Keynote Address ParentsNext National Conference 2019, Sydney

Speech
  • Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business

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Good morning.

I am delighted to join you at the 2019 ParentsNext National Conference.

ParentsNext goes to the heart of what this Government is committed to achieving – getting Australians off welfare and into work.

We want all Australians to have the chance to participate in the workforce and enjoy the benefits and confidence this brings.

In delivering this program each of you make a difference every day in the lives of Australian families - at a time when they need it most.

As we know – the longer a person spends out of the workforce, the harder it is to return.

The key to success is therefore early intervention and preparation.

By investing in ParentsNext, the Government is supporting parents who may find difficult to get a foot in the door – and we know how important that is to getting a job. 

That support may be all that is needed for someone to succeed in getting a job.

I just want to give you an overview of the labour market.

Over the past decade we’ve seen a reduction in the proportion of jobless families with children under 15, from 13 per cent down to 11 per cent this year.[1]

This means there are fewer households across Australia with children where there is no working adult.

It suggests positive progress in breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty and giving children adult role models in the home to demonstrate the benefits and rewards of working.

The reduction in jobless families also means more families with a pay-packet to support a better quality of life and more options and choices.

This result is consistent with the ongoing strength of the labour market in which more than 1.4 million jobs have been created since the Government came to office in September 2013.

More Australians are in work than ever before, with employment at a record high of more than 12.9 million workers in September.

As a nation we have never been better placed to meet our jobs target and provide support for those who need assistance or encouragement towards employment, including through ParentsNext.  

In terms of the outcomes from ParentsNext, more than 100,000 parents nationally have received assistance through the program in the 14 months to the end of August.

Of these:

  • nearly 36,000 commenced education;
  • more than 15,000 commenced employment;  and
  • around 1,800 parents completely exited the program because they had secured employment.

ParentsNext participants have also reported improvements in work readiness skills — with almost 70 per cent reporting an improvement in their motivation to achieve work or study goals.

Often the assistance required to re-enter or enter the workforce is modest but the outcome can be life-changing.

A great example of this is from a participant named Natasha (Tarsh).

With the help of ParentsNext she found her calling in aged care.

After leaving school and starting a family, Tarsh — like so many — lacked the confidence that she could launch a career in her dream job.

Through assistance from her provider, Tarsh enrolled in a Certificate III in Community Services and through hard work and determination was the first in her cohort to complete all modules.

In her own words:

“I didn’t think I would ever finish anything ever again after school and having my kids. I left school in year 10 and when I had tried to study things would always pop up with the children that held me back,” and that “I’m so proud of myself finishing this course.”

After completing a work placement in a local aged care facility, Tarsh was encouraged to apply when positions became available in February this year.

Staff and residents at the facility are familiar with Tarsh and her children, who visit regularly.

Tarsh’s give-it-a-go attitude and her readiness to work with her provider to discuss options for activities and training were crucial to her success, including her provider supporting her to complete the course.

After obtaining her qualification Tarsh applied for a part-time position as a personal carer at an aged care facility. She was successful with her application and was offered a permanent part time job.

I am sure many people here will be aware of similar stories, where a person would probably still be unemployed were it not for encouragement and support through ParentsNext.

Overall, ParentsNext is not only increasing work readiness for parents with young children, but as you know — it is also increasing female’s workforce participation, reducing intergenerational welfare dependency and helping to Close the Gap in Indigenous employment.

For many parents, particularly women, caring for young children may mean long periods out of the paid workforce and it can be hard to get back into it.

Around 95 per cent of ParentsNext participants are female, including approximately 15,000 Indigenous women.

The national female participation rate has increased by almost two percentage points since the Government was first elected in September 2013, meaning over 600,000 more women are working than when the Coalition formed Government.

Almost one in five ParentsNext participants identify as Indigenous.  It is therefore important that we offer a tailored service that recognises their strengths and the challenges facing Indigenous parents.

A key challenge is increasing the proportion of Indigenous Australians who can participate in the labour force.

That’s why we expect providers to deliver culturally sensitive services to our Indigenous participants working with locally established organisations.

My department is progressing the development of an audio translation of the participation plan, into Indigenous languages.

The department also engaged an Indigenous consultant to develop a toolkit for providers to better support the delivery of culturally appropriate services for Indigenous participants.

Why — because we recognise employment and education are critical to the health and prosperity of Indigenous people, offering social and economic benefits that flow to individuals, families and communities.

I am always open to constructive suggestions about how our programs can be improved.

The recent Senate Inquiry has had a positive outcome in highlighting the purpose and operation of ParentsNext, the successful outcomes for many participants and the willingness of the Government to continue to refine ParentsNext.

Following the Senate Inquiry, we have made a number of operational changes, such as removing activity reporting requirements for participants in full-time study, and the extra flexibility we have added across the operation of ParentsNext has been an important improvement.

I want to be clear that we have compelling evidence that including compulsory requirements improves the program’s effectiveness and importantly, the most disadvantaged participants would be less likely to participate if the program was voluntary.

We can use lessons learned from the Senate Inquiry submissions and ongoing feedback from providers and peak bodies to strengthen the future operation of ParentsNext.

What’s clear is that providers need to act with a degree of compassionate flexibility, but without deviating from the core principles and guidance that means the program operates with integrity and consistency.  

For our part, you may be aware the Prime Minister has recently said Government agencies must do more to identify the processes that make it harder to do business with Government.

This means putting people who use our services at the centre and making sure that processes are appropriately streamlined and simplified.

We are focused on identifying where blockages lie, to make it quicker, cheaper and easier to interact with Government.

I also want to emphasise that I don’t underestimate the importance of the insights and experience that providers, peak bodies and other stakeholders bring to this relationship.

Your on-the-ground experience is essential to our joint success.

By attending this conference you will be able to access a wealth of thinking about how this program can improve going forward.

This conference is an opportunity to seek your further advice to continue improving performance so please make the most of this opportunity to engage with other providers, speakers and my department.

I am excited by the positive progress we have made in using ParentsNext to give parents and their families greater opportunities, choices and rewards.

We want to help parents be the best possible role models for their children and we are focused on reducing intergenerational welfare dependence.

This work is not necessarily easy but the strong results achieved so far by everyone in this room make it absolutely worthwhile.

It is the parents themselves who are reporting benefits including increased confidence, self-esteem, direction and motivation.

I will share one more story with you.

Beth — motivated by a desire to show her daughter how to be independent and confident, Beth worked with her ParentsNext provider to build her confidence and define a path to reach her goals

After having her daughter, Beth didn’t return to work straight away and experienced depression and anxiety. Her confidence levels were low and she wasn’t sure if the ParentsNext program could help.

Her provider worked together to build a plan for her future.

 “Everybody’s got a different set of goals that they want to achieve,” the provider [Narelle] said. “I love being a part of that journey and seeing what [Beth] has accomplished. My hope for her is to achieve her dreams and goals doing something that she loves.”

Narelle helped Beth find support services that suited her and showed her how to write a professional cover letter and résumé.

Beth said she now has “an abundance of confidence” to apply for work.

“You feel like you’ve got that opportunity, you feel like you’ve got that boost,” she said. “I would ultimately like to go to uni; do something in the medical field. I can’t tell you how much confidence does for someone.”

So you see how significant is the work you do and how you can help people to achieve their goals.

I thank everyone here for the work you are doing, directly or indirectly to support parents through this program, and wish you well in continuing this work and for the rest of the conference.

 

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics media release: More parents work full-time released 3/10/19.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines a jobless family as one where none of the family members aged 15 years and over in the same family unit are employed — that is, there are no working adults in the family unit.

For more information

Media mailbox: media@employment.gov.au