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Second Reading Speech: Social Security Legislation Amendment (Training Incentive) Bill 2009

Speeches in Parliament
Sarah Hanson-Young 17 Jun 2009

I rise to speak to the Government’s Social Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009, which implements the “Compact with Young Australians” and indicate that the Greens will not be opposing the legislation.

While we have indicated that we will be supporting the Bill, the Government must assure the young people of Australia, that the additional training places announced by COAG on April 30, will provide young Australians with skills to match the jobs of the future.

Given we are beginning to see the need to transition our workforce into a low emission economy, the Government must ensure that the jobs and training compact for young Australians, is directed towards investing in sustainable jobs for the future.

The Greens are concerned that the message that the Youth Compact sends is not the right approach to encourage the young people of Australia to educate and train, rather it demonises them, and plays into the outdated stereotype that suggests all young people are lazy.

At a time when young people are under increasing financial pressure, students, and those in guaranteed training places, need to be better supported if they are to stay on and excel in their chosen path.
Background:

As I mentioned earlier, at the 30 April COAG meeting, the Commonwealth, States and Territories agreed on a "Compact with Young Australians".

The aim of the Youth Compact is to ensure every young person under 25 is able to access an education and training place. The Government is framing it as all young people will have an "entitlement" to an education or training place for any government-subsidised qualification.

Participation in education, training or employment will be compulsory for all young people until they turn 17.

To "support" the participation requirement, this legislation is proposing to change eligibility for youth allowance so that young people under age 21 who have not completed year 12 – or an equivalent level of education, must be in full time study or complying with the terms of the Employment Pathway Plan before they are considered eligible for Youth Allowance. 

For those that haven’t completed year 12 or an equivalent qualification, they will need to participate in full-time training for 25 hours a week, in order to receive the youth allowance, essentially playing into the “earn or learn” argument.

This amendment has effectively ensured that an early school leaver will now not be eligible to receive YA (other) simply by actively seeking, and willing to undertake, suitable paid work, as was originally permitted.

To exclude access to Youth Allowance for those 15-20 year olds who have not completed year 12 or its equivalent, and for those that are not undertaking full-time education or training, is a radical policy that doesn’t necessarily address the problems associated with youth unemployment.

For some young people, it is simply not possible to attend training courses, further education studies or obtain solid employment when you don’t know where you will be sleeping each night.

What about young people who have been troubled at school and cannot attend?

What about those who can only secure work experience or volunteer work, which many young people are engaged in – will they still be entitled to Youth Allowance?

All of these unanswered questions point to the need for the Government to commit to the bigger picture. 

An assurance of a continued safety net for homeless young people, with a commitment, through the Compact with Young Australians, to safe and decent housing, should be addressed by the Government as a bare minimum requirement, acknowledging community calls to tackle housing affordability for young Australians.

We know that in the 2006 Census, it was revealed that more than 32,000 young people were homeless in Australia, which suggests there is a danger that many would be further disadvantaged by this “earn or learn” policy.
 
To simply take away financial support for a young person who isn’t in full-time study or training, without consulting with individuals concerns and key stakeholders is ill-thought through policy, and I would encourage the Government to outline what assurances will be provided in guaranteeing that vulnerable young people, are not further disadvantaged by this compact. 

Given Minister Gillard accepted there were young people living in difficult circumstances, such as homelessness, stating, and I quote:
 
“with creative provision of education, they can be back, back learning, back gaining self esteem and self respect and back gaining opportunities that are going to make a difference for the rest of their lives.”

While this statement is encouraging, what we need to see is a solid commitment continued safety for homeless young people, through extending the proposed compact for young Australians to include guaranteed access to safe and decent housing.

In my home state of South Australia, Only last week we saw figures suggesting that  despite the overall fall in jobless numbers, the level of youth  unemployment jumped 7.7 percentage points in May  to 24.9 per cent.

That’s a quarter of young workers in South Australia that are unemployed.

These figures are clearly disturbing, and I will be watching with interest to see whether this Youth Compact actually addresses youth unemployment effectively.

Aside from the concerns we have for the vulnerable and disadvantaged youth, the Greens, and many in the youth sector, are also concerned that the compact must offer relevant and engaging training, not just anyplace, anywhere, anytime for young people. 

This should not simply be seen as a work for the dole program for young people.

The Greens are by no means opposed to committing to an increase in training and education places, but we believe that this Compact must be targeted and tapered to individual needs of young people, ensuring that the path they chose to take, whether it be at university or Tafe, is an option they are able to pursue.

The National Union of Students also expressed concern over the message the changes to youth allowance send to young people, arguing that “young people stripped of their youth allowance payments are being unfairly characterised as dole bludgers.”

What the Greens would like to see is a commitment to increasing the fortnightly rate of Youth Allowance, instead of stripping it away from those who need it most.

This  compact  was  forged, seemingly  without  any substantial dialogue  with  young  people or the community sector and the fact that a key component to the legislation includes the  withdrawal  of  benefits  for  young  people  not  “learning  or  earning”, the Government must outline how many young people under 21 will no longer receive youth allowance because of these proposed changes.

So, while the Greens support the Government’s commitment to increasing training and education places, we will be watching with interest, on how this legislation is rolled out, in particular, whether the training and education places actually match the needs of young people.

Supporting our youth is essential during a time where unemployment levels are on the rise, and people are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  It is fundamental for the Government to actively support its young citizens, and encourage them to remain engaged and active in society and the labour force, and the Greens will continue to look closely at the changes to Youth Allowance under this legislation, to ensure that young Australians are not unfairly penalised or further disadvantaged.

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