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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Ms HALL (4:50 PM) —This year my office has been inundated by victims of the Howard government’s extreme changes to the Welfare to Work legislation. Changes by this government have been accompanied by a similar change in the level of compassion directed towards unemployed Australians, particularly those 55 years and over. This change has been from Job Network providers and Centrelink.

I thought that, to explain and demonstrate this to the House, I would touch on the stories of some of my constituents who have been to see me. The first lady is 55 years of age. She works part time. She is trying very hard to find a job. She has experienced enormous problems with Centrelink, which have been sorted out, and she is quite happy now with her relationship with Centrelink. But, unfortunately, her real problems relate to the Job Network. She received a letter from her Job Network provider—Salvation Army Employment Plus, I think—on 11 December advising her that she had an appointment. She rang them and said, ‘Look, I can’t go on that day because I am actually working.’ They said, ‘That’s not a good enough reason for not attending an interview.’ They said that if she did not go to this interview her benefits could be affected—in other words: ‘Don’t go to work; come to the Job Network provider or else we are going to put a breach notice on you.’ This is a 55-year-old woman who is keen to work, is highly articulate, has a job, and has been told that she will be breached if she does not come in for an interview. After a bit of negotiation, she finally arranged to not attend that interview.

Another interview was arranged for her. This time it was on 28 December and—guess what?—she was working again. She was very pleased to have shift work because the Christmas retail period is when shifts are available. She received a text message about an appointment on 28 December. But she had not even received a letter from the Job Network provider. She rang them and, once again, received the same sorts of threats. Eventually, she was told that all she had to do was come along for one appointment and then they would leave her alone. She was very upset about this. She finally negotiated the day when she would go along. She spoke to the manager of this particular Job Network provider. The Job Network provider said that she had been ringing her. This was not true because my constituent was able to check her phone and she had no phone calls from people of whom she was unaware.

However, the date was arranged on which she was to go and talk to an employment officer there. When she went in, neither the manager, who had agreed to speak to her, nor the case manager, who had been harassing her, were available. Instead, they just sent a junior for her to register with this Job Network provider and then they were going to leave her alone. She believes it is all about money for the Job Network provider; it is not about money for her. She has been treated very harshly by a system that is supposed to help her find work. She is in the process of finding a job for herself. She is working part time, and she feels that this system is actually working against her interests. I think the government needs to revisit this matter and put in place a system that benefits those people it is trying to help.

Another lady came to see me. She is 60 years of age and doing volunteer work for 15 hours a week. She is registered with Centrelink, receiving Newstart, registered with a Job Network provider and being harassed by both the Job Network provider and the requirement of Centrelink to go out there and find work. She is not that well. She has enormous obligations caring for an aged mother, and she is having the same sorts of pressures placed on her as the lady I previously spoke about. This is a bad system. It is a system that works against people who should be looking towards government for assistance. I implore the Howard government to revisit this legislation and make it workable. (Time expired)