Employment: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

Employment is the foundation of Australia’s economic strength and social wellbeing. Work helps individuals to fulfil their potential, families to thrive and businesses and communities to prosper and grow.

The Employment portfolio has a central role in advising on and delivering economic and social initiatives, both at national and regional levels, to improve Australia’s workforce participation, productivity and jobs growth.

The Australian Government is committed to creating jobs and promoting investment and growth in regional Australia by setting the right policy framework to facilitate stronger jobs growth, so that all Australians can take advantage of the emerging job opportunities of tomorrow.

Evidence shows that there is disparity between how regions perform. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including a region’s industry base, its population’s access to and participation in higher education, transport networks and infrastructure, population size, and the skill level of its labour force. Some regions will also experience more intense structural adjustment pressures than others, due to their underlying economic base. More regionally-tailored approaches help these communities to anticipate and respond to change.

The Australian Government continues to provide ongoing investment and support to help and strengthen our regions. In addition to the tailored services provided through the Australian Government’s national jobactive employment services program, a number of initiatives have been announced that will improve regional employment. These include targeted measures to help more Indigenous Australians into employment; strengthening requirements for welfare recipients to look for work and participate in work related activities, including in regional areas experiencing labour shortages; helping more mature age job seekers find and keep a job, including those in regional areas; and expanding the successful ParentsNext pre-employment program to more regional areas of Australia.

New Initiatives

Closing the Gap—Employment Services

The Australian Government is committing a total of $55.7 million over five years to work with Indigenous Australians to accelerate progress towards achieving parity in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Closing the Gap—Employment Services package outlines measures to increase the number of Indigenous Australians engaged in the labour market and build the capacity of employment services to better connect Indigenous job seekers to jobs. Components of this package include:

  • Mentoring and more support for Indigenous youth
  • A Prison to Work program to provide access to in-prison employment services
  • Revitalising employment services for Indigenous Australians
  • Place based approaches, trialling community-based delivery of employment services in Yarrabah, Queensland

ParentsNext—National Expansion

The Australian Government is committing $263 million over the forward estimates to expand the successful ParentsNext pre-employment program to help more parents with young children at risk of long term welfare dependency to plan and prepare for employment by the time their children start school. ParentsNext is already operating in ten designated Local Government Areas, helping parents to connect to services in their local community to support their transition into employment, such as education, training, literacy/numeracy programs, and child care. From 1 July 2018, the ParentsNext program will be expanded nationally to allow more parents to access personalised assistance to improve their work readiness. The expanded ParentsNext will be delivered in two streams:

  • nationally, to the most disadvantaged parents to all Employment Regions across Australia; and
  • in 30 locations, which are highly disadvantaged or have a high proportion of Parenting Payment recipients who are Indigenous.

Working Age Payment Reform

Initiatives under this measure will better accord with community expectations and changes in the labour market, better positioning jobseekers to realise the benefits of work. Strengthened requirements for welfare recipients to undertake job search and participation in work related activities will be welcomed in regional areas experiencing labour shortages. From 20 September 2018, stronger participation requirements will apply to jobseekers aged 30-49, and jobseekers aged 55 to the Age Pension age.

To help mature age jobseekers find and keep a job, including those in regional areas, the Government will increase support for training and reskilling, work experience opportunities and links to employers. Representing a total investment of more than $100.0 million (of which $20.4 million is new money), this package will include a new Career Transition Assistance Program to deliver a short, intensive course in which job seekers will identify transferable skills, research the local labour market, explore new occupations suited to their skills and learn resilience strategies. Commencing 1 July 2018, the program will be trialled in five regions around Australia, before being rolled out nationally from July 2020. The National Work Experience Programme will be expanded to 10,000 places per year and incentives will be introduced to increase business demand. Finally, a series of industry-based pilots will be established in selected growth industries and/or for large infrastructure projects. Up to ten pilots will be developed with two main aims: to create additional pathways for job seekers on income support to gain employment; and to help combat negative perceptions among employers of certain job seekers and encourage them to have a diverse workforce, particularly mature age and people with disability.

Current Initiatives

Seasonal Work Incentives for Job Seekers—Trial

As part of the 2016–17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Australian Government announced a two year trial of incentives aimed at increasing the number of job seekers who undertake horticultural seasonal work, such as fruit picking. The trial starts from 1 July 2017 and will involve up to 7,600 participants. The measure responds to concerns about the ability of the Australian horticulture industry to attract sufficient numbers of seasonal workers.

There are three incentives aimed at increasing the number of job seekers who undertake horticultural seasonal work:

  • a seasonal horticultural work income exemption allowing participants in the trial to earn up to $5,000 each year from seasonal horticultural work without it being assessed under the social security income test (subject to passing of legislation);
  • a seasonal work living away and travel allowance of up to $300 for eligible job seekers where the job is more than 120 kilometres from their home; and
  • a Provider Seasonal Work Incentive Payment of $100 per week for up to six weeks to an employment services provider who successfully places an eligible job seeker in seasonal work as part of the trial.

To be eligible for the incentives, job seekers will need to be participating in jobactive, Transition to Work or Disability Employment Services. Job seekers must also have received Newstart or Youth Allowance (Other) continuously for at least three months.

Launch Into Work Pilot—Establishment

As part of the 2016–17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Australian Government announced the establishment of the new Launch into Work program, anticipated to commence in May 2017.

This national program will improve employment outcomes for job seekers, including those in regional areas, by assisting them to become job ready. The program will provide targeted training, work experience and mentoring to prepare participants for employment.

Employers will use Launch into Work pre-employment projects to recruit for entry-level positions that have prospects for career growth. Projects will be conducted in metro and regional areas with employers across a range of industries, and incorporate a recruitment method that focuses on job seekers displaying certain values and attributes, rather than having specific qualifications or experience. Employers will be required to commit to employing suitable project participants who successfully complete the program.

The program will be primarily targeted at women, which supports Australia’s G20 goal to increase women’s workforce participation.

This measure delivers on the Australian Government’s election commitment.

Youth Employment Package

The Australian Government’s Youth Employment Package announced in the 2016–17 Budget gives young job seekers the employability skills and real work experience they need to get and keep a job. The Youth Employment Package assists regional Australia, particularly those areas experiencing high rates of youth unemployment. The main elements of the package are available to job seekers in all jobactive regions across Australia. The Youth Employment Package includes the following measures:

  • Youth Jobs PaTH; and
  • Encouraging Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment.

Youth Jobs PaTH—(Prepare—Trial—Hire)

The core of the Youth Employment Package is Youth Jobs PaTH for people under the age of 25 years. The pathway has three elements.

  • Prepare: Employability Skills Training ensures young people understand what employers expect of them in the workplace, and equip them with the skills, attitudes and behaviours for them to be successful in a job. Since April 2017, job seekers in jobactive who are aged under 25 years receive training in the basic employability skills that businesses need, such as reliability, team work and punctuality. For most job seekers, the training becomes compulsory after five months in jobactive.
  • Trial: a voluntary internship placement of between 4 and 12 weeks to give a young person valuable work experience and the chance to show an employer what they can do in the workplace. This initiative supports people aged 17 to 24 years who are on an eligible income support payment, registered with jobactive, Transition to Work or Disability Employment Services and have been in employment services for six months or more. Businesses that host an intern receive a $1,000 payment and the intern receives a $200 fortnightly incentive.
  • Hire: a Youth Bonus wage subsidy to support the employment of young people. A wage subsidy of up to $10,000 is available to encourage businesses to hire, train and retain eligible young job seekers between 15 and 24 years of age, creating further job opportunities for young people. Eligible job seekers need to be registered with a jobactive or Transition to Work provider, have been in employment services for at least six months and have mutual obligation requirements.

Wage subsidies have also been streamlined to provide employers with easier access and more flexible arrangements (see below).

Encouraging Entrepreneurship and Self–Employment

The Youth Employment Package also included measures to encourage young Australians to start a business and create their own job. This builds on the success of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, which has been helping job seekers establish viable small businesses for over 30 years.

Since December 2016, pathways for young people to pursue entrepreneurship and self-employment have been enhanced by:

  • introducing two–week “Exploring Being Your Own Boss” workshops for up to 1,000 young people per year to give them a taste of what is involved in self–employment and entrepreneurship, with the option to undertake placements to gain first-hand experience in what it takes to run a small business;
  • broadening the eligibility for the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme to allow access to training and mentoring for people who are not in employment, education or training, including those not on income support. Also, an additional 2,300 New Enterprise Incentive Scheme places have been funded each year, making a total of 8,600 places available annually;
  • appointing Entrepreneurship Facilitators in three regions with high youth unemployment; Cairns, Hunter Valley (including Newcastle) and Launceston and North East Tasmania. Facilitators will bring together available services and programs and provide practical assistance to job seekers in the regions to develop their ideas into successful businesses; and
  • the launching of the SelfStart online hub, which assists young people considering starting their own business to access inspirational and practical information on services available to support young Australians. SelfStart is available at jobactive.gov.au/selfstart.

Growing Jobs and Small Business Package

The Growing Jobs and Small Business Package announced in the 2015–16 Budget is building a stronger economy, creating the right conditions for Australian businesses to thrive and grow and helping those who are unemployed into work. Importantly, the Growing Jobs and Small Business package provides a significant additional investment for new jobs initiatives. A National Work Experience Programme and redesigned wage subsidies provide incentives to employers to create employment opportunities for the unemployed. A Youth Employment Strategy will ensure young people are building employability skills that are relevant and targeted, and able to meet the needs and expectations of employers.

Wage Subsidies

Wage subsidies support the Australian Government’s broader objectives of increasing workforce participation by providing a financial incentive to employers when they hire eligible job seekers. There are a number of wage subsidies available, including for job seekers who are long–term unemployed, Indigenous, parents, youth (under 30 years of age), and mature age (50 years or over) under the Restart Programme.

All wage subsidies were improved from 1 January 2017. The improvements mean:

  • all payments are paid as a flat rate—no more complex pro-rata payments;
  • providers have discretion to pay employers a kickstart payment of up to 40 per cent of the total wage subsidy, after four weeks of the job starting;
  • wage subsidy agreements can be signed within 12 weeks (84 calendar days) after the job starts, instead of the previous 28 days;
  • working hours are now more flexible with a requirement of an average of 20 hours per week over the six months of the Agreement;
  • employers sign one Head Agreement and simply add a payment schedule for each new employee; and
  • paid work trials can be included in a wage subsidy agreement, as long as they are not funded by the Employment Fund.

National Work Experience Programme

The National Work Experience Programme gives employers the opportunity to develop the skills of potential employees and test their suitability with lower risk and lower financial burden of hiring. Eligible job seekers can undertake voluntary work experience in businesses for up to 25 hours per week for four weeks. Participants continue to receive their income support payment and a supplement to assist with the costs of participating.

Transition to Work

The Transition to Work service for people aged 15 to 21 years offers intensive pre–employment support to participants to improve their work readiness and help them into work or education. The service providers support young people through strong connections with employers, community services and schools in their local area.

Empowering YOUth Initiatives

The Empowering YOUth Initiatives are testing new approaches to assist young people, 15 to 24 years of age and at risk of long-term welfare dependency, on the pathway to sustainable employment. A range of innovative initiatives in locations across the country, including regional locations, have been funded for a maximum of two years each. An evaluation of each initiative will provide learnings to inform future policy design and service delivery to young people.


On 1 July 2015 the Australian Government introduced the jobactive employment services model to better meet the needs of job seekers and employers, promote stronger workforce participation and build a prosperous economy. jobactive is delivered from over 1,700 sites across Australia. jobactive providers have the flexibility to deliver services based on the needs of job seekers and employers, tailored to local labour market conditions. For the first time, specific Indigenous Outcome Targets have been incorporated into the jobactive performance framework to increase providers’ focus on outcomes for Indigenous job seekers in regional and other parts of Australia.

Employment Fund

The Employment Fund is included within the budget for jobactive employment services model. All jobactive providers across Australia have access to the Employment Fund which is a flexible pool of funds that can be used to assist eligible job seekers to build the experience and skills to get and keep jobs. The Employment Fund has a focus on training that meets the specific needs of job seekers and employers, work–related items including clothing and safety equipment, post–placement support to help a job seeker stay in the job. Job seekers can also receive assistance for travel costs (including public transport, fuel or vehicle expenses), vehicle licences and driving lessons which are of particular importance to job seekers in rural and remote locations. The use of the Employment Fund is at the determination of the jobactive provider.

Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Programme

The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Programme helps to connect job seekers to regional jobs by providing practical and financial assistance to eligible long–term unemployed job seekers who relocate to take up ongoing work. The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job Programme provides relocation payments of up to $6,000 for eligible job seekers who move to a regional area or up to $3,000 for eligible job seekers who move to a metropolitan area. Families with dependent children can receive up to an extra $3,000.

Work for the Dole

The jobactive Work for the Dole program was rolled out nationally on 1 July 2015. Work for the Dole provides work–like experiences for job seekers across Australia to help improve their job readiness and employability skills, as well as meeting their mutual obligation requirements. At the same time, Work for the Dole provides an opportunity for job seekers to give back to their local community.

Employee Assistance—Protection for Unpaid Employee Entitlements

The Australian Government’s Fair Entitlements Guarantee is a safety net of last resort to protect employees who lose their job through liquidation or bankruptcy of their employer and are left with certain unpaid employment entitlements. Employees in this situation may claim financial assistance under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee for unpaid wages, annual leave, long service leave, payment in lieu of notice and redundancy pay. Some eligibility conditions and payment thresholds apply. Further information including how to apply is available on the department’s website at https://www.employment.gov.au/fair-entitlements-guarantee-feg or by calling the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Hotline on 1300 135 040.

Structural Adjustment Programs

A number of structural adjustment programs are in place to assist retrenched workers to transition to new employment as quickly as possible. They help to reduce the regional impacts of large–scale redundancies by providing retrenched workers from eligible companies with immediate access to intensive employment support services. Structural adjustment programs are available for workers in the automotive manufacturing industry as well as workers retrenched from companies including Arrium and Alinta Energy, Queensland Nickel, Caterpillar in Northern Tasmania and BlueScope Steel in the Illawarra. In 2016–17 a structural adjustment program was introduced for Hazelwood Power Station workers in the Latrobe Valley. The programs include employment facilitators in North Queensland, Gippsland, the Illawarra, Geelong, Whyalla/Port Augusta, Adelaide and North/North–West Tasmania. Support is also provided for migrant workers to obtain employment opportunities through the Nhill Migration Employment Coordinator.

Harvest Labour Services and National Harvest Information Service

Harvest Labour Services help employers in horticultural areas to supplement local labour with out–of–area workers where there is an acknowledged shortfall in a local labour market. Harvest Labour Services are delivered by five organisations through 15 sites across 11 harvest areas, in the Northern Territory and all States except Tasmania. The National Harvest Labour Information Service coordinates and disseminates information about harvest–related work opportunities across Australia, including those areas not serviced by Harvest Labour Services.

Seasonal Worker Programme

The Seasonal Worker Programme contributes to the economic development of ten participating countries by supporting workers to undertake certain low and unskilled jobs so they can work in Australia and send money back to their countries. It also assists Australian employers who are unable to source enough local workers to meet their seasonal labour needs by providing access to a reliable, returning workforce. Over 90 per cent of seasonal workers undertake placements in the agriculture sector in regional Australia including in Robinvale, Mildura, Shepparton and Koo Wee Rup in Victoria, Griffith and Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, Renmark in South Australia, Cairns, Bowen and Mundubbera in Queensland, Katherine in the Northern Territory and Carnarvon, Margaret River, Kununurra and Broome in Western Australia. The ten countries participating in the Seasonal Worker Programme are Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor–Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, all of which experience challenges such as small economies of scale, remoteness from larger markets and low levels of investment.

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