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Christine Milne: Will cutting welfare to young people push them into poverty?

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Christine Milne 3 Jun 2014

The Australian Green Leader, Senator Christine Milne, uses Senate estimates to asks the Minister for Employment to explain how young people under 30 in North-West Tasmania are to expected to live for six months with no income, as proposed in the 2014 budget.

 

Senator MILNE: I want to ask about the government's crackdown on the unemployed, particularly as it will impact on north and north-west Tasmania.

Senator Abetz: Senator, that really is outcome 1. If you have particular time constraints and the chair is happy-I am not chairing the show-then we are happy for that to be interposed. I assume we have people here to deal a bit on outcome 1 to deal with your questions. But I only proffer that as a suggestion. It is up to the committee to determine, but we are still in cross portfolio.

Senator MILNE: I do have a tight time frame.

CHAIR: The officers are here and if the secretary is happy.

Senator Abetz: We are happy to cooperate.

CHAIR: Members of the committee, are we happy to accede to Senator Milne's request?

Senator CAMERON: It depends on how long, Senator Milne. Because I really don't know that we should be jumping all over the place, to be honest.

CHAIR: Senator Milne, how long do you think you would need?

Senator MILNE: Five minutes.

[09:54]

CHAIR: I think we can accommodate that. Thank you very much.

Senator MILNE: I thank the committee for the indulgence. I particularly wanted to ask questions in relation to north and north-west Tasmanian and the government's hardline position in relation to Work for the Dole. This area has been identified as one of the locations where people will be targeted. I would like to ask specifically, given the unemployment details in the region, where there has been a large decline in full-time employment, where under-employment is already an issue and where there has been a decline in employment in lower skilled occupations, what is the evidence base for the fact that you believe young unemployed people or unemployed people generally in the north-west of Tasmania will be able to find jobs and won't end up for six months living on nothing?

Ms Leon: I might just clarify that there are two different measures that I think you are asking about.

Senator MILNE: Yes, I am asking about both. The evidence base and Work for the Dole.

Ms Leon: The first is about income support suspension, which is not targeted to north-west Tasmania or anywhere. When it is introduced it will be an Australia wide arrangement.

Senator MILNE: I understand that.

Ms Leon: The program that is in north-west Tasmania is the provision of part of the pilot year of Work for the Dole. So people in north-west Tasmania in the 2014-15 year will have access to a set of Work for the Dole projects, which are currently out for tender at the moment to get Work for the Dole coordinators who will source Work for the Dole projects for unemployed people in 18 regions of Australia, including north-west Tasmania. But it is not associated with any change to their income support in the current year.

Senator MILNE: I get that. I understand that. What I am asking for is the evidence base to suggest that there is work to be had in north-west Tasmania for these young people, who will otherwise be forced on to Work for the Dole or live for nothing for six months.

Ms Leon: That is the point I am trying to clarify. There will be no income support suspension.

Senator MILNE: No, I get that. I am asking for the evidence base. What evidence base do you have that there is employment for young people on north-west Tasmania now?

Ms Leon: The Work for the Dole project is intended to assist young people, or to assist any unemployed people, for getting work ready and for engaging and getting the soft skills and the employability skills that will assist them to get into work. So it is not a punishment for being unemployed. It is an employment services support to help people get into jobs. It is not dependent on there being an evidence base about jobs. What it is dependent on is people having been unemployed. It is just the mere fact of having been long-term unemployed that gives them access to the Work for the Dole program.

Senator SIEWERT: Income will be suspended as part of this measure down the track, won't it?

Ms Leon: There is a measure for the 2015-16 year of income support suspension. But that measure, the question of the suspension of income support, is not linked to the Work for the dole program that is in this portfolio this year.

Senator MILNE: Let me just split these two issues. Firstly, what is your evidence base of the level of employment available in north-west Tasmania for unskilled people?

Ms Leon: We do have figures about that. But I should say that, in relation to unskilled work, the evidence base is not complete because the lower down the skills level you go, many of the jobs are not advertised. So the only data we have is about Internet vacancies and advertised vacancies. I just need to clarify that the data is therefore not 100 per cent, especially for the lower skill level jobs. Our understanding is that many of those are advertised informally-signs in shop windows and word-of-mouth rather than formally advertised. So I just want to have that caveat on the data.

Senator Abetz: Can I make the point, being a senator from Tasmania as well, that there clearly is a dearth of employment opportunities because of the legacy of two lots of government, both in Canberra and Hobart, that mugged the Tasmanian economy. We have a whole host of policies designed to create employment opportunities, like getting rid of the carbon tax, getting rid of the mining tax and supporting-

Senator LINES: Dear me, a party political broadcast from Senator Abetz.

Senator Abetz: Once again, halfway through an answer and Senator Lines has to interject. What we are saying is that there is a dearth of employment opportunities on the north-west coast. That is why we are trying to fix the economy. But on the other side of the ledger, just because there is a dearth of employment opportunities doesn't mean that we should not do our very best, and Work for the Dole clearly has proven in the past to be a very successful mechanism to re-engage long-term unemployed in the work ethic-the concept of turning up to work et cetera. Indeed, if you read the north west newspaper, the Advocate, it has in recent times had some excellent cameos of individuals. If I recall correctly, a Mrs Peace, who was part and parcel for Work for the Dole under the former Howard government in fact met her life partner in a Work for the Dole scheme. They both have jobs, and it is happy families thereafter. If you are in the market, you never know what Work for the Dole might actually deliver for you.

CHAIR: It is a dating service. Thank you, Minister.

Senator MILNE: I asked for the evidence base, and I am waiting for it.

Senator Abetz: In relation to employment opportunities, the Costa group, for example, are heavily investing in horticulture and other opportunities in Tasmania. I am told 90 per cent of their workforce comes from overseas. Wouldn't it be good if we could actually get Tasmanians into those jobs? As we speak, the Tasmanian dairy industry on the north-west coast is looking for about an extra 200 farmworkers to work on dairy farms on the north-west coast. Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker, in conjunction with Brett Whiteley, the member for Braddon, are talking with the dairy industry to see what course might be developed to assist getting 200 people from the north-west coast, hopefully, into those jobs and to forestall that which was about to happen-namely, a delegation going to New Zealand to attract workers from across the ditch to come to north-west Tasmania. We make no apologies for saying that, if at all possible, we would prefer those dairy farms to be employing Tasmanians rather than our cousins from New Zealand.

Senator CAMERON: Chair, point of order. There was five minutes allocated to this. I assume that we are going to have to go through the same agony in output 1 and the same party political broadcasts.

CHAIR: You make a fair point, Senator.

Senator CAMERON: This is just not helping.

CHAIR: Senator Milne, could you conclude. I know you are still waiting for that evidence. Maybe the figures are there and then we'll move on.

Senator MILNE: I am in the midst of asking for a request about the evidence base that there is employment to be had.

Senator Abetz: With great respect, I gave-

CHAIR: Your answers were entirely relevant.

Senator Abetz: you evidence: 200 jobs in the dairy sector. The Costa group in the horticultural sector. Ninety per cent of that workforce are from overseas. They are two examples that I just happen to know of.

CHAIR: I agree, and I can substantiate them myself, Minister, because they were my clients when I had a business there. Senator Milne, you are waiting on an answer to a question and then we must move back to cross portfolio.

Ms Kidd: There are a couple of bits of information that go to your question. I will probably talk about Tasmania as a whole, because the regional spread I have is different to what you are asking about.

Senator MILNE: The north of the state I am particularly asking about.

Ms Kidd: I have employment in Tasmania. There are 228,000 jobs in Tasmania. In northern Tasmania there are 65,500 jobs. In terms of vacancies, as Ms Leon said, the data is quite flawed because of the large number of vacancies that aren't advertised. But we have an indicator from our internet vacancy index, which is where we compile the number of vacancies advertised month by month. Australia wide, there are 171,000 jobs advertised in April. That is new jobs coming on to the Internet vacancy index. 1,716 of those were in Tasmania. In terms of breakdown, I only have greater Hobart and the rest of Tasmania. So 1,041 of those jobs were in greater Hobart and 675 were in the rest of Tasmania.

CHAIR: I really must stop there. Senator Milne, thank you.

Senator MILNE: Okay, I would like to come back.

[End]

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