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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 13848

Mrs IRWIN (11:31 AM) —There is something very fishy about the Job Network as a whole. There is something very fishy about the latest round of contracts awarded. And there is something very fishy about Employment National's recent near death experience.

The setting up of the so-called Job Network was remarkable because it was not done under any legislative framework. Contracts were handed out to brokers on-selling their rights. We all remember the lucky contract winner whose address was a flat in Lakemba and whose only office furniture was a mobile phone. There are serious grounds to believe that Job Network is in breach of the Employment Services Act 1994. The question of compensation to the private employment service providers, if the network is found to be illegitimate, then arises. It will cost big time. It will be because this government, like the Kennett government, has contempt for parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.

If governments can cloak everything with commercial-in-confidence, the punters cannot ask questions. They do, but there are no answers as to what is exactly going on with their $3 billion investment. They are not allowed to know. I would like to know why in the December contract announcements Employment National got the shaft in my electorate of Fowler. It is a difficult employment market there because of cultural diversity and a low skill base, but they are young and motivated, and many speak other languages. It is a global village in 50 square kilometres. It is very international. It is Asia and Europe. It is the north and the east, and it is in the south-west of our biggest city. They are proudly Australian.

All they need is specialist employment and training support of the sort you could expect from Employment National, but Employment National, with all its experience in providing services to a broad client base, its understanding of accountability and its commercial good sense, will be closing its doors in my electorate of Fowler. That is something very fishy.

The three-year reprieve offered to Employment National is simply incredible. This is ideological. Did anyone in this government think that somehow, if Employment National were unable to pay its way, somebody other than the taxpayers would pick up the tab? This government almost succeeded in strangling Employment National to death. Perhaps the Employment Services Act has saved it. Perhaps its only shareholder is busy dreaming up a scheme to get around the Employment Services Act and dispose of Employment National.

If that is so, or if the Job Network turns out to be legal, it will concern me that, if Employment National performs with distinction, the Howard government will try to privatise it. If it performs badly, they will try to sell it off—have it liquidated. Talk about sabotage! A lot of dedicated staff came across to Employment National. They brought their knowledge of the market. They brought their training. They brought their expertise. Now the 1,500 staff of Employment National—fewer, following the closure of so many sites—are looking for jobs for themselves. Morale, like business confidence, is critical to the whole operation and it is damaged. The finger points to this government which takes the view that if you are out of work it is your own fault.

It is very suss. Here we have the government as a sole shareholder in a government business enterprise. The GBE sells its services to the shareholder, which sets its own price. The Australian taxpayer is going to subsidise an unprofitable Employment National for three years. In other words, it is back to the CES with its labour exchange role, but without the comprehensive labour market programs to tune up job applicants to respond to local labour market demand. And this is at a time when the government has failed to do anything about long-term joblessness. This is at a time when employers are showing less optimism about employment growth. This is at a time when interest rates are being put up to cool the market. We want the lid opened on this appalling, mismanaged and murky fiasco. We want to know how such irrational thinking serves employers, job seekers and taxpayers. We want to know how this fits in with the ethics of public administration, how it accommodates any reasonable idea of accountability, how so much public money can be spent without the scrutiny of the parliament. I want to know why, in the electorate of Fowler, where Employment National will no longer have a Job Network presence, only one additional site has been approved overall, while the Parramatta electorate, which is marginal Liberal, with less than half the employment, expanded its sites by—(Time expired)