Interview with Alan Jones 2GB

  • Leader of the Government in the Senate
  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Senator for Tasmania

Alan Jones: Look, as we flagged yesterday, job seekers are going to be compelled to conduct 40 job searches a month and carry out up to 25 hours a week of community work if they want to keep their dole payments under what’s being described as a “radical extension of mutual obligation” to be unveiled by the Federal Government. I just think that language is too convoluted. It’s not a radical extension of mutual obligation. It’s simply saying that if you are going to take someone else’s money, you most probably should expect to have to do something for it.

Taxpayers’ money is money that taxpayers earn. As the people listening to me have to do this. We broadcast to shop owners, not shoplifters. This is taxpayers’ money. They get up early. They put up with often insufferable public transport. They often go to jobs that they don’t especially like. They’re grinding away. Then they pay at least 30 cents in every dollar in tax, only to know that there are people enjoying welfare and doing nothing.

Now, I know it’s a battle and I know it’s not a popular thing to say. But if you have a pocket full of money— your front pocket, your back pocket, your side pocket, your inside pocket—chockers with money, no one has been able to explain to me by what philosophy I have any entitlement to any of it.

Now, of course, we’re a very caring society. Therefore, when there is genuine need we always have put our hands in our pockets and done it willingly. Genuine need. We no longer have a welfare system based on genuine need.

Gough Whitlam has been criticised for creating the age of the dole bludger. I think that’s an unfair criticism. Whitlam was an intelligent and humane man. He knew nothing about the economy. But we’re talking here about unemployment. What Mr Whitlam argued, all those years ago, is that if someone lost their job through no fault of their own, we should tip in to provide—and his language at the time—a bridging payment until that person found another job.

In other words, the unemployment benefit was a transitional payment. It was never intended to be a wage. Now, of course, we find that people expect it’ll be there. It’s their entitlement. I’ll go on the dole. And five or six of them can go on the dole, rent a flat at Bondi, sunbake all day while some poor bugger is working his backside off to pay tax so others can claim welfare and do very little in return. And that’s what this is about.

Now employers are going to be helped with wage subsidies for the long-term unemployed.  Remember, I spoke to Susan Ryan the other day. This nonsense about age discrimination in employment. Surely is a nonsense. And as she rightly says you can’t put the retirement age up to 70 if no one is going to employ anyone over 50. I can’t understand that mentality. People over 50 have tremendous skill, they’ve got experience, they’ve got temperament; they’ve got reliability, they’ve got knowledge. Why wouldn’t they be first-class employees?

Now the Government says it will cut red tape, that it will reward job providers for finding jobs. But, basically, the guts is this. Job seekers younger than 30 will be asked to do 25 hours work a week. This is from July next year. Those aged 30-49 will be asked to do 15 hours work a week. People aged 50-60 will be asked to do 15 hours a week of an approved activity. Then of course we look to the job providers and you’ve got to say “where are these jobs going to come from”?

Well, the Minister is Eric Abetz. This is a critical area in which the Government will fail if it doesn’t explain it simply and clearly. Let’s see if we can get that and he is on the line.  Minister, good morning.

Minister Abetz: Good morning, Alan. Good to be on the programme.

Alan Jones: Thank you very much. I suppose in saying that this will be a crackdown on people who are on welfare and don’t deserve it. A picture emerges then of, for those who want it, of a callous and uncaring government. That’s the first problem you’ve got to address, isn’t it?

Minister Abetz: That is a problem that some people seek to serve on our plate. In response, I point them to all the social data that tells us that if you are not gainfully employed your physical health, your mental health, your social interaction, your self-esteem all suffer. As a result, by keeping people in welfare we do them a great personal disservice, besides asking their fellow Australians to dig even deeper in their pockets to maintain them in a lifestyle that we know from all the evidence causes damage to the individual and the family unit of which they’re a member, if they remain on welfare. So it is overwhelmingly good for the individual, for society and the economy that we encourage them out of welfare as quickly as possible.

Alan Jones: Okay. Now let’s accept that as a given. Now, you’re going to say to job seekers that in order to continue living off the taxpayer, you’ll have to participate in Work for the Dole. This is where it gets difficult. What work?

Minister Abetz: Work for the Dole will be basically limited by the imagination of community organisations, local government, the not-for-profit sector. So we have opportunities in hospitality and food preparation, customer service, some landscaping, maintenance of vehicles. The range of activities basically is limited by our imagination.

Alan Jones: Right, okay. But you’ve then got to have…are there going to be …there are750,000 of these people unemployed. Are we going to have a list of these people and are we going to have a list of available jobs in which they can work? Who’s going to…it would be a massive bureaucracy to match the one of the 750,000 with the job and determine one’s suitability to the other. Who’s going to do all this?

Minister Abetz: The job service providers are the people in the community, the organisations in the community that currently are provided with the names of job seekers through Centrelink, and they then assist them into employment opportunities.

Alan Jones: But surely, Eric, if they were successful in their work, they would be doing this now? They would be providing jobs for these people. They get paid by your Government, our money, to do the work that they’re doing, to put the unemployed in work. So why do we have 750,000 people out of work?

Minister Abetz: It would be fair to say that the current job services model is in a state of disrepair. That is why, in advance of the new contracts being let as of the first of July next year, we are engaging in this community consultation with a draft request for tender to really re-focus the job service providers. As a result, for example, a lot more of their payment will not be simply for administration, but getting a jobs outcome for that person.

Alan Jones: Okay, righto. Let’s just talk in layman’s terms, okay, because we’re all battlers and strugglers and not very smart. There’s 750,000 there. So come July next year and given that you are going to contract this out to the private sector and there will be incentives provided to the private sector to place these people in employment, now will every one of those 750,000 people firstly have to be registered with a job provider in order to qualify for the dole?

Minister Abetz: Yes, all of the unemployed people need to be registered, first of all with Centrelink. And then Centrelink refer them to a job service provider. We will have what we call three streams or three categories of job seeker and those that are deemed to be ready and able to do Work for the Dole, they will be asked to be involved and will be required to be involved in a Work for the Dole project. There are others that would be fair to say…

Alan Jones: Sorry, stop there. So now Work for the Dole projects. Now who identifies those projects? Does someone from within the community say “Well, I’m at Glebe and I’ve got 60 people living in homes and they are elderly people and they need the leaves out of their guttering. I’m going to register that as a job that could be done?” I mean, who registers these so-called jobs in which they are going to work?

Minister Abetz: In Australia, we will have 51 employment regions. In each region we will have a Work for the Dole Coordinator, and it will be his or her task to find these sort of activities, ensure that they are suitable for occupational health and safety, and will call for expressions of interest of these types of activities and then link them up with job service providers so that people, if you need one person, that’ll be easy. Whereas if it’s a project requiring let’s say 12 people, then they will get together a group of 12 or 20 job seekers for that particular project. So it will be co-ordinated, it will be regulated to ensure that the job seeker does actually get a proper experience and that we don’t have people freelancing and gaming the system.

Alan Jones: All right. Now what’s the difference, therefore, between a job seeker and a person who is unemployed? Because the Government says that up to 150,000 job seekers will join Work for the Dole. What happens to the other 600,000?

Minister Abetz: There are a number of categories. For example, you can be a job seeker but with parenting responsibilities or caring responsibility. You might be a job seeker that has certain issues with alcohol or illegal substances. As a result of which, we need to assist those people in a different way rather than Work for the Dole immediately. And so we will be categorising people, seeking to assist them. But the 150,000 or so that we believe are job-ready, we will be seeking to put through Work for the Dole immediately.

Alan Jones: So there will be unemployed people who won’t work for the dole?

Minister Abetz: There will be some, but the idea of the scheme is that those that are currently unable to be part of Work for the Dole will be assisted to become ready for Work for the Dole or become job-ready and that is part of our focus. That just saying to people that “at the moment you’re not job-ready, poor you, we will give you a welfare payment” and consider that our moral duty is done, that simply isn’t good enough because we know the corrosive and destructive effect of that approach on the individual and on society at large. And so if somebody is not job-ready, we will do that which is necessary to assist them to become job-ready.

Alan Jones: But there are regions in Australia of high, very high, levels of unemployment, especially youth unemployment. And I am talking about 24, 23 and 24 per cent. What happens if people in that region, domiciled in that region, living in that region, find that there aren’t jobs available for them to work for the dole? Will these people be forced into relocation?

Minister Abetz: In relation to Work for the Dole, we won’t be asking people to relocate and we trust that there will be sufficient activities identified by local government and volunteer organisation in the community. But in relation to actual work or job opportunities, if there is a job opportunity that might be a couple of hours away, then we say to those people rather than relying on your fellow Australian to subsidise you, you are required to move to that job and if that requires expense, as it may well do, we as taxpayers, through the Government will provide you with a relocation assistance payment. And that is, if I might say, just one of a number of sections of our policy suite to ensure that we match people up with jobs even if it does require them to move. And, of course, I am reminded of my own father who, with a family of six, moved from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere to work in Tasmania on the hydroelectric scheme. So people throughout the ages have moved to where the employment is and we would encourage our fellow Australians to do exactly the same in 2014.

Alan Jones: But, nonetheless, in your model you have said to me that you expect that there are only 150,000 who will be placed in this scheme. So that means it’s only 20 per cent of all those who are unemployed. So there will continue to be a stack of people getting unemployment benefit and not working for that benefit?

Minister Abetz: There will be those who we will be seeking to assist with special assistance. Those that might have numeracy, literacy issues, those that have caring responsibilities, parental responsibilities. If they don’t have either the mental or physical capacity to work a certain number of hours per week. All those things will be taken into account to ensure that we don’t have a one-size-fits-all programme. Because, as we know from experience and from just life experience, one-size-fits-all does not work. But for those that are deemed to be job-ready and capable, we believe that asking them to apply for one job of a morning and one job of an afternoon and do some community service through mutual obligation in Work for the Dole is a fair and reasonable ask in exchange for the money they expect to be paid by their fellow Australians.

Alan Jones: Good on you. Thank you for your time. I’m sure we’ll talk about it again, but I am grateful for you talking to us this morning, Eric.

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