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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4776

Senator WEBBER (6:52 PM) —I would also like to take note of the Productivity Commission report on the Job Network. As mentioned by Senator Stephens, the Job Network commenced in May 1998 and involved the opening up of the provision of employment services to the private sector as well as to the government and community based sector. However, it seems to me that in its quest to save money the government has lost sight of the people who most desperately need the assistance of Job Network—that is, the long-term unemployed.

A recent OECD report about the Job Network, released last year, highlighted the fact that, although the network has apparently saved the government money, glaring structural problems still remain. Job seekers are often unable to choose which provider they would like to use; indeed, many employers have insufficient awareness of how the Job Network works. The implementation of the network has also greatly disadvantaged people from my state of Western Australia, particularly in regional Western Australia. Because of our smaller market, job seekers in, say, Kalgoorlie or Merredin do not have the same access to services as job seekers in Perth. Where employment services are available in regional WA, they do not provide the range of services required, simply because it is not cost effective for a private operator to provide them.

Looking at the role of competition within the provision of employment services, it seems to me that competition only works when all markets are equally contestable. That is clearly not the case in places like regional Western Australia. In fact it is absolutely not the case: Perth is far more attractive not only because of its geographical position but also because of its population size. Perth is far more attractive to a provider than, say, the wheat belt area of Western Australia. It also seems to me that the government's plan means that, regardless of a person's individual barriers to employment—whether they be language difficulties or simply the tyranny of distance, as is often felt by people in Western Australia—the same solution is offered across the board by the Job Network. I am sure that is of great concern to all Western Australians.

The government has also neglected the unemployed by providing financial incentives to assist only those people who do not have a job at all. Therefore, people who work fewer than 15 hours a week are effectively excluded from the government's definition of an `eligible job seeker'. So people who have taken part-time work because it pays the bills or because there was nothing else available at the time are unable to access the service to try to find something better. This was not the case when it was a government or community based service provision model. So it is not surprising that the long-term unemployed also have an increased feeling of being abandoned by the government. Indeed, under the employment services contract No. 3, access to substantial outcome payments is deferred until the job seeker has been out of work for two or three years. By that time, the job seeker has gone from being unemployed to being long-term unemployed and is significantly worse off in every sense of the term.

These people need help now, and they should not be forced to wait until the problem has been allowed to deteriorate to an almost irretrievable position. The resultant barriers facing these job seekers are so severe and the likelihood of success in finding a job so low, particularly if they are in regional Western Australia, that it is not economically viable for Job Network providers to help them. Emphasis has always been placed on outcome payments since the establishment of this supposed solution of the Job Network. Once a job is found a payment is made by the government to the provider for a `job well done.' So where is the incentive to help those for whom it is much harder to find work, such as the long-term unemployed? More incentives need to be given to providers to deliver programs that better reflect the needs of the long-term unemployed. This is also true for the plight of the more mature Australians who, once out of work, are almost guaranteed never to find work again. At least that seems to be the view of this government, as it refuses to invest in the needs of these people. The Job Network effectively neglects the long-term unemployed, the underemployed, anyone from a non-English-speaking background and anyone who lives outside a metropolitan area. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.