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Sorry Minister, but apple orchards aren't going to solve youth unemployment.

Eric Abetz in The Senate

Employment Minister Eric Abetz has defended unpopular changes to the Newstart allowance, by urging young, unemployed adults to take up fruit picking in Tasmania.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner. Mr Abetz, you sir, are a genius.

The modifications to Newstart allowance were announced as part of the 2014 Budget earlier this month, with changes forcing people under the age of 30 to wait six months before being able to receive any unemployment benefits.

Senator Abetz has stated that young people who were able to work had no right to rely on their fellow Australians to subsidise them.

“There is no right to demand from your fellow Australians that just because you don’t want to do a bread delivery or a taxi run or a stint as a farmhand that you should therefore be able to rely on your fellow Australian to subsidise you,” he said.

I’m not entirely sure if Senator Abetz gave himself a huge pat on the back for coming up with a solution that would solve the dramatic rise of Australia’s youth unemployment rates, with his highly original and innovative ideas.

But I do think he may have missed the point.

Workers picking grapes.

With his generalisations, Senator Abetz is alluding to the fact that young Australians are choosing to go on government benefits and relying on fellow Aussies to ‘subsidise’ them – stereotyping young Australian adults into a ‘lazy dole bludger’ cliche.

He assumes young people are not actively searching for employment, or are thinking they are too entitled to do something such as a ‘bread delivery’ or ‘taxi-run’ as he did as a young man while attending university.

The average income for a young adult – assuming they are single and with no children – on the Newstart Allowance is $510.50 a fortnight. Breaking this down, it means a young Australian adult on Newstart is earning $255.25 a week.

Do you want to know what it’s like trying to live on $255.25 a week and trying to sustain a comfortable life? It’s pretty freakin’ hard.

After I graduated last year, I was on Newstart until I moved to Sydney. Was it because I wanted to be? Absolutely not. Was it because I thought it was an easy way out and I could make some awesome dollars being ‘subsidised’ by my fellow Australians? Definitely not.

There was a severe shortage of jobs in the city I was living; even transient jobs in retail and customer service had fierce competition. As a university graduate, living away from home and trying to support myself, Newstart was a lifesaver. However, when you’re looking to cover things such as rent, groceries, transport and other living expenses, the allowance barely covers it.

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Is Newstart helpful to young Australians who are unemployed and looking for employment as a means to get by? Absolutely. Is it a means of living comfortably instead of going out to try and find a job? Absolutely not. In my opinion, being on Newstart is actually the best motivation for any young Australian trying to find a job.

Changing the rules for Newstart Allowance and denying it to young adults for six months is, in short, problematic. While Senator Abetz suggestion may be a quick fix, there is still no long-term suggestion or plan being put into place for the staggering rise of unemployment rates for youth.

Youth Unemployment since the GFC

Abetz has not only angered students and unemployed youth with his suggestion; Tasmanian farmers have also hit out at the Employment Minister saying their industry should not be a ‘dumping ground’ for young people facing a six-month wait to receive Newstart payments. Besides, let’s not forget, fruit-picking is actually a seasonal, short-term job – which is mainly why backpackers and tourists are such a great fit and solution.

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has dismissed criticisms of the Newstart changes, telling Fairfax Media that young, unemployed people facing no dole for six months should simply take a job they do not really want to do or do a course.

“They could do a further training program whilst they are looking for work (or) many people take a job which is not the job they really want, just to get a job and get going.”

Ingenious idea Mr. Andrews. I’m sure that thought never crossed the mind of any graduates struggling to make ends meet.

The suggestions from our leaders are still short-term solutions to a larger issue at hand. While a young person could get a job within a field they aren’t pursuing to make ends meet, there’s no saying if they’ll be able to obtain any kind of employment straight away after finishing their studies – once again proving the changes to Newstart Allowance will perhaps hinder young Australians instead of ultimately benefiting them.

What are your thoughts on Senator Abetz’s comments? Do you think the changes to Newstart Allowance will benefit or hinder young Australians? 

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