Feb 18, 2004

PM – Albanese claims Government ignored concerns of its own departments

PM – Albanese claims Government ignored concerns of its own departments

Wednesday 18 February 2004

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Government has defended its privatised employment agency system, Job Network, against Opposition claims that the Government ignored the concerns of its own departments.

Labor says internal government documents show the Job Network has been plagued by serious problems since last July. It claims the need to prop up the Job Network is now distorting other areas of social policy.

But the Government says that with unemployment falling, and the cost of helping jobseekers into work about one third that of the old Commonwealth Employment Service, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor has long been claiming the Job Network is in trouble. Now it says it has the proof from within the Government itself.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

And Job Network three and the lead up to its implementation on July 1 is a sorry and sordid tale of deception, incompetence and malice against the unemployed. The Government misled providers, the Government vilified job seekers and the Government deceived the community.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The opposition’s Employment Services spokesman Anthony Albanese says documents obtained under freedom of information from Centrelink and the Department of Family and Community Services, key to the operation of the Job Network, show they, along with the industry, were ringing alarm bells, but that the Minister, Mal Brough, wasn’t listening.

Mr Albanese says it’s unfortunate the minister’s own department has refused all his FOI requests. Labor blames the Governemnt for the financial crisis that engulfed the Job Network, accusing Mr Brough of failing to heed myriad warnings and the concerns and advice coming from government agencies.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

Does the Minister recall telling Parliament on the 18th of June 2003 that the Job Network was based upon 720,000 job seekers? Does the Minister also recall telling the Canberra Times on the 23rd of August last year that more than 900,000 interviews had been conducted.

Minister, on what number of Job Network customers were the contracts for Job Network three based?

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Minister, Mal Brough, is standing by his numbers.

MAL BROUGH: I brought with me the request for tender, which is the document presented in September of 2002, to people looking or businesses looking to tender for Job Network. In that document those figures are 780,000 job seekers.

This document was then put out, a public document to everyone that did tender, so that they could make a decision upon whether or not to take up those offers of contract. This figure was 720,000 job seekers. In other words, that was the potential for the market.

Why a reduction, Mr Speaker? Simply because unemployment had come down, something that this Government actually applauds.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor argues the government is using single parents, mature age workers and people with disabilities to boost the numbers going through the doors of job agencies and prop up a flawed system.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

Is the Minister aware that a minute from Centrelink to FACS (Department of Family and Community Services), dated 25th of July and obtained under freedom of information, stated: "I think we need to bring out the fact that there are only perhaps 500,000 customers who can be compelled to come in. The rest are either beneficiaries or exempt from the activities test or non beneficiaries."

Minister, didn’t the Government have to bail out the Job Network because the Government based the tender round on the wrong number of Job Network customers?

MAL BROUGH: If you think that single parents shouldn’t be assisted then say so. If you think people with disabilities shouldn’t be assisted then say so. These are people who cannot be compelled to come in to have interviews, but who we believe, this side of the House, the Government, have a need to be assisted so that they can reach their potential in society.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Anthony Albanese says the problem is that up to 200,000 people are virtual participants, not actually engaged in the Job Network.

But Mal Brough says no matter which way you look at it, the Job Network is working, more efficiently helping people back into work, at one third of the cost of the old Commonwealth Employment Scheme.

MAL BROUGH: We’ve seen this tired old story many times before. A public provider driving down outcomes and driving up costs, giving your money back to the unions, not helping unemployed Australians, no wonder unemployment peaked at over one million under the Labor Party.

MARK COLVIN: The Minister for Employment Services Mal Brough, ending Alexandra Kirk’s report.