Congratulations, Qld, you're the slack state

THE Sunshine State, the Smart State, and now we have the distinction of being the Slacker State.

When I read yesterday that Bundaberg and Cairns have more people on the dole than any other area in Australia, and Toowoomba, Hervey Bay, and Mackay aren't far behind, most disturbing was an observation by Warren Entsch.

The member for Leichhardt, whose electorate includes Cairns, said "there's no shortage of jobs, just a shortage of people prepared to take them".

As refreshing as it is for a politician to speak plainly, this is an unhappy truth.

And it's one that the majority of us who do the right thing are left to support. As revealed recently, 86 per cent of personal income tax is spent on welfare payments.

That's not to say many people who claim benefits are undeserving of them - society is only as strong as the health of its weakest members - but too many are getting fat and lazy at others' expense.

This must stop.

Commenting on the latest Department of Social Services figures, Mr Entsch acknowledged that Cairns had experienced difficulty after the global financial crisis but "the reality is there are jobs out there; they may not be their dream job, but it's a bloody job".

Opportunities exist in fruit picking, milking sheds, and cafes, for example, but Australian workers consider these beneath them or not appealing enough, according to Mr Entsch, whose first job was cleaning toilets in a railway station.

In low employment hot spots around the country, what has developed is a culture of entitlement - why work when someone else will pay your way?

What we are seeing now is generational unemployment, where children have witnessed parents and grandparents bludging off the taxpayer purse and consequently hold no ambitions of getting a job.

Add to this the changing face of employment overall, and it's clear we should not only be concerned but also seeking solutions to grow the economy and stem the widening gap between rich and poor.

We've been told that the 21st century flexible workplace is a wonderful thing.

We can work from home thanks to advancements in digital technology, we can choose our hours, job share, collaborate remotely and, effectively, make work for us.

"The huge personal benefit of all these changes is to have more control over your life and how you live it," says Sophie Wade, a recognised speaker on the future of work.

If only that were true for the majority.

Instead, what we have in Australia now is a sizeable shift away from fulltime employment to part-time roles which can be less secure and satisfying.

In March, people worked an average of only 34 hours and 40 minutes each week, far less that the 35 hours and 14 minutes worked five years ago.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, part-timers accounted for a record 17 per cent of all hours worked.

Don't be fooled into thinking the shift is because more women are entering the workforce and using a spot of paid employment here and there to backfill the main household income.

What is increasingly happening is that fulltime roles are being axed or broken down so company profits can be secured.

Underemployment is becoming a grave problem, where people who are keen to work are being denied.

Coincidental is the march of automation through almost every workplace, from banks and supermarkets to hospitals and newsrooms. Jobs that once existed simply are no longer there.

It's dandy for future-of-work experts to urge people to be proactive in redefining their working life, but there are real barriers, and a whole lot of anxiety around financial security and quality of life.

The Australian jobs landscape is messy. Characterised by unprecedented uncertainty and rapidly changing roles, coupled with a rise in the number of people who have given up on work entirely, it threatens meaningful economic growth.

Amid reports that the Federal Government is set to crack down on welfare recipients who skip job interviews or work-for-the-dole commitments, more needs to be done.

As Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt, whose electorate includes Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, said in response to the latest dole figures, "we're acutely aware of the challenge, but we need everyone on board to deal with it - state, local and federal".

We also must recognise that the value of work is more than economic. At its best, work builds self-esteem, creates a sense of accomplishment, and instils pride by helping people take more responsibility for their lives.

The Slacker State is not a tag we should accept.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor at The Courier-Mail.

News Corp Australia

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