Interview with Emma Alberici on Lateline
- Leader of the Government in the Senate
- Minister for Employment
- Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
- Senator for Tasmania
EMMA ALBERICI: To discuss the Government's controversial new back-to-work plans, I was joined from Canberra just a short time ago by the Employment Minister, Senator Eric Abetz. Senator Abetz, thank you for your time.
ERIC ABETZ: Good evening. Good to be on the programme.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, you want people to apply for 40 jobs a month – that's roughly two jobs per working day. Are you confident that, especially in places like your state of Tasmania, there will actually be that many positions available for each person?
MINISTER ABETZ: What we're asking most of the job seekers to do is to seek a job of a morning and of an afternoon, and I think that is a reasonable request to make of our fellow Australians...
EMMA ALBERICI: I am sorry to interrupt you, but the question specifically I was saying was: will there be that many positions to apply for in a place like Tasmania, for instance, where jobs are already so sparse?
MINISTER ABETZ: When jobs are sparse, it means that you've got to apply for more jobs to get a job. And so just because the circumstances are difficult, doesn't mean that our fellow Australians should ease off from the job search. What it actually means is that you've got to double and redouble your efforts to be able to attract the attention of an employer to obtain the job that is so beneficial to the job seeker.
EMMA ALBERICI: Isn't there a risk that this just becomes a box-ticking exercise? That people apply for jobs, even ones they know they won't get, just to reach the target?
MINISTER ABETZ: I think that is a – potentially a fair criticism. We as a Government do not want box-ticking to take place. We don't want red tape and inconvenience to employers. But what we do want is a genuine attempt by the job seeker to obtain employment, and with the help of a job service provider, we trust that that will assist them in you doubling, redoubling their efforts to obtain employment.
EMMA ALBERICI: The Business Council is critical of your scheme, saying it's impractical and would be better to allow job seekers to concentrate their efforts towards applying for jobs that they actually have the best chance of getting.
MINISTER ABETZ: I hear what the Business Council of Australia says. I have been guided by what a lot of job service providers have been saying to us in Opposition and in Government. Also, anecdotal evidence, advice from the Department, and, at the end of the day, this is a draft request for tender on which we are going to be gathering further advice and information before we settle on the final terms.
EMMA ALBERICI: When it comes to working for the dole, surely someone who's been retrenched after working for 10 years needs the Government to create real paying jobs and not work experience?
MINISTER ABETZ: That is why we as a Government are absolutely determined to reboot the economy. That is why we wanted to see the back of the carbon tax. We've achieved that. We want to see the back of the mining tax. We want to see the back of green and red tape. We want to see the Australian Building and Construction Commission re-established. We want to see the budget brought back into shape. And that will create the economic environment where there will be genuine jobs growth. In the meantime, we are encouraging our fellow Australians to do everything they can, if they happen to be unemployed, to seek out every single employment opportunity that there might be within the community.
EMMA ALBERICI: What evidence can you provide to our viewers to back your claim that Work for the Dole will actually help improve people's prospects of getting off benefits and into real sustainable employment?
MINISTER ABETZ: Work for the Dole is just one of a suite of policies that we have put before the Australian people...
EMMA ALBERICI: But I'd like you to point to the evidence, specifically about the efficacy of Work for the Dole?
MINISTER ABETZ: Yes, I was about to get to that. And Work for the Dole is part of that suite and Work for the Dole clearly gets people into the work ethic, getting up of a morning, doing something useful during the course of the day, being able to look back on the day's activities and know that they've achieved something useful. So that is for those that have not had a history of employment. For those that have had a history of employment, it allows them to maintain that ethic of getting up of a morning, of being prepared to go to work and not encouraging them to settle in a lifestyle of welfare payments, which clearly is not for their benefit, nor for society's benefit.
EMMA ALBERICI: When you say clearly there's a benefit, that's opinion, not evidence.
MINISTER ABETZ: What we as a Government want to do is build on the very successful Howard Government experience of Work for the Dole. And there is no doubt that all the social data tells us that if somebody is gainfully engaged during the course of the day, their mental health, their physical health, their self-esteem, their social interaction, are all enhanced. The reverse is true if they are not gainfully engaged, and that is why Work for the Dole and all the other parts of our policy suite to get people back into employment is about looking after the individual, his or her family and society and the economy. And to simply say to people “it's too tough to look for a job, things are tough at the moment, so we'll just allow you to live off welfare without actively seeking employment” is to do those individuals a great disservice, which can often harm them for the rest of their lives and we don't want to see that occurring for our fellow Australians. We see a bigger, better, brighter future for them, which is being gainfully employed.
EMMA ALBERICI: Are you aware of the study by Melbourne University Professor Jeff Borland that found Work for the Dole caused participants to spend longer amounts of time on benefits than unemployed people who weren't working for the dole?
MINISTER ABETZ: I have seen all sorts of studies in relation to Work for the Dole. What I would simply say is that the evidence that I have seen, the anecdotal evidence of people, who, especially in the Howard era, when I launched countless work for the dole programs and then came back six months later...
EMMA ALBERICI: Pardon me, because we are going to run out of time, but anecdotal evidence, you would concede, isn't quite the same as a study of 888 people on Newstart, which is what the Melbourne University study team actually engaged in.
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, there are, as we speak, about 700,000 unemployed Australians, all of whom we are seeking to get into work, to be job-ready for when the jobs start coming and we believe that Work for the Dole is the right approach. And it's all very well for people to throw stones at Work for the Dole. I simply ask: what is the alternative? And, regrettably, nobody's come up with a better alternative for that particular area within our suite of policies.
EMMA ALBERICI: The work of Melbourne University was consistent with international research, in New Zealand, for instance, which suggests that participants in work for the dole programmes view their work experience as real jobs and, therefore, reduce or stop engaging altogether in job search activity.
MINISTER ABETZ: Well, that is, if you like, an example of when work for the dole really does achieve certain of its outcomes, inasmuch as people do think that they are actively engaged, doing something useful and what we then need to do from that experience – and I am aware of those studies – we've got to be able to transition them from welfare to Work for the Dole, and then from Work for the Dole to permanent employment...
EMMA ALBERICI: How do you do that?
MINISTER ABETZ: We will seek to do that with the benefit of the job service providers being armed with those studies and those findings, of which I've been made aware, and we will do our very best. Can I simply say, to say that it's all too hard, it's too hard to get a job, it's too hard to get people to get Work for the Dole, it's then too hard to make them do the transition to full-time employment, can I say: that is not good enough. I have an aspiration for the Australian people that we can get them off welfare, into work, make them self-sufficient, make them self-reliant, because we know if we can achieve that, the physical and mental health benefits are there, the self-esteem benefits are there, the social interaction benefits are there – not only for themselves, but for every other single member of their household. For them, it is very, very good, as it, of course, is for the economy, because it changes, to use the term, from a leaner to a lifter, from a tax-taker to a taxpayer, and that of course is of great benefit to the community at large.
EMMA ALBERICI: You spoke today about the lack of bricklayers in Melbourne by way of example. Are you suggesting that, say, a qualified hairdresser, architect or engineer who's been off work for some time should pack up from Sydney or Brisbane, move to Melbourne and start bricklaying?
MINISTER ABETZ: Oh, well, look, that's being taken completely out of context, Emma, and I think you would appreciate that. What I am saying to the Australian people is this: that where there are jobs available, you should seek that employment, even if it is not necessarily the employment of first choice. Get whatever job is available and then use that as the platform, as the springboard, to get into the job of your choice. Especially keeping in mind that during this period of time, if you're not in that employment, you are asking your fellow Australian to dig even deeper in their pocket to pay you for welfare in circumstances where there is a job available for you, but you simply are making the decision that that particular job isn't good enough for you.
EMMA ALBERICI: What proportion of the unemployed are what you called today job snobs?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, there are clearly some job snobs around. I'm not going to put a figure on it, but we do need to encourage them, for their own sake, for their own benefit – and can I stress this, Emma? – for their own benefit, to get them off welfare, into employment. And I have had many an employer say to me they wish they could employ the locals, but they are reduced to employing backpackers for seasonal work and for other work on the basis that the locals simply don't want to do the work and they are somewhat too comfortable on welfare. We have to change that culture set in certain people's minds and we will seek to do that in a very sensitive, but firm way, because ultimately, it is for their benefit as well.
EMMA ALBERICI: Eric Abetz, we have to leave it there. Thank you very much.
MINISTER ABETZ: Thank you.