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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workforce Participation, Corporate Governance and Responsibility: Parliament House, Canberra: Kevin Andrews' fourth paint job on welfare changes.

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Penny Wong

Labor Senator for South Australia Shadow Minister for Employment and Workforce Participation, Corporate Governance and Responsibility


PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA - Tuesday 8 November 2005


Subject: Kevin Andrews' fourth paint job on welfare changes

WONG: This is the fourth paint job on these extreme welfare changes since the Budget announcement in May. By now even the most incompetent minister should know you cannot fix faulty foundations with a new paint job. The cold heart of these changes remain: a cut to household budgets of vulnerable Australian families. That is the cold heart of these changes.

I want to also comment particularly on the detail that Minister Andrews announced today.

It is quite clear from the announcement that sole parents and people with a disability will be required, under threat of their payments being stopped, to take jobs that are below award conditions. The announcement today confirms people will be required to take employment even if the job does not meet the relevant award conditions. All that will be required is that the offer of employment meets the five minimum standards.

It is very clear the Government’s extreme industrial relations agenda will put people with a disability and sole parents between a rock and a hard place. Take a job at below award conditions or lose your payments.

JOURNALIST: There seem to be some more exemptions for single parents. Do you think disabled people have fared not as well over the changes?

WONG: The changes announced today in relation to people with a disability are pathetic. In relation to parents, the changes produce a system which is far more complicated and retains the core of the

problem. Dumping a sole parent onto the dole is not going to help them get a job.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Job Network is going to be ready for some of the changes being announced, things like the work capacity assessment changes? Are they going to be ready in time to take account for some of these major changes to the welfare system?

WONG: Well the Auditor-General previously has indicated their concern with the Job Network and the Department’s oversight of the Job Network. We retain our concerns about the Job Network’s capacity to deal with people with a disability in particular. We know the Job Network has been very good at helping people into employment who are relatively easy to place, but we have had around about a sixty per cent increase in people who have been on payments for over five years in the term of this Government. So clearly the Job Network needs to refocus on people who face substantial barriers to employment. So we share the concerns of many in the community that the Job Network will not adequately help people with a disability.

JOURNALIST: Is the raising of the youngest from six to eight sufficient?

WONG: The raising of the age at which a parent is dumped onto the dole simply confirms the Government knows that its changes are flawed, that its changes are extreme. If putting someone onto the dole helped them get a job, they would not need to respond to backbench and community concerns by raising the age to eight. Fundamentally, the Government has never explained why putting someone onto a lower payment will help them get a job. How does that help parents and how does that help someone with a disability get work?

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the eight years is a bit sort of arbitrary? Why do you think they have taken it to that level?

WONG: Clearly Minister Andrews is making a political concession which does little more than make the situation more complicated for parents. He has had to do that because his backbenchers have revolted. He has had to do that because the community is rightly concerned about the effects of dumping people with a disability and sole parents onto the dole.

JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce said today that there had been a lot of pressure from the National Party and in fact these changes were a victory for the National Party. Is there a bit of disarray going on there?

WONG: Clearly this is about politics, not good policy. Minister Andrews has a flawed package, an incompetent package. He has been forced to change some small aspects of it to get it through the Parliament but fundamentally the core of the package remains extreme and it remains incompetent. A cut to the household budgets of vulnerable Australian families.

JOURNALIST: Given that they have got the backbenchers who had some concerns on board now, what will Labor be doing now?

WONG: We will continue to argue for real welfare reform. We will continue to argue that people with a disability and sole parents deserve support and help to get into work. Clearly, people who can work should work. But they are not assisted into work by being dumped onto the dole by this Government.