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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17071


Mr QUICK (4:09 PM) —I welcome this opportunity to speak to this matter of public importance on a topic very close to my heart: the Job Network. This MPI asserts that this government's Job Network has failed to adequately assist Australia's long-term unemployed. This government would have you believe that it has a real connection with the people of Australia and the pulse of the nation. I can assure you that this government has no idea how to connect with ordinary Australians when it comes to jobs, employment issues and training schemes.

Any rational observer of the Australian work force will tell you that this government aims for a low-skill, low-wage work force, a work force where casualisation and low wages is the norm. If you think this is a figment of my imagination, I refer you to two articles in the paper today: firstly, the article in the Canberra Times with the headline `Call for fair pay, decent work: an explosion of low-paid jobs has led to a new working poor in Australia', and, secondly, the article in the Adelaide Advertiser with the headline `Young workers on crusade for better conditions'.

This government would have you believe that, by their removal of the CES and the introduction of their highly acclaimed Job Network, they have introduced a regime for tackling the complex issue of delivering training and job options for the short-term unemployed, those in their late 40s and early 50s who have been made redundant and the long-term unemployed, and getting these people back into the work force. Job options impact enormously on unemployed people and their families. Family security and future family options are also impacted upon. This government is constantly, in this place, on about security but, in my mind, the wrong sort of security. A family is only secure when those of working age have their needs and aspirations addressed when it comes to taking up full-time job possibilities presented to them.

This government would have the unemployed believe that they really do care for those out of work, those desperate to enter work for the first time and those desperate to rejoin after being made redundant. They would have you believe that their Job Network is freely available to these unfortunate and desperate unemployed people and that these agencies have the capacity to find them work. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

This government is making it harder and harder for people seeking work to access a Job Network provider, and the inflexibility within the system only further frustrates those unemployed who are desperately seeking some solution to their need for work. We now have Job Network mark 3, supposedly bigger and better than mark 1 and mark 2. The Minister for Employment Services, Mal Brough, asserted in the Financial Review on 27 March that this new Mark 3 will be better. He said:

The new star-rating system is as fair as it can possibly be. The new players who will constitute the market from July 1 will have an average of 4 stars, up from 2½ stars in Job Network 2.

I am a great movie fan, and in the movie ratings, at the bottom, is a `thumbs down'. To my mind, this is what the network deserves in my electorate and in most of Tasmania.

My seat of Franklin is in Tasmania, a regional area of Australia and an area suffering from high unemployment and high numbers of long-term unemployed. The number of Job Network offices in my electorate has gone from 12 to five. At Bellerive, the number falls from three to one; in Rosny it goes from two to one. Kingston, the fastest growing region in Tasmania, had two; now they have one. Bridgewater goes from three to two, and Bruny Island loses its only Job Network provider. The providers in Hobart and Glenorchy, often used by my constituents, have reduced from 13 offices to six. This is absolutely outrageous. As I said, half the Job Network provider offices will be closed by 1 July, and the result will be that many regional areas will be without direct access to any provider.

Elsewhere in Tasmania, it is disturbing that the unemployed in Mowbray, a suburb of Launceston in the electorate of Bass, will no longer have a choice between two providers—there will be none. The Mowbray unemployed will have to travel outside their district for assistance. Burnie, in the electorate of Braddon, another area of high unemployment, loses two of its six offices; Devonport, also in Braddon, loses four offices. The story is one of carnage for Job Network 3 throughout all parts of Tasmania.

This is a tale perfectly described by Laura Tingle in the Financial Review of Monday, 2 June this year. Her headline read, `Job Network funding in one word: “stingy”.' I do not believe the minister when he says the sites are still there, because the job matching computer terminals do not in my view constitute a job provider service. In May there were 19,400 job seekers in Tasmania yet only 362 jobs on the Job Search web site. At the same time, 54 per cent of the Job Network sites—35 in all—will close by 1 July. So much for providing services for the unemployed! I am certain that we can trace the reason for the contraction of services back to a government that really wanted to save money and chose to do it at the expense of the unemployed. It is a mean and stingy exercise that has underfunded employment services. Not enough is being invested to improve job outcomes. The amount available in job seeker accounts is just $900, and that does not buy much in terms of vocational training or paid work experience. Even the Productivity Commission said:

Many job seekers did not choose their Job Network provider, had few choices over the services given to them and, in the proposed changes envisaged for the next contract, would be locked into a single provider, potentially until retirement.

It went on:

Under the proposed arrangements for ESC3, there will be even less scope for choice ...

Each time the contracts change when new providers enter the network and existing providers exit, there is a hiatus—a complete halt to the program—while all adjustments take place. The cost of transition from Job Network 2 to Job Network 3 is high in human and dollar terms. In Hobart, Mission Employment is reducing its staff from 100 to 20. Insecurity, redundancies and stress are all costs to the system and its people. Another job provider has to close three offices to open one. The cost of redundancies is nearly $30,000 but the total staffing number remains the same. It is easy to speculate that Job Network 4 will see just two or three providers for the whole country. By that stage we will be close to a complete privatisation of the CES, except that it will have been done by stealth over 10 years.

What sort of system is this? Is the government really fair dinkum about helping the unemployed into jobs? To tell you how stuffed the system really is, I want to tell you about Geoff. Geoff came to my office because he had qualified for intensive assistance during May but none of the Job Network agencies were able to register him during the transition period. He had the opportunity to commence work as a security guard, but he needed assistance to pay for his first aid course and his security licence. In Bridgewater, an area of high unemployment, Job Network 3 has cut down the number of providers from three to two. Mission Employment was closing and could not take him on. JOB futures were setting up, but their contract does not commence until 1 July. Workskills, who were continuing, were adamant—as was the department—that nothing could be done to help Geoff; he was in this transition period.

My office put a call through to the minister's office and I have to admit that they were most helpful. They helped organise for Workskills to take Geoff on and he was able to commence work. But my question is: why does it require ministerial intervention to get one person registered for and access to intensive assistance in this hiatus period? My question to the minister is: how many people were affected in the same way in this two-month transition period but did not have access to ministerial assistance? How good is a system that virtually shuts down for two months to change providers? I feel for the long-term unemployed who have to ply their way through this new system that has no faith in the long-term unemployed in this country.