Regional youth-employment program gaining wider kudos

The program’s success has led to calls to roll it out in local councils across Australia.

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In the town of Cessnock in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, a generation of young people are caught in a cycle of unemployment.

Youths like Phoebe Morris are faced with the staggering challenge of landing a job without the relevant skills.

And the skills are impossible to acquire without a job.

Ms Morris says it is a catch 22.*

“I grew up here, went to school. My mum — single mum — just lost a job last year, and we’ve been living off what savings she has. And it’s really hard trying to find a job when they need experience and the qualifications, qualifications, are costly. And you can’t get a job to cover those costs. And I’m trying my hardest. I want a job. I want to support myself.”

It is a situation feeding a brand of hopelessness among a large swell of young, working-age people in the region.

Cessnock’s mayor, Bob Pysent, says youth unemployment is harming the community.

“(It’s) devastating to young people to feel valueless to our society. It causes social problems, but it also decreases the vibrancy in our community. Young people working, studying, they spend money, it’s stimulating to our local economy.”

The Economic Development Manager at Cessnock City Council, Jane Holdsworth, knows just how bad the situation is.

“The (number) of parents I’ve spoken to who just don’t know what’s happening with their children these days, they don’t get it. The kids don’t talk to them anymore. They’ve got no control. It’s a whole generation we’re losing here, a whole generation who are committing suicide. They’re depressed. They don’t know what to do.”

In 2015, youth unemployment in the Hunter Valley reached 21 per cent, the highest rate in New South Wales and fourth highest in Australia.

Faced with the burgeoning pressure of a generation of young people unable to find full-time work, Cessnock City Council devised a plan to break young people into the workforce.

The Youth First Project, run by the council at the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre, provides hands-on training to youths to help them gain the skills required to land a job.

Council employees have trained them in such areas as hospitality, wine-tasting and tourism, all relevant to the type of employment unique to the region.

The program is turning things around for Phoebe Morris, one of four youths enrolled in the current program.

She says, weeks into the course, she landed a job.

“Incredible. I’m so happy, over the moon. But without this program, I wouldn’t have got it, because it’s people like Jane and Melissa and the centre here who got me in, have got me trained, got me that experience and that knowledge and the skill set that I need to get out there and get that experience.”

Freya Campbell is a 22-year-old also taking part, and, although she is yet to find employment, she insists she is on track to get there.

“I’m still applying, and I’ve got so much more support. People are actually wanting to help me and make sure that I do get a job, not just sign me off on a course and then that’s it sort of thing. I’ve got support through the whole process. I’m getting actual hands-on experience and getting solid references that are relevant. But I am surprising myself with what I’ve able to do that I didn’t think I would be able to do.”

Ms Holdsworth says the young trainees are thriving off the program.

“You see them being empowered, you see them … their self-esteem, their self-confidence, comes out. They start learning to deal with people. And they all get a surprise. They think, ‘I never thought I’d like dealing with people,’ and they do.”

The Youth First Project has an 80 per cent success rate, and the hope is it can be developed into a model all local councils across Australia can use.

The national youth-unemployment rate sits at around 13 per cent, the figure persistently high since the global financial crisis.

At this stage, the Cessnock program can only cater to 20 students per year.

But Ms Campbell says she wants to see it expanded so others in her position are given the same opportunities.

“This course that we’re doing is excellent, but there’s four of us at a time. And it’s sort of like, ‘What about the rest of the people in the same situation as me?’ It’s really excellent for me and three others who are doing it with me, but what about everybody else? So it really needs to expand.”

Jane Holdsworth is calling for government funding which would allow community-led programs like the Youth First Project to be rolled out across Australia.

“It’s proven that you can do it. And there are other councils out there, they’ve told me they’d love to do something like we’re doing here. But we need a bit of funding, and, if we can do that, if every council in Australia put (in) 20 young kids and got them a job at the end of the year, that’s over 14,000 to 15,000 created jobs every year.”

 

 

NRL’s high-flying Sharks rue inconsistency

His side has the worst completion rate in the NRL, makes the most errors, is conceding the most penalties and is missing the second most tackles but Shane Flanagan is still wearing a smile on his face.

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Despite a plethora of stats to suggest Cronulla’s premiership defence is on the rocks, Flanagan is only looking at one set of numbers – their perch at equal second on the ladder.

The Sharks have been a Jekyll and Mr Hyde proposition over the opening nine rounds – while they have looked ordinary for long stretches of games, they’re still getting the job done.

As well as being 16th for penalties (8.2 per game), handling (71 per cent) and mistakes (11.9), they’re allowing the least points (13.1) and conceding the second least metres (1312m)

Only table-topping Melbourne have more wins and the Sharks are the only team this year to knock off the Storm.

And for that reason, Flanagan is unconcerned.

“The only thing we’ve been consistent about is that we’ve been inconsistent,” Flanagan said.

“We’ve just got to tidy that up. If you can win and not play that well, I’m not worried.

“We’ve had our moments. We played really well for two weeks against Melbourne and Penrith, we didn’t let a try in.

“The next week wasn’t that great.

“I’ve seen that this group can play against the best, I’d be concerned if I hadn’t seen that, but I have.

“They’re the only team to beat the Storm so far.”

Veteran back-rower Luke Lewis returns for the Sharks’ round 10 encounter with local rivals St George Illawarra on Friday, replacing Tony Williams, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The UOW Jubilee Oval clash is crunch for both sides with the loser in danger of tumbling out of the top four.

The Dragons are without strike weapons Gareth Widdop (knee) and Josh Dugan (fractured cheekbone).

They lost to the Roosters after losing Widdop in the first half before being trounced by the Storm. Also, the Dragons have won nine of their last 23 without Dugan.

Kurt Mann will once again fill in at No.6 for Widdop with Taane Milne coming on to the wing and Jason Nightingale moving to No.1

“Taane’s the next man up. He’s been in our 17 consistently and him and Kurt have been mixing up that role,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

“He’s a player of talent. He’s a centre but he wanted the challenge of playing on the wing and he’s the best fit for it.

“Taane deserved the opportunity.”

STATS THAT MATTER

* Since 2009 the Dragons have won 12 of 17 clashes between these two sides, including all four meetings at Kogarah.

* The Sharks’ last win at Kogarah was in 2007, and they have won just two of nine there.

* This match pits the best attacking team (the Dragons) against the best defensive team (Sharks).

Source: Fox Sports Stats

Adani decision not delayed by Senate

Indian mining giant Adani, which is developing the massive Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, won’t be delaying an investment decision because of a hold-up of native title laws in the Senate.

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The company was advised by Labor leader Bill Shorten on Thursday afternoon that the opposition would support the laws when they came to a vote in mid-June.

“Though the failure of the Senate to pass the amendments today will mean some delays in some early works, the company remains on track to make the crucial financial decision this month,” an Adani spokesman told AAP on Thursday.

Mr Shorten’s commitment would be considered by the Adani board when it met later in the month for a final investment decision.

The legislation amends the Native Title Act to resolve legal uncertainty around more than 120 indigenous land use agreements relating to major projects, including the $21 billion Carmichael mine.

Attorney-General George Brandis moved to suspend the Senate’s schedule on Thursday morning to bring on the debate, with the potential for a Friday sitting to get a final vote.

But the government lost the vote 35-33, meaning the legislation won’t pass until the Senate returns in mid-June.

“The Labor party said they support the legislation and amendments yet they voted with the Greens against having the bill finally dealt with by the parliament this week,” Senator Brandis told AAP after the vote.

“This is a flagrant breach of their undertaking to enable the parliament to deal with the legislation as soon as possible.”

The Queensland Labor government has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking the bill be passed as a matter of urgency.

Indigenous leader and former ALP president Warren Mundine said it was wrong to drag out the vote.

Mr Mundine said at the end of the day the people suffering the most are indigenous people, then the wider Australian economy because of the hold-up of jobs and development.

The coalition party room approved amendments to the bill on Tuesday and senators were informed of the procedural move by the government on Thursday morning.

Indigenous Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy accused the government of disrespecting traditional owners by rushing through changes without consultation.

“Here you are wanting to make a piece of legislation to amend a profound act, an important act,” she said.

“Let me tell you – it’s not going to happen.”

Greens senator Rachel Siewert accused the government of ignoring issues with the proposed changes.

“They want to rush this through so Adani can go ahead with their dirty coalmine,” she said.

Senators debated the bill on Thursday afternoon.

Budget boost, but dangers for Turnbull

If Malcolm Turnbull does not get a poll jump out of the 2017 budget there is no hope for his government.

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The stand-out political winner in Tuesday’s budget was a new permanent tax on the big five banks.

This was the finest hour for Australian populist politics and came as a complete surprise to bank executives, but will make a long-term dent in the budget deficit.

It has the added benefit of telling voters – many of whom would like to see bank chiefs hauled before a royal commission – the coalition is listening.

Faced with the prospect of the banks fighting back by telling shareholders and customers they’ll be slugged, Treasurer Scott Morrison has delivered a blunt message to CEOs.

“They already don’t like you very much. They don’t like us as politicians universally that much either. So we understand your pain,” he said in the traditional National Press Club post-budget speech on Wednesday.

“But prove them wrong on this occasion. Don’t confirm their worst impressions. Tell them another story. Tell them you’ll pony up and you’ll help fix the budget.”

Pledging to lift the Medicare rebate freeze and guarantee long-term funding of Medicare, promising more than $18 billion extra in school funding, and fully funding the national disability insurance scheme will also be popular.

Much of the rest of the budget – investing in roads and rail, a new Western Sydney airport, hydro power and some modest policy around housing affordability – will likely be seen as business-as-usual. The stuff that governments should be doing.

Much of the budget will be passed without too much fuss, as it was designed to do.

The budget effectively resets the political agenda for Turnbull and proves a coalition government can be a starkly different beast to that led by Tony Abbott.

It will also lift Scott Morrison’s stocks in the electorate.

His transformation from a policy hard-head to a pragmatist with a listening ear is almost complete, and having him deep in the heart of the electoral battleground of NSW can only help Turnbull’s fortunes.

In the longer term it may give Morrison – who turns 49 on Saturday – scope to be a palatable Liberal leader, either in government or opposition.

It’s a budget that Liberal and Nationals backbench MPs believe they can confidently sell to their constituents.

But there is a downside.

Health and education have long been seen as positives for Labor.

Labor has gained some traction over its school funding message – that the government has effectively cut $22 billion from schools, and the Catholic system in particular will be hard-hit.

Linking it with the government’s unpopular plan to hike university fees is an effective way of hammering the “Labor is best for education” line.

Shorten also maintains Labor is the party that built Medicare and the only party that can be trusted to protect it, despite Turnbull’s pledge to enshrine its funding in law and set up a special fund.

With the government having used the budget to dump its two per cent levy on the highest income earners, Labor can also argue politicians shouldn’t get a tax cut (almost $7000 a year for Turnbull himself) while average workers face flat wages, cuts to penalty rates and a rising cost of living.

Labor strategists believe the issue of “fairness” remains fair game, despite the budget reset, and is a battle the opposition can win.

Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers points to the language used by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann about having dumped $13 billion in so-called “zombie” savings, which included cuts to paid parental leave, waiting times for Newstart and scrapping some family payments.

“Regrettably we had to make these judgements, but that certainly wasn’t our first preference,” the minister said on Sky.

Chalmers says it shows the government remains committed to its “unfair cuts” and there’s plenty of scope for political positioning.

“We wouldn’t have given the $50 billion company tax cut, we wouldn’t have taken the deficit levy off the highest income earners, we wouldn’t have cut schools and universities and TAFEs … so there are still important differences between us on the Labor side and the government.”

Australian energy crisis a scandal: Howard

Former PM John Howard says Australia’s greatest immediate policy challenge was barely mentioned in the federal budget – the looming energy crisis.

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Speaking at a post-budget business breakfast with former New Zealand PM John Key, Mr Howard described the risk of supply and price rises as scandalous given Australia natural endowments of energy sources.

The nation had 38 per cent of the world’s easily recoverable uranium reserves, hundreds of years of coal reserves, was a major natural gas producer and could also produce plenty of solar and wind power, he said.

“That we should be facing a potential energy crisis in the eastern states is a serious condemnation of the political process,” he said.

“That gas exploration has been hampered, narrowed, redirected and prohibited by some state governments is a policy scandal of the first order.”

He also claimed state governments had overzealously embraced renewable energy targets, leading to a massive increase in costs.

“When my government was defeated in 2007, the renewable energy target was two per cent and it should never have been increased?” he said.

Some major energy users have shut some operations as a result, such as Rio Tinto, while others are threatening to do so, such as Glencore coal boss Peter Freyberg in comments this week.

Mr Howard said Australia was extremely fortunate economically and was approaching a world record of consecutive quarters of growth, but was getting to the “brake linings” and falling behind competitors.

A Senate that was more diverse than in his time made the crucial economic reform needed more difficult to pass, he said.

He said he was “uneasy” about what he called a bank tax hike, that was part of this week’s budget.

Mr Key said Australia’s long-term economic good times made it harder for governments to convince voters that reform was needed, especially in industrial relations.

Australia’s labour participation rate was lower than New Zealand’s, but if it was the same the unemployment rate would be 12-13 per cent, he said.