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Thank you for the invitation to speak with you this morning at your Leaders’ Summit as you explore how we can balance the system to deliver cooperative, productive and harmonious workplaces.
As the Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations I have the privilege and the responsibility for driving policies and programs that touch the lives of employers, small businesses, employees and people looking for work, right across the country.
Because when we show leadership and create the right environment for business to thrive; it ultimately leads to more Australians in more jobs.
Creating the right environment
Much has been said about Australia being a lucky country.
And indeed we are, but many point to our 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth and suggest that this is somehow a feature of good breaks, the right geo-political times, and our deep rich mineral resources.
But that hardly explains our story.
Our nation has been prosperous because of our people.
Our national story is the story of millions of Australians who, despite having their differences, whether their age, gender, ethnicity, background or education, whether they live in the city or the regions – are united in one very key respect – they are united in an aspiration – to make a better life for themselves, for their families and for their community.
It is why so many people want to come to Australia to make a new life here. People like Australian of the Year, scientist Professor Michelle Simmons, who chose to leave England to come to Australia to undertake her ground-breaking research on quantum physics that has the potential to not just change the nation but the world.
In our country, we believe that those who want to have a go, should get a go.
It is the story of entrepreneurship and risk taking – of people like my grandparents who created an opportunity for themselves – with my grandmother making felt ties and my grandfather selling them door to door, before saving enough money to set up a milk bar, and then a licensed grocery that employed people.
The combined successes of millions of Australians as employers, small business owners, independent contractors and employees is the foundation for our economic success as a nation.
When we came into office in September 2013, we made a commitment to set the right economic conditions that would create jobs for more Australians.
We can now confidently say our economic plan is paying dividends.
More Australians are in work than ever before, with the latest jobs figures showing employment is at a record high of 12,631,300.
More Australians are also in full-time work than ever before.
The latest labour force figures released this month by the ABS underscore the strength and resilience of the Australian labour market.
I am proud that due to our plan for a stronger economy, 1,144,500 jobs have been created since we came to office.
As Minister for Jobs I want to create opportunities for all Australians to work, regardless of where they live, or their qualifications.
This means jobs not just in the cities but also in our vital regions.
Sometimes it is about just getting a foot in the door, particularly for our young people. Or for parents, returning to the workforce after taking time out to care for young children, or those that have to fit it all in while they continue to work.
More than 100,000 young people under 24 years have got a job over the past 12 months alone.
Female full-time employment has increased by 78,600 (or 2.5 per cent) over the last year, to stand at a record high, of 3,168,200.
The single most important thing we as a Government can do to turn around a person’s life is to get them into a job.
It is about more than just money in the pocket. A job brings with it dignity and self-worth.
It is good for your health.
It helps you connect with other people.
It gives you more choices and puts you on a path to financial security.
Our nation’s social safety net is crucial for those people, who for various reasons, cannot work.
But for everyone else, the objective should be to get them into the workforce.
Obviously, the Government is focused on the macro-economic settings to keep our economy strong and growing.
But there is also the important work at the grass-roots level, which falls under my responsibility as Minister.
Finding opportunities for the long-term unemployed
In terms of the unemployed and the long-term unemployed, I believe we need a three-point approach to drive better results:
Firstly, we need long-term unemployed people themselves to take part in work programs that give them the skills, education or experience they need.
Either way, they have to turn up, and they need to keep fronting up.
Work might start with a couple of days a week, or some shift work, or a stint at seasonal work. Or it might start with getting skills and experience through volunteering.
We need to find the pathways to employment for a better life for those looking for work, but at the same time we expect people to be trying hard themselves, participating. It is a mutual obligation compact.
As a Government we strongly believe that young people should be studying or working or actively taking steps that will lead to getting a job.
A second element to this mutual obligation is that there has to be very active support, planning and back-up from Government, especially for people who are at the margins.
We need to help unemployed people to overcome as many obstacles as possible.
Through our employment providers, we need to help people to overcome fear of change, fear of losing their security of benefits, or help with housing insecurity and unstable personal circumstances.
We need to find out what each individual’s barriers are and give them the support they need to break through those barriers.
We should not under-estimate or dismiss these barriers.
People generally want to do well. Sometimes they just don’t know where to start because for some, sadly, they have had no functional role models.
As a Government, we also have to make sure our employment providers are not simply churning the long-term unemployed through employment programs, but are actually focusing on the outcome.
They need to help their clients get a job and keep it.
And thirdly and finally, industry and businesses need to step up and give the unemployed a go.
Industry likes to have skilled and “job ready” workers.
They want the education and training system to do all the prepping for them.
But industry also needs to accept more social responsibility and partner with the community to invest in the low-skilled and un-trained workers and individuals who haven’t worked in a long time if ever, but who will, in time, become productive and valuable workers.
Of course, the Government is providing significant wage subsidies — of up to $10,000 — to support businesses to take people on, while they learn the ropes.
Putting on unemployed people is an investment in the future of your business, and in the nation’s future.
Yes, it can be a challenge.
No, you may not get instant results. But the rewards are also huge.
Everyone benefits when we get an unemployed person into a job.
They can regain confidence and positive community connections; they set a positive example in their families; they pay tax and help reduce government spending by reducing dependency on welfare.
Children of parents who have a very high level of welfare dependency have a 90 per cent chance of interacting with the welfare system themselves by the age of 25.
Which is why I believe there is no more exciting part of Government than the Jobs and Industrial Relations portfolio.
We need to work with individuals and help remove barriers, but we also need to have the guard rails which many do need to keep on the right path.
We need to focus on balancing the system so we can get more people into work, and that is exactly what our Government is doing.
Turning briefly now to my other area of responsibility - Industrial Relations.
Scott Morrison’s decision to put Industrial Relations back in Cabinet is a clear indication of the Government’s recognition of its importance as part of our broader economic agenda.
Our Government sees industrial relations as being closely related to its fundamental commitment to fairness, job creation and a healthy economy.
The workplace relations regulatory framework must ensure it achieves the basic test of fairness.
And when I say fairness – I mean fairness for all.
The safety net — of terms and conditions that provide the minimum entitlements for all employees — sets the strong foundation, which we can build upon to achieve this.
That is why it is essential that strong enforcement mechanisms exist to ensure that the minimum terms are complied with.
But fairness must apply to all.
While we are all in agreement that sustainable wage growth is a good thing, it should not be as a result of deals like the one struck this week by unions in Victoria. We learn through the Herald Sun that the unions struck an extraordinary sweetheart deal with the Victorian Government for the Metro Tunnel and the West Gate Tunnel; that will result in workers being paid $150,000 a year, including bumping up site allowances of $25,000 a year.
But who pays for these wages that push up the prices of these projects which will add hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars to the cost?
It is not the construction companies. It is not the Government.
It is the people in my home state of Victoria who will pay higher toll charges and taxes.
And if you spend more on one project it means less money for hospitals, schools and other public works that benefit the community.
That’s why these sweetheart deals are not fair.
Similarly, when the Coalition Government objects to the flagrant lawlessness on construction sites, it is not just because it is wrong to disregard court orders and Fair Work Commission rulings, it is also because the cost of this law-breaking is borne by the community.
We know it costs 30 per cent more to undertake construction projects in Australia as a result.
And remember that the construction industry has the highest number of businesses operating in Australia – 371, 593 (or 16.6 per cent of total businesses), and that over 98.8 per cent of these are small businesses.
Where a law breaking culture infects an industry, such as building and construction, there are costs to society, including the loss of Australian investment.
We are not talking parking fines here.
And these are not victimless crimes.
The whole community pays these costs.
We as a Government cannot stand by and ignore unlawful actions; we have an obligation to protect our community, protect small business, and protect our economy.
Important economic and labour market reform in this country were driven by the Hawke, Keating and Howard Governments.
These reforms resulted from intelligent and balanced policy debate and the active involvement of the business community, the ACTU and other stakeholders.
Through that period there was a high level of bipartisanship because the economy needed to be more open, and more adaptable to the changing world.
Well the speed of change in the world has only increased since then – but the union movement’s political arm, the ALP, wants to undo many of the important changes made by those reformist governments that history has judged well.
I believe that current ALP policies in this area are a recipe for damage to the Australian economy and the Australian community.
Importantly, the most direct damage is likely to be inflicted on those in the community who are most in need of employment and its rewards.
The ALP approach is neither fair nor balanced.
Indeed it is best described as damaging and irresponsible.
I will be addressing this further in coming months.
But this is why the Government is determined to progress the Government's Ensuring Integrity Bill, which is currently before the Senate.
The Bill will ensure that all registered organisations, which includes unions and employer associations, are run by 'fit and proper' people, can be deregistered or placed under administration when, for example, there is widespread lawlessness, and can only merge when this is in the public interest.
The Ensuring Integrity Bill is critical to making sure all Australians are being treated fairly.
We know that Australian businesses, like those that ACCI represent, will continue to need willing and able workers.
That’s why our Government is supporting people to get the skills they need to be an asset to any employer.
We are today launching a new feature on the Job Outlook website, which provides the first step in the Government’s vision for integrated and forward looking platforms to help all Australians plan for and leverage the careers of the future.
As we continue to adapt and transition to the digital economy, it is critical that all workers have access to the information they need about emerging industries and sectors including re-skilling and up-skilling.
This allows people to make informed choices about study, training and career pathways.
The Explore Australia tool will help those looking for work or wanting a career change to find out what skills are in demand where they live. With information sorted by state or region, people can explore opportunities in the local area or further afield.
The Government will now turn its attention to how we can provide workers and employers with more integrated information to help them understand their employability and provide an actionable roadmap to plan and succeed in a career transition.
This Government is focused on making sure workers have the support they need to take advantage of employment opportunities.
I need you to do the same.
Think about how you can support someone looking for work, whether they are younger, older, a parent — whatever their situation in life — and give them the chance to get ahead and to contribute to your business.
I look forward to continuing to working closely with ACCI to make sure that we are getting the balance right, and I thank your organization for your great contribution to the public policy debate in this country.
As a Government we are proud of our achievements to date on jobs, but we will not rest in our commitment to creating the right macro environment for business to flourish and our work at the grassroots to help people find the pathways to work, and the pathways to a better life for them and their children.