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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26860

Ms GEORGE (9:18 PM) —I want to make some comments tonight about the Work for the Dole program and the employment outcomes that it generates in the Illawarra insofar as job seekers are concerned. It is good to see that the Minister for Employment Services is here; I hope he listens to what I have to say. Recently I put some questions on notice to the minister, and I can only draw one conclusion from the response that I received—that is, the Work for the Dole program is achieving poor employment outcomes for Illawarra job seekers.

I am very concerned about the issue of unemployment in my electorate and in my region. In the last lot of figures, Throsby in fact had the fifth highest rate of unemployment in Australia as well as incredibly and unacceptably high rates of unemployment for young people—just under 35 per cent, 12 points above the national average. I have been working, as the minister well knows, with local groups to try to address the problem of youth unemployment and to try to get this government to commit funding to some rather innovative solutions. I do welcome the recent grant that we have been provided to enable a full-time project officer to work with the unemployed youth in our region to try to get many more of them into apprenticeship opportunities.

What the data in response to my questions on notice showed—I refer specifically to the nine months ending September 2003—was that fewer than one in four Illawarra Work for the Dole participants were in employment three months after completing the program. Fewer than one in four had some form of employment, although the majority form of employment was of course part-time and casual employment. Only half of those who had managed to get some form of employment three months after the program ended were in full-time employment. That is the aspiration that we all have—that labour market programs will lead to sustainable and full-time employment opportunities. So, extrapolating from the answers to my questions on notice, we find that in the Illawarra only one in eight local participants in Work for the Dole had secured full-time employment or were in such employment three months after their program ended. You have to ask: with the investment of around $665 million in Work for the Dole since 1997, why are these employment outcomes as poor as they are in my area?

And it is not just in the Illawarra, because recent figures compiled by our shadow minister which looked at national results show a similar trend. Since June 2000, employment outcomes through Work for the Dole have deteriorated on a consistent basis; specifically, there has been a massive 20 per cent decline in employment outcomes. My concern about Work for the Dole programs has always been that they offer few structured training opportunities and limited employment experience for participants. While Labor supports mutual obligation, regrettably under this government mutual obligation has become more of a one-way street, and I think the unemployment outcomes that I have referred to highlight that.

There has been a report commissioned by the government but, as I understand it, the minister has had the report since June last year and has sat on it. Its findings were only made available under freedom of information and were publicised in a report in the Australian. In one of its observations, the report concluded that `there appears to be quite large significant adverse effects of participation in Work for the Dole'. It found that job seekers participating in Work for the Dole programs are unemployed for significantly longer than those people who did not participate. The adverse effects were greatest for women, older job seekers and job seekers in regions like mine with high unemployment rates. I recommend that the minister review the efficacy of these programs and fund local—(Time expired)