Sep 26, 2003

The World Today: Employment Programs

THE WORLD TODAY – Employment Programs

Friday, 26 September 2003

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Under new rules which came into effect this week, Australians on the dole who don’t attend job interviews or training, could have their benefits cut or reduced within two weeks. Federal Employment Minister, Tony Abbott, says the new rules underline the obligations required of job seekers and, he says, it’s impossible to be fair without also being firm. But the ALP and the Australian Democrats says that Tony Abbott is just blaming the unemployed and that it’s the government’s Job Network scheme that’s letting job seekers down.

From Canberra, chief political correspondent, Catherine McGrath.

TONY ABBOTT: …essentially a system which was very slow and was not always noticed by job seekers who hadn’t turned up for interviews or employment programs or Work for the Dole will be replaced by a system whereby if you don’t turn up and you haven’t got a decent excuse your payments will be stopped.

CATHERINE McGRATH: And he says the focus is on speed—getting the penalties to apply quickly.

TONY ABBOTT: It’s a much faster system of consequences for people who don’t take advantage of the opportunities they have got.

CATHERINE McGRATH: But this is where the real dispute is with the ALP and the Democrats. They say that it’s the Job Network system—the privatised employment agents who are responsible for tracking the job seekers, organising their interviews and putting them on to Work for the Dole or training opportunities—that are to blame.

Opposition employment services spokesman, Anthony Albanese

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

This is, once again, an attempt by the government to blame the unemployed for the problems that are there, of its own making, in the Job Network. The government has been forced to bail out the Job Network to the tune of $2.1 billion. And earlier on they have been saying that 60,000 people had already been breached. The fact is that Centrelink executive minutes—leaked to the opposition—of 8 September, show that that figure was 3,000 and that they had been exaggerating the number of people who hadn’t been fulfilling their obligations by 20 times. It’s about time the government took responsibility for the failings in the system rather than just blame the unemployed.

CATHERINE McGRATH: And Democrats Senator John Cherry agrees.

JOHN CHERRY: Look, I think the minister is trying to cover up for the absolute flaws in the Job Network system itself. There is too much reliance in Job Network on computer-generated appointment times, and as a result when you do things by computer you forget to take into account the reasonable excuses that unemployed people often have for not (sic) missing interviews. [inaudible] examples of thousands of people who Job Network recommended breaches on even though on the day they were actually at job interviews or training or genuinely sick or incapacitated. Something like 72 per cent of the recommended breaches from Job Network members are rejected by Centrelink as not being ‘for valid reasons’.

CATHERINE McGRATH: But Tony Abbott maintains there’s nothing wrong with the Job Network system.

TONY ABBOTT: Sure, there have been some difficulties in the transition from the second Job Network tender to the third Job Network tender. Look, Anthony Albanese, when he goes out to visit Job Network agencies he is full of praise for them because he knows that they do a very good job, under difficult circumstances, and he is not suggesting for a second that we should go back to the old system where everything was run by one giant bureaucracy.

CATHERINE McGRATH: What about the Productivity Commission report that said that Job Network only helps, by 0.6 per cent, the chances of an unemployed person getting a job?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, look, I am not a great expert on that particular report, and I don’t believe that they are necessarily the relevant figures. Certainly if you look at the figures which compared the actual employment record of the Job Network to the Working Nation program, Job Network programs have about 50 per cent better employment outcomes, also about 50 per cent lower net costs. So I think that the Job Network, while far from being a magic wand, there are no magic wands when you’re dealing with long-term unemployed people, is much more effective than anything that’s ever gone before.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Employment Minister, Tony Abbott, with Catherine McGrath.