NESA Practitioners Conference 2010, Melbourne

Speech
  • Minister for Employment Participation
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery

Grand Ballroom The Sebel Albert Park Hotel 65 Queens Rd, Melbourne 9am Thursday 10 June 2010

(Check against delivery)

Acknowledgements

  • I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation
  • Stephen Creese, Chair of NESA
  • NESA Board Members
  • Sally Sinclair, CEO of NESA

Introduction

It’s almost exactly a year since I spoke to you at the NESA practitioner’s conference, in what was one of my first acts as Minister for Employment Participation.

The last 12 months has been a roller coaster for those in employment services.... dealing with a global recession and in recent times with the challenges of uneven economic recovery.

Together we have succesfully introduced Job Services Australia and and our new disability employment service.And I am happy to report both programs are doing extremely well and have passed their transition tests.

Today is a great opportunity to look back over the past year and to look forward to the challenges ahead.

Today is also an opportunity to thank and congratulate all of you and NESA on what a fantastic job you have done in helping countless Australians gain jobs in a very difficult period.

The GFC

Of course, if you look globally, Australia is doing very well.

Our unemployment rate is lower than every other advanced major economy, with the exception of Japan.

Australia averted the worst of the global financial crisis and the Rudd government did what it had to do acting early and decisively to support jobs.

According to Treasury the Government’s economic stimulus supported 200,000 jobs across the country.

And in recovery our economy has grown creating 230,000 jobs during the past 12 months – a phenomenal figure.

Other countries can only dream to have that kind of employment growth as they come out of the financial crisis.

G20 Employment Ministers meeting

Recently I was in Washington for the meeting of the G20 Employment Ministers.

Of course some of my colleagues came with terrible stories – of unemployment rates like 10% in France and the USA.

And if you look at other countries, the situation is even worse – in Spain the unemployment rate is 19% and for youth a staggering 40%. In Ireland, the unemployment rate is 13% and for youth 27%.

During the three days of the conference I came away with a renewed appreciation for how well we did as a country and how effective our employment services system is at helping people into work.

My counterparts were extremely interested in what steps the Government has taken to stimulate the economy but they were more fascinated by our new job network and about the numbers of people placed into jobs.

Fascinated about the money set aside to help job seekers find work experience or new skills and about the number of training programs we have in Australia ready to help a job seeker to gain new skills.

They were astounded.

For many, such a system is difficult to conceptualise.It’s just so far from what they have.

Can I take this opportunity on behalf of the Prime Minister to thank you and congratulate you on the excellent work you, collectively and individually, have done to help Australians weather the economic storm.

To help them to get experience, to gain skills and to find jobs.

We have achieved a great deal together, but this is not the time to ease up.

I don't think it is a surprise to everyone here that we have mountains of work to do and many disadvantaged and distressed Australians are relying on our efforts and support.

The Challenge Ahead

Let me take you through some of these challenges.When we met a year ago, the unemployment rate was 5.8% and was forecast to rise to 8 ¼ percent.

Australia’s unemployment rate is now 5.4% - although that may change when the new rate is announced later today.

While this is obviously a massive improvement on where we feared unemployment would peak at, you know and I know that in some places around Australia, and for some people, it’s very, very hard to get a job.

That’s especially the case if you don’t have the education and skills employers are looking for.

In Cairns the unemployment rate is 11.7 percent.

In North Western Melbourne, it’s 8.9 percent.

And still the most worrying is our high youth unemployment rate.

Down from 12.2 per cent last June to 11.3 per cent in December, it has since climbed slightly to 11.8 per cent last month.

To put that another way: since January an extra 10,300 young people have presented at your offices – taking the total to 249,100 unemployed young people.

In Canterbury-Bankstown, in my home state of New South Wales, the youth unemployment rate is 17.7 percent. That’s 4,800 or more than one in 10, young people aged 15-24 without a job.

In North Western Melbourne, the youth unemployment rate is 16.7 percent. That’s also 4,800, or more than one in 10, young people aged 15-24 without a job.

While much of this is cyclical and will require urgent work, of even more serious concern is the rise in long term unemployment from 12.4 percent to 17.6 percent in the past 12 months

Long term unemployment has been a serious problem for many decades and all governments have largely failed in reducing these levels despite our country's economic circumstances.

During most of the past decade, Australia enjoyed unprecedented economic growth fuelled largely by a resources boom.

But as we know not all Australians benefited.

  • The cycle of disadvantage among jobless families continued.
  • People with disability and mental illness faced obstacles to participation.
  • The employment gap between Indigenous people and other Australians remained unacceptably wide.
  • And long-term and very long-term unemployment remained high.

Before the recession of the early 1990s, the proportion of unemployed people who had been out of work for at least 12 months was one in five.

It rose as high as one in three during the peak of the global downturn.

Right now we still have 110,300 long-term unemployed, or one in six of all unemployed people.

But as you all know and as history has shown it’s not just a simple job matching exercise.

We as a Government, and you as practitioners, must every day address, the complex barriers to employment faced by job seekers

Whether that is homelessness, mental illness, poverty or educational disadvantage; we need to be looking for innovative employment solutions and be working as collaboratively as possible on the task something I will talk more about later.

You’ve probably heard in the media the Opposition Leader has said he’ll cut support for anyone under 30 who’s been unemployed for six months.

His idea from what I gather is to give job seekers up to $5000 and make them move to Western Australia and work in the mines where jobs are supposed to be aplenty.

I wouldn’t normally be political at a conference like this, but in an election year the Opposition’s policies need to be scrutinised. So please forgive me, but this policy in particular is so risky I cannot leave it unchecked.

So let’s look in depth at his proposal for a minute.

Tony Abbott's argument is that all our job seekers should be able to get a job within six months if they really tried and were prepared to relocate to the other side of the country.

It sounds simple in theory, but coming from someone who served as Australia's Employment Minister for five years it truly is worrying.

Mr Abbott has based his idea on populst stereotypes of job seekers – that they are lazy and playing the system. But he is wrong and deep down he knows it.

Let’s look at the characteristics of our under-30 job seekers who’ve been unemployed for more than six months.

The people Tony Abbott thinks we can pick up and dump on the other side of the country, without any family or friends for support and where rents are averaging $1600 a week:

  • 60% have not completed year 12 or equivalent.
  • 14% have a disability.
  • 15% are homeless.
  • 4% have a drug and alcohol problem.
  • 40% don’t have a drivers’ licence.

I am sure you are getting the picture.

This idea might grab you a headline.

It might make it appear that you’re tough for the cameras.

But it won’t get people into a job.

You know that, I know that, and employers know that.

That’s why they almost universally said it wouldn’t work.

It seems everyone except the Opposition Leader knows you have to train someone and provide them with employment skills for them to get off employment benefits.

And today's announcement about the 90 minute rule is yet another thought bubble that won't actually help to get people into work.

You know, even more than I do, that the 90 minute rule is not a barrier to employment.

Your experience tells you that.

But if Tony Abbott is elected, that will be his policy.

I'd rather focus on things that will get people a job.

That’s why our approach, and the key to making real inroads into long term unemployment, is to focus participation requirements primarily on training for work, developing employability skills and on integrating employment, education and work experience programs at every level.

There are no short cuts.

This requires hard work and dedication – each job seeker needs personalised help, their barriers need to be addressed and the training they are provided must be focussed on outcomes.

Progress since last NESA conference

And the best way to make this happen is of course to empower our employment providers and to place JSA at the centre of all our government and community efforts, something that the new model aims to achieve.

When I stood before you a year ago we were opening the door on a brave new way of working.

A more effective way of working.

The network is designed to give you the flexibility you need to do what’s best for your clients – what’s best to get them into a job.

And it is working.

JSA has beaten the knockers and is now well and truly getting Australians into work.

Since July 1 last year, you’ve:

  • Placed 333,000 people into a job
  • Developed 1.3 million employment pathway plans
  • Helped 170,000 job seekers into 332 300 training courses and 300,000 job seekers into work experience placements.

Most importantly on a like-for-like basis, comparing 13-week job outcomes of JSA with the same period for the old Job Network, JSA employment outcomes are 13 per cent higher.

That is an outstanding result, a result that gives me great confidence for the future.

There will always be challenges with a program this big and diverse, so we will continue to monitor progress of the network and to fine tune it on the back of advice from the sector and job seekers.

The challenge for you and all of us is to fully utilise the new innovations and flexibility to do even better.

Disability Employment Services

I now want to update you briefly on where we’re at with the new, much improved Disability Employment Services.

The uncapped service started in March following extensive consultation.

Like JSA, it was a very smooth transition and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank NESA and all of you for your help in rolling it out.

And I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of all of the staff in my Department who worked with you before, and since, it began to make sure the transition was seamless.

We have seen some encouraging figures, and I think they speak for the excellent work the providers do in their role and the faith we have in the progam for the future.

The Budget

I spoke earlier about the flexibility the new employment services system gives practitioners to find the best way to help each individual job seeker.

From the Government’s perspective, the rationale is simple – you’re the people best placed to determine the best course for a job seeker.

For some who are already skilled, that will be to look for work and get a job.

For others, without skills, without language or literacy skills or who have other barriers to employment, you’ve got a range of options to choose from to get each job seeker into the best position to get and keep a job.

Our recent budget has given you even more options through our Skills package.

Here are just a few:

  • a Critical Skills Investment Fund. The fund has opportunities for providers to partner with industry to provide jobs for unemployed people in sectors with skill shortages. We’ll be consulting on the guidelines for the Fund soon so be sure to have your say;
  • the extension of the successfulApprentice Kickstart program – we’re aiming to get 22,500 young apprentices in traditional trades from 12 May to 12 November; and
  • expanding the Language, Literacy and Numeracy program to more than 70 000 job seekers over the next four years, ensuring even more Australians will be job ready, helping overcome economic and social barriers to participation.

I urge everyone in this room to take full advantage of these new training and skills development initiatives- talk to your local employers. Talk to your training providers and develop innovative projects and pilots.

My Department is here to help and advise you and I know if we can work just a little smarter and collaboratively we can make real inroads into some of the most difficult employment areas - Indigenous Australians, youth, the homeless and of course the long term unemployed.

Conclusion

Friends,

Since we met last year I’ve visited dozens of JSAs across the country.

From Geraldton to Gladstone, Hobart to Yarrabah, Melbourne to Maroochydore.

I have met many of you in this room, as employment providers you have at times inspired me, amazed me, frustrated me - But almost always made me proud.

Most of all, you have taught me.

Collectively your knowledge, passion and experience are powerful things.I want to harness those traits for the future.

We need to consider new ways of connecting with national employers and integrating

JSA with state government programs and training organisations.

New ways that will achieve better results for Australians who want to get a job.

Over the coming months I look forward to consulting providers and talking to NESA about ways we can foster long-term and productive cooperation in the sector and to working with all of you into the future.

Enjoy the rest of the conference.

I’ll close by simply saying: keep up the good work.

Thank you.

For more information

Media mailbox: media@jobs.gov.au