Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — It gives me great pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on the Back to Work Bill 2014. The purpose of the bill is to provide financial relief to employers with regard to the hiring of employees. In his very good contribution the shadow Treasurer gave an overview of the bill and also highlighted some concerns that the coalition has in regard to the bill. The bill is aimed at retrenched and unemployed workers in certain conditions. It is those certain conditions that are giving the coalition some cause for concern. Those concerns have been expressed by the shadow Treasurer.
On the surface the legislation seems to be well intended; there is no doubt about that. However, there are concerns about how it might be applied. If one were cynical, one might say that at the least the intent to employ 100 000 people over two years is very ambitious. The coalition is concerned about elements of the application of the bill, because a lot of the detail we seek to understand is currently missing from the legislation, particularly around who it might apply to. We do not know that, and I will elaborate further on that during the contribution. There has been no regulatory impact assessment, and we are concerned about other elements of the proposed legislation.
One of the elements that has been underestimated is the level of bureaucracy around employers putting on an employee under the initiative. That is a concern that has been raised by the business community, and particularly by small businesses. They also have concerns about red tape. While the initiative might be well intended, my sense is that a number of businesses will simply baulk at participating in the scheme for the sake of $1000 because of the bureaucracy. I have grave doubts that the Labor Party’s target will be achieved.
There are concerns about the accountability of the legislation. The shadow Treasurer talked about the oversight, accountability and reporting of how well the initiative tracks into the future. In today’s Age there is an article which in part goes to concerns about the potential for rorting the initiative. As the previous speaker said, the initiative will be implemented on 1 April with payments potentially being made from 1 July. But we are still to understand the detail of how the system will work, and time is getting away from us very quickly.
The Age refers to the potential for people to be placed on fixed-term contracts for three months and employers simply taking the money for putting on that employee and the issues of longer term employment not really being addressed. It also refers to concerns about working parents, for example, and how they fit into the scheme, and the shadow Treasurer also made mention of this. Will they be disadvantaged by the rules and regulations that will apply to this initiative?
The Greens have some concerns about where asylum seekers and refugees will fit within the scheme, and they are legitimate concerns. The Greens have proposed some amendments and the coalition will consider them when the bill is between the houses. The Age article says that a spokeswoman for the Treasurer said it was highly unlikely that employers would go to the cost and trouble of repeatedly employing new and inexperienced workers. I do not think that is any reassurance. We have legitimate concerns about how the initiative will operate, and we hope the minister will answer some of our questions.
Labor’s Back to Work plan suggests it will create over 100 000 jobs. The first page of its Back to Work — Victorian Labor’s Plan for 100 000 Jobs document contains a heading ‘Every job is worth fighting for’. The shadow Treasurer said that it is an oxymoron when you think about the government’s performance so far, with the potential for 3700 jobs to be lost with the
east–west link contract, which is now being ripped up; the jobs lost with the Linking Melbourne Authority; the Point Nepean contracts potentially being ripped up with a loss of jobs there; and the Cranbourne-Pakenham rail corridor upgrade, which is very important to my electorate and to the people of Gippsland. We are not sure whether or not that is proceeding. In terms of jobs the proposals in the government’s document are an oxymoron, given its performance thus far.
Jobs are critically important to my electorate, and they are important to regional Victoria. The government can provide support in a range of ways; there is no doubt about that. I was with the president of the Australian Hotels Association, Peter Burnett, last night when he referred to the importance of events not only to Melbourne but also to regional Victoria. It is one way for governments to support major events and tourism. Employers put on younger people in particular around those events, and that is really important. The Regional Growth Fund is very important to those of us in regional Victoria, and we are concerned that the government is changing tack in terms of what it might do for job creation in regional Victoria and what it might do to the fund.
I am concerned about some of the initiatives that were put in place when we were in government. I was previously a Minister for Small Business when the coalition government put in place a number of initiatives to support the business sector, in particular to make sure that businesses have the opportunity to employ people. One such program is the Employment Start Up for Business program, which is a $4000 incentive for businesses to employ 15 to 25-year-old unemployed people. The package presented to us today includes a $1000 incentive, so my question to the government is: will that program be retained into the future? It was a good initiative undertaken by the coalition government which provides $3000 more as an incentive than what is being offered under Labor’s proposal.
The shadow Treasurer said that in government we were able to reduce the WorkCover premiums for businesses, supporting hundreds of thousands of businesses in Victoria. There was also a reduction in payroll tax, providing savings of around $234 million over four years. The proposal before the house is a package over two years. The former government undertook a range of initiatives that supported the business community to make sure it was able to employ people.
At a very local level, as the member for Morwell I note that we had in place the $15 million Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund. That provided $15 million for local businesses to grow, expand and create jobs. That money was expended during our term in government. My concern and that of my local business community is whether the package we are debating today is a replacement for that fund. Under the fund, in excess of 40 projects were supported in my local community to create around 1100 direct and indirect jobs. There were some wonderful contributions by local businesses. Sometimes businesses need that incentive to grow and expand, and we had a leveraged investment of about $100 million through that project. In closing, although the legislation might be well intended, the coalition has grave concerns about its content, including the eligibility criterion.