Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) — My question is to the Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade in his capacity representing the Minister for Employment. In south-western Victoria we have a very high rate of youth unemployment. In Warrnambool alone the rate rise is greater than 20 per cent, and in the Geelong area it is even higher than this. This is a very real issue that has significant community ramifications. What initiatives has the government implemented to support our young people to obtain meaningful employment and reduce the high levels of unemployment?
Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade) — I thank the member for his question. I will say in the first instance that what the Andrews Labor government has attempted to do to assist the youth to find employment is to assist in repairing the damage that has been done to the TAFE sector. Our first priority is to reinvest in those areas in which people can get skills to then obtain jobs. This is a serious issue. We on this side of the chamber believe investing in our young people is not something we will necessarily reap the rewards of today but something that we will reap the rewards of tomorrow.
The first thing is that we are investing in the TAFE and skills sector. Above and beyond that we have our Back to Work plan, which aims to provide a stimulus for those people who have been unemployed for a long period of time and to encourage employers to take advantage of the government program to employ those people and assist them as well. Beyond that we have a range of other government programs where we are trying to encourage economic activity, such as the Future Industries Fund. There are a range of other industry funds, including the rural fund that Minister Pulford is looking after, that would have specific relevance to Mr Purcell and his region.
Above and beyond that, when we came into government unemployment was near 7 per cent. It is steadily decreasing. Confidence is increasing. Unemployment is decreasing, and this government makes no apologies for having jobs at the core of what it does in terms of its priorities. We will continue to work with all members, including Mr Purcell, and have consultation about the programs that members believe we can further expand, develop or even implement that will assist people in their regions when it comes to job opportunities. We on this side of the chamber appreciate that having a job creates a sense of purpose and identity and helps those young people to have a future.
Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) — I sincerely thank the minister for that explanation, and I think some of the items he has identified in the short term will certainly help, but I ask him whether there is any action being taken on the longer term aspects of the growth of some of these programs and how, in the longer term, that will be effected.
Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade) — I thank the member for his question. I refer in particular to the Back to Work plan, because I think in trying to alleviate long-term unemployment, especially in the youth area, that is one program that we have identified as being able to assist long-term job creation, giving people experience and a new skill set that they may not have had otherwise. Again, my colleague the Minister for Training and Skills, Mr Herbert, is looking after the reinvestment in the skills and TAFE sector, which was unfortunately ravaged by the previous government. We are steadily working through those issues, especially in the south-west. I am happy to make my time available to Mr Purcell to find what we can do to support businesses in his area above and beyond our existing programs. I also suggest that he speak to my colleague the Minister for Regional Development, Ms Pulford, in relation to the Regional Infrastructure and Jobs Fund that he and his businesses in the south-west may take advantage of.