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Social Security Legislation Amendment (Job Seeker Compliance) Bill 2011

CHAIR —I now welcome Representatives from Melbourne Citymission and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath, I advise you that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the parliament itself. We have not received a written submission from you. You can, at any point, put in a submission to the committee. I now invite you to make an opening statement, and then we can throw it open to questions.

Mr Horn —We have prepared a brief presentation that we will start with and then Dina is going to give a few case studies because we think it is important to bring to the table some personal stories of people that we work with. Sharon will then provide the Melbourne City Mission’s presentation.

As you are probably aware, the Brotherhood of St Laurence is a large not-for-profit organisation based in Melbourne. We have a long history of providing employment assistance to particularly disadvantaged people. We did not tender for the current Job Services Australia model; that was a deliberate decision of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Rather, we have sought to innovate in this area—recognising what we see are the current failures of both the prior Job Network and the current Job Services model—to develop more appropriate and better integrated service models for highly disadvantaged job seekers.

The points we want to make are mainly drawn from our recent submission to the federal government on the need for further reform to employment assistance from 2012. The submission was based on our research and evaluation work as part of developing that innovative service delivery that I have mentioned. In particular we focus on highly disadvantaged groups including those in inner-city public housing, humanitarian migrants and others with multiple and complex barriers to social and economic participation.

We have recently developed the Centre for Work and Learning in the city of Yarra, through DEEWR innovation funding, to trial a better integrated intermediary approach aimed at addressing high levels of economic exclusion of that resident group. We have operated for many years a range of social enterprises as intermediate labour market model approaches offering employment pathways for disadvantaged people. Most recently, we are collaborating with Mission Australia, with funding through innovation funds again from DEEWR, to test an off-benefits approach that provides a paid traineeship through social enterprises for stream 4 job seekers in particular.

Our recent submission made a range of recommendations on the current compliance system in the context of a broader range of changes needed to the current Job Services Australia approach. In summary, the changes implemented through Job Services Australia in 2009 we believe were in the right direction, including the changes to the compliance system that focused on re-engagement of job seekers. We have urged the government to make further reforms in 2012 to address the substantial levels of underutilisation and exclusion from paid work. This is not a new issue; it predates the global financial crisis. The brotherhood has for several years advocated for a new approach and greater investment aimed at highly disadvantaged groups in the labour market.

We also drew attention to the inadequate and relatively poor outcomes achieved by the current model of employment assistance for this group. Whilst the JSA model is working reasonably well for the majority of unemployed people, especially those with prior work experience or capabilities who might be termed ‘job ready’, the current model fails the majority of those with multiple barriers, those in stream 4 in particular, with only just over a quarter achieving a positive job or training outcome measured three months after exit. It is a particular concern that 43 per cent of that group remain unemployed and 42 per cent are no longer in the labour force.

Based on overseas experience and local innovations here in Australia, we have advocated for a fresh approach aimed at highly disadvantaged groups in the labour market for whom the JSA is failing. The complex and multidimensional hurdles, both supply and demand side, faced by these job seekers require a better integrated and more flexible service delivery model with a direct line of sight to local employers, including transitional employment providers. We therefore proposed an integrated employment pathway, either to replace or to offer an alternative to the ineffectual work experience phase. This approach could utilise future income support savings to invest in an integrated approach focused on more sustainable job outcomes. It is worth noting that the new UK work program being implemented from June has adopted this funding principle, with providers paid from benefits saved by getting people into work.

In our submission we also urge consideration of a suite of further changes to both simplify and strengthen the JSA, with a greater focus on disadvantaged groups in the labour market and an objective of reducing the reporting and administrative burden on all parties to focus efforts more strongly on direct service delivery.

We also recommended a stronger policy effort to support work opportunities and to make work pay. Our view is that Australia still lacks a coherent set of policies that address both demand and supply side barriers to work. The importance of taxation and transfer measures that act to encourage and support retention and job take-up should not be underestimated. Similarly, Australia could and should do more to encourage employers to take on disadvantaged job seekers and those from diversity groups. This should include stronger workplace diversity strategies and social procurement measures.

In terms of specific points on the job seeker compliance bill, the Brotherhood of St Laurence is not opposed to placing a fair and reasonable expectation on job seekers to actively participate in job search activities. However, the obligations placed on job seekers must be balanced by the provision of responsive and effective support. The current service model does not offer an effective level of assistance or support to encourage disadvantaged groups to fully participate. In isolation, we are therefore concerned that these amendments will add to the complexity of the system, further divert precious resources away from service delivery, fail to address the current weaknesses in the overall employment assistance model and not be effective. Importantly, they may also unintentionally add to the personal hardships experienced by highly disadvantaged job seekers. Our view, based on the available evidence is that a level of sanction and conditionality is appropriate, but only as one lever to encourage active participation in job search, in effect to achieve behavioural change. There is some evidence from overseas that such measures do increase off-benefit outcomes, especially in the short term. However, most job seekers do not need to be motivated to find work or to get into training. Over-reliance on stronger conditionality measures in isolation will not address the situational and systemic hurdles currently faced by disadvantaged groups, including in particular the poor quality or responsiveness of employment assistance to meet their needs.

In her second reading speech on 23 March, Minister Ellis drew attention to the average attendance rate at appointments with employment service providers at 55 per cent. The minister also stated that most job seekers are genuine in their efforts to find work. The data supports this in that over 93 per cent of active job seekers have not had a participation failure imposed on them. Indeed, we have seen little documented evidence of deliberate nonattendance at meetings with JSA providers or in related activities. Rather, the evidence points to job seekers who struggle with both personal and external hurdles on a daily basis. Highly disadvantaged job seekers may experience a combination of chronic health problems, housing crisis and transience, poor literacy and education, family conflict and a lack of resources on a recurrent basis. Recent UK research suggests that unemployed persons who lack these foundational skills and basic capabilities are more likely to be sanctioned. Aggregate data on participation and outcome rates must be treated with caution in the absence of more precise evidence on the effects of sanctions and conditionality measures on particular demographic and needs groups. There is still too little understanding of the unforeseen outcomes for these groups, such as training and job churn, disengagement from the labour market, or increased social isolation.

It is reasonable to assume that, if the employment service provider was offering a high-quality product, motivated job seekers would be keen to turn up to obtain assistance and the resources they desperately need. However, the DEWR evidence on poor customer satisfaction, low job outcomes and under expenditure of employment pathway funds all point to a deeper concern that job seekers may have about current delivery. The data in the recent compliance review led by Julian Disney should add to concerns that the proposed measures will only at best have a marginal effect on participation. In 2009-10, Centrelink rejected participation failures in 70 per cent of cases. One-third of the reasons for rejecting these reports were due to procedural errors, reflecting the complexity of current arrangements. More importantly, in two-thirds of participation reports the job seeker had a reasonable excuse for not complying with participation. The reasons for this non-compliance included medical or health issues, personal crisis, homelessness and caring responsibilities. In 20 per cent of cases, the job seeker was in fact participating in another approved or acceptable activity.

We would argue that in the case of disadvantaged job seekers, those in streams 3 and 4, the complexity of issues they face on a daily basis, both personal and external, inevitably limits their capacity to fully participate in job search activities without also providing meaningful assistance to address these other barriers to participation. In particular, low literacy, living skills and chronic ill health limit their capacity to understand the procedures, obligations and their entitlements and, in some cases, even to identify who their provider is. The requirement to provide a reasonable excuse in advance does not take into account the difficult circumstances of highly disadvantaged job seekers who may not be able to provide prior notice. Their situation cannot be equated with an ordinary employee calling in sick. For these groups alternative approaches to better engage them in support are needed.

Many aspects of the current participation provisions accept that job seekers may have ongoing issues that make them vulnerable to nonparticipation. The Modernising Australia’s welfare system statement said that those job seekers with a known vulnerability would be given an exemption. Our reading of the draft bill could not find a specific reference to this intended exemption. We would strongly argue that if job seekers meet the current criteria to be flagged as vulnerable then they should be exempt from suspension of payments. The bill should ensure this provision is explicit. The suspension of payments, an added burden placed on this cohort, will not support re-engagement in a period of crisis. As the compliance review data suggests, there is a significant waste of resources incurred due to the current complexity of the assessment, compliance and review provisions.

We question the benefit of current duplicative processes for identifying job seekers with multiple and complex barriers to participation. In light of the changes proposed to the compliance system and the lack of evidence on sanctions, we would recommend that item 17, the requirement for an independent review, be reinstated to ensure further independent assessment of the framework is undertaken to monitor progress and ensure public access to compliance performance data. I will now pass to Deanna.

Dr Bowman —I have a few short examples that I think put flesh on some of the things that Michael has spoken about. The first comes from our experience with the Centre for Work and Learning and participants in the brotherhood’s current evaluation of the centre’s work. They have reported poor service from the JSA providers, which is one of the reasons that they are attending the Centre for Work and Learning, and complained that providers do not invest sufficient time or resources to help them obtain work. For example, one client, who I will call ‘Ahmed’, said:

Most of my experience has been that they tell you that they’re not there to find you a job. Some of the job service providers tell you that. They just keep giving you appointments. In my opinion, they should be doing what the CWL—

Centre for Work and Learning—

is doing. They should actually be there and try and find you work that is suitable for you, matching the job seeker with jobs and make people know that they are actually there to help people find work and make an effort in this direction—’This is how we will support you’—instead of just coming for an appointment and tomorrow another appointment.

So there is this sense that there are appointments without actual help being provided. Another said:

They provide you with a telephone and a computer. But even with a computer you have no time to use it. You can’t use the computer for more than one hour. How many jobs can you find on the telephone? You have to call them. They connect it for you and often the line is too busy so you have to wait sometimes 10 to 15 minutes. There might be three people waiting to make calls. At my JSA there are only three computers and considering the amount of people who go there it is just not enough.

Also, we recently completed a trial of an individual placement and support approach particularly for people with mental health difficulties, to provide more intensive and personalised support. We have a comprehensive report but I will pull out some of the insights from that. Too often job seekers are persuaded, we found, to take options or pathways—such as further training—that do not match their aspirations or needs. What we were trying to do was develop a model to prevent that kind of approach.

As one young man said: ‘I don’t want to do any more courses. I mean, my resume is like two pages long. I’ve done all the courses I need to do. I just want to get a job. I don’t want to go back and do my VCE. I just want to get a job, and that’s it.’ So motivation often is not the problem; there are other issues. This study highlighted the need for individualised support and highlighted constraints within the current system that militate against providing such support.

I have more, but this last one exemplifies the multidimensional factors faced by many disadvantaged job seekers. For example, a woman who I will call Leila who was a participant in the IPS trial had a recurring psychiatric illness. She was of a refugee background with some post-traumatic stress. She did not have good English. She had only completed primary schooling in her home country. She had children in her care and she had moved house three times in the past 12 months. She faced enormous difficulties in creating a stable life for herself and her children, and what she needed was the continuity of the supportive case worker who could build a stable foundation for economic participation.

I think these illustrations suggest that a punitive approach may not be effective because they would not be able to make sense of it.

Ms Fisher —Melbourne Citymission is a current provider of job services. We support approximately 2,000 job seekers in the north and the west of Melbourne. We are one of a few specialist youth service providers. Today I would like to talk on some particular issues that concern young people, although it is not exclusively young people’s domain. Some of those issues also extend to stream 3 and 4 adults as well.

Melbourne Citymission entered into this job services contract on the understanding that opening up job services to streams 1 to 4 would provide support for all job seekers regardless of their vulnerabilities. Prior to this contract we had specialist programs. They were all dovetailed into one Job Services program. In doing so, we anticipated that in supporting vulnerable young people we would be able to provide support and specialist programs. Eighteen months into the contract, we are experiencing that there is not capacity to provide those stepping stones for vulnerable young people into employment within the current model. It is a very adult model under Job Services. It is very universal model. And we are experiencing great difficulty with some vulnerable young people in this model.

I would just like to go through some key points in the 18 months that have been highlighted in our practice with young people. First off, we believe the income sanctions for young people really cut across the crucial relationship that needs to be established between a case manager and a job seeker. It is imperative, particularly for vulnerable young people, that they have a real reliance on having a good relationship and being able to work on that relationship. We go to great lengths to enable young people to be ready to enter into work and training. These income sanctions cut across that and confuse young people in the fact that, on the one hand, you are an enabler and, on the other hand, you are making their life more difficult. They are very mixed messages for vulnerable job seekers. Relationship is critical.

We would also say that young people’s experience of compliance is very complex. They often come from situations where they have compliance obligations in the justice system. They also might have that in our health system in terms of their drug and alcohol regime and their requirements and remedies around that and also in their job-seeking environment. It makes for a very confusing and often complex day for them. I think, too, that some of the compliance that has come through the youth compact—in that every young person between 15 and 19 needs to be engaged in employment, education and training—has also added to the complexity, because what we have is an undertaking in a mutual obligation framework; what we do not have is a lot of options for those young people to take advantage of.

To make up 25 hours of obligation often young people are doing combinations of part-time work mixed with other activities, which could be voluntary work. It makes for a very complex week. Sometimes for young people who are in a developmental stage of their of life—they have got other things to attend to; they are developing relationships, discovering themselves and also complying with these requirements—it does make for a heady mix to be able to keep everything on track.

Some of the other difficulties are really around some of the technical aspects of the job services at the moment. We are finding that a lot of young people are being incorrectly allocated to their streams. So we may have a young person who is homeless, a refugee, and has had experience with the justice system who presents to us a stream 1 job seeker. That makes it very difficult in terms of what we can possibly extend to them in terms of support. I agree that the capacity to provide assistance dictated by streams often means that will also dictate what kind of relationship you have with that job seeker. For stream 1 it is a very light touch in terms of engagement. With stream 4 it is more intensive. The misallocation in the streams often gets us off to a difficult start.

As I mentioned before, I think there are some things that are missing in what we are currently working with now and I think it really is around those incremental steps into employment, education and training. If we had more emphasis on pre-employment support to orient people into the world of work and also prevocational to support their literacy and numeracy and guide them back into schooling then I think we would have a much stronger and more tangible engagement from job seekers upfront.

I think there is an unintended consequence that might come about through these amendments, which is that the very vulnerable job seekers at the moment are often finding some sanctuary in being suspended from the job seeker requirements. Their job capacity assessor in Centrelink suspends them and they are therefore not subject to the range of obligations. What that also means—and it is quite unintended—is that they receive no service. As a consequence, we are having some of the most vulnerable job seekers at the moment having no assistance at all. I think possibly what this amendment could suggest is that those numbers might swell in terms of the number of suspended clients that are not receiving a service. That is a concern.

We have heard about the impacts of income disruption and what that might mean for young people in their daily lives. It can be a disincentive and it can set them much further back if they are struggling with their rent or their access to transport. It may lead them into difficulties with fines and appearing in court and things just become really exacerbated. We are talking about people at the moment who are on anything between $27 and $34 per day. That is their whole entitlement. To not have that really does impact on their working life and their life in general. They are young people who have very much adult responsibilities. They pay adult rent. They pay adult transport. They very much work in an adult world and I think to be bereft of that income makes it really difficult.

The other thing I might say too is that this also might have some unintended consequences in terms of reliance on charities and non-government organisations to fill that breach in terms of income support. Melbourne Citymission, through our Frontyard Youth Service, sees 4,000 young people per year who are homeless and need assistance. We expect that there will be greater demand on that service if young people found themselves without income through this amendment.

In closing, we really believe there are a lot of benefits that can be gained through a strength based approach to young people. There are many incentives that you can introduce into current job services that may alleviate some of the reliance on a punitive approach, such as financial incentives, transport tickets—just small things that can really induce somebody to make a connection and keep working in a relationship with the case worker. Case workers are really front-line and very expert at knowing what a young person needs and what is missing in their lives to be able to get back into work and training. I think it is really critical to rely on those case workers to know what is in the best interest of that young person. An overlay like this might really cut across some of that expertise at the coalface and that could also cause difficulties. Thank for your time.

CHAIR —Thank you for all of your presentations. They have been very comprehensive and have given a very broad overview. One issue you spoke specifically about is vulnerable people. That has been the area that you have focused on. As you alluded to, there is provision within this amending legislation for the suspension on the first initial missed appointment not to apply to vulnerable people. That would have already been determined by Centrelink. I am interested in your comments on that and whether or not that would address some of the concerns you have raised.

Mr Horn —There are a number of issues. Firstly, not everyone discloses their most personal and vulnerable issues to Centrelink, so there is still underreporting or underdisclosure of those issues. That is partly why disadvantaged job seekers or vulnerable job seekers are put into the wrong category, so they do not get the right level of assistance. It is unclear from my reading of the new arrangements under the act how their vulnerability will then be linked to the connection failure and the obligation, as we understand it, on providers to make a participation report as well as relying on the discretion of Centrelink to actually pick up the vulnerability flag and take that into account.

It seems to me, on a reading of the information, that it gives too much discretion to Centrelink workers. Let’s be upfront and say, ‘Here’s a group of highly disadvantaged job seekers and, inevitably, their vulnerabilities are ongoing. Let’s take them out of that part of the system and offer them the right, effective approach which engages with them well, builds a rapport with them, provides the intensity of support and gives them a real, meaningful integrated pathway to employment assistance.’ I think that is the message coming from the evidence.

Mr BANDT —We have been referred to the Disney report a couple of times. Firstly, you said you thought the data that that discloses suggests that the proposed legislation may have a ‘marginal effect’—those were your words. I wonder whether you could expand on that. Secondly, my reading of recommendation No. 1 was about simplifying and putting in some pretty easy-to-understand language with respect to the current compliance arrangements that people are required to follow, suggesting that there was quite widespread failure to understand them and that, presumably, that is linked to the reasons that people do not attend. It seems to me that the report is based on, first of all, implementing some of those recommendations and then, after a 12-month period, having a bit of a review to see whether or not those are having any effect and then potentially considering more serious measures like this one. Can you tell me whether or not you agree that that is the thrust of the report, as you see it?

Mr Horn —On the first issue, looking at the data that is available on the reasons why job seekers are currently not meeting their obligations through either attendance at activities or contact with their provider on a regular basis, it seems to us that the data shows that the majority of those people are undertaking meaningful activities, they do have reasonable reasons and, in some cases, multiple reasons why they are not able to participate. So if those are taken at face value it seems that improving or strengthening a deterrent stick, if you like, will only have minimal impact on that proportion of job seekers who are more likely to be in stream 1 and stream 2 and will not have that degree of vulnerability, if you like, attached to them. If you look at the data, there is discretion at the moment of providers to make a participation report or to make a connection failure report but not a participation report or to, in a sense, use their discretion and say, ‘We understand this person’s circumstances and it was unreasonable to expect them to turn up for an interview on that particular day.’ We feel that the provider is best placed to know their clients and that is where the discretion should be. That is more likely to result in a more accurate decision about whether job seekers are participating in a genuine way. On the balance of the data that is available, we are not going to suddenly see an increase in the attendance rate, from 55 per cent or 58 per cent up to 80 or 90 per cent, relying on that deterrent stick. There are too many other reasons why disadvantaged job seekers, in particular, will not be able to meet those requirements.

In terms of the second point, on our reading of the compliance review’s recommendations there was certainly a call for simplification. We would support that in the context of a broader simplification of the whole job services system in toto. It is micromanaged and overcomplex. I am sure you have heard that from other submissions already and certainly the submissions that went to the federal government on the future of employment assistance supported that recommendation. Interestingly, the UK have adopted the black-box approach. They have seen the light and are taking a much more hands-off approach to the delivery of services and are focusing more on making payments based on sustainable outcomes in the longer term. We would encourage Australia to think in that direction because it puts the effort on sustainable job outcomes and focuses on the more disadvantaged rather than on those in stream 1, who, predominantly, can self-help themselves into jobs, especially in the next few years as, hopefully, we have faster economic growth.

Another issue that was also mentioned in the previous submission was that we need a more considered understanding through research of the reasons why the various subgroups, subpopulations of job seekers are actually not connecting well with their services. Our evidence suggests that a good part of the reason is that the system is not meeting their needs. It is not adequate to address their needs. So having a strong deterrent effect as a single lever does not address those other weaknesses. The Brotherhood of St Laurence Centre for Work and Learning opened its doors a year or so ago in the inner city, in Yarra. We were swamped with clients who, when we did our initial benchmark survey with them, basically told us that the job services model—and this predates Job Network—they were not getting a good response from the service system. We have been inundated with clients into that service system to the extent that we have a waiting list of over 100 people. These are largely streams 3 or 4 category job seekers. They are expressing their frustration and the anecdotes that we have presented reinforce that they are not getting good service from the current service system.

That is not a reflection on the providers. We think it is a systemic issue in terms of the lack of investment in highly disadvantaged job seekers. Australia underinvests compared to OECD best practice in active labour market programs. That still has not been addressed. Fundamentally, if that were addressed, it would mean that, instead of having a meeting with a disadvantaged job seeker at best once a month and possibly only every two months, there could be more intensive engagement with the job seeker and more meaningful assistance offered in a more flexible way.

Ms O’NEILL —Specifically in terms of this one change, is it possible that a failure to attend can trigger some very positive changes in terms of people who are currently identified and shifted into stream 1 and stream 2 being picked up and on a reconnection being identified as needing to be allocated to streams 3 and 4 and go to the service providers, who we have been hearing have places and are willing to do the sort of work that is necessary and have much higher success rates in placing people? Is there a possible significant positive outcome by paying attention to the fact that somebody has fallen out of the system and there is an opportunity then for redirection?

Ms Fisher —I think any engagement with a provider is great for context and re-examination of whether it is the right service, whether they are in the right place and whether they are in the right stream. I think that is a positive. What we are experiencing at the moment, which might be a bit of a technical problem, is that streams 1 to 3 are no longer able to go back to Centrelink for reassessment around their misallocation. There were volumes of people coming through and it was creating a huge burden for Centrelink. That has now been stopped and it is only stream 4s that can go through now for reassessment. Once again it is a systems issue that may create some difficulties around that. I suggest we have a look at the system before we look at these amendments.

Ms O’NEILL —They could go hand in hand.

Ms Fisher —Yes.

Mr SYMON —I want to go back to where I was with the last witness and ask a similar question. I want to talk about the communication of the proposed changes. If it is put across in a way that job seekers can understand, do you think that will have any effect on people turning up to appointments? We have heard about the complexity. Does some simplicity produce a gain in your opinion?

Ms Fisher —I think it is very important to be clear with job seekers from the start about what their obligations are. Job seekers are saying they do not understand the system they are in. They do not understand the difference between their relationship with Centrelink and their relationship with job service providers. They are finding it difficult to navigate because they really do not know what their distinct roles are and what their rights and responsibilities are. I agree in being clear from the start with job seekers in very simple, clear language. That is an educative process with them. It is vital for them to get the right information to be able to make the right decisions for them. At the moment I think it is very complex and they are not understanding their entitlements nor their responsibilities.

Mr SYMON —Does the level of understanding increase with the age of the job seeker? Have you found in your experience that, say, a 45-year-old can understand more what is currently there than a recent school leaver?

Ms Fisher —It very much depends on the particular person’s barriers. I would say that, in the main, young people are very inexperienced and underdeveloped in terms of understanding contractual obligations and their rights and responsibilities. Over time, in a more adult world, that becomes a bit more evident. But there may be pressures and barriers experienced by adults that really cut across that. I think people that experience mental health issues and other vulnerabilities may be in a fairly chaotic space and may not be able to fully grasp what their obligations are. In the main, I think young people are very much more underdeveloped in terms of understanding that.

Mr SYMON —Do you think we need different levels or types of communication, depending on the groups that you have coming through? What happens now? Does one size fit all? I imagine that is the case. In my own business the language I use in dealing with a retired pensioner to explain a situation, whatever it may be, is different from how I would explain it to a teenager.

Mr Horn —We need to understand the diversity of the population across the streams. They do have, as you said, multiple barriers to participation, including low literacy and coming from a non-English-speaking background. We need to have a more individualised and personalised service model which includes simple, clear instructions and guidelines about expectations and obligations, and what they can get from the system as well. In terms of thinking of ways forward, one of the trials that is underway and that the brotherhood is involved in is Centrelink’s local connections to work pilots that you may be aware of. I think that offers a valuable way forward. What it is doing in a sense is having a much better coordinated approach to working with the disadvantaged job seeker to develop an agreed and individualised case plan. It is bringing together not just job service providers or disability employment providers with Centrelink but also other providers, for example, housing providers, financial assistance, substance abuse assistance and health-related providers. It is based on the New Zealand model. Certainly, the evidence from over there suggests that a better coordinated and shared case plan model for this group of disadvantaged job seekers clarifies expectations and leads to a more productive and better outcome in the end. Some of those examples offer potential ways forward for some of the particular groups that we are thinking about.

Mr SYMON —I take it that that example you are talking about would result in an overall reduction in the compliance burden because you are dealing with multiple agencies in the one place at the one time.

Mr Horn —It works at different levels. It keeps all the parties, in a sense, more accountable for their actions and their decisions. It makes everything more transparent. It also delivers a more intensive sort of process for the job seeker. It is slightly more sensitive to their needs rather than doing things by rote. On a number of levels the outcome is a more consistent position for the job seeker. They know their expectations and they know what is in their individual case plan and what they might expect from the range of services that are available and working for them. So there is better coordination of assistance.

Ms Fisher —I can add to that. Similarly, at Frontyard Youth Services in Melbourne we have a Centrelink office embedded in a co-located youth support setting. Centrelink is onside as a youth specific Centrelink and has had great success engaging with young people because it is there, it understands and it works well with the complementary services. So it is very similar in terms of achievement. It is just the other way around.

Mr SYMON —Do they have better results in terms of attendances?

Ms Fisher —They have terrific results. They offer a post box where homeless young people can put in their mail, so that becomes a central mail point.

Mr SYMON —I have seen that with Wesley as well.

Ms Fisher —Yes, that is right. Those small things really seem to indicate to young people that they can meet many of their needs in the one space and Centrelink is in that picture and is a cooperative service provider as well. It is a very different message that you are getting in that sort of setting.

Mr BANDT —The electorate of Melbourne had, on the last census data, the highest proportion of young people of anywhere in the country; the highest proportion of people who have arrived here in the last five years, that is, who were born overseas; and the highest number of public housing dwellings. My encounters with people who fall in one or more of those categories indicate that, by and large, the ones who are looking for work want work. But you might be dealing with people who have not had any formal education in the country they came from and have difficulties reading English and so on. It seems to me that we have already identified a number of significant barriers to those people just accessing the system. It also seems to me that this proposal is going to make it worse for them. You work in those areas, so I would like your comments on that.

Mr Horn —I do not believe that this proposed amendment to the legislation, in isolation, will improve outcomes significantly for disadvantaged job seekers of the type you have described. As I said, our Centre for Work and Learning is in the City of Yarra and it deals very much with that cohort of job seekers that you are talking about. Our understanding is that they do want to get work. They are actively looking for work. But they have quite often systemic or external barriers to getting work. It is not the lack of motivation. It is not wilful noncompliance with their obligations. It is the external systemic barriers either on the demand side or on getting the right training and skills that give them the credentials to get over the hurdle of getting into work.

CHAIR —You are talking about the group that you work with and not a snapshot of job seekers completely.

Mr Horn —I was talking to the cohort that Senator Bandt was talking about.

CHAIR —I guess Senator Bandt was talking about the amendment, which does not necessarily apply to the cohort that Adam was talking about and that perhaps you represent. Could you apply that to all job seekers? Or is your experience particularly those very vulnerable disadvantaged job speakers?

Mr Horn —I think it would apply to those job seekers that have a range of barriers who might be described as not job ready. Whether they are in the category of stream three or stream four or have a vulnerability flag is really just a categorisation that they have been put into. The broader principle is around the barriers that they face. Clearly the evidence, even in aggregate and without breaking it down, is that the vast majority of job seekers actually do comply with their obligations, and whenever we have done research they actively say they want to find work, they want to have a family, they want to have their own home, they want to have pets. That is the normal human condition. So setting up a stronger deterrent stick that is across all job seekers does not seem to be very cost-effective or very useful in the longer run. We would favour putting more effort into the sorts of approaches that we have talked about—more and better integrated models of assistance that will address the real challenges for getting people into work.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. We very much appreciate you making the time to present to the committee today. If there is anything you would like to forward onto the committee at any time, do not hesitate to do so.

Proceedings suspended from 2.59 pm to 3.17 pm