I’ve got to admit the drought is severe. We have never experienced a level of dryness and drought like we’ve seen over the last three or four years. But, despite that, unemployment levels in regional Australia are quite low. Indeed, before the drought, unemployment in Dubbo was 2.2 per cent and across my entire electorate, which has some very small western towns, it was under four per cent. One of the challenges we, as a government, have is to highlight the opportunities and the employment possibilities outside the cities. I know some of the members opposite are regional but many of them focus on what’s happening in the cities, but the truth of the matter is that there are opportunities for employment even now with the drought. We are having an enormous skills shortage across regional Australia. There are opportunities in health care, aged care, trades as well as in the mining sector. In my area of the Orana region around Dubbo, we’ve actually just started a DAMA to open opportunities for people with aptitude, skills and a desire to do well to move to a regional area to set up home, establish their family and add to a regional community.
It’s also important that we look after our own. I’m particularly proud of the regional apprenticeship program that was announced in the budget, which is encouraging, through financial support, apprentices and employers to look after our young people. It’s all very well to bring people from elsewhere, but we’ve also got to make sure that our young people have a start. The regional apprenticeship program, supported by Clontarf, has seen, right across Australia, particularly in my part of Australia, young Aboriginal men staying at school, going into traineeships and going into employment. That’s the future of this country—looking after our local young people and getting them into employment.
While we might have debates in this place on a broader scale, it’s important that we actually knuckle down and do things that make a difference. Right across regional Australia we are seeing the work that’s been going through. In my part of the world, inland rail will provide 16,000 jobs in construction from end to end, and the opportunities for relocating businesses right along that corridor are enormous. There’s a big discussion in this country at the moment with waste recycling—it’s a massive problem—and the opportunities for regional Australia to take advantage of recycling, to take advantage of cheap freight through inland rail and to take advantage of the increased road networks, provided through the Roads of Strategic Importance program, the Roads to Recovery Program and other programs, to help grow local economies.
There is no greater form of welfare than having a job. Opportunities come from secure employment and stability in families. In disadvantaged areas where we have introduced the cashless debit card, that card has helped families manage their income. It’s put stability into those communities and made those communities a much more pleasant and safer place to live. That, in turn, has encouraged our young people to stay in school and to move through apprenticeships and into local jobs. They have the pride that comes with that, which is central to this government. Things like the asset write-off for small business so that there’s a cash stimulus generating income for young tradies so that they can upgrade their tools and equipment create jobs and certainly provide a very, very good, solid base. Small businesses is actually the largest employer in this country, so we need to create an environment where small businesses get incentives not only to invest in their business but to buy equipment to grow their profitability and get that cash moving around.