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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4775

Senator STEPHENS (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I wish to take note of the Productivity Commission's report on the Job Network tabled today. I draw the attention of senators to the recommendations of the review and the important issues that are raised within the review about servicing the long-term needs of our unemployed people in Australia. The overview of the report identifies many aspects of unemployment that are often forgotten. It states:

Unemployment increases poverty and inequality, it erodes people's skills and reduces social capital, economic output and national income. Many unemployed people feel demoralised and socially alienated.

It continues:

Young people with unemployed parents have worse educational and work outcomes compared with their peers.

The feelings of frustration and depression that many unemployed people experience are aptly summarised in the following quote from a young unemployed person:

You lose respect, you lose dignity, you're humiliated, you're in despair, you're embarrassed, you're angry, you're frustrated and finally you just don't care. You just don't care. All this stuff leads to loneliness, alienation, feeling of inadequacy. You get very suicidal. I tend to. I am very angry.

That is certainly the experience that I had in the long period of time I spent working with the long-term unemployed in regional New South Wales. It is obvious that unemployment is a very complex issue and that labour market assistance needs to be flexible and responsive.

Australia was one of the first OECD countries to introduce market-type mechanisms into its employment services. The Job Network started in May 1998 and involved opening up public employment services to full contestability, involving private and community providers tendering to participate in the system. It uses a purchaser-provider model to deliver active labour market programs that include job matching, job search training and intensive assistance. The job matching service is open to nearly all unemployed people. Generally, those who have been unemployed for some time are referred to job search training. Others are referred to intensive assistance if they have significant difficulty in gaining employment.

The Productivity Commission report has called for incremental reforms to the Job Network, highlighting that, among other things, many job seekers participating in the intensive assistance strand are receiving significantly less support than they should receive and recommending that a system that better targets the needs of job seekers must be established. The review refers to this and advocates an active participation model which has a strong potential to address what is known in the labour market assistance world as the `parking' problem.

An active participation model, or milestone program, is directed at a select group of job seekers who have a particular set of obstacles to work. The program tackles each set of identified obstacles to work—for example, poor literacy skills—with payments to service providers and allows the individual's obstacles to be overcome stage by stage as opposed to the current practice of parking those job seekers without assisting them to improve their skills. A second significant recommendation addresses the issue of Job Network providers being able to re-refer their parked clients to other programs if they think they cannot help them. This is quite a significant shift which will allow new risk categories to be developed or for more appropriate referrals to be made in the first place.

The important option for rural and regional communities that is referred to in the report relates to the opportunity for people to participate in community work or with Green Corps as an alternative to intensive phases of assistance. The competitive tendering aspect of the Job Network is referred to as expensive for providers and disruptive of services, and the recommendation about licensing is a very sensible one. I urge the government to adopt the recommendations of the review and to continue to provide a range of options, particularly for the long-term unemployed. While it is a very heavy tome, with 550 pages, I commend the report to all senators as a very valuable piece of work.