Transcript of Interview with John Laws –
Job Network’s Funding Crisis – 2UE
Monday 1 March 2004
LAWS: Well here we go again; the Government’s infamous Job Network is in big trouble, are you surprised? It says it needs more money to survive, but that’s what its being saying from day 1. This is the infamous system now where the Government privatised the old CES and contracted an array of private employment agencies to do the job instead and it doesn’t work. Simple as that, ask anybody who’s had to deal with it from either side of the desk. But that’s something the Government has steadfastly refused to acknowledge because that’s the way they are and it’s not just this government, I’m not being critical of John Howard’s Government, any government, they won’t admit that this thing does work. Last year the Network was granted more funding but now only 6 months down the track The Australian newspaper says that it’s seen a secret discussion paper by the National Employment Services Association, the peak body representing the Job Network providers, which says an immediate cash injection is necessary to keep the Network alive. But we’re paying for this.
This report talks about ridiculously burdensome paperwork costing agencies money, and a lot of it. And in some cases with absolutely no return. In one case study a rural provider calculated that it had spent over $78,000 in 3,240 jobseeker transactions without any compensation. Well the system doesn’t work, that’s been proven time and time again. But instead of accepting that and returning to something like the old CES, obviously vastly streamlined as the CES was far from perfect, but instead of accepting the Job Network system as a failure the Government keeps on providing bandaid solutions and your money. And its only response to the latest round of criticism is to say that if the agencies found more people more jobs it would be OK. What a lot of simplistic crap that is.
Massive intrinsic problems which the Job Network, problems the Government must address because taxpayers won’t continue to put up with their money being spent to prop up a system that simply doesn’t work and that’s all there is to it.
ALBANESE: Hello John, it’s Anthony Albanese here ringing in from Parliament House in Canberra.
LAWS: OK what can we do for you Anthony? Good morning.
ALBANESE: Good morning. Well I heard you before talking about the Job Network.
LAWS: What a balls up that is.
ALBANESE: It absolutely is. I mean you have a system which began on July 1 last year and you think they’d get the system right before you introduced it but it’s pretty clear they didn’t know how many people were going to be in the system – they said it would 700,000 but it was only 500,000, and therefore those providers missed out on something like 30% of their business. The computer system has been a disaster and instead of admitting the problem the Government continued to cover up and pretend everything is OK.
LAWS: But if you were in government wouldn’t you be doing the same thing?
ALBANESE: What I believe governments have to do, the first thing they have to do to correct something is admit there’s a problem. Until they do that this will continue to dog the government and it’s too important an issue, getting people into jobs, to fool around with and that’s what the Government’s been doing. The centrepiece of their new system was the Jobseeker Account and we found out last week through Senate Estimates that they allocated $220 million which was supposed to really assist the long term unemployed, and of that only $30 million has been spent because it’s simply too bureaucratic and too difficult for the Job Network providers, who are trying to do the right thing out there, to actually access the money and spend it on the unemployed.
LAWS: Well all of that I obviously agree with but are you telling me that if you people were elected it would be different?
ALBANESE: Well yes it would because we’d actually sit down and acknowledge the problems that are there and implement the restructuring that’s needed, that the Government’s own departments’ are telling them. We obtained information through Freedom of Information documents which showed that the Department Family and Community Services and the Minister’s own department and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were all saying to the Government that there are these problems.
LAWS: Would you bring it back under government’s control?
ALBANESE: No we would do that, but we do think there is a role for the public sector. But the problem is that once the egg’s been broken if you were to commit to re-establishing the old CES the cost of infrastructure would be enormous, you wouldn’t have any money left over to spend on education and health and other issues. But one of the issues that we would do is ensure that the structure is streamlined, make sure that Job Network providers actually had the flexibility to assist the unemployed, and make sure that before changes are introduced – the Government’s talking about now putting people with disabilities in, putting mature age unemployed into the system – the problem is it simply isn’t working.
LAWS: No well it isn’t working but how could guarantee that it would work any better?
ALBANESE: Well what you could do is for a start you have to be honest about how many are in the system. You do need more money, you can’t rip $500 million a year…
LAWS: How much more is this costing than the CES cost?
ALBANESE: Well it’s not costing more, it’s costing less but the service is substantially less. And the old CES did have some difficulties, we’ve got no problems with the concept of Job Network providers, community organisations actually providing these services but we do think that the system needs to be real.
LAWS: Well that’s what the general public thinks too?
ALBANESE: Most importantly the unemployed. I mean I’m getting an enormous number of contacts from unemployed people who’d been sent to – we had cases last year of people being sent to jobs as money launderers or with escort agencies.
LAWS: I know it’s a dreadful mess.
ALBANESE: It simply isn’t working. The computer system for example – we got documents from the department under Freedom of Information that showed that out of 11 weeks when it was introduced there were only 2 or 3 days where the system didn’t breakdown.
LAWS: Well all of that is true, but given that you are going to stick with the model, assuming that you are elected, which incidentally I don’t think you will be at this stage, but assuming that you’re elected, if you’re going to stick with the model, how are you going to improve it?
ALBANESE: Well what you’ll do is sit down with providers, we’ll restructure the payments so there is genuine incentive to assist particularly those who are most need in terms of the long term unemployed; we’ll get rid of some of the bureaucratic hindering that’s there at the moment with use of the Jobseeker Account; we’ll actually change the relationship between Centrelink and the Job Network so that the initial response when people are unemployed, that people are actually sat down and get face to face service and get linked up with a Job Network provider that is appropriate to them; and we’ll actually change some of the mutual obligation regime as well so that people actually get genuine work experience.
LAWS: Now hang on, a lot of people like the mutual obligation deal. I’m one of them.
ALBANESE: We like it too. We started it but we think at the moment in fact it doesn’t go far enough. There’s quite a considerable number of reports that show people just doing 2 days a week, simply that becomes the end in itself. What we need to do is acknowledge that when these reports come through suggesting reform, suggesting changes be made the Government needs to respond to that. At the moment the Government simply keeps saying it’s all OK, pouring a bit more money in but failing to make the structural changes which are needed to fix the system.
LAWS: OK nice to talk to you Anthony, could you send me any information that we’ve got on that, that you got through the Freedom of Information thing. I’d like to have a close look at it?
ALBANESE: I certainly can John.
LAWS: I’d appreciate it very much, thank you.
ALBANESE: Thank you, bye.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.