Jun 30, 2003

PM – Closure of Employment National

PM – Closure of Employment National

Monday 30 June 2003

MARK COLVIN: From the era of Menzies and Chifley onwards, the Commonwealth Government has helped unemployed Australians into jobs, but that ends today. Employment National, formerly known as the CES, the Commonwealth Employment Service is being wound up. From tomorrow, the Job Network will be a totally privatised entity.

The Opposition’s accusing the Government of abandoning the unemployed, and claiming it’s closing more job agencies than it’s keeping open.

Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Employment National closes its last 165 offices around the country today, marking the end of a tradition begun in 1946, with the creation of its precursor, the Commonwealth Employment Service. Employment Services Minister, Mal Brough says it’s a very positive day for both the nation and the unemployed, not a sad day.

MAL BROUGH: No, far from it. Today’s an exciting day for a new dawn in employment services, because as of tomorrow morning we’ll see some 20,000 additional jobs placed onto our electronic database, which will be accessed by Australia’s unemployed.

We will see the rollout of kiosks, electronic kiosks, which will give people the most up-to-date information right around Australia. And there will be some two and a half thousand organisations providing employment services where people live, in regional, rural Australia, as well as the suburbs.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But his opposite number, Labor’s Anthony Albanese thinks otherwise.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, I think it is a sad day for Australia. It’s a sad day when the Government withdraws from Employment National and says that it’s not a core government responsibility to find people a job. If that’s not a core responsibility, then what is?

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor says withdrawing the Government’s direct role in placing unemployed people in jobs leaves a huge gap.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   If you have a for-profit system, it’s rational for these private providers to help those people who are easiest to get into a job. That is the way that they maximise their profit, and what that means is if you’re long-term unemployed, if you suffer from multiple disadvantage, then you’ll be left behind.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Minister Mal Brough asserts the latest job network tender is bigger and better.

MAL BROUGH: When you compare apples for apples, we have an expanded system with more money and greater services being provided to the unemployed.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Labor says there are just 986 employment services outlets, not two-and-a-half thousand as the Minister claims.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   The Government is including organisations which are basically labour hire companies such as Manpower – they don’t provide assistance for the unemployed, that isn’t the role that they play, they’ve never been counted in the figures – and the Government knows that – in order to hide the fact that there are towns all around Australia that will be left without services as a result of these changes.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mal Brough insists Employment National’s demise won’t leave the unemployed stranded.

MAL BROUGH: Well, I mean there’s obviously towns somewhere that don’t have services.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: That had them before?

MAL BROUGH: Well, I think you’d be very hard-pressed to find any. In fact, um, my challenge to the Labor Party is: if there is a location that they believe was receiving a service that today isn’t, and that should have one, then can they identify it and also tell us what they’re going to do about expanding the job network to put them there.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, there’s up to a hundred towns that won’t have services. No matter where you look, whether it’s Borroloola in the Northern Territory, Finley and Warialda in regional New South Wales, Coolgardie in Western Australia, Kilcoy in Brisbane, Morgan in South Australia – the Government’s own figures – all you have to do is compare job network where there was an office and job network through where there’s not.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Not many may be mourning the passing of Employment National per se, but the welfare sector believes there is a role for a government agency in the job network as a safety net, and to set standards as a best practice model.

The Employment Minister says he can guarantee the unemployed won’t be worse off.

MAL BROUGH: And the fact is, the final closures today will not see any reduction in the services to any job network member, any unemployed person in Australia. Quite the contrary, they will be getting a better service from a wider range of operations.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So, will Labor, if it wins office re-regulate the job network?

An thony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   We will be announcing our policy down the track. Today’s the day for looking at the changes that the Government have done. What we will be doing, is providing the sort of resources that we’ve provided in the past.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Does that include public sector involvement?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, certainly the Labor Party platform argues that there should be a direct role for the public sector, and I’m certainly of that view. How that would be managed is something that we’re going to have to look at, because you can’t just reinvent the wheel, but I think there is a role, a direct role for the public sector in those issues.

MARK COLVIN: Labor’s Employment Services Spokesman, Anthony Albanese, speaking to Alexandra Kirk.