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Thursday, 31 August 1989
Page: 703

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.57) —I also make some comments on the same Auditor-General's report referred to by Senator Michael Baume. I do so because the Government is expending some hundreds of millions of dollars on a series of so-called training or work enabling programs. It seems to be something of a speciality of the Department of Employment, Education and Training to produce another set of initials with a flash program which is supposed to meet some perceived social need. When an Opposition gets up and says that it thinks something like Jobstart is a waste of taxpayers' money, it is very easy for a Government member to stand up and say that the Opposition is being hard-hearted again and ignoring the needs of the unemployed. I must say, however, that this report bears out the concern which I have felt about this Department since the beginning of this decade. It has a record of non-performance which is very serious.

We have had very high youth unemployment for most of this decade. We have had significant unemployment for the whole of this decade and a very substantial amount of money is expended on programs such as Jobstart. There is a great deal of scepticism in the Opposition about the effectiveness of those programs. The important thing to note is that this is an assessment of just one of those programs by the Auditor-General's Office. The fact that it is the Auditor-General's Office, a non-political body with no political axe to grind, which makes the criticisms is important to note because the criticisms it makes of the program are so severe as to suggest that it ought not to continue. This program is not small potatoes. It is $85m worth of job subsidies which are handed out. As Senator Michael Baume pointed out, the Auditor-General has found that there is a frightening degree of failure.

The report points out that 21.5 per cent of participants leaving Jobstart ceased within six weeks of starting; that 39.5 per cent dropped out within 13 weeks; and that in total 58 per cent of participants failed to complete the full 26 weeks of subsidised employment or work experience. It is always a problem to know whether a subsidised place is an additional place. Everybody knows that employers can arrange their employment requirements to take advantage of subsidies, but everybody also knows that some employers genuinely use this to create positions that would not otherwise apply. One cannot therefore make a blanket condemnation. However, when we find that almost six out of 10 of the participants in a program do not stick with the job for the 26 weeks of the subsidy period, it is time to ring some alarm bells and to question whether the hundreds of millions of dollars which are being spent on this and like programs are being wasted.

Senator Michael Baume —The way they were with CEP.

Senator CHANEY —Senator Michael Baume assists me with his comment by reminding me of the disastrous waste of money under CEP and the very poor quality assets that were often purchased at enormous expense with very, very limited social value. My reason for wanting to intervene in this debate is that I think this would be one of the 200 programs that Senator Peter Walsh identified a year and a half ago as being the sorts of programs which represent a significant waste of taxpayers' funds and which need attention.

I raise the matter in the context of this program review because every Liberal and National Party senator knows that as soon as one of us raises an area of waste, we are accused of being heartless, not being concerned with the unemployed, not being concerned with the poor or whatever. The truth of the matter is that to throw hundreds of millions of dollars of the taxpayers' money into waste bins, and obviously a large proportion of this money is effectively thrown into the waste bin, is not doing anything for the people of Australia.

Senator Watson —And it is coming off technical training.

Senator CHANEY —As Senator Watson, who I think is going to take part in this discussion, is saying, it is happening at the cost of technical training. The fact is that we have a hotchpotch of programs. The initials are quite extraordinary: We have got ITS, FAT, JET, Jobstart, Skillshare, and so it goes. This is in the finest tradition of the Department of Employment, Education and Training. Senator Peter Cook, who is at the table, has taken something of an interest in labour market matters. He would be as aware as any honourable senator in this place of the extent to which many of these programs represent a nice set of initials, a nice set of brochures and very little else. My purpose in intervening is to say that, in the Opposition's view, this is an area for Government attention. This is an area where Senator Walsh should stop being coy, should admit that this is one of the 200 programs which are in drastic need of cutting and the Government should take a constructive attitude to that instead of every time the Opposition raises one of these matters, accusing us as being Darwinians. We are not Darwinians. We simply say that, as the Auditor-General has exposed, there has been a gross amount of waste in these programs and it should not continue.