- That this house —
(1) notes that unemployment continues to grow, the current rate being the highest for more than a decade;
(2) expresses concern at the alarming figures for youth unemployment, identified in the Brotherhood of St Laurence Australian Youth Unemployment 2014 — Snapshot, in particular the increases across the state of 29 to 48 per cent;
(3) recognises that the impact of the Ford, Toyota, Holden and Alcoa closures is yet to be realised in the unemployment figures; and
(4) requires the Economy and Infrastructure References Committee to inquire into, consider and report by 19 August 2014 on the crisis confronting Victorian families through unemployment, with reference to —
- (a) effective measures to address youth unemployment in regional areas and metropolitan Melbourne;
- (b) the impact that cuts to TAFE and the education sector may have had on providing workers opportunity to reintegrate into the workforce;
- (c) the creation of full-time employment versus other precarious forms of employment;
- (d) the reviews of the Victorian and South Australian economies that were due to be reported to the federal government in February 2014; and
- (e) measures to reverse the current unemployment trend.
The first point in this motion notes that the unemployment rate continues to grow and that the current rate is the highest it has 55 400 more unemployed people than when the coalition took office — that is, 38 per cent more unemployed Victorians in the space of three years. The coalition has only created 1500 full-time jobs during its term so far, and less than 2.25 per cent of the new jobs are full-time jobs. During its last year in office Labor created 66 900 jobs, more than the coalition has managed to create in its first three years, and 67 per cent, or 44 900, of those jobs were full time.
When we talk about unemployment and full-time, part-time, casual and temporary jobs, and contract and labour hire employment, those figures and percentages only tell part of the story. The reality is that long-term unemployed retrenched workers and our young people have been having enormous problems trying to secure employment, which we know is having a major impact on families and which obviously is going to continue.
On many occasions in this chamber I have spoken about the spiralling loss of jobs in our state. I have read the study conducted by Flinders University of the closure of Mitsubishi. The study is an evaluation of the impact of retrenchment and focuses on affected workers and their families and communities, and also looks at the implications for human service policies and practices. I am also highly aware of the Geelong Advertiser’s recent survey of the impact of job losses in our region and the issues of social dislocation, depression and suicide. I do not believe the human side of what we are seeing is being given sufficient weight in this debate. As legislators it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the most needy in our society are looked after in vulnerable times and that they are afforded every opportunity to re-establish their lives. I also believe this is a measure by which a civilised and caring society can be judged.
I am exhausted by and frustrated with having to raise these matters given the wealth of material that litters our history on this subject.
We all know the impact that joblessness can have on a community and a family, yet there seems to be absolutely no plan by this government to address it. However, opposition members continue to hope that sooner or later compassion will break through the barriers of political intractability. I hope the government will adopt a holistic approach to the challenge that is before it. I also hope at some point the government will realise that the engine room of Victorian manufacturing is fast losing steam. But it appears that it is not to be, because as soon as I raise my eyes to the broader horizon hope begins to fade.
The Napthine government continues to fail the test of true leadership and the federal government simply blames the workers, everyone playing politics and nobody caring about the soon-to-be displaced.
These views are borne out by a recent survey by the Geelong Advertiser, which links the direct impact that joblessness is having with the mental wellbeing of our community, maintaining that depression levels have spiralled as manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Those same figures identify an increase in admissions to the Geelong Hospital for mental illness-related matters, with about 22 400 adults reporting that they suffer a high level of psychological distress. The survey does not factor in the more recent high-profile departures from the region, but nevertheless it shows a staggering increase of 4.7 per cent in depression levels on the 2008 statistics.
Healthy Together Geelong spokesperson Chad Foulkes said rising levels of depression correspond with the rise in redundancies across the manufacturing sector and the growing insecurity around jobs. Healthy Together has also pointed to other effects of joblessness, highlighting the potential for heart attacks, strokes and the likelihood of other chronic mental disorders.
This was evident in the Mitsubishi study, where it was found that the demographic was not dissimilar to that of Ford or Alcoa — that is, the affected employees were generally middle-aged to older men with limited formal education, and most were married or had partners. It is important to note that in their search for work following the closure roughly half found paid employment, but on closer examination a third were found to be employed on a casual basis only and 15 per cent were employed on short-term fixed contracts. Of the participants in the study, approximately 50 per cent said their lives had changed — but not for the better, as the Prime Minister recently suggested. That famous comment the Prime Minister made in relation to the announced closures of car manufacturing plants is that vehicle workers had been ‘liberated’ from their jobs. They are being liberated into very precarious employment or into unemployment queues.
The study demonstrated that even early on there were indicators of a community and population under stress, with a significant number of redundant workers reporting that job loss had affected their family life and sense of wellbeing. Some workers falling out of the labour market expressed concerns about housing costs, home rental and home ownership, and for those lucky enough to find jobs, it tended to be less secure and well-renumerated employment. Full-time permanent work that provides well-paid, reliable incomes to working families is central to the health and wellbeing of our communities. A life where families are barely able to scratch out a living is not an adequate recognition of the outstanding contribution these people have made over their entire working lives.
This is a crisis that we are facing both socially and economically. The community has the right to ask what industries will replace labour-intensive heavy industries in Geelong, Elizabeth, Altona, Broadmeadows and other manufacturing centres around Australia. Surely the government appreciates that our manufacturing employment still dwarfs mining employment and that mining is not geared to absorb the existing automotive industry skill base. Manufacturing provides stable wages and working conditions across a range of industry sectors. It also employs 1 million workers directly, contributes almost 10 per cent of gross domestic product and accounts for around one-third of our exports. These are often long-term well-paid jobs that span several decades, unlike those created through infrastructure projects that have to be reinvented every so many years.
To date this government’s response to this nightmare has been slow, sloppy and self-interested.
Its inaction will without a doubt form a lasting legacy of long-term unemployment and misery for thousands of Victorians. The only area in which the government seems to demonstrate any skill is its ability to compound disasters. I put it to you, Acting President, that we have what I would call a Sara Lee of disasters, layer upon layer of which are now coming to light through the Brotherhood of St Laurence’s recent report entitled Australian Youth Unemployment 2014 — Snapshot. This report produces some frightening figures that should set alarm bells ringing for even the most despondent Napthine government members.
By way of example I will look at Geelong, which of course is in my electorate, and the statistics are truly alarming. The report identifies that Geelong is facing a youth unemployment crisis and that Geelong is one of the worst affected areas in the state.
It quotes Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing that the rate of youth unemployment has risen 29 per cent in the last two years and will hit 19 per cent by 2016 if nothing is done. Tony Nicholson, the Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director, is quoted in a media release as saying:
- Victoria is facing a generational crisis. For young people caught up in this jobless spiral this can be a road to long-term poverty and reliance on welfare.
He also said:
- We know youth unemployment has a profoundly scarring effect on young people that will hurt their life chances, including the prospect of even holding down a job further down the track.
- This is also bad news for the … economy.
According to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the rate of youth unemployment has risen to a staggering 48 per cent in Melbourne’s outer east, including Ringwood, Croydon and Lilydale, over the past two years. The Geelong figure is 14.7 percent, up 29 per cent on what it was two years ago. These sorts of figures send shock waves through the community of Geelong, as community members constantly read newspaper headlines such as ‘Warning over jobless increase’, ‘Alarm on Geelong jobs — report reveals most suburbs at risk of further job losses’, ‘TAC to shed 70 workers’, ‘Barwon Water sheds 53 staff’ and ’27 more jobs gone — Truck supplier blames fading mining boom for redundancies’.
Other headlines include ‘Our hidden job losses …
state axes up to 500 in our region’, ‘Cool trade shutdown — 200 jobs on hold’, ‘Fight over job cuts — Napthine urged to –come clean–‘, ’15 carpet jobs go’, ‘Job cut fear for parks’, ’40 more get axe at Avalon’, ‘Job losses hit women — Region ranks highest for female unemployment’, ‘600 jobs on the line’, ‘More job cuts fear at Avalon — Workers on edge’, ‘Job cuts shattering’, ’35 jobs on the line’, ’30 jobs to go at Gforce’, ‘Cement job losses — Boral to sack nearly 100 at Waurn Ponds’, ‘Jobs fail to take off — Geelong workers sacked’, ‘126 workers in limbo’, ‘400 jobs lost each day in Vic’, ‘Jobless numbers for young pointing to crisis — Warning’ and ‘Youth work level forum — Jobless rate concerns agencies’. The list goes on and on, and they are mostly newspaper headlines in the Geelong Advertiser.
If you go further into my electorate of Western Victoria Region to Warrnambool, the Brotherhood of St Laurence report mentions that in other parts of the south-west unemployment has risen by 36 per cent in the last two years.
The Brotherhood predicts that youth joblessness in the region will hit 22.5 per cent in two years if nothing is done. The youth unemployment rate in Warrnambool has soared to 16.6 per cent, prompting the region’s job agencies to hold urgent talks to discuss ways of lowering these figures. Officials from the South West Local Learning and Employment Network are involved, along with the South West Institute of TAFE, Deakin University and other Warrnambool institutions, in trying to grapple with the problem that is facing the local community, particularly the young in the region.
However, the Premier, who is the lower house member for the area, continues to bury his head in the sand. He pretends that there is not really a problem and that it is just Labor wanting to twist the figures. I would like him to sit down face to face with the Brotherhood CEO and say that, but, I do not believe he would. Labor is not twisting the figures. This is a Premier who cannot bring himself to admit that unemployment levels in his own electorate have skyrocketed on his watch. The reality is that there were 65 200 people employed in January, and in February that figure fell sharply to 59 700. The Premier might not like to hear these figures, but they are the facts.
It is not uncommon to see headlines in the Warrnambool Standard talking about job losses similar to those in the Geelong papers, with headlines such as ’20 factory jobs axed’, ’27 jobs lost as trucking branch closes’, ‘MG job cuts ire’, ‘South-west youth suffer high unemployment’, ’30 lose their jobs — Kitset shuts doors’, ‘130 jobs face axe’, ‘Workers lose out as DSE shrinks’, ‘State jobs face axe — Public sector in firing line’ and ‘Tough times hit jobs — Business suffers’. All these articles have appeared whilst the Napthine government has been pretending there is no problem. Excuses and inaction do not create jobs, and the Napthine government has proven that over the past years.
Miles Coverdale, the CEO of Westvic Staffing Solutions, which has offices in Warrnambool, Hamilton, Portland, Colac and Camperdown, was cited in the Warrnambool Standard as saying job seekers have ‘suffered a double blow with the removal of training funding’. He went on to say that this has had a real impact on young women in the region and that there has been a decrease in the number of apprenticeships.
If you go to another major regional centre in my electorate, Ballarat, you see that the unemployment rate has also increased over recent months. On 21 February the Ballarat Courier published an article titled ‘More join jobs hunt in Ballarat’, which explained that in February the unemployment rate had jumped to 6 per cent. That was a 1.7 per cent increase from the previous December. Just over a month later, on 22 March, the Ballarat Courier published an article titled ‘Ballarat’s jobless rate jumps in February’, which explained that Ballarat’s joblessness rate had risen another 1 per cent, to 7 per cent.
These are very recent figures. However, they do not mirror the long-term figures. Since the government took office in November 2010, unemployment across the state has risen, and it is now at its highest level for more than a decade.
What compounds this sorry state of affairs are the savage cuts to training and education in Geelong, Warrnambool and across the whole state by this government. At a time of unprecedented need, the government shows no sign of restoring funding to the industry and is still deaf to the calls of educators on what needs to be done. On this side of the house we say the starting point has to be the restoration of funding as it was under Labor. Once equity is restored in the system, the industry will then be able to advise what more it needs to deal with in terms of our current crisis.
As I travel around my electorate, I hear stories on a repeated basis.
I was at a function on Thursday night where the MC — a self-described country girl — spoke of how her brother was involved in a TAFE course and that the course no longer exists as a result of the TAFE cuts. He had two choices: stay in town and not go to TAFE, or shift. Often people do shift; they try to follow the course. That also impacts on our rural and regional communities, particularly rural communities that are already heavily impacted by population drift. That drift is often outweighed by the number of youth who leave those towns in search of employment and further study. That clearly is being exacerbated. It has been over the last 18 months and will continue to be as long as this current government is in power.
It is also important to add to this debate the Auditor-General’s comments in the report on apprenticeship and traineeship completion that was recently tabled in the house.
The Auditor-General’s report demonstrated to us the hard and old reality that this government has turned its back on the community and young people in Victoria in the area of apprenticeships and traineeships. One of the findings was that the government had failed to improve the number of qualified people being introduced into the workforce. It also found that 38 per cent of people who commence a traineeship or apprenticeship do not complete it, with the most common reason for quitting being a lack of support and low wages.
Rather than assisting our young people to complete their training — these are people who want jobs, want to be trained and are in the system — this government has scrapped a range of assistance measures that were in place. The apprenticeship accommodation allowance, designed to assist people who have to travel for their training, which is particularly relevant in my electorate, has been scrapped. The apprenticeship trade bonus, which financially supported people at the beginning of their training, has been scrapped.
Even more alarmingly, the apprenticeship training completion bonus, which provided financial incentive to finish training, is gone.
The Auditor-General makes the observation that this report exposes the government’s position on training in Victoria. It simply has not applied any consideration or assessment of outcomes, nor has it vested any interest at all in our young people and their skills. It is not the Labor Party saying that; it is not even the Brotherhood of St Laurence saying that. It is the Auditor-General saying that the Napthine government has walked away from apprentices and trainees in this state. He said that the government has denied the importance of having qualified and skilful members of our workforce and that that will have an impact on industry and the livelihood of our state. This is a damning indictment of a government that is in the slow lane.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence report says:
- Make no mistake: no skills, no job, no quality of life.
The Napthine government must accept that these issues impact the whole nation.
The disadvantage is not isolated to a select percentage of school leavers or even future generations of school leavers; the impact will extend to the nation’s economy, industry and production. This government will condemn young people to a life sentence of poverty, contributing to a permanent underclass, if it does not act. Surely there are those on the other side of the chamber who do not support this.
That is why I have chosen to put paragraphs in the motion before us today that refer this whole issue of unemployment, youth unemployment and the fact that the large closures do not yet feed into the unemployment numbers, because a lot of those closures have not fully occurred. That is why I am also seeking some indication from the government as to whether it recognises that there is a significant problem we have as Victorians generally, regardless of political party. That is why I have sought for this matter to be referred to an upper house committee for an inquiry into these key issues.
It would give the opportunity for this house to examine the reports that are available. It also calls for the federal government report on the Victorian and South Australian economies and the documentation and evidence that has been provided to the federal government to be examined. Moreover, once knowing that information, members of the committee would have the opportunity to reflect on the situation and the evidence and then work together in structuring their views and ideas on a positive approach to job creation.
This is what Labor is looking for today in relation to this motion.
It wants some indication that this government is now going to get very serious, albeit late, about what the issues are, stop playing political football with the serious issues before us, sit down and have a proper parliamentary inquiry into the situation, utilise the full support and services of the Parliament to be able to conduct the inquiry and, moreover, have the responsibility to search, look for and make recommendations on how we can create jobs in this state/ It should be concerned about the wellbeing of Victorians who are impacted by this current crisis and not just look at job creation but also work on the other mechanisms that are required to ensure that the enormously negative impact this job crisis is having on Victorian families is alleviated somewhat.
The response so far from the government has been ad hoc at best. There certainly has not been a plan. There have been some announcements. There was a recent announcement in Brunswick this morning, but it does not connect with the skills that are held and required.
There is no connection to manufacturing workers who are being retrenched, and it certainly does not go looking for any young people who are desperately in search of a job.
The committee would also express its views on the government’s response so far, and whether it has been an adequate response. Moreover, where it has been an inadequate response, the committee would produce recommendations that actually get people back in work and get this state moving again. It would make sure that there are jobs, not just in the blue-collar area but also white-collar jobs — and not just for retrenched workers or the long-term unemployed but also for young people, who we have to look after. I commend this motion to the house.