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Thursday, 18 February 1999
Page: 2229

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services. Given the minister's last response, I ask the minister to clarify whether she will be taking up the invitation issued by Minister Reith in his paper to discuss the issue of extending the concept of mutual obligation. Does she agree with the minister's claim that a more radical approach to addressing the perception that people are entitled to income support is needed? Is the minister also aware of a departmental review of the Work for the Dole scheme which shows that it is less effective in funding work for the unemployed than the job clubs and the Jobstart programs that her government slashed? If so, will she recommend as part of these discussions to Minister Reith that they refund jobsearch assistance under job clubs and reinstate Jobstart, which provided real wage subsidies and real training, not wage cuts, as a more effective way of getting the unemployed into real jobs?

Senator NEWMAN (Family and Community Services; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —Before I answer Senator Stott Despoja's question, let me also point out that Senator Lees grossly misrepresented Mr Reith's position when she claimed in her press release that he was foreshadowing cuts to the social security system for this term of government. I think it is dishonest of Senator Lees to have said that. It is quite clear when you read Mr Reith's paper—

Senator Faulkner —Why don't you just admit that you're having a colossal blue with Reith, and you're likely to lose.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner.

Senator NEWMAN —The Prime Minister asked my department and me to work closely and collaboratively with Mr Reith and his department.

Senator Faulkner —No, he didn't.

Senator NEWMAN —That has been taking place—

Senator Conroy —Just like you did on the tax package.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, stop shouting.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator NEWMAN —Madam President, I would like to answer Senator Stott Despoja's question, but she sits at the end of the chamber. She has to listen to the interjections from the opposition before she can hear what I am saying.

The PRESIDENT —There are far too many interjections. The likelihood of anyone at the end of the chamber being able to hear is quite limited.

Senator NEWMAN —Madam President, fo Senator Stott Despoja, the two departments and the two ministries have been working closely together since the establishment of this discussion paper at the request and the direction of the Prime Minister. We will be continuing that work. It is by no means completed. Different propositions are coming from the two departments for collaborative work.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for confirming that her department has been working closely in collaboration with Minister Reith. I am wondering if, as part of that collaborative effort, the minister endorses Minister Reith's belief that moving towards a New Zealand style labour market and welfare system would create more jobs and endorses his views that we should adopt that system. I am also wondering what work they may have done in this collaborative arrangement on adopting New Zealand style welfare reform in Australia. I point out to the minister that she did not answer my question in relation to the cost effectiveness of Work for the Dole. I ask the minister: do you acknowledge that only 32 per cent of Work for the Dole recipients were finding work compared with, say, 50 per cent under Jobstart?

Senator NEWMAN (Family and Community Services; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —As to the question of successful achievement of jobs, I think Senator Stott Despoja is approximately right in her figures. But that is not the only outcome. People do not go immediately into jobs, but many of them go from Work for the Dole into further training and education because they have become aware of the need to acquire skills to be really competitive in the job market. The Work for the Dole scheme is, in fact, a success in that area as well. I think it is better to wait until you have a proper evaluation available to you, Senator.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Newman, you should address the chair and not speak across the chamber to Senator Stott Despoja.

Senator NEWMAN —I beg your pardon, Madam President. There are so many interjections that I have tried to project my voice to the Democrats down on the cross benches.

The PRESIDENT —If you speak into your microphone, they should hear.

Senator NEWMAN —Thank you, Madam President, I will. If you like, I will shout.

Opposition senators —Ooh!

The PRESIDENT —Order! The behaviour in question time today is absolutely unacceptable.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! The behaviour on my left is unacceptable and in breach of the standing orders.

Senator NEWMAN —The reference which Senator Stott Despoja made to the mention of New Zealand in Mr Reith's paper I think is a misrepresentation of the text. He was drawing a comparison between the United States and New Zealand. (Time expired)