Turnbull Government blames jobless for no jobs

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Instead of creating jobs and programmes to assist Australia's young jobless, the Turnbull Government is blaming young people, says Leon Moulden.

FOR ANYONE following the news lately it would be easy to think that Australia is being overrun by hordes of young Australians who are not in employment, education, or training — commonly referred to as "NEETs".

The tabloid press and radio shock jocks regularly complain, rant and augment the truth about NEETs — today’s "lazy" youth.

This visceral impulse within sections of Australian society to blame youth unemployment on young Australians instead of considering the impacts of a globalised economy on the job market, is unfortunately matched by the Turnbull Government’s eagerness to punish young unemployed Australians by further restricting their access to unemployment benefits.

Evidence of this is not hard to find. Over recent weeks, various media stories have suggested that the Turnbull Government still wishes to legislate for a four-week waiting period for under 25 year-olds before they can access unemployment benefits and is again seeking to amend the Social Security Act 1991 with regard to youth by instigating the following:

... a proposed six-month payment exclusion period for job seekers qualifying for Newstart Allowance (NSA), Youth Allowance or Special Benefit aged under 30, increasing the qualifying age for NSA and Sickness Allowance from 22 to 25 years, imposing limitations on eligibility for Family Tax Benefit-Part B (FTB-B) and changes to the indexation of Family Tax Benefit payment rates and allowance income-free areas.

Parliament of Australia.


On the ABC’s Q&A recently, audience member Brian Concannon asked Minister for Social Services Christian Porter the following:

My question is about the wait four weeks for the dole policy for the under 25s, that now has Pauline Hanson on board. I’m all for saving taxpayers money and steering kids into employment, but I feel this policy is unfair to the young and vulnerable and will place an unfair burden on parents and relatives.

Mr Porter, do you think you will get the numbers needed from the remaining senators and do you agree that, if implemented, some vulnerable people will fall through the cracks and the streets could be un-safer as a consequence?

Minister Porter replied:

“Well, the policy is designed to try and ensure that people who do have vulnerabilities are not affected by the policy. If I can explain it this way to you, sir — there is about 83,000 people who will be totally exempted from the policy.”  

The minister then continued to explain the technicalities of the policy but while his answer included exemptions to protect the vulnerable – and a mention of the ongoing discussions with Senate cross benchers – it didn’t include any real recognition of the tough employment environment that young Australians deal with on a daily basis.

Luckily for Australia’s youth, Labor and the Greens are still refusing to pass this draconian policy but unluckily, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation senators have indicated that they will vote for the Bill. Thus the fate of young unemployed Australians is in the hands of the remaining crossbench senators.

Let’s hope for the sake of young Australians that these cross bench senators are better at understanding actual facts than One Nation senators, because ABS Labour Force figures show that the national youth unemployment rate of 12.2% is more than twice the overall unemployment rate. That means there are approximately 258,800 young Australians who are unable to find work. And when we consider that 19.9% (or 369,400) of all 15-24 year old workers are underemployed then, combined with youth unemployment, this accounts for over 627,000 15-24 year olds — or nearly one in three.

This means that the unemployed are competing not only amongst themselves for the limited jobs on offer, but also with those young Australians who don’t have enough work to meet their weekly needs. But when we consider that the current ABS Job Vacancies data shows there were 175,300 job vacancies in August 2016, then there are 3.5 young people for every available job. And this does not include Australians over 25 who are unemployed.

Furthermore, if we include all unemployed and underemployed, then there are over 1.7 million Australians looking for work or more work — that’s nearly 10 people for every available job. Therefore, how can the young and inexperienced realistically be expected to compete in such a tight employment market?

Yet by insisting on implementing a policy that imposes a waiting period on unemployment benefits, the Turnbull Government is effectively blaming young Australians for their unemployment without any consideration of the actual job market they are competing within.

But the situation is even worse for youth in particular regions of Australia. There are numerous regional youth unemployment hot spots with youth unemployment rates significantly higher than the national average. These include: Outback Queensland with a youth unemployment rate of 28.4%, the Hunter Valley (excluding Newcastle) with 21.8%, Wide Bay in Queensland with 20.6%, Cairns with 20.5%, and South East Tasmania with 19.6%. These data clearly show that there is more to youth unemployment than so-called lazy youth. Indeed, a chronic shortage of employment opportunities is more likely the real reason.

After all, programs like Work for the Dole have failed to create new long-term employment or to provide skills in the form of formal qualifications. Moreover, the new Youth Employment Package called Youth Jobs PaTH shows little sign of being able to achieve significant reductions in youth unemployment as it again fails to remedy the issue of long-term job creation. Because, while internships, employability training, and employment incentives for employers are a better option than the work for the dole scheme, they still do not provide a mechanism for long-term job creation or fully funded education and training.

Indeed, current predictions about future employment opportunities highlight the need for governments to be more strategic about youth unemployment.

The recent New Work Order report by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) found:

'Nearly 60% of Australian students (70% in VET) are currently studying or training for occupations where at least two thirds of jobs will be automated.'

The FYA report then suggests:

'40% of Australian jobs are at high risk of automation over the next 10-15 years.'

Therefore, highlighting that the Federal Government’s policy prescriptions and previous shallow rhetoric of “earn or learn” are woefully irrelevant and inadequate for the rapidly changing nature of the employment landscape.

If the Turnbull Government is serious about improving youth unemployment rates, then policies that promote an economy-wide commitment to full employment and accessible high quality well-funded education and training are necessary. Saving money on unemployment benefits for four weeks per individual will not achieve either of these aims.

And if the Turnbull Government succeeds in legislating a four-week waiting period for young unemployed Australians (as well as the other "savings" indicated above) it will, in effect, abandon many young Australians for a superficial quick fix that does nothing to lower youth unemployment but will leave more young Australians feeling abandoned and forgotten.

As a nation, we have to ask ourselves: Do we really want to leave our nation’s youth abandoned and under-resourced by implementing a populist mean-spirited policy that neither serves the wider community or the unemployed?

Or, alternatively: Do we want to give young Australians the best chance to succeed that we can provide?

If it is the latter, then we need to insist on a better vision than the one the Turnbull Government is currently offering Australians.

Leon Moulden is a freelance social researcher.

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