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Job network church contracts: long term consequences.



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Job Network Church Contracts: Long Term Consequences Cheryl Kernot - Shadow Minister for Employment and Training

Media Statement - 14 August 2000

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Labor has welcomed as a constructive contribution a new report from the Centre for Independent Studies which has drawn attention to the long term consequences for religious organisations which provide government services.

The report states that a religious organisation risks being captured by the language, culture and aims of the Government's policies in the welfare sector, thus compromising the church's core beliefs.

The report states that accepting Government contracts can actually disadvantage the needy:

"The problem is that accepting government contracts can, in the long term, have seriously counterproductive effects upon the ability of churches to help those in need to the best of their ability" (Playing with Fire, page 3)

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The reason that this occurs, according to the report is that:

"Religious bodies may begin to fashion their welfare priorities in ways that seek to maximise their chances of obtaining government contracts. They consequently lose a sense that they should be determining their own welfare priorities- not all of which will always accord with the desires of the government of the day." (Playing with Fire, page 4)

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Cheryl Kernot, Shadow Minister for Employment and Training pointed out that some difficulties that religious organisations may face under the Job Network are:

Having to recommend job seekers for breaches under the Government's harsh quota system - a practice that has the potential to seriously conflict with a caring approach to individual circumstances.

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Becoming defacto supporters of the Government's agenda - as evidenced by a church-based Job Network provider leaping to the Government's Job Network defence on ABC radio in response to criticisms by ACOSS (the criticisms were about the design of the system, not the church provider's performance).

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The danger of the Government using the fact of the involvement of churches to dismiss legitimate criticisms. I have often heard the Minister say: "Well the churches wouldn't be involved if they thought that..."

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There is no question that Church groups traditionally have a strong caring ethos, but ●

they are in a difficult position when they are not able to provide funded assistance to all long term unemployed who need it, because it exceeds their contracted capacity. (ACOSS has revealed that only half of all long term unemployed job seekers receive Intensive Assistance under the Job Network - meaning that many are missing out. Long term unemployed people believe with good reason that they will be unable to get help from a Job Network provider, religious or otherwise unless they have been referred to them by Centrelink).

Many of the issues raised in the report by the Centre for Independent Studies have also been raised by Ms Kernot in speeches to Job Network providers - and have prompted debate within the Church on this issue.

"Labor is not saying that religious organisations should not be involved in the Job Network, but we should all be aware of the long term consequences of this. Their important advocacy work on behalf of the needy should not be compromised.

"This Government is fond of using overseas examples to support its view on economic policy. Overseas experience in this social policy area shows that the important advocacy work of church groups can be compromised.

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.