I spoke on the Government’s Jobs for NSW Bill and pointed out that Maitland has the highest unemployment rate in the State and added that in preparing the Jobs for NSW Bill the Government sought advice from its mates in big business, without any input from the community, job skills networks, unions, the long-term unemployed or any other stakeholders.
Since June this year my region of the Hunter, excluding Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, has had the highest unemployment rate in the State of New South Wales. In July the figure announced was 11.3 per cent. For young people it is even worse, with more than one in five young people—or 20.6 per cent of people aged between 15 and 24—in my region unemployed. Again, that figure tops the statistics across the State. For young people this is a tragedy. Is this what the Premier meant when he bragged about making New South Wales number one again? Did he mean number one in unemployment? This is an absolute for my region.
I have a strong commitment to reducing unemployment in my local community. I want people in my community to have the opportunity to work and the dignity of being able to find a job and to contribute to our economy and our community. That is why I am convening a roundtable in my electorate in October with the shadow Minister for skills and many organisations involved in the delivery of employment, training and community services for the unemployed. These people have come from businesses, training organisations, TAFE, unions, and community service organisations. They are on the front line of our jobs industry.
My aim will be to work, as always, with my community to find effective local solutions to the jobs crisis that this Government continues to tackle ineffectively. I seek a more meaningful response than yet another government-funded talkfest with the private sector that will achieve little. I am pleased to see that, at last, the Premier has agreed that his Government is failing on jobs in my region. It is good to see that the Premier is taking the time to ask for the opinions of others. That is the basis of good policymaking. However, yet again, the Liberal-Nationals Government is looking at only one sector of the economy. I turn to the objectives of the bill. The bill has four stated objectives in establishing Jobs for NSW. Clause 3 (c) states:
(c) to establish Jobs for NSW to utilise high level private sector business experience to provide strategic advice to government for the purpose of creating jobs and driving investment in New South Wales …
That is, yet again, an example of the Government seeking advice from its mates in big business, without any input from the community, job skills networks, unions, the long-term unemployed or any other stakeholders. That will colour the advice that the Government is given. The Liberal-Nationals Government is a union-bashing government that wants people to work day and night for multinational companies, without penalty rates or any acknowledgement. The Government remains silent while jobs are lost because it refuses to do business with companies in its own State.
The Government cut the funding to my local Business Enterprise Centre, which provided assistance to small businesses in regional areas that are grappling with changes to technology and industry, to give them practical help that would create more jobs. The bill outlines in clause 6 (1) (c) that Jobs for NSW is "to advise the Minister on impediments to, and opportunities for, improving and expanding competitive advantage in New South Wales". The Government will use that forum to bash unions. Is it any wonder that a government that hates workers cannot seem to create enough jobs for them?
ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Anna Watson): Order! The member for Maitland will be heard in silence.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: The Government's attitude is having an impact on our largest manufacturers and miners. The Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy made disparaging remarks about the Department of Planning and Environment at a mining awards dinner. There is a lack of coherent Government policy on jobs, a potluck approach to tackling unemployment, and now the Government is calling on its mates in big business to join it in attacking workers' rights. At every turn this Government causes further indignity for those who cannot get a job, blaming them for not being able to find employment because they expect to receive a living wage for their hard work and their contribution to our community.
This Government is bereft of ideas. It is bereft of goodwill towards the unemployed in our community. On 5 August I wrote to Premier Mike Baird on behalf of the more than 12,000 people in my region who are looking for work and who cannot find it. I humbly and respectfully asked the Premier to increase the allocation of funding for Maitland and the Upper Hunter in the Community Building Partnership program to $300,000, based on unemployment figures in those two electorates.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Anna Watson): Order! The member for Orange will come to order. The member for Maitland will be heard in silence.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: The member for Upper Hunter is in the Chamber. I wonder whether he wrote a similar letter to the Premier. If he did, did he get a different response? The Community Building Partnership program provides base funding of $200,000 per electorate to support local infrastructure projects. An additional $100,000 is available for the 48 electorates with higher levels of disadvantage, as indicated by higher comparative unemployment rates. The Government has ignored the opportunity to help my region, the region with the highest unemployment, to access extra Community Building Partnership funds.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Anna Watson): Order! The member for Maitland will be heard in silence. The member for Oatley will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: If, as the Community Building Partnership guidelines suggest, inclusion on this list is based on "comparative unemployment rates" then the exclusion of Maitland and Upper Hunter cannot be justified and these electorates should immediately be included on the list for additional funding. In addition, in the recently released "Dropping off the Edge" report, many of the suburbs of Maitland were found to be disadvantaged. Suburbs including Thornton, Beresfield and Woodberry in the 2322 postcode fell into the most disadvantaged category across the State. Much of the disadvantage involves lack of skills, training, mental health, domestic violence and long-term unemployment. The cycle of disadvantage caused by and impacting on unemployment is well advanced in my community. The Government has missed an opportunity to fix this. The forum that it is putting together with its mates from big business will not go any way towards fixing the problem. The community needs more funding for community-building partnerships to increase the community engagement of youth and unemployed in the short term and to increase employment in the longer term.
On 24 August I received a response to my letter from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, the Hon. Catherine Cusack, MLC. The Premier could not take the time out of his day to concern himself with the affairs of Maitland and respond in person. Ms Cusack advised me that the unemployment figures that the Government was relying on to allocate the Community Building Partnership funds were adjusted from the 2011 census—that is, adjusted in the redistribution at the last election. The figures are rubbery, to say the least. The statistics are four years old. What else of significance has happened in the past four years? Liberal-Nationals governments have been elected in Federal and State elections. The State Government and its Federal Government mates have doubled unemployment in my community.
New South Wales was in a great position post the global financial crisis, thanks to the former State and Federal Labor governments. I invite members to contrast that with the doubling in unemployment since the Liberal-Nationals Government came to power. I was at the Hunter Business Chamber lunch last month with the new chief executives of our airport and port. Chamber members at the lunch expressed to me their view—and they are the Government's business friends—that the Government has lost its focus on the Hunter. They said that former Deputy Premier Stoner had showed significant commitment to regional defence strategies that would have impacted positively on the Hunter in the Gillard Government's 2013 defence white paper.
In contrast, the recent infrastructure audit ignored the Hunter. In the past four years our economy has been affected negatively by the Liberal-Nationals at State and Federal levels. Thousands of people with fantastic skills and abilities have lost their jobs as a direct result of the Government's lazy and incoherent approach to employment. I stand with everyone in my community who cannot get a job. I support this bill's aspiration to increase employment, but, like so many others in our community, I have lost faith in the ability of this Government to ease unemployment. I am committed to getting Maitland working again, to getting the essential services to ensure that everyone in our community is able to participate fully in work and education, with high-quality health and transport services.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Anna Watson): Order! Government members who continue to interject will be removed from the Chamber. The member for Maitland will be heard in silence. Government members will respect her contribution.
Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I note the comments of the last speaker about infrastructure development in her region. The pace of infrastructure development in my region is glacial. The lag is directly responsible for the lack of jobs in my community. It is time the Government did more than set up another committee of business hacks who not be able to solve the unemployment problem.