difference. It would make the problem of youth unemployment simpler and easier for governments to address. It would make a huge difference to the unemployed and to the next batch of graduates and school leavers who are standing on the cusp of the job market for the first time. Many of them have a future that is very problematic, and when that future - Time expired)