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Thursday, 20 March 1997
Page: 1989

Senator O'CHEE —My question is directed to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Minister, will you confirm that the government is undertaking the most substantial and fundamental changes to assistance for the unemployed since the establishment of the CES 50 years ago? Given that Labor's only response has been to accuse the government of trying to change the definition of unemployment, will you advise whether the government has any intention of changing the definition of unemployment or is this just merely another sign that the opposition is incapable of dealing with serious policy issues, particularly those affecting workers?

Senator VANSTONE —I thank Senator O'Chee for the question. It is true that this government seeks to introduce and implement the most radical changes in delivery of employment services to unemployed Australians since the introduction of the CES about 50 years ago. But today on Adelaide radio, Martin Ferguson accused the government of trying to redefine unemployment out of existence. He knows full well—he should know, as a former president of the ACTU—that unemployment is measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The definitions used by the bureau have not changed under the Howard government, and there is no plan to change them.

He accused us of asserting that a 20 hour-a-week job is a full-time job. He should know full well that that relates to when a final outcome fee will be paid to a case manager looking after, on a one-to-one basis, a long-term unemployed person. The issue for this government—and it should have been the issue for the previous government—is placing the unemployed in a position that will make them independent of government assistance, to give them that independence.

The issue of whether or not a job is real does not relate to the number of hours worked. A 10 hour-a-week part-time job is a real job. That person may still want more work and may still get some income support, but it is, nonetheless, a real job. We are saying that, if you get someone off benefit, we will consider that you have got them a real job; and that will be about 20 hours of work a week.

Look at the hypocrisy of this, Madam President. Under Labor's Working Nation case management guidelines, outcome fees were paid to case managers. Guess what for? For putting people into make work programs like the new work opportunities scheme. You did not even have to give them 10 hours of full unsubsidised work; you just had to plonk them in a new work opportunities scheme—into some six-month rock painting program.

These were the Labor make work programs that simply shuffled and churned the unemployed mercilessly through program after program without getting positive outcomes. We are getting rid of those. We are shifting to a system where case managers will get their final outcome payments when someone has had a real job—that is, an unsubsidised job—for about six months. Something that Labor cannot seem to come to grips with is that that is the purpose of putting someone into case management.

What was Labor's second outcome fee payment for? It was for putting a job seeker into a job for 20 hours plus a week or more. So Martin Ferguson either does not understand what Labor's Working Nation was trying to do or he was prepared to be quite deceptive on radio this morning by pretending that somehow what we are doing is a bad thing when he knows it is not.

If those definitions of outcomes were satisfactory for Labor, they certainly should be satisfactory for us. But our outcomes demand more—they demand better service for unemployed Australians. Let me repeat: we will pay for outcomes that get people off benefits, that give them independence, that give them a real job.

Nonetheless, it is very important to understand that, for every job an unemployed person got because they participated in new work opportunities that they would not otherwise have got, the net impact cost of a new work opportunities placement was $143,000. So the people opposite have no credibility and are in no position whatsoever to realistically discuss what should happen for unemployed Australians. All of this is coming from a government that after 13 years in office left Australia with deplorable unemployment. I can see that my time is running out. If I had more time, I would give Senator O'Chee a fuller answer. (Time expired)

Senator O'CHEE —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Given Mr Ferguson's comments, perhaps Senator Vanstone could elaborate on how the track record of the Labor Party in failing to deal with things could be compared with the plans that the current government has to ensure that we get real outcomes for people who are genuinely affected.

Senator VANSTONE —How intuitive of you, Senator O'Chee, to ask me such a question. I congratulate you. Madam President, if you had heard the radio this morning, you would not have believed it: Martin Ferguson saying, `The truth is we had a terrific record in government for job creation.' There he was on Adelaide radio. These are the people who destroyed something like 421,000 jobs with the recession we had to have. You people destroyed 421,000 jobs with the recession we had to have.

Trend unemployment was at or above 10 per cent for 33 consecutive months when you were in government. For 32 consecutive months, unemployment was at its highest since World War II. Martin Ferguson, with that appalling record, goes on radio and says, `The truth is we had a terrific record on job creation.' You had better start learning to stop lying, because you will never get re-elected while you keep putting that trash over the radio.