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Tuesday, 9 September 2003
Page: 14629


Senator CHERRY (3:34 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family and Community Services (Senator Vanstone) to a question without notice asked by Senator Cherry today relating to Job Network and support for disadvantaged job seekers.

This is a vitally important issue. The Minister for Employment Services, Mr Brough, acknowledged today that up to 900,000 people have missed appointments with the new Job Network. He says, `That's mostly without any valid reason given by the job seeker.' This is an extremely worrying situation. We have the Minister for Employment Services saying it is all the fault of the job seekers, yet he knows—as Senator Vanstone knows and as I know—that 72.4 per cent of the breach recommendations recommended by Job Network providers will be overturned by Centrelink because Job Network has not been following proper process.

The minister today has been forced yet again to prop up Job Network by now allowing Job Network providers to receive up to half their payment without having to do anything. They now receive half their payment for work associated with contacting and registering job seekers and following up those who miss appointments, rather than requiring job seekers to turn up for an appointment. This, I hope, will at least result in Job Network providers referring fewer people for breaching than they have done in the past. That might save all of us a lot of angst, given that 72.4 per cent of their referrals prove to be inappropriate.

What really upsets me is the continuing insistence by Minister Brough that it is the fault of the unemployed—that there is no fault on the part of DEWR for setting up a botched referral system for job seekers, that there is no fault on the part of Job Network providers for not following people up, that there is no fault on the part of the government for ignoring all of the independent research which showed that its computer generated referral system was not referring anybody effectively. The minister insists it is all the fault of the unemployed.

Last month a major report was released by the Centre for Applied Social Research at the RMIT University. It has a fascinating analysis of just what a comprehensive failure the Job Network has been in terms of participation, and of the continuing insistence by Job Network providers on referring people for breaching for inappropriate reasons. As I said, 72.4 per cent of the people referred for breaches from Job Network back to Centrelink were rejected by Centrelink. The reasons are just extraordinary. If you go through them, there were 18,700 because they were no longer on payments, 17,700 because they were working on the day of the interview, 2,400 because they were at a job interview on the day of the interview, 6,900 because the Job Network providers sent them to the wrong address, 4,700 because they had already sent in a report and they did not realise they already had, 5,100 because there was insufficient supporting documentation, 2,300 because the incorrect letter was used, 3,500 because the referrals were inappropriate, 37,300 because the Job Network provider had failed to consider a reasonable excuse put up by the job seeker and—my personal favourite—13,600 because the job seekers were incapacitated on that particular day. All of these valid and reasonable excuses, all of these procedures that were breached by Job Network providers—all of them are being ignored within the Job Network and having to be picked up by Centrelink. Not surprisingly, this is creating enormous tension between Minister Brough and Centrelink, and caught up in the middle of it are the unemployed people of Australia.

The Democrats are very pleased that Minister Vanstone has said that she will now provide the Senate with figures on the number of suspensions since Job Network started. That is essential, because, while I agree with Senator Vanstone that it is preferable to suspend people rather than to breach them, it is preferable to get the process right in the first place rather than suspend people. When you suspend people, you upset their entire financial and economic circumstances. You upset their lives. It means that their rents and all these things cannot be paid until they sort themselves out with Centrelink. It is really upsetting that tens of thousands of Australians have now been suspended from payments because of the monumental stuff-up that Minister Brough has caused with the Job Network referral system. It is truly time for the Prime Minister to step in, pull in this junior minister and say, `You have to own up and confess to the fact that your IT system is a mess and that your referral system hasn't worked.' A better way should be found, because 900,000 vulnerable Australians should not be paying the price of Minister Brough's refusal to lose face.

Question agreed to.