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Coalition claims job creation scheme figures are incorrect

MONICA ATTARD: The Federal Employment Minister, Simon Crean, has dismissed Coalition allegations that the Government's plans to get the long-term unemployed back to work has made a stumbling start. Mr Crean says the claim is simply not true and that the Coalition is indulging in the politics of envy. On Sunday, David Kemp, the Shadow Employment Minister, released a departmental document which he claims showed that the crucial Jobstart program was 37 per cent behind its target, while Skillshare enrolments were lagging by 85 per cent. Mr Kemp claims these figures are the result of the first two months of the Government's critical employment strategy. Simon Crean says the figures are incomplete and the Coalition has been duped. David Pembroke asked him why the figures released by the Coalition are wrong.

SIMON CREAN: There is a draft working paper with the same figures, but they apply for one month, the month of July. He's tried to put them forward as representing the achievement for not only July but August as well.

DAVID PEMBROKE: So it's not even a DEET document?

SIMON CREAN: Well, I think that what's happened is that people have changed one of the headings and tried to suggest that the figures that exist for one month are in fact figures for two months. If, in fact, you extend it out and take the two-month figures, the total number of placements in labour markets is not the 36,000 that Dr Kemp researched, but in fact it's close to 99,000, so it's a huge difference.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Well, in such a massive engagement where you've had to build quite a large administrative apparatus, how is that progressing, and are there any problems?

SIMON CREAN: Well, that's not to say that there aren't problems with it. Of course, with this major change, this major focus on case management, the introduction of a jobs compact which is a guarantee of a job, new work opportunities and the like, of course it's going to put pressure on. But the fact of the matter is that not only is the system coping, in a number of circumstances it's exceeding the target. We're doing better on case management than was originally targeted for. And I would have thought that Dr Kemp ought to be applauding the CES and those responsible for actually delivering, in very difficult circumstances, but what is clearly a very necessary task.

DAVID PEMBROKE: You mentioned that there are some problem areas, what are they?

SIMON CREAN: Well, I think it's the question of getting geared up to handle case management. I mean, this involves far more intensity of dealing with the unemployed person, matching them up with the employer responses. It was said that we wouldn't be able to cope, but on case management we've actually done better. Now, some of the areas where it hasn't been as fast as we would have liked, have been the training wage, but that's because the Arbitration Commission didn't hand down the decision on the training wage until September.

DAVID PEMBROKE: And what's the feedback that you are getting from industry about the applicability of the training wage and whether or not it is or isn't attractive enough to take on somebody who is long-term unemployed?

SIMON CREAN: Well, the interesting thing, David, is this, that there's very strong support for the training wage, and employers are more than happy to access that. But it is true that even though we've exceeded in some cases or equalled the numbers set, the cost of doing it has been less than budgeted for, and that seems to be because employers are prepared to take people on these days without accessing the full incentive. So, not only is it good news for the job seeker, but it's good news for the budget.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Could you put a percentage on that discount?

SIMON CREAN: No, I think it's too hard to put any figure on that at the moment. But I think the best measure of whether our proposals are meeting the target is what we're doing with the long-term unemployed. And of the 350,000 jobs that have been created, 76,000 have gone to the long-term unemployed, David. In the last recovery, in the whole of the period - '83 to '89 - where it was 1.6 million jobs, only 100,000 went to the long-term unemployed. Already we're almost three-quarters of the way to what was achieved in the '80s for the long-term unemployed in a little over a year, and that goes to show that the targeted measures are working. Couple it with the training wage, couple it with the new work opportunities, and we are going to make, I think, very important and welcome inroads into the long-term unemployed numbers.

DAVID PEMBROKE: It's interesting you make the point about case management because you acknowledge it is critical to the success of getting the long-term unemployed back to work. Just how are you measuring success in that area of case management?

SIMON CREAN: Well, it's success in terms of placements either into the job market or into still being case managed through labour market programs. But to give some indication, David, there are 2,000 people now undertaking case management, 2,000 CES officers, so we're up to speed on that. Already there have been 120,000 people go through case management within excess of 30,000 successful placements, and that's all since April. So what we're saying is that not only are we capable of achieving the targets set, we're able to gear up very quickly to do it, and in the case of case management, we've exceeded targets to date. So I think it is a very welcome initiative in the White Paper, but it's one that's been delivered upon better than expected.

DAVID PEMBROKE: So you haven't had the problems finding the actual case managers to manage the people back into the workforce?

SIMON CREAN: No. I mean, there have been very intense training programs. Some people have expressed some concern about the pace at which it's being done, but it seems to be working. And I think there is a recognition that it's only through case management and the job compact that the long-term unemployed will be given a chance, and I think that the people in the CES, the officers, are prepared to put the extra effort in, and they ought to be congratulated on that rather than denigrated, as Dr Kemp would have you believe, along lines that says that they're not meeting their targets.

MONICA ATTARD: Simon Crean, the Federal Employment Minister, speaking there with David Pembroke in our Canberra bureau.