Feb 23, 2004

FOI documents confirm massive cut to regional employment services


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 23 February 2004

Today’s article in the Financial Review, “Pressure to Revamp Job Network in bush” (pg 5), reveals that the Howard Government has cut the level of services available to jobseekers in remote and rural Australia and put the ongoing financial viability of those remaining Job Network providers in jeopardy.

The article is based on documents obtained by Labor from the Department of Family and Community Services under Freedom of Information (FOI).

The Howard Government slashed the number of Job Network sites in regional Australia by an extraordinary 58% with the commencement of Job Network Mark 3 on 1 July 2003. That translated into the loss of 691 sites and hundreds of jobs across regional Australia.

It means that many towns have been left without any Job Network provider forcing jobseekers to travel further to get the help and training they need to find a job.

While Labor first exposed the cut to regional Job Network services more than 8 months ago, we now learn that within the Government itself concerns about the level of service available to jobseekers as a result were being expressed.

In particular, the FOI documents state:

“Job Network membership coverage is not available in some remote and rural areas (and appears to have been reduced with the third Job Network contract) and [the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations] has not yet provided a service strategy for these jobseekers.”

The FOI documents clearly show the Government was alert to the coming problems, but not alarmed enough to take action.

As well as confirming a loss of local services, the FOI documents also reveal that the payment structure associated with the introduction of Job Network 3 is creating cash flow problems for providers, potentially threatening their longer term financial viability.

Prior to the last Federal election the Prime Minister told Australians living in the regions:

“I don’t want to see any further services, government service levels withdrawn from or taken away from the bush.” (31 January 2000)

The FOI documents clearly show the Prime Minister has failed to honour that pledge.

This dramatic cut in employment services comes at a time when many regional communities are enduring unemployment rates of more than 10% and youth joblessness is stuck at over 30%. The Government is putting regions with high unemployment into the too-hard basket.