08 May 2009
Opening Remarks at a Community Jobs Forum
Casula Powerhouse - Sydney

The purpose of our gathering today, as it has been in the last couple of days here in South Western Sydney, is very, very simple and very straightforward and very hard at the same time. And that is, how do we make a difference with unemployment here in the local area.

How many of you up there have been to forums I have conducted over the last few days? How many of you are here for the first time? It is pretty useful to know, given those who have been exposed to the sort of talks I have conveyed to local communities in recent days and who is here with us for the first time.

The challenge we all face is a very practical one. And in part it was underlined by the release of the national unemployment data yesterday. There is a global recession. It is washing across every single economy in the world, developed and developing.

The Western world, the Muslim world, Asia, Latin America, you name it. Every country, every economy is wrestling with the same challenge right now. Therefore, the challenge which each national government faces is how do we make a difference in terms of the impact of that recession on our nation, on our state, on our community.

What we have done locally also needs to be reinforced by what we do nationally and globally. Globally and for those of you who have not heard me speak on this in the last couple of days, our action has been primarily focussed through the work of the G20.

What does that mean out here in Liverpool? It means a lot. Ask yourself this very simple question. If you are a small business out here in Liverpool and if you want to get credit from your bank to do something, where does your bank get its credit from?

That bank gets its credit often through the way in which it raises funds offshore, through the international banking system. What’s gone wrong in the international banking system? The international banking system, because of the unfettered, unrestrained greed operating in underegulated financial markets in recent years, has contracted the supply of credit available to the international banking system, which means that the globally significant banks, many of them, have either fallen over or reduced their credit operations worldwide.

Reducing credit operations worldwide, guess what, we are part of the world. And the result of that, there’s a reduced credit flow to the Australian banks and as a result of that, the cost of credit and the availability of credit, the lifeline, the artery of the global market system, the artery therefore also of the Australian economy becomes constricted.

So people ask, what does it matter what is going on overseas and what is happening in global financial markets and what the G20 is seeking to do in response to those developments? It’s very very very local.

What we do globally effects what happens here locally when it comes to the interconnectedness of the global financial system. And that’s why we have been head down, tail up, engaging in everything we can do, sleeves rolled up, in bringing about the best outcomes possible through the deliberations of the G20, the Group of 20 largest economies in the world.

We had some success at that London Summit on temporary injection of stimulus to the global economy, on the proper provision of resources to the International Monetary Fund to deal with future shocks; on restoring the world’s biggest banks to health through the removal of toxic assets, through the recapitalisation of those banks; through new rules to the global financial system for the future so we don’t make the same mistakes as we have in the past; and through drawing a line under the outbreak of global protectionism that destroys economic recovery worldwide.

But there is more work to be done globally. The work done in London was good and solid work. And we were in there, on Australia’s behalf, doing our bit.

The second part of our strategy is what we do nationally. And I go back to those unemployment figures yesterday. Unemployment in the future in Australia is going to go up. The fact that we’re able to see the figures come down, yesterday’s figures, is welcome news.

But we’ve got to be very realistic about the problems we face ahead. But what those figures remind us of is this: what we do nationally matters. It can reduce the problem. It can have a real effect. That is what economic stimulus is all about. That is why we are out there injecting and investing capital into the economy at a time when the private sector is in retreat. We are doing it deliberately, consciously and without apology, in order to make a difference.

And if you look at the quantum of what we are investing in the national economy, the State economy and here in south western Sydney, billions of dollars here in south western Sydney, it is to make a difference. It is to make a difference to local business, to make a difference to local jobs, to make a difference to local apprenticeships.

That is what it is all about. What is the organising principle for our national stimulus strategy? It is this: to invest in the infrastructure which we need for tomorrow, and in doing so supporting the jobs and apprenticeships we need for today.

That’s it in a nutshell. Whether it is the school modernisation program, the largest single investment in the modernisation of our schools that the country has ever seen, whether it’s our investment in social housing, our investment in energy insulation, whether it is through the roll-out of the national broadband network, there is a core organising principle.

Creating, and or supporting, jobs apprenticeships and training now, today, while building the nation building infrastructure we need for tomorrow.

You see, that is the stark alternative that we have right now. Our plan is very clear. Our plan is, we can make a difference to support jobs and apprenticeships today by investing in the infrastructure we need for tomorrow. And the alternative plan, the Liberals’ plan, I have got to say, is to slash and burn - $100 billion cut from the budget, cutting hospitals, cutting education and thereby deepening the recession and throwing more people on the unemployment queue.

That’s the alternative we are looking at here. And therefore I believe that for the nation, it’s a very clear cut choice of which we have to go in the future.

Which brings us down to what we are doing here locally. The programs I have described just now, global action and national action. That’s all good, important and necessary. And were it not for the injection of extra activity in the economy through our national economic stimulus strategy, then the pace of activity in our economy now would be even slower than it is, and unemployment would be higher than it is.

But our purpose in being here today is to engage with you as the local community, here in Liverpool, about how we can make a further difference, how we can make it better than it would otherwise be through global action.

Some time ago, a month or so ago, I launched this thing called a Jobs and Training Compact with Australia. It is designed to meet our current circumstances. It involves three parts.

Firstly a compact with young Australians which very simply is this: every Australian under the age of 25, this Government expects you to be either earning or learning, full stop. And unemployment benefits are being tailored and made conditional accordingly.

Our part of the compact, our part of the deal with young Australians is to make sure there’s a universal entitlement to a training place if they’re not in work or in school. That’s what we are on about.

And the organising principle there is to make sure that our young people, challenged by what is happening with the global recession, do not become unemployable in the future.

We want them to be able to use this period of down time in order to obtain new skills, sustain their current skills or further develop a whole range of additional skills on top of what they have already got. For one purpose, so that when the global economic recovery comes, they are there to add to productivity, to our business needs, and of course to provide for their families and themselves.

That’s our compact with young Australians.

Our compact with retrenched Australians is also important. It is about the business of how do we actually deal with the challenge of those who have been retrenched through no fault of their own.

Now if you look across the country right now, many business are under great stress and a number of workers have been retrenched and some workers still will be retrenched. The compact with retrenched Australians is very important too.

What is the first thing on the mind of someone who has just been retrenched – can I pay my mortgage, and can I continue to pay off my car. Very basic questions.

That is one of the reasons why the Government sat down about a month or so ago with the major banks and said, what deal can you do with them to make a difference. And the agreement we reached with the major banks is for a much greater approach of flexibility, the possibility of deferring people’s mortgage payments for a year and car loan repayments for a year.

Now the banks have formed that agreement with us. They put it out there in black and white. We will be watching carefully how it is operational. But it is an important level of support, at a very practical level that we can provide families who are faced with that very practical question, the bread winner is losing his or her job, what can we do to pay the mortgage, what can we do to pay off the car.

Because if you don’t have a car, it is really hard to get around in terms of accessing other things which you and your family need.

Other things that we have done for retrenched Australians are making it easier to obtain Newstart and also making it easier to access the services provided by Job Services Australia. But there is more to be done here.

The third pillar of our Jobs and Training Compact with the nation though is this: a compact with local communities, and that is why I have spent the last three days in south western Sydney.

I am told yesterday, at Bankstown it was the first visit by an Australian Prime Minister in 13 years. I don’t know what my predecessor had been up to but obviously Bankstown was not on the agenda (inaudible).

But spending yesterday in Bankstown, the day before in Campbelltown and today here in Liverpool, there is one purpose in this which is how do we build this third pillar to the Jobs and Training Compact with the nation - the compact with local communities.

What does it mean, (inaudible) bunch of words. And I’m not much interested in words for their own sake, I’m interested in what we do.

It is this: right now the Minister for Local Government is out there announcing $800 million worth of local projects right across the country, making a difference in every community.

And Minto on Wednesday and yesterday in Bankstown, we made a couple of those announcements and there are announcements like that right across the country. And the organising principle again is this: jobs and apprenticeships today while building the economic and community infrastructure we need for tomorrow.

That’s it in a nutshell. But reinforcing that, the Australian Government has also established a Local Jobs Fund with $650 million nationwide. And it is there to reinforce the presence of local priority employment coordinators, funded by us.

This is where the challenging bit comes. How do we work with you, the local community here, to make a difference, accessing that fund, with projects which make a difference in jobs and apprenticeships and training and projects which make a real difference in building some of the community assets you need for the next three, five, seven nine years.

How do we do that together? And when I say together, I mean together. That is that that we all as a global community (inaudible)? How are you going to partner with us? How is the local authority going to partner with us and have investment with us? How is the local chamber of commerce going to partner with us, how are local businesses going to partner with us?

How is the local community organisation going to partner with us? How are local civic leaders going to partner with us personally and how are local pillars of the community – and you would know who they are in this part of the world - going to partner with us to make this possible?

Rather than this being some sort of top down iniative, we need this to be a bottom up approach because the best ideas could be had locally. You know your community, you love your community and that is why you are here living this community and working in it.

Our job is to be here and say to you in loud and clear cut terms, we want to be partners with you. And that is why we have a priority employment coordinator, that’s Zvia, please stand up. And Zvia here will be our coordinator of this area for the period ahead.

And she will have access to this $650 million Local Jobs Fund. She will work with the team which will be supported by Brendan, the Minister (inaudible) But you know, nothing will happen unless you come and join us to make it work.

And that is what I am here to do today, to listen to your ideas.

One other thing I would like to announce today is that the Government has committed $33.7 million over three years to expand and enhance the Australian Apprenticeships Access program.

Specifically, the Government will invest $3.5 million to fund 1,850 more places for pre-vocational training and support for retrenched employees aged 25 and over, facing barriers to employment in the year ahead.

This is in addition to the $30 million that we announced in early March for an additional 3,650 pre-vocational training and support places for vulnerable young job seekers aged 19–24.

Through this a young person or a retrenched worker can do a minimum of 150 hours of pre-vocational training plus 13 weeks of job search assistance, plus ongoing help once they are in a job. The training could include basic training which would involve retail, construction, (inaudible) or an apprenticeship or some other form of training.

I am happy to say that all access program brokers who operate in western Sydney have indicated their willingness to meet with community organisations such as Punchbowl Boys High and Canterbury (inaudible) for possible partnerships.

This is the practical stuff.

One of the things that we have encountered in our discussions with groups in Bankstown and Campbelltown and elsewhere is, what do you do in terms of pre-vocational training?

What do you do with people who are not quite up to a TAFE course or not quite up to going into an apprenticeship? What have we got that can flexibly be applied in this circumstances, both for the under 25s and over 25s as well. That is where this particular program comes from.

But nationally it is just a figure. Locally however, the challenge is to make it work and to apply it to people who can make proper use of it in local jobs, local infrastructure, local pre-apprenticeships, local apprenticeships, local training, local pre-training.

That is what we are on about, with one end point - when we look back in a few years time, how did we in 2009 make a difference? How did we take the unemployment rate down in this part of the world, which has already risen, I am advised to something in the order of 8.6 per cent in March, it has gone up 3.5 per cent, 50 per cent higher than the national average.

How do we take that number and make it better? How do we bring it down a point or two? And by doing this sort of work locally, we can have that effect. And by doing this sort of work locally, you know something, there’s something enormously empowering about a community working together as well, to make a difference.

But enough from me, and I’m about to turn it over to you.