Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
In the community, of the community, for the community: speech to National Employment Services Association.



Download PDFDownload PDF

THE HON TONY ABBOTT MP

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT SERVICES

 

Transcript

In the community, of the community, for the community Speech transcript from National Employment Services Association Conference

Thanks very much indeed to Deborah, thanks very much ladies and gentlemen for being out so early, reasonably bright eyed and bushy tailed for this morning’s conference. The last thing I’d like to do today is make a partisan political speech. And certainly the last thing that you would want to hear is a partisan political speech. Nevertheless there are a few issues, if you’ll excuse me, which I think is should address just before we move into the body of the remarks I want to make to you. There are a few claims around about the Job Network, which I think are unfair. Now I’m a politician and I’m used to things being a little bit unfair, at least in my eyes.

If you’re in the hurly burly of public life in Australia you’ve got to have a pretty thick skin. We have an extremely robust political culture in this country. No quarter is given and no quarter is asked. I guess what I’m interested in doing this morning is not so much trying to defend myself or the government, but rather to defend the Job Network and to defend you. Because sometimes when the Job Network is attacked it’s not the government that suffers but it’s people like yourselves who suffer and it’s your clients who suffer. So I think it’s very important that whenever things are said about the Job Network which are factually wrong, I think it’s important to try and address those.

So let’s just address a couple of these issues.

First of all, there’s a claim frequently made that the performance figures on the Job Network are in some way suss, that they aren’t accurate. Well we all know there is no such thing as a beautiful set of numbers. All figures, to some extent are imperfect. But what I would certainly say is that the figures that we use now for the Job Network are as reliable as anything can be. They are more reliable than any statistic ever before prepared by my department. For the simple reason that they are the basis on which people are paid. The statistics which we use now, the figures that we publish now, are the same figures on which people are paid. And obviously everyone has a vested interest in making sure that those figures are as accurate as human endeavour can possibly make them. We have to get them right because if we don’t get them right the payments aren’t right, if the payments aren’t right, well the whole system collapses.

Another claim that we sometimes here is that there’s no transparency in the Job Network.

That there is a great deal of misinformation around. That there are constant good news announcements but there’s nothing really that can be relied upon to justify them. Well, I think that the Job Network is just about the most examined, the most analysed, the most scrutinised operation of government programmes. There are parliamentary committees, there is the media, there are Senate estimates committees - Peter Shergold and Leslie Riggs have spent something like 20 hours before senate estimates committees since December of last year, and answered something like 200 questions in senate estimates. There are something like 350 contract and performance staff of my department working to make sure that everything is going as smoothly as it can. There the Job Seeker complaints hotline, we’ve had something like 12,000 complaints since the system began in 1998. I believe that something like 95 per cent of those complaints are cleared up within five days.

I’ve never said the system is perfect, but it is as good as reasonable human endeavour can make it. You’ve got to trust the good faith in which everyone is operating here. I believe that public servants, those much maligned creatures, are in fact some of the most industrious, some of the most able, some of the most hardworking, some of the most committed people that you’ll find. Certainly the public servants in my department are paragons, exemplars of serving the community. I believe that the people who put their hand up to work in the Job Network are people of deep commitment, high ideals, strong records of service to the community - and you can trust people like this.

The idea that every Job Network member is some kind of a white shoe brigade business person that’s just waiting, itching for a chance to rip off the general public and to screw job seekers is a vicious, slur and smear on some of the finest Australians doing some of the most necessary work in our community. And I’m all in favour of accountability. I am all in favour of accountability. The government is all in favour of accountability. But there’s no point focusing on keeping up appearances to the detriment of keeping up performances. And the last thing that I would want to do is to put in place a series of accountability measures which make it impossible for people to get on with their job. As I said, everyone in the Job Network is there because we believe the individuals and organisations are capable of doing a good job. We trust them to get on with the tasks they’ve been set and that’s exactly what I believe is happening.

It’s been said that the Auditor-General has not endorsed the Job Network. Well, let me simply say that based on early analysis, very early analysis and figures which are, I think, much better now than they were when the audit office studied them … the audit office said ‘in the broad it offers better value for money than previous employment assistance arrangements’. So please don’t let anyone tell you that the Auditor General has been fundamentally critical of the Job Network.

We’ve heard it said that what the government is trying to do here is to bring about a United States-style welfare system. Well, that’s not our intention at all. Not our intention at all. What we’re trying to do here is to develop something which is uniquely Australian. And one of the interesting features of our system, since May of 1998, has been the numbers of people from overseas coming to study it because they appreciated what we had done is unique.

It’s not the US system of strictly term limited welfare payments, on the other hand it’s not a virtually open-ended system of going on NewStart and staying there indefinitely with very few questions asked. It’s a system where people are expected to be responsible. But provided that people are responsible, provided people play by the rules, they have an absolute

commitment from this government, and from Australian society, that we will support them.

And that’s the way it should be. That’s the way it should be.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I now want to talk a little bit about some of the underlying philosophies behind the Job Network, as I see them. What was very interesting, you had Joy Murphy here yesterday, from the Wurundjeri people to create what was described as a ‘better link with the land’. I think it was very appropriate that you did that because it seems to me that what we are trying to do with the Job Network is to create a strong sense of community in Australian society.

The theme of this conference is about building partnerships. And I think it’s very apt that you’ve chosen that as your theme. We’re not on about building institutions. Australia is sufficiently institutionalised already. But perhaps we are in some ways over institutionalised. What we’re on about with the Job Network is building new linkages and new connections between people, so that everyone in our society can walk down the street of his or her community and feel a sense of belonging, feel a sense of purpose, feel a sense of place.

And I think that what we’ve done with the Job Network is almost a paradigm for the new politics. This is not a market in the traditional sense. We are not on here about the sovereignty of markets. But similarly we’re not on here about the sovereignty of governments, either. What we’re trying to produce with organisations such as the Job Network is a stronger sense of the individual in community. We’re trying to get right away from the old dichotomy between individuals on one hand and the state on the other hand, and accept that a state is no good without strong, dynamic individuals. But individuals can never be fully realised unless they are part of a healthy and dynamic society.

Now I think this is something which is perfectly in keeping with what might be described as, dare I say, a small ‘c’ conservative philosophy. It was, after all, the greatest exponent of political conservatism, Edmund Burke, who said that society ‘involves a relationship between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born’. And so the symbolism, as I say, of the welcome from the Wurundjeri people, the roots as it were that we are trying to cultivate here through our society, the relationships, the networks, the consciousness that we are trying to cultivate here is of something bigger than the mere individual. That something more friendly and familiar, something of more human scale than the big government which has been the traditional remedy to the problems of society.

As I said, when we created the Job Network, we were creating what I think has become a paradigm for the new politics. It was, if you like, a bold experiment, a grand adventure. It was, nevertheless, and act of faith based on reason. Because we knew that the organisations that were likely to put their hands up to serve in the Job Network were organisations with strong records either in general commercial recruitment, in training, or in pastoral care for some of the most suffering people in our community. And we also knew that the people who have spent so many years working in the CES had a lot to offer. We also knew that the senior officers of the CES, free of the shackles of that defective culture, could do so much better than they had in the old days. And I’ve got to say that the Job Network has magnificently repaid the faith that the community placed in it. I don’t want to go through the figures because you’ve heard them from me, over and over again. But I just want to say that you have done a magnificent job. You have done a magnificent job and every job seeker, every Australian should be grateful to you for what you’ve done to help those in our society

who most need it.

As I said, this is a government which is at least as interested in the social fabric as it is in the economic side of life. If we don’t have a strong social fabric, a strong economy is meaningless. And when we set up this Job Network, we weren’t simply contracting out services in the normal way. The services that you deliver are not just any old service, they’re not just the sort of services that one might walk down the street and purchase in the ordinary course of business. We don’t have a relationship with you akin to our relationship with the person who provides us with motor cars and stationery, or plumbing, or whatever. Because you aren’t delivering services to government, you’re delivering for government. And if you look bad, we look bad. If you don’t do your job, we - the government - aren’t doing our job. And what that means is that there is a relationship of partnership, of alliance between the Job Network and the government, quite unlike almost any other relationship in society. And I have to say that the experience of the Job Network has produced, I think, some interesting shifts in culture right across the board.

I think that public servants have learnt that it’s not enough to simply know the rule book. It’s not enough simply to be able to say to people, ‘Well, I’m sorry, that’s not in accordance with the rules.’ It’s not enough to be able to say what’s wrong, you’ve got to be able to facilitate what’s right. You’ve got to work with people, as partners, rather than simply standing back and saying, ‘Go off and do your job. And I think for its part the private sector has started to appreciate the subtlety, the creativity and the powerful commitment to the national interest that exists in the Australian Public Service, as well. And I think all of us have been encouraged by the Job Network - not simply to stand back and criticise, not just to do that which is in a sense so much a part of our Australian culture, to become the armchair critic, the Norm, saying, ‘Ah, geez, it’s all their fault. The situation’s mucked up and it’s government’s fault. Someone ought to do something about this, anyone except me.’ I think the Job Network has challenged all of us to actually get in there and solve the problems rather than simply setting ourselves up as critics on the sidelines.

As I said, it’s a very different kind of market from anything else. I like to think of the organisations in the Job Network as not simply businesses, but social businesses, because there are businesses that have as their raison d’etre, as their objective, better connected, more fulfilled, human beings. They’re businesses which aren’t simply motivated by profit or the bottom line, or building up their own infrastructure. They’re businesses which have, as their very reason for existing, a better, more productive, more fulfilled human being. So they’re social businesses not simply capitalistic businesses.

And we’re operating in a social market. Because this is a market which would not exist save for it being called into existence by Government. So we’ve got social businesses in social markets developing social capital. At the end of the day, what we’re doing here is not simply contributing to GDP. We are contributing to a richer, deeper, stronger, social fabric, because we have more integrated communities and more fulfilled functioning human beings.

So I really think we ought to appreciate just what it is we’re doing here. And we ought to celebrate what we’re doing here. Because it really is something special and new an different. And it is, as I said, at the spearhead, at the forefront of the development of new ways of doing things, new ways of the interaction between government and citizen. You see, Canberra has set the architectural pattern, if you like. But apart from that, the active ingredient in the Job Network is not Canberra, it’s you. This is not a ‘Canberra knows best’

program. This is a ‘Job Network members operating in their communities know best’ program. You are the ones who decide what is going to be best for the job seekers that come into your operations. We aren’t deciding that for you. Because we have realised something very important, at the height of the unemployment statistics there are 600,000 human stories and each one of them is different.

And I can’t know each story, Peter Shergold can’t know each story, and Serena Russo can’t know each story. But the people who are actually working in those Job Network offices can know the story and can implement an appropriate package of assistance for each individual. Government is active in this, of course. It wouldn’t be happening without government. But this is government as junior partner. Government as facilitator, not government as controller or director.

As I said, it’s a new way of doing things. It is a paradigm for the new politics. It’s interesting that in some circles there’s a lot of talk now of something called the third way, something which tries to find a new way of doing things - between the old style of capitalism and big brother statism or socialism. The third way has been described as trying to build up a network of social entrepreneurship, people arising from their communities, working with or for their communities in their communities, rather than simply relying on the institutions of big government to try to redress social problems. Now I think there’s a lot of bluster in this third way of thinking. But to the extent that it can actually be pinned down, it seems to me that what we are doing with the Job Network is in fact the embodiment of this third way of operating. Because what are we trying to do? We are trying to empower local organisations -whether they be private sector, community-based, charitable or government - we are trying to empower local organisations to work with local communities with local people. In local community, by local community, for the local community, of the local community.

That’s what we’re trying to do here. So, as I said, I think that the Job Network is a paradigm of the third way, as well as the new politics. And the cooperation that we are seeing increasingly between Job Network members, cooperation in competition, is also something which is new in Australia. It is something which is new in Australia and also something which I think you can take a great deal of pride in. Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this? Well, again, you’ll hear it said that we’re doing this because we’re obsessed with saving money, we’re obsessed with the private sector. Well, as I tried to point out in the last few moments, we’re not about the private sector . We’re about what works. Happier, more fulfilled, more integrated human beings operating in stronger more cohesive communities. That’s what we’re on about. I think that what we’re on about here involves the highest equitable and moral imperatives to help those human beings in our society who need it most. To help those who are our neighbours in need. That is what the government is trying to do here. I think what we’re trying to do is in fact public service at its best.

Ladies and gentlemen, you wouldn’t want me to address you without talking a little bit about the future. I will say that the future of the Job Network is absolutely secure, as far as this government is concerned. This government is absolutely committed to the Job Network. This government is absolutely committed to try and make the system work for Job Network members. Obviously, like all things this side of Paradise, the Job Network is a work in progress. What we have now is not the last word, it’s not the perfect answer. But nevertheless, the architecture is right, the commitment is right, the objectives are right.

And I’ve got to say, as I look out amongst you, I think the personnel are right. We’ve got a

challenge coming from the McClure Report. I think that Patrick McClure has already laid down some very interesting markers for the future of welfare reform in this country. I think that the McClure committee’s interim report’s emphasis on early intervention, on clear pathways from benefit to active engagement with job seekers from passive welfare to active participation in society is absolutely the right direction for us to be going.

But obviously that does have implications for the Job Network. And one of the things we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks and months is trying to ensure clearer pathways from one Job Network program into another and better integration of the work for the dole program into the activities of the Job Network. So we do have an ongoing agenda of improvement for us. But I do give you this open handed commitment - at all points we’ll be working with you and through you. There is no sense at all of a government which is simply coming in to lay down the law.

This is a government which is absolutely committed to working with you and through you. You are the warm heart and the strong arm of this government. You are the people quite necessary to bring about the changes, the benefits, the improvements that society needs. So I just want to leave you with that this morning.

 

For further information contact:

Simone Holzapfel 0417 656 668

28/07/2000