Matter of Public Importance: Importance of Education,Training and Support for Unemployed Youth

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:37):  I absolutely endorse the matter of public importance put forward by my colleague the member for Adelaide, and I am very proud to contribute to this debate as the shadow minister for vocational education and training. I would hate to ask those sitting on the opposite side at the moment to name their minister for vocational education and training. It is not the minister who was at the dispatch box. I bet most of them would not even know who it is. That is the priority the current government has given to vocational education, training and skills. I have not heard any yelling out of the actual name so far. I would suggest that is a pretty good indication of where their priority lies.

The particular matter of public importance is before us because, like my colleagues, I happen to believe that the vast majority of young people are not only very keen to get a job or to do the training they need to get a job but also are actively out there trying to do so in what can be a very tough environment for young people in the workforce. In my own area, in the Illawarra, we have a high level of youth unemployment. I actually have a lot of faith in the young people in my area that they are not just lounging around being lazy and not being bothered to get off their bums to go out and get some education or find a job. That is not what is going on. The reality is that the vast majority of them really do want a job—and it is tough out there.

Of course we support the importance of focusing on providing the education and pathways that young people need in order to get into those jobs. There is no argument about that. Of course, we support it. What we do not support is saying, 'If you don't comply, you can starve.' We do not support saying, 'If you've already done one qualification and you therefore are not entitled to free access to another qualification, we're going to cut your money off so that you have no chance of actually having the money to pay the fees that will be required for another qualification.'

We do not support the proposal that says, 'If you'd like to be an apprentice'—an entirely worthwhile ambition, according to the minister—'and you are having some difficulty accessing an apprenticeship job, we'll cut the apprentice access program.' I have visited providers like the Motor Traders Association in Western Sydney who used and ran this program—the very program that provided the links and opportunities for disadvantaged young people to get into an apprenticeship. If people get into an apprenticeship it is really important that we help them and their employers support them getting through to completing that apprenticeship. But what do you do in government? You cut the apprentice mentoring program—the very program that worked with those young people and their employers to keep them in those jobs and get them through to completion.

We do not say, 'If you want to get the skills that you need in basic literacy, numeracy, computer skills, job-seeking skills and presentation'—thinking about how you need to deal with interviews and present yourself to get a job—'we will just cut the programs that provided that training.' I visited Youth Connections in my area with the member for Throsby. I met a whole room of young people, sitting on computers, doing courses, talking to people about interviews they were going to and how to best answer questions and doing a bit of practice. It is a wonderful program with highly successful outcomes. What happened to that in the budget? What happened to that in the priority of connecting young people to jobs? Gone again!

Then I went along to a local function held by the Partnership Brokers. Again, this is in our community—local organisations and not-for-profit organisations all coming together and working with employers to connect young people to jobs. What happened to that in the budget? How does that fare under the government's claims that it wants to make sure young people get into education and training? Gone again!

This is the reality of a government that fundamentally does not trust young people, that fundamentally would rather attack their motives and their commitment to finding a job than put in place the funding and the programs that will deliver. I will answer the question that I started with. The minister who has responsibility for vocational educational and training and skills—for those on the opposite side who still, after four and a half minutes, have failed to find a name for him—is Minister Macfarlane. He thinks they waste their money on tattoos and mag wheels. Young people are better than that, and they deserve the support of the government—not the cheap attacks that they have seen on them and their opportunities in this budget.