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Thursday, 25 June 1998
Page: 4106

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Is the minister concerned about a survey conducted by Jobs Australia on the experiences of its FLEX 3 providers in the new Job Network? Is the minister aware that the results of this survey are universally damning in every area of the operation of this new system, showing a shortage of referrals, high levels of concern among job seekers, problems accessing the national database, confusion amongst employers and problems with the job seeker classification index? When will the minister concede that these problems are the government's fault and responsibility, and instigate an urgent review of the new system?

Senator ELLISON (Schools, Vocational Education and Training) —And I ask the question: when will the Democrats stop relying on misleading reports? After all, this report was released by the Democrats—and that shows the bias of it. Would you believe that it was released by the Democrats? That is what the article said. It said it was going to be tabled by the Democrats.

Mr David Thompson, the CEO of Jobs Australia, was involved in setting up the consultation that went with the job seeker classification instrument, which is an essential part of the Job Network program. At the time, when he was involved with these consultations, he said that the JSCI was significantly better than previous instruments—those most in need are identified and get access. That is what he said about the Job Network when he was involved in that consultation. He is now saying that this very program which he said was very good is now in disarray.

Let us have a look at some of the facts. The community organisation that Mr Thompson claims to represent have already lodged around 17,000 vacancies. They have placed thousands of people in jobs, and I am happy to report that they have had over 31,000 intensive assistance referrals; that is the FLEX 3 that Senator Stott Despoja is referring to—intensive assistance for the long-term unemployed who are, after all, the most difficult cases and the ones that we want to see fixed. There have been over 31,000 referrals through these groups, and Senator Stott Despoja is trying to tell us that this is in disarray, that this report is something to be believed.

The credibility of this report has already been undermined before its release. In fact, I am advised that several of the members of Jobs Australia are very angry at Mr Thompson's remarks because they know that this is working and that people who are most in need—those in the FLEX 3 category—are being referred. Despite the opposition's claims and those claims by the Democrats, Centrelink is on track to achieve referrals of intensive assistance of 125,000 people by the end of June. Up to yesterday, 118,000 of these referrals had been made. We are well on track to that 125,000 referral target. This is a system that is working, and this is a report which cannot be believed.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister—

Senator Schacht interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Senator Schacht, you are not helping anybody, and you are disrupting question time.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Firstly, is the minister seriously suggesting that it was okay and responsible for his government to award these people tenders and contracts, but now he does not trust them when they are reporting on the difficulties, and the positive aspects that some may be experiencing, with the Job Network? Secondly, is the minister honestly suggesting that he repudiates and rejects this all-round survey of FLEX 1 and FLEX 3 providers' experiences? I am wondering whether the minister will tell the Senate what it will take for this government to implement a review of this new system which has got established problems. When will you set about fixing them? Or are you going to wait until a quarter of these job agencies fail, as predicted by Paul Fitzgerald; or will it be when half fail; or, perhaps, the whole lot pack up? Minister, will you or will you not instigate a review into this flawed system?

Senator ELLISON (Schools, Vocational Education and Training) —Senator Stott Despoja well knows that during the estimates committee hearings this was well canvassed and that there are review mechanisms in place which the government will be taking up in due course. We are being asked to look at a report which was not released to the government. This report was not brought to the government. I have tried to get a copy of it today—I could not. In fact, when you look at the article, you see that it is to be tabled by the Australian Democrats. Since when have the Australian Democrats been in government? If this man was dinkum, if these people were dinkum, they would come to the government and say, `These are the problems.' But, instead, they go to the Democrats, and they are trying to run a line not even their own members believe in.

This is a system where over 40 per cent of the jobs placed have gone to the long-term unemployed—the intensive assistance that Senator Stott Despoja has been referring to. Employers are using the free vacancy service which I mentioned the other day—the 131715 number. Over 20 per cent of vacancies have been lodged in that manner. This Job Network is working. (Time expired)