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Monday, 25 June 2001
Page: 28441

Ms KERNOT (2:13 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment Services. Minister, can you confirm that your department advised Job Network providers, in your presence, on 1 June—that is, before Senate estimates—that up to 10 per cent of all payments made to Job Network providers for job matching placements were in fact spurious? Minister, are you seriously asking this House to believe that your department advised Job Network providers of spurious claims before it advised you? I ask again: when were you first made aware of the use by Job Network providers of their own labour hire companies to receive `phantom job' payments?

Mr BROUGH (Minister for Employment Services) —I am aware of the meeting you refer to, and yes, I was present. At that meeting, a departmental person did indicate to the meeting that there were a number of job placement payments which had to be retracted. This was as a result of a survey they conducted of 963 placements showing that 61 debts were raised, meaning that a Job Network member was required to repay their placement fee. Only 17 debts related to job seekers working for fewer than 15 hours. The need for a Job Network member to make a repayment does not imply fraudulent activity, as you are suggesting. Indeed, all 61 debts were overpayments which came about for a variety of reasons, such as where an employer agreed to a job seeker taking on more than 15 hours and then did not require them for 15 hours so a payment had to be made back, or where a job seeker found their own employment. More than half of those payments identified—32 payments—related to Employment National. We will continue to raise these issues to improve that, but are you seriously suggesting that the Commonwealth's own agency is trying to rort the Commonwealth? I might add that I believe that Employment National has that question in hand. Let me emphasise that the September and November random audits have not identified a single overpayment as a result of fraud, and all debts are in the process of being recovered.

However, this flies in the face of the old CES. Let us talk about what happened there and talk about fraudulent claims. An office in a town of about 4,000—one office in a town of 4,000 people—recorded 1,000 referrals and placements to a particular employer on the last day of the month each month in order to increase the referral and placement statistics. Another office that operated with four staff created so many phoney registrations and referrals under the Labor Party CES that the staffing formula indicated that 35 staff would have been needed.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Firstly, on relevance, there was absolutely nothing in the question which justified this. Secondly, the fundamental question has not been answered: `Did you know prior to that briefing on 1 June?'

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition has a point of order on relevance. The second matter is not a point of order. The minister has been asked a question about spurious claims, and it was in that context that I allowed him to continue, but he does need to link the remarks he is making to the question asked.

Mr BROUGH —On another occasion, in an office which was not referring the appropriate number of disabled job seekers, the problem was easily solved under the Labor Party's CES by classifying every person with spectacles as disabled. Is that the sort of behaviour that the member for Dickson considers to be appropriate? When an office did not have enough people who were of non-English speaking background, anyone without an Anglo-Celtic name was referred also, because they probably could not speak English as well.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The minister is clearly defying your ruling last time—which was that he has to tie this attempt to avoid the question to the question. We want to know what he knew and when he knew it.

Mr SPEAKER —I have indicated to the minister that he has an obligation to tie the remarks he is making and the comparison he is making to the question asked. I call him.

Mr BROUGH —The connection is simple. It is that, under the Labor Party CES, CESs were actually granted more staff as a result of referrals regardless of how spurious they may have been. The Labor Party provided on outcomes which were a training program; under the coalition, outcomes are jobs. This government pays for people to get into work. It does not support under any circumstances anyone being paid for a position, a job, which is not a real job, which is a phoney job. Any such cases are investigated in full.

Mr McMullan —I ask the minister to table the document from which he was quoting.

Mr SPEAKER —Was the minister quoting from confidential documents?

Mr BROUGH —I was.