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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18609

Ms KING (4:09 PM) —I will shortly address the matter of my constituent and the matters raised by the minister. But I want to start by saying that I am very pleased to be supporting this MPI. I want to echo the sentiments of the member for Grayndler. This minister has failed in his responsibilities to unemployed people. The extraordinary example the member for Grayndler has revealed in the House today of the material that is being used to supposedly assist the long-term unemployed is frankly outrageous. If it was not a real example you would think it was material from some comedy skit to show what not to do when trying to help unemployed people and raise their self-esteem. This minister takes no responsibility for his portfolio and his consistent pattern of behaviour is to blame unemployed people for the circumstances in which they find themselves.

The minister's attitude towards the people he is supposed to be working for is well known. On 15 April, in an article entitled `Government tries to weed out dole bludgers', the minister is reported to have said:

There are a number, a considerable number, who are bludging on the public purse and we shouldn't tolerate that and I think this will flush those individuals out ...

Those people who are not motivated and are trying to pass on their responsibilities ... will be flushed out and so they should be quite frankly.

What about ministers who bludge? What about ministers who try to pass off their responsibilities and blame unemployed people for the circumstances they find themselves in? This minister's initial response, on every occasion when there are problems with his Job Network system, is to sheet the blame home to unemployed people.

The latest example is the current problems we have seen with the move to Job Network mark 3. The Job Network system is in significant disarray and Job Network providers have reported severe difficulties in transitioning to the new arrangements. The minister, as expected, blames unemployed people for all the problems associated with the transition to the new Job Network arrangements. According to the minister, some are failing to turn up for their appointments. He ignores the fact that you need a degree in advanced linguistics just to understand the letters that are sent out asking people to turn up. As I said, he shows a consistent pattern of blaming unemployed people for the failures in his own system.

Week after week and month after month we hear stories of what is happening to unemployed people in this country. There are 620,000 Australians currently languishing in the unemployment queues. Since the Howard government came to power, all the unemployed have got from this government is a privatised employment service that has been failing. As a result of the government's policies, the number of long-term unemployed is higher today than when the Howard government was first elected to office in 1996.

I now want to turn to the matter of my constituent, which I raised in question time today. I want to respond to the minister's comments during this MPI when he stated that my constituent had rung his office during question time. I have just been told that she did in fact ring his office. She rang to complain about some bullying tactics used by the minister's office. She made no mention of any actions taken by my office—none whatsoever. This is yet another appalling misrepresentation from this minister.

Let us go to what has actually happened with this woman. She is 56 years of age and lives in my electorate. She has been unemployed for the last two years. She is a mature age unemployed person and has worked enormously hard to try to find work. She has over 300 rejection letters from the jobs for which she has applied. She is looking for work in office administration, general typing and secretarial duties. It is an environment she has worked in before and which is well known to her.

Last Thursday my constituent called the 1300 JobSearch number to hear the messages from the automated computer system telling her of the matches the JobSearch computer had found for her. The message that she received—the first she had received in five weeks—said that JobSearch had found her a position in Geelong in the A Company 87th Army Reserve Battalion training facility. It would have been appropriate if my constituent had not been 56 years old, suffering from high blood pressure and prone to severe arthritis in both hands. It would have been appropriate if my constituent had been able to drive or had access to public transport, but she does not. These are the circumstances she told the Job Network. She told them of her health concerns and her lack of transport. The only reference she made to the possibility of working within the Defence department was that she had done some secretarial work for them some time ago.

The constituent contacted my office to highlight the difficulties she as a mature age unemployed person is experiencing with the minister's system. We asked her quite specifically: would you like to talk to anyone else about this and would you be prepared to go to the media about this to highlight your case? She said that she would. On every occasion that the media contacted us, we contacted the constituent first and checked with her to see whether she was happy for her personal details to be given out.

Upon making her situation public on ABC radio in Ballarat, the constituent was called by a man who said his name was `David from Minister Brough's office'. He asked for the name of her Job Network provider. My constituent refused to give it. She said: `I don't actually have a problem with my Job Network provider. That is not the complaint I am making. It is the JobSearch matching system that I am complaining about.' He then asked her for her confidential Job Network number. She refused to give it. She refused because she had the distinct impression from the tone of the call that the purpose of the call was not to help her, not to support her, but in fact to find out if she was lying.

I think it is appropriate for MPs and ministers to seek constituents' ID numbers when we need to contact government agencies on their behalf. But we do so because it is our intent to help them. That was clearly not the intent of the call from the minister's office. As the story evolved over the course of yesterday, the minister's office was giving out conflicting information about what it thought had happened in this case. First, the minister's office sought to imply that this woman was lying. Once again this is a pattern of behaviour of blaming the person raising the complaint—taking no responsibility, no care, and just blaming the person raising the complaint. Second, the minister's office apparently claimed that my constituent had got a bit confused and that it was a clerical job she was actually offered. Again we went back and checked and we saw quite clearly that it was not a clerical job she had been offered; it was a combat medic training position.

Again this is a pattern of behaviour from the minister and his office of seeking to put blame on the unemployed and not taking responsibility for the failures of the system. The call to my constituent's home by the minister's staff member was not a call to help and support this woman; it was an act of bullying by the minister because he was under some pressure. His office sought to obtain personal details with the object of bullying my constituent in order to protect the minister. It is shabby behaviour and beneath contempt. The quality of the minister's answer to my question in question time today is an indication of his disregard for the interests of my constituent and other job seekers ill served by this government. Today I have written to the minister seeking an explanation for the behaviour from his office. If the minister does not provide a satisfactory answer I will be raising this matter with the Privacy Commissioner. The minister must take responsibility for the actions of his office and he must take responsibility for the failures of the Job Network system.

The Howard government has slashed the number of Job Network sites in regional Australia—of which Ballarat is one area—by 58 per cent as part of its Job Network mark 3. This translates into the loss of 691 sites and potentially hundreds of jobs across regional Australia at the same time. It means that towns will be left without any Job Network provider and that the unemployed in those towns will have to travel further to get the help they need to find a job. This dramatic cut in employment services comes at a time when many regional communities are experiencing unemployment rates of 10 per cent and above, with youth unemployment stuck at around 30 per cent. In my electorate the federal government closed nine Job Network sites. Ballan has lost two. Bacchus Marsh has lost two. Ballarat has lost five. Creswick has lost one and it now does not have a Job Network provider at all.

This minister has shown a pattern of behaviour of blaming unemployed people for problems within his own system. The problems being faced by unemployed people under the government's Job Network mark 3 are serious ones. When are we going to see the minister take them seriously and treat them as such? When will the minister wake up and take responsibility for actually assisting the long-term unemployed rather than blaming them for his own failures?