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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18605

Mr BROUGH (Minister for Employment Services) (3:54 PM) —As always, when the member for Grayndler gets to his feet in this place, you hear diatribe and misrepresentations—you hear anything but the truth. Today he stooped, with his colleague from Ballarat, to a new low. At question time today, we had the member for Ballarat stand up and ask me her question regarding her constituent. The constituent has contacted us. As I recall it, at that time Mr Speaker drew the attention of the member for Ballarat to the fact that she was unnecessarily using a constituent's name in this place. That constituent feels absolutely betrayed by the member for Ballarat because she did not go to the media. You went to the media and you—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The minister will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr BROUGH —You, the member for Ballarat, used this as an attack upon the government and you abused the rights of that individual.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The minister will refer to the name of the seat, not the member.

Mr BROUGH —The member for Ballarat is a relatively new member but this is a very low act. I can only presume that it is because the member for Ballarat is tied up with the member for Grayndler, who has a long history of such matters. Let us have a listen. When the woman contacted our office, she said, `I was rung by the ABC after I contacted my local member.' It was quite right for this constituent to talk to her local member. The local member, having had a problem, should then have contacted the complaints line of Job Network, the department, the local Job Network member or my office. But no, they contact the ABC—not with the authority, either, of this individual. The individual said: `I was contacted by the ABC; I did not go there. This has been blown out of proportion.' This is another typical stunt by an opposition that is bereft of ideas.

One idea came out today, and I hope that the member for Grayndler expands upon it next week at the NESA conference. In all the ranting and raving, one thing becomes clear: you believe—you, the opposition, the ALP—that there must be a return to a publicly funded provider. I just hope that you have the guts to stand on your feet and state that. State that you want to turn back the clock to the CES when the Leader of the Opposition, then the employment minister, spent $3 billion of taxpayers' money, did not get the results that the Job Network is getting, and continued to throw money like confetti at unemployed people without getting them a job—a cruel hoax—and now you, the shadow minister, are looking at returning to such a flawed process.

We now go to the second question that appeared here today. At the time that that was occurring, and when the shadow minister's press secretary was up there in the gallery, against standing orders, the ABC was in front of the office of the Job Network member—yet another stunt. It was not about trying to direct any issue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler has had his chance.

Mr BROUGH —When the piece of paper was tabled, we found that it was a figment of the imagination of the member who sits by the member for Grayndler. Do you know what this is about? This is about the shadow minister trying to have some relevance because, when on 1 July and shortly thereafter the Job Network came down, he was not even to be found in the country. He was overseas with his wife, at New South Wales government taxpayers' expense.

Ms George —What's that got to do with it?

Mr BROUGH —What's that got to do with it? He comes in here ranting and raving when he was not in the country—

Mr Albanese —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. First, I ask that the minister be asked to direct his comments through the chair.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I have already done that.

Mr Albanese —Secondly, I ask that he withdraw what he just said, which is untrue and which I regard as a reflection—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The best course would be to make a personal explanation at the end of debate on the matter of public importance, if you wish.

Mr BROUGH —I accept that there is one thing that the shadow minister would like to see. The shadow minister would like to see at least one Job Network office—am I right? He would like to see more. The place where the shadow minister would like to see a Job Network office is Badgerys Creek. That is what has focused the shadow minister's attention since 1 July. I am fighting an internal battle within the Labor Party about airports—nothing whatsoever to do with Job Network. The shadow minister wants to change this debate into one about looking after the new employment prospects of the people of Badgerys Creek, where he would like to see the next Sydney airport.

Let us just go to some of the issues—if you can call them that; I think I am being very generous—that the shadow minister raised. First of all, he mentioned IT. He ridiculed IT when this department's IT—the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations' IT—has been recognised by Accenture, when it looked at world-wide IT, as being best practice in the world. It was first. That was an absolutely independent view. Today, there have been 3.6 million transactions on our Job Network site. The system response time has been 0.5 of a second, except in some of our satellite sites where the process has to go through the satellite system. We have to work on those issues. Centrelink, which is interconnected with us, has 120,000 to 150,000 transactions a day with a response time of around one second.

The system is operating at a stable level—although there are still some application issues—on 3.6 million transactions a day. You have to ask: has the department had a result like this in the past, where it has reached world's best practice? Let us compare the IT system to something that has been heralded in the papers day after day—CareerOne. I would like to applaud CareerOne and the Murdochs for what they are doing. They are promoting employment and putting opportunities in front of people. They have similar processes and tools; the difference is that this is a far more refined tool. It has 2,000 different categories of jobs compared with about 40 available on CareerOne. You can search the whole nation, your state, your town or your suburb. You can break it down however you wish. If someone is getting opportunities all around Australia, there is a reason for that: that is the criterion the individual has put into the system. The individual has said, `Send me jobs from other parts of Australia'—for argument's sake, 200 kilometres away. The results were from 200 kilometres away because the individual asked for that to be the geographical area they were covering for jobs.

Let us go back and look at the Labor government's IT record. It was far less complicated and far less detailed than what we have just brought in. They did not have anything with the functionality that is being achieved now. In 1994, when the current Leader of the Opposition was employment minister and was running the CES, he tried to implement an IT change supporting the Working Nation policy—that great failed white elephant that ate up Australian tax dollars like there was no tomorrow. The change to that computer system called Job System Release 12—it should have been called `Job System Fail 12'—failed entirely. When the shadow minister and the ALP were in government, the system failed for two months. The department tells me that there was a delay for two months for half the employers on the database and jobs were lost.

I know that the shadow minister was not in the country for much of the implementation after 1 July, but can I remind him of this. If he goes out there today and looks at what is happening on the ground instead of wandering around here dribbling and not listening, he will see that there are 3.6 million transactions today at an average of less than one second per transaction—half a second.

Let us go to the fundamentals about why the government changed this system and why we moved away from a public provider. It was not because we were relinquishing and relieving ourselves of responsibility; it was because we take full responsibility for the more than 500 organisations that are delivering employment services from more than 2,500 sites around this country. Today there are nearly 70,000 jobs on our web site, to which unemployed people have access. Prior to 1 July, there were about 35,000. I am sure that that is one point we will agree on because I know that those figures have been quoted by the shadow minister previously as well.

Those jobs are matched against the criteria that individuals put into the system, often with the support of the Job Network member. If the Job Network member asks someone: `What information would you like to put in? Do you want to have jobs sent to you from all over Australia, just New South Wales, just Sydney or just Bankstown and the surrounds?' they can do that, but it is up to the individual. If the individual says, `I would like to be matched against defence jobs and administration jobs,' then those are the jobs that person will be matched against. Are people required to turn up for those jobs if they are not suitable? No. So when we flick through the newspaper, do we blame the newspaper if it has the wrong one there? If you are sitting in front of a consultant and the consultant says, `Now tell me, Jenny, have you ever considered working as an administrative assistant?' and the answer is, `No, I can't actually do that job,' fine, they move on. Do we sit there and ridicule them? No. Do we look at the 60,000 jobs that have been sent out that have been matched automatically to help people get jobs that are remote? Perhaps we should hear some of the good news stories, because they are numerous.

Isn't it funny that the shadow minister is ridiculing the Job Network while at the very same time his own colleagues have been out there—

Mr Albanese —No, I am ridiculing you.

Mr BROUGH —Just to correct the shadow minister, you stood here and ridiculed the system, the IT, the referral system, the fact that there was no public provider and the cash flow, but let me go through this. The member for Prospect opened a Work Directions office and sat in front of a computer. Unless your people are absolute idiots, which I am sure they are not, surely they would not be associating themselves with failed IT. What about the member for Throsby? She opened Work Directions offices in Dapto and Shellharbour on 4 August. The member for Newcastle visited a Work Directions site opening with me and she was absolutely applauded. The shadow minister tells me that he has opened one as well. On the one hand, you come in here and ridicule the system and the individuals who are running the system, and you ridicule the IT that underpins it, but on the other hand you have the hide to take the publicity that this government provides and say you are proud of it when you are there. It is so much like the member for Werriwa: you walk both sides of the street depending on what audience you are talking to. Next week, when the shadow minister goes to the NESA conference, he will probably tell them how great they are, but he comes in here and tells the Australian public how ineffective the Job Network and the IT system are and that there has been a bailout.

Let me set this straight once and for all: there has not been a $30 million bailout. This government did not provide one additional cent from consolidated revenue or which was not already allocated to this budget. What we did do was provide an additional service to the unemployed of this country. As has become known, when the letters have gone out there has been an appalling turn-up rate of unemployed people to scheduled interviews. So what did the government do? We paid the Job Network members to get on the phone to them and say, `I know you have received a letter, but I am ringing you up to remind you that there is an appointment for you tomorrow which is designed to help you.' Is the shadow minister going to go to the conference next week and say to those good people, `You should have done that without being paid'? Is that what the shadow minister is suggesting?

Mr Albanese —It is not my argument.

Mr BROUGH —No. In other words, what you were suggesting is that if people are not showing up we just forget about them. Labor's answer is to push them under the carpet; ignore unemployed people who are not turning up. That is what it did for 13 years. When it could not get them a job it gave them a mickey mouse training program that went round and round. If they did not turn up to it was there any cause and effect? No. This government takes its responsibilities a lot more seriously. If unemployed people do not turn up we tell them they have two choices: turn up and use the money the taxpayer has provided to you through the Job Network to assist you into training and a job as best we can; or, if you do not want to do that, this government's responsibility is to ensure that you do not receive unemployment benefits. That is what this government is about. It is giving every unemployed person, for the first time, a full suite of services. The government has a great Job Network which is driven by people who are committed and doing a great job. The last thing they need is the ridicule, the deceptions and the untrustworthy and dishonest comments that have continued to flow from the member for Grayndler as a way of trying to make himself relevant, when all he is really interested in is Badgerys Creek and where the next Sydney airport is to be.

Mr Albanese —Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask that the minister withdraw the slurs against my staff member. There is a code in this place—

Mr BROUGH —Can you explain what the slurs were?

Mr Albanese —Will you withdraw it?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not think a withdrawal is necessary.