I stand in support of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017. From my perspective, work has always acted as a great provider for people in so many ways. It gives people a sense of purpose and the opportunity to participate, connect, collaborate, create, and achieve individual and shared goals. Work also allows us to make a personal contribution to our communities through the labour and taxes we provide to build a better future together. The problem is that not all is fair in work and welfare at the moment and many people are riding on the coat-tails of those who are doing the right thing.
In late June this year, the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, presented the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill to the parliament. This bill supports the coalition government's commitment to comprehensive reform of the Australian welfare system. It also delivers the coalition's 2017 budget commitments to create a welfare system that is easier to navigate and helps to move people from welfare to work. The welfare reform bill 2017 will improve support for people moving into work and ensure a safety net for those who need welfare assistance the most.
Today, I'd like to focus on key areas of the bill that are relevant to my seat of Leichhardt. The welfare reform bill will continue to provide a safety net for jobseekers in need of assistance. However, it will also make it tougher for those who deliberately flout the system, by introducing a stronger compliance network. It will do this by introducing a demerit point scheme similar to the one currently used for drivers licences, as part of a tougher framework.
In Far North Queensland, I have been actively working with a variety of employers, individuals and institutions to stimulate and promote jobs growth in our region. For too long there have been those who have been shirking their community responsibilities, leeching off workers and abusing the Australian welfare system, which is meant to be there for those in genuine need. New figures show Cairns currently has the second-highest number of people on the dole after Bundaberg. It has more than 4,350 people receiving the dole. I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, that there are jobs currently available in fruit picking, milking sheds and cafes in Far North Queensland, but many people are turning their noses up at these jobs. I've heard myriad excuses, especially from young people who don't want to work. They have poor excuses like, 'It's too hot,' 'It's too far to travel,' 'It's an impact on my social life,' 'The job isn't good enough,' or, 'The pay is too low.' This leaves the employers with no option but to hire backpackers to fill vacancies, especially in our hospitality industry.
This shouldn't be the case when we have so many people sitting on their backsides at home doing nothing but collecting welfare. Sometimes we need to give people a gentle push to motivate them to act. A person's first job, as I'm sure you'd be well aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, is usually not the start of their career, but it is the first sentence in their resume. Irrespective of the task, unemployed people need to show that they can get out of bed every day, turn up for work on time, make a solid contribution and be reliable. When they can demonstrate this consistency, they've taken the first step on the path to a career.
Earlier this year, I ran a Youth Jobs Boot Camp in Cairns. A young Indigenous man by the name of Elijah Ibell came along and showed real enthusiasm and commitment. A local training provider at the event called enVizion Group Inc. was so impressed they hired Elijah the same day as a part-time digital support officer. Both the employer and Elijah came away from that event very, very happy. That is a fine example of what you can achieve when you show that you are keen and you actually want to work.
Another element of the coalition government's welfare reform bill is that for the first time in Australia we'll see 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and youth allowance participate in a two-year drug-testing trial at three locations around the country. People who are already receiving welfare payments, of course, will not be tested. The reality is that if a person presents themselves for a job and they are drug affected they have very little chance of being successful and are clearly not job ready. They are also a risk to themselves, to their work colleagues and, of course, to customers.
Those who are chosen to undertake a drug test will be randomly selected when they go for their routine Centrelink appointment. This is similar to the way roadside drug and alcohol tests are conducted by police or how drug testing is done in the mining industry and various other sectors. Locations for the drug-testing trial are being determined by elements such as high unemployment, high drug use—based on wastewater analysis, crime statistics, research and internal departmental data—and the treatment options available.
The purpose of the drug-testing trial is to identify people with drug issues and provide them with effective intervention, to help them so that they can enjoy the many benefits that come from earning a living through work. Jobseekers who return an initial positive drug test will continue to receive the same amount of welfare payments, but the welfare payments will be quarantined to help them manage their money to pay for essential living costs and to limit their ability to fund drug abuse. If a jobseeker tests positive a second time, they will be referred to a medical professional to assess their circumstances and to identify appropriate treatment options, which will then form part of their mutual obligations.
Locations for the drug testing will be announced in the near future. I'd certainly welcome the selection of Far North Queensland as one of those locations for drug testing. In March this year, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission released its findings on wastewater monitoring in Queensland and found that the level of Oxycodone and Fentanyl prescription opioid painkillers, known as 'hillbilly heroin', is higher in the Cairns and regional Queensland than the national average. At the same time, the ACIC's former Chief Executive Chris Dawson said that for many years US authorities had warned him that the abuse of prescription drugs was a very significant problem and that a large number of Oxycodone users graduate to heroin. In addition to this, the use of cannabis and ice in Far North Queensland remains a very big concern in our communities. I believe that a drug-testing trial in Far North Queensland would assist in reducing drug use and enable them to realise their potential as contributing members of our society.
This bill, which is in line with the coalition government's 2017-18 budget announcement, will also consolidate seven current working-age payments into a single payment for jobseekers. This is a positive move that will make it easier for Far North Queenslanders and others to navigate our welfare system and Centrelink. The welfare reform bill will also see jobseekers aged between 30 and 49 increase their annual activity requirements from 30 to 50 hours per fortnight and the participation requirements of people between the ages of 55 and 59 will also be strengthened. From 20 September 2018, welfare recipients will only be able to meet half of their annual requirements for 30 hours per fortnight through volunteering. Most people in this age bracket are keen to remain in the workforce; they have much to contribute to society and must remain valued members of our communities. Work provides them with this opportunity and allows them to do something useful and rewarding, while continuing to earn a living at the same time.
At this point I must say that I'm constantly impressed by the many extremely talented and creative people I've met who live in Far North Queensland. I recently caught up with two older Indigenous ladies from Mornington Island, Netta Loogatha and Elsie Gabori, at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. These ladies are a fine example of what can be achieved if you get up and have a go, regardless of your age. Two years ago Netta and Elsie started their own fashion label, called MIArt. Now, their creations feature on fashion catwalks around the country and are sold in major art institutions. Their latest collection of hand-painted neoprene bags is stocked in the NGV Design Store in Melbourne's Federation Square. What an inspiration they are to all, but especially those who may fear they have passed their use-by-date and that no-one wants to employ them.
This is true now more than ever with technological advances, the power of social media and global moves towards an entrepreneurial workforce. You're never too old to try something new, be creative and have a go. There are also incentives from employers to take older employees with the Restart wage subsidy program. Think about what you enjoy and what you're good at and then, as one well-known sporting brand used to say, 'Just get in and do it.' You might be surprised where it leads you, as it has been for Far North Queensland Indigenous fashionistas Netta and Elsie.
While I'm focusing on the importance of working, I'd like to mention one recent initiative that I've been working on in Far North Queensland to boost jobs and innovation in the local economy. This includes the Tropical North Queensland Regional Jobs and Investment Package, an initiative that will distribute $20 million in grants for key projects that will create jobs and boost infrastructure, innovation and training skills, such as in building and construction, defence and marine, education and training, and health and tourism. We've had about 44 applications for that across a broad spectrum, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing the results of that.
As I mentioned earlier, we also had a Youth Jobs Boot Camp and launched the Youth Jobs PaTH Program, which provides industry focused training to prepare young people in Far North Queensland for work. It also allows local employers to trial these young people by giving them $1,000 to offer internships and provides local businesses up to $10,000 to contribute to the training and development of the young persons they hire. We have also conducted an apprenticeship forum and seen the appointment of Cairns' very own entrepreneurship facilitator, Tara Diversi. Tara is a proven innovator with strong regional and community knowledge of start-up business development, and she is passionate about working with young people. Tara is currently building networks with schools, colleges and business advisory services and providing practical assistance for young people to access local mentors, business partners, finance, office space, equipment and ongoing business development training. There are many other examples of work that I'm doing to boost jobs and innovation in the economy in Far North Queensland; however, time won't allow me to go through them all.
My point is that the future is bright for jobseekers in Far North Queensland—if you want to work. It's reasonable for taxpayers to expect that, if someone is able to work, they should do so rather than riding on the coat-tails of others who have jobs. I'm confident that this legislation is a positive turning point for our welfare system and one that will ensure that it remains focused on its key objective of creating a fairer welfare system that supports more people to work not just in Far North Queensland but across our country. (Time expired)