Ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege and a pleasure to be addressing you today at the National Employment Services Association (NESA) Practitioners Conference.
I‘m here with Jason Clare, Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, a Member representing an electorate in Western Sydney who knows all too well the impact the Global Recession and unemployment is having in our communities.
Having been sworn in this week as Minister for Employment Participation I know that I have much to learn about my portfolio, particularly about the important work undertaken by professionals within the industry.
It‘s one of the reasons I was so keen to get to this conference because it provides me a great opportunity to give you my initial views on the portfolio. I don‘t want to go into the details you already know about how job programs work, but I do want to use this opportunity to let you know what I‘m passionate about, to listen to your issues and suggestions and assure you my door is always open to your ideas and enthusiasm. It‘s only by working together that we will move forward in this difficult economic period.
I should start by sending my apologies from the former minister and now Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O‘Connor. Brendon has been a passionate advocate for the employment sector and has been a champion for the disadvantaged and long term unemployed. He has been a close friend of NESA and all your organisations and helped establish the foundations for Job Services Australia.
While most of you have only heard of my name over the past week, can I tell you I have held many jobs across the political, union, business and blue collar sectors – I know the importance of employment.
We all know that having a job provides financial security, but as you all know, it goes much further than that – employment provides us with confidence and self esteem. Our job helps define who we are as an individual and is the glue that keeps communities and families together and builds social harmony. Jobs are also the best way to fight poverty and social disadvantage, something that I am deeply committed to doing. Y
esterday I visited Mission‘s Australia‘s urban renewal project in Melbourne with the Prime Minister to announce the first 33 projects in out $41 million Innovation fund. I got to the project at a Heildelberg Park early so I could talk to the participants about the program and I found the young men hard at it, working in the rain gardening and landscaping and you could see the happiness, purpose and confidence. Talking to them was inspirational – one of the young men was 24 and said most of his life he‘d spent sleeping and on the couch, now he wanted to be a landscape gardener and had been working with the program for over 12 months.
Here‘s what they said, and these comments would be familiar to you:
- "It's not just the fact that I'm working, it's the fact that I'm helping the community as well."
- "I never want to go back to the way I was - sleeping in, on the dole - it's not worth it."
- "I'm confident to get into an apprenticeship after this."
Now I raise this project not for any other reason but to say thank you for the work you are doing. As I look out at the audience here today, I see people who have dedicated their professional lives to helping others. That can be a very rewarding vocation. I also know that it can be burdensome in difficult times. Y
ou are the practitioners, the consultants, the service providers who are there at the point where policy is transformed into action. I am asking you today to join the Government in a partnership to get our fellow Australians back into training – back into work; back into prosperity. Each of you in this room is working for the common good, each of you are contributing to building a better and fairer society and I am proud and humbled to be able to work with you on this noble cause.
Despite my short tenure in the job, I have already been made aware of the critical contribution made by NESA practitioners towards helping Australian job seekers. The Government and NESA have faced considerable challenges over the last 18 months, not the least being the necessary reforms to employment services. We have consolidated seven separate programs into one coordinated strategy—Job Services Australia. We have a strong association. This is why we have placed a lot of faith in NESA, particularly through funding to support implementation and transition to Job Services Australia.
It is both understandable and excusable that some in our community are fatigued by negative reports about the global financial crisis. By now, most people are keenly aware of the gravity of the situation faced by virtually all economies around the world. We face stagnant or slowing economic growth, and we face the inevitable, unfortunate by-product of that—rising unemployment.
In Australia, we have been encouraged by some recent good news with figures showing an increase in our trade surplus and a positive quarter of economic growth up to March this year. As the Treasurer noted, this outcome demonstrated the resilience of Australia in the face of a savage global financial crisis. No one is at all persuaded that these figures represent the end of the difficulties we face. But they are a welcome sign.
Last month‘s Federal Budget, coupled with the prior announced stimulatory measures, have armed the Government with powerful tools to help ease the pain of those most affected by the global financial crisis, and provided the building blocks for a brighter future. I have some positive things to say today about how NESA can collaborate with Government and industry to contribute to the recovery.
Moreover, the Government has made changes to the the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) in response to concerns raised by providers that will allow job seekers to propose small businesses from a wider set of criteria. I will have more to say on this later. And while new to my job – I hope to soon be able to make some announcements about the Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument which I know many of you are eager to see.
Job Services Australia is central to the Government‘s integrated policy approach to the global financial crisis, including the Stimulus Plan. It is important to reflect on the Stimulus measures that Government has introduced to give context to that partnership. While you‘ll hear some criticism about the Stimulus, labeling it a 'cash splash', I can tell you that 70 percent of the Stimulus is infrastructure. When it gets up to full steam there will be 35,000 projects around the country. That‘s 35,000 sites supporting jobs – and each of those workers will fill their car at the local petrol station, buy some food at the local take away and maybe stop and get some groceries or a gift on their way home. The flow on effects to each of our local economies is obvious.In phase 1, the cash payments, we sought an immediate stimulus to the economy. Our advice was we needed an immediate response. In phase 2, the Government announced a $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan to support jobs and invest in future long-term economic growth through:
- free ceiling insulation for around 2.7 million Australian homes;
- building or upgrading a building in every one of Australia‘s 9,540 schools;
- building more than 20,000 new social and defence homes;
- a temporary business investment tax break for small and general businesses buying eligible assets; and
- $890 million to support Australian jobs by improving community infrastructure and safety on the nation‘s roads.
Phase 3 was announced as part of the budget. The budget marks a new phase of infrastructure development, moving into larger and longer-term projects. The Budget is about nation building for recovery - $22 billion on large and long term nation building infrastructure-roads, rail, ports, health, broadband and clean energy projects. It will enable Australia to recover from the global recession faster than almost any other advanced economies. Investment in these critical infrastructure projects will provide a sustained boost to the economy and enhance the productive capacity of the economy.
Energy Efficient Homes is a key part of the Australian Government‘s plan to support jobs and set Australia up for a low carbon future. As part of the second phase, the Government is installing free ceiling insulation in around 2.7 million homes at a cost of $4 billion over four years. Significant employment opportunity will flow from this program, both from the manufacture of the necessary products and through installation. The Government is currently working with NESA and other key stakeholders to put in place a partnership that aims to train and place job seekers into work that promotes Energy Efficient Homes.
There will be a role for Job Services Australia providers and practitioners to help assist job seekers with training and skills development. This initiative will also increase training and employment of Indigenous Australians as a commitment to 'Closing the Gap' for Indigenous Australians. This is an issue which I am particularly passionate about.
I have mentioned a couple of times today there is a strong need for Government, NESA, other employment service providers, and critically practitioners like you, to form a partnership to meet the challenges faced by the global financial crisis. This is not rhetoric. This initiative will be a practical and tangible way that we can work together to give job seekers a chance at re-skilling and a new job and I hope to have more to say about that in the coming weeks.
The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) is well known in the industry. Eligible job seekers who are interested in starting and running a small business can access assistance to make their idea a reality. NEIS provides accredited small business training, business advice and mentoring for eligible job seekers, as well as ongoing income support for up to 52 weeks. For its part, NEIS has been, and will continue to be, a means by which many unemployed people have turned a good business idea into a financially viable, sustainable and dynamic small business.
The Government knows that more than 80 per cent of those who participate in NEIS do not return to income support three months after their NEIS assistance ends. A recent study by the Department showed a similar percentage of NEIS businesses were still operating 16 months after their assistance in the NEIS program ended. The study also highlighted that after 16 months if a NEIS participant is not running their original business, they are in employment, education or training.Today I am announcing that from 1 July 2009, when the new Job Services Australia arrangements commence, job seekers in Streams 1 and 2 will be able to propose a small business that meets any of the following criteria:
- it fills a need in an industry, including the service industry, where there are skills shortages – current and emerging skills in demand;
- is in a business area that services or supplies industries where there are skills shortages – current and emerging skills in demand;
- produces locally, and competes with or substitutes for goods imported domestically or exported internationally;
- services gaps in critical supply chains in priority industries; or
- is innovative (ie meets or advances the Government‘s Productivity Agenda).
Just as importantly, NEIS providers will have the discretion to decide which businesses satisfy these criteria. This in itself is a vote of confidence in the professionalism of our NEIS providers and underscores the new partnership we want to develop with them in the years to come.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced details of the first round of projects approved under the Innovation Fund. The Innovation fund is valuable component of Job Services Australia. It is designed to address the needs of the most disadvantaged job seekers through funding projects that will foster innovative solutions to overcome barriers to employment. The Australian Government has provided $41 million over three years for Innovation Fund projects and up to 9000 disadvantaged job seekers will benefit from this program.
The Government has just approved 33 projects worth $20.4 million under the Innovation Fund. Some of the projects that will receive funding include social enterprises, projects that boost literacy, numeracy, and language skills, work experience placements and training opportunities. This Government will not leave disadvantaged job seekers behind, regardless of the prevailing economic circumstances.
Governments can create the best policy in the world but it means nothing if we don‘t have strong partnerships with those working at the coal face. At this practitioners‘ conference there are many staff members from the Department here to assist you with a number of important issues, including the transition to Job Services Australia. I think that says something about the outstanding value you bring to the vital field of employment services and the discussion on reforms to the system.
The fact is, the Government, and indeed Australia, requires your help and assistance to face challenges few could have predicted as little as 12 months ago. Challenges that transcend any we have experienced in recent memory.
I look forward to working with you in building Australia‘s recovery and renewal.