I am very pleased to stand here this evening and speak on the Back to Work Bill 2014. This bill was tabled just prior to Christmas and is the foundation stone that Labor members brought before the Victorian public because we understood that Victorians were hurting. We understood that the level of unemployment in this state was at an absolutely appalling rate, youth unemployment in this state was at an incredibly high rate, and in our regional areas it was abysmal.
It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill tonight because those who are returning members to this chamber will remember that I spoke almost incessantly about unemployment, the need for jobs and the need to keep industry in this country.
Mr Ondarchie and I had many duels across the chamber about the need to keep the automotive industry in this state and the need for a proper renewable energy industry as well.
We have before us the Back to Work plan, which has four pillars. The first is the bill we have here tonight, which enables the establishment of a $100 million fund to provide payroll tax relief to companies hiring unemployed youth, the long-term unemployed and retrenched workers for full-time employment.
The second pillar is the Premier’s jobs and investment panel. It is an independent body of senior business and industry leaders providing direct advice to the Premier on the expenditure of $500 million funding for investment and jobs.
The third pillar is the future industries fund, which is a $200 million grant program to support job-creating projects in six identified high growth areas, including pharmaceuticals, new energy, food and fibre, and international education. The final pillar is the regional jobs fund, which is a $200 million investment fund to support job-creating opportunities in regional Victoria.
The bill before us this evening deals with the first of these four pillars. The scheme will provide financial assistance for businesses to employ certain unemployed persons, including unemployed youth, the long-term unemployed and retrenched workers through a $100 million dollar fund.
It implements a commitment made by Labor leading up to last year’s state election to provide relief to businesses, particularly in the context of the challenging economic outlook and the weak labour market while also addressing the high unemployment levels that arose under the Napthine government.
This bill targets categories of unemployed workers where there is the greatest potential to have a positive impact. The key legal elements necessary for the administration of the scheme are established in this bill, and the Andrews government will closely monitor take-up rates and industry behaviour to safeguard the integrity of that scheme. This has been a debate in the press in recent times, and we — in particular Premier Daniel Andrews — have absolutely given that commitment. It will come into effect on 1 July 2015.
The other reason I am particularly pleased to speak on this bill tonight is that the previous government did not believe it had any role at all as a government when it came to the issue of unemployment or facilitating the continued existence of industry and business in this state.
Members opposite just never got it, and they sat on their hands as company after company announced their closures and entire industries walked off the shores of this great nation — and they continue to do so as a result of announcements that those companies made during the reign of the former government.
This state voted. Victorians did not want a situation where they were unemployed or where their children were unemployed. They had lost the sense that there was a future for their families. We on this side of the chamber wanted a state that was prepared to go back to work.
We wanted optimism in the air and a future for those who wanted to be engaged in the labour market and more importantly have their aspirations about their livelihoods and lifestyles guaranteed.
When the previous government came to power the unemployment rate in Victoria was 4.9 per cent, and two years later it hit nearly 7 per cent, which was the highest it had been in 13 years. We had the slowest rate of jobs growth in the entire country, and the hours worked per capita figure for Victoria was at its lowest since the recession of the 1990s. Victoria went from being the jobs capital of Australia in 2010 under the previous Labor government to a state with the worst unemployment figures on the mainland.
My electorate of Western Victoria Region, which I share with a number of other people — Mr Morris, Mr Purcell, Ms Pulford and Mr Ramsay — has unfortunately received the worst end of the stick in relation to rates of unemployment. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data showed youth unemployment at nearly 21 per cent and general unemployment at 9.5 per cent in regional centres like Warrnambool and Geelong. Youth unemployment in Ballarat reached a staggering 22.8 per cent, representing a 17 per cent rise under a one-term coalition government.
Ms Hartland — On a point of order, Acting President, I am trying to listen to Ms Tierney because I think she is making a very good contribution, but the interjections from all sides are making it very difficult.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Patten) — Order! I thank Ms Hartland.
Ms TIERNEY — In talking about the high levels of unemployment in the electorate of Western Victoria I once again highlight what has happened in our great electorate. We have seen close to 200 people lose their jobs in Portland at Keppel Prince. There were 100 jobs that went just before Christmas, and there were significant numbers that went before that. A lot of that was a result of this government sitting on its hands. It was also this government refusing to — —
Mr Ondarchie — This government?
Ms TIERNEY — The government over there; the one that we put in exile in November. When those opposite were in government they refused to accept that jobs in Portland were incredibly important, and they did not do a thing to help people in Portland. The company Rivers lost 25 jobs, Kitset Kitchens lost 30 jobs, Koroit’s Murray Goulburn factory lost 20 jobs, Dick Smith lost 25 jobs, Medicare Local lost 85 jobs, Godfrey Hirst lost 36 jobs, Target lost nearly 100 jobs, Ford lost 240 jobs, the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority lost 7 jobs and South West TAFE lost over 100 jobs. At one stage Gordon TAFE had lost 55 jobs, but I know that number increased. Avalon Airport lost 40 jobs, Barwon Water lost 53 jobs, Alcoa lost 800 jobs, the University of Ballarat, which is now Federation University, lost 70 to 100 jobs in the TAFE area, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority lost 3 jobs, Fonterra lost 130 jobs, Mars lost 38 jobs and CMI Industries lost 67 jobs. A whole range of public servant jobs were also axed. Who could forget how the previous government also shut down the Department of Primary Industries front offices throughout regional Victoria?
The list I have just read out is minor and is just a sample of reported job losses. We know thousands of other people lost their jobs when the previous government was in power. One can only imagine the number of people who worked for smaller companies or who subcontracted and lost their jobs during that period of time.
Not only did Western Victoria Region have a state government that did not care about it, it was also an electorate that was hurting. It was not just hurting in Geelong, Ballarat, Warrnambool and Portland; it was hurting right through western Victoria. We are still suffering as a result of what the previous government did not do. This is an electorate that needs assistance and requires the facilitation of a government that understands it has a role to play when it comes to employment and industry in this great state.
Under the previous government we had a situation where even the Treasurer, Kim Wells, did not mention the word ‘jobs’ once in his first budget speech. Is it any wonder that we ended up in the situation that we did? Those opposite refused to have a jobs plan, because they did not believe one was warranted. On top of that, it was basically a crime to be young — let alone young in regional Victoria. There were no jobs, and you could not get into TAFE. We were going backwards at a great rate of knots. That is what happens when one-term governments refuse to acknowledge there is a problem and refuse to move on and get anything done.
We also had a government that refused to have an infrastructure program. The workers who were being retrenched had no jobs to go to. Time and again I heard of people in my electorate staying by the phone every night waiting for a call to tell them they had a job. The phones went absolutely dead. There were no jobs, and there were no roads being built — nothing was happening. It was absolutely horrific.
We know that the former government had no plan for manufacturing. Basically it wanted manufacturers to pick up and leave.
It is now the job of the Andrews government to fix up the mess — —
Honourable members interjecting.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Finn) — Order! I am having a great deal of difficulty hearing Ms Tierney, and I ask Mr Ondarchie and Mr Ramsay to show a little restraint and allow Ms Tierney to carry on without assistance.
Ms TIERNEY — It is now the job of the Andrews government to fix the mess left by the previous government and get Victoria working again. That is exactly what we will do. It takes discipline and hard work to grow jobs in Victoria. Most of all Victoria needs a government that is serious about job creation. It does not need a government whose members are indifferent, incompetent and sit back and do nothing, and whose members stick their head in the sand when things go belly up.
I look forward to Victorians getting back to work. There are far too many people either unemployed or in insecure employment in this state. Victorian families need jobs, income and the ability to plan for their future and to aspire to a future that is better for them and better for their children. I implore those who are in the chamber tonight to vote for this bill, because it is a vote for Victorians, a vote for jobs and definitely a vote for western Victorians.