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Monday, 7 December 1998
Page: 1463

Mr CADMAN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment Services. Is the minister aware of media reports regarding the ability of the Job Network to assist the long-term unemployed? What is the minister's response to such reports?

Mr ABBOTT (Employment Services) —I thank the member for Mitchell for his question and for his involvement in the Hills Hawkesbury initiative for excellence, which does fine work with job seekers and employers in his electorate.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Martin Ferguson —You didn't pay for that haircut, did you?

Mr ABBOTT —You're just jealous, Martin.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Minister for Employment Services will resume his seat. When members on my left come to order, I will call the minister.

Mr ABBOTT —I am aware of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning entitled `Long-term jobless are being dudded', in which the distinguished commentator Ross Gittins criticises the practice but not the theory of the Job Network. In theory, he says, it is a great scheme, but he does make some criticisms about the practice. They are serious criticisms and they deserve a serious response.

The first criticism is that the government has replaced labour market programs with Work for the Dole. The problem with the labour market programs under Working Nation is that they were hugely expensive and largely ineffective in getting the long-term unemployed into work. It has been estimated that the New Work Opportunities program, for instance, cost $143,000 per extra job created. Don Harding of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research said:

The valuations clearly suggest that labour market programs were in general not cost effective in getting the unemployed into jobs. Thus, the cutting of expenditure on labour market programs represents a major reduction in wastage of public funds and is therefore to be welcomed.

No-one says that work for the dole is a miracle cure for the long-term unemployed, but the fact is that results of the pilot program suggest that 30 per cent of participants are going into employment or training, and that is comparable to the results obtained by the much more expensive Working Nation program.

The second criticism of Mr Gittins is what he calls the `obvious danger' that Job Network members will take the up-front money attaching to the long-term unemployed but not invest the performance component of intensive assistance in reskilling the unemployed. This criticism is quite misconceived because the organisations which provide the heart of the Job Network—such as Mission Australia, the Salvation Army, Centrecare and the Brotherhood of St Laurence—are completely dedicated to the welfare of the unemployed. The idea that those organisations would rip anyone off is simply wrong.

It is too early to be dogmatic about exactly what the intensive assistance money will be spent on, but I have a model of what it might be spent on by a for-profit provider. It includes provision of work tools, boots and clothing, usually up to $200; provision of fares assistance, vouchers, et cetera, up to $500; validation of overseas professional qualifications, up to $1,000; English language training, up to $800; training subsidies, up to $1,200; and up-front training and reskilling and industry based courses, around $500 per trainee. Finally, Mr Gittins says:

. . . "outcomes" are all the go.

This government is happy to be judged on outcomes. As the House knows, in November last year the old CES got just 15,000 unemployed people on benefit into work. As I told the House last week, in November this year the Job Network got 22,400 unemployed people into work. Unfortunately, that figure did not include the last day of the month, and the correct figure is 23,700 unemployed people on benefit into work. That is 50 per cent higher than the old CES.

Not only is the Job Network putting more people into work, it is putting more long-term unemployed into jobs. In the period July to October last year, 30 per cent of those placed in work by the CES were long-term unemployed. In the same period this year, 42 per cent of those placed in work were long-term unemployed. On every score, the Job Network is doing better. The Job Network is not perfect but it is doing well and it will do even better with the changes the government has in mind.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I ask that the minister table the document from which he was quoting. He said he was quoting.

Mr SPEAKER —Was the Minister for Employment Services quoting from a document?

Mr ABBOTT —I did quote from one document.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the document confidential?

Mr ABBOTT —It is, as a matter of fact, Mr Speaker.

Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is it your practice in ascertaining the confidentiality of the paper quoted from to require a sighting of the `confidential' stamp, as Speaker Sinclair laid down in the previous parliament?

Mr SPEAKER —I intend to take the minister's word for the fact that he was quoting from a document and about its confidentiality.