I am very pleased to rise in support of this important motion moved by my friend the member for Charlton, which sets out a very sorry record from this government on jobs and calls for urgent action. I emphasise the statement for the benefit of the member for Herbert:… there is no higher obligation on a Commonwealth government than to support and promote the employment prospects of its citizens …
This is an obligation that this government is failing lamentably.
The electorate of Scullin, like that of Charlton and like that of Rankin, faces significant challenges in respect of unemployment, in part owing to complex issues, including intergenerational disadvantage. Breaking these cycles is difficult, but it is made even harder when there is a government seemingly obsessed with making people's lives worse.
The most recent budget implicitly recognised some of the damage which has been done, with the reinstatement, albeit rebadged, of Labor's policies such as Youth Connections and partnership brokers—of course, without explanation and without apology as to why these and other programs were abolished in the first place. We can only assume they were cut in a flurry of ideologically inspired incompetence by this government. The original reason was, of course, the so-called budget emergency, which has miraculously disappeared, just 12 months later. I am certainly relieved for the young people and the providers in Melbourne's north but question why they had to be put through this ordeal in the first place.
Members opposite have been hubristically talking up the government's apparent record in job creation, but let us not forget Tony Abbott's commitment to create one million new jobs in five years, a commitment not spoken of by members opposite. It is little wonder. When we were in government, Labor had to contend with the global financial crisis—a real emergency, not an ideologically inspired one. Yet, despite the global financial crisis, unemployment was not as high as it is today and has been throughout the Abbott government's watch. The most recent unemployment figures showed a modest reduction in the unemployment rate, and we say thank goodness for that. However, the unemployment queue has actually grown by 56,000 people since this government was elected, with last month making one year of unemployment being over six per cent.
The member for Charlton has already effectively set out the grim unemployment statistics and touched on the record underemployment—a matter that members opposite, I suspect, will not be addressing. But I want to make mention of some statistics that impact Melbourne's north-east region, which covers the electorate of Scullin, where the unemployment rate was half a percentage point higher than the national average. Most worrying here is youth unemployment. In April, the national figure was just over 13 per cent; in the north-east region, over 20 per cent. In April last year, it was only 16 per cent. To give these figures some context: usually the rate is only so high during the school holidays, when more young people are looking for work. Clearly there is a significant structural problem, exacerbated by the austerity policies of this government.
At community meetings I have been holding throughout the electorate, the issue of jobs and particularly jobs for young people keeps being raised. There is a genuine and well-founded fear that there simply are not enough entry-level jobs for young people. It is vital to remember that these are people's lives that we are talking about. We are talking about talent that is wasted, ambition unfulfilled and opportunities lost. It is a human cost as well as statistics and the economic cost.
All Australians deserve the dignity of work, including opportunities to be made job ready. This is why education is so important and why the Abbott government's cuts to school and university funding are so reckless and so short sighted. These cuts will entrench disadvantage. Education is the great enabler. Labor understand this, which is why we opened up the university sector without burdening students with $100,000 degrees. We supported the vocational education sector. Despite all this government's hubris about its small business package, there is no real plan for jobs.
Fortunately, in Victoria, we now have a state Labor government with such a plan. It is welcome relief from four years of torpor under Baillieu and Napthine and is a counterbalance to austerity at a federal level. Victorian Labor has identified six sectors with potential for economic growth, including medical technology and pharmaceuticals; new energy technology; food and fibre; transport, defence and construction technology; international education; and professional services.
At the federal level, this will be complemented. Labor would invest in jobs of the future, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to make sure that Australians are ready to take up jobs in the new economy—the good jobs that the Treasurer talks about but does nothing to create. Labor accepts and indeed embraces the duty and the obligation to support and promote the employment prospects of citizens. We understand the immense challenges facing working men and women of Australia as well as future generations of workers. Only Labor has a plan to rise to these challenges, and only Labor will deliver to ensure the employment prospects of current and future generations of working Australians.