2GB with Ray Hadley

  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister for Women
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Senator for Western Australia


SUBJECT/S:   Job seeker compliance loopholes

RAY HADLEY:   ….we’re allowing people on the dole to turn down job offers without losing any money. News Limited papers report Newstart recipients are refusing jobs that pay as much as 27 bucks an hour before requesting a waiver so they don’t incur an eight week suspension on the welfare payments.

Now, last financial year more than 1400 penalties were applied to 1276 job seekers but only 378 were actually served. Why? I don’t know.

The waiver allows them to reject a job and keep the dole if they add on a small Work for the Dole component programme. Now, I actually spoke about Work for the Dole last week when I took a call from Anne at Hervey Bay. Ten Work for the Dole participants were due to arrive at her retirement village last Thursday to do some odd jobs. One worker, one supervisor turned up. We’ve since been told by the department that the Work for the Dole participants who failed to turn up don’t even have to call to explain why they didn’t front. Instead, the burden comes back on the Work for the Dole provider who has to chase up the participants to find out why they didn’t come to work. The provider then assesses the excuse and only then will the welfare recipient have their payment cut if the excuse is not good enough.

The federal employment minister is Michaelia Cash. She’s on the line. Minister, good morning to you.

MINISTER CASH: Good morning Ray and good morning to your listeners.

RAY HADLEY:  Now, let’s start with the News Limited story. They’ve got some of the excuses used by job seekers for knocking back work, including a 24 year old woman who said she won’t get out of bed for less than 20 bucks an hour. A 23 year old man who claimed I’m already working three hours a day; any more would make me tired.

Are these typical of the excuses being offered? 

MINISTER CASH:   Unfortunately they are Ray. This Government is of the opinion that the best form of welfare is a job. And I believe Australians who pay their taxes to fund our welfare system would expect that there are safeguards to ensure that those who can work do work. All the Government is trying to do is close a very small loophole. And yet unfortunately we are facing opposition in the Senate.

RAY HADLEY:   So, it’s probably appropriate that we talk about it given the decision of the Government yesterday and the recalcitrant Senate. So basically, all they have to do in this manner is put on a small Work for the Dole component of the programme and they escape censure. Is that how it works?

MINISTER CASH:   Well basically what happens is, the former government introduced a system whereby if you refused a job without a good excuse, we could impose a financial penalty. However, you could have that financial penalty waived simply by agreeing to do extra activities. What we’re saying is, it is very clear that the rules are not working; they are not providing a sufficient deterrent to refusing work because job seekers know they are able to keep their payments with virtually no consequence. So the very small change the Government is trying to make is to remove the waiver provision. We need to incentivise people to say yes to a job. Not incentivise them to turn up as you have stated this morning and provide an excuse ‘I have a game of golf on a Sunday, I can’t work on a Sunday…’ and that is accepted and the penalty is waived.

RAY HADLEY: So who in the Senate opposed this rather sensible legislation trying to get through?

MINISTER CASH: It was brought on for debate in the Senate two weeks ago so we’re only in the second reading stage. To date, Labor oppose it, the Greens oppose it and a number of the crossbenchers oppose it. So it won’t get through basically no matter how sensible and small the change is.

RAY HADLEY: What is this costing the taxpayer, can we quantify?

MINISTER CASH: It’s costing millions and this is a huge programme: I think the welfare component of this is in excess of $7 billion per year in total.

But even if it’s just one person, just one person getting through a loophole  - I believe that Australians, I mean the majority of Australians Ray that you and I know they work hard - they work hard to pay their bills and to pay their taxes. They expect that there are safeguards to ensure that those who can work -  do work.  And some of the excuses that we are seeing, as you have read out, are quite frankly not acceptable. We need to change the system. That’s all the Government is trying to do.

RAY HADLEY: Okay that’s the News Limited story let’s go to the one that we dealt with here from one of my listeners in Hervey Bay. So Anne’s up there at the retirement village, we’ve got ten Work for the Dole participants due to arrive to do odd jobs and one supervisor. Last Thursday, one supervisor and one worker turn up so we enquire of your Department and they say no, we can’t do anything about it. The burden’s on the Work for the Dole provider and there’s apparently three or four in Hervey Bay in Queensland. They then chase up the participants, the nine who didn’t front, say why didn’t you come. Are they able to say well look, I’m sorry I’ve got a really important golf meeting on that Thursday, it’s a comp at my local club I’ve got to play. What happens there?

MINISTER CASH:  Basically the jobactive provider attempts to contact the job seeker on the day that they become aware of their non-compliance, so in your example, they turned up and a number of the Work for the Dole participants didn’t. What they need to determine is whether the job seeker had a reasonable excuse, for failing to comply with their requirement.

Now, interestingly Ray, one of the changes the Government is trying to make through the Bill that we have before the Senate, is more immediate penalties for failing to attend activities, and one of those activities is Work for the Dole.  So again, we have identified a loophole; we are trying to change it, but again, blocked in the Senate.

RAY HADLEY: Well, it looks like if this legislation passes the Lower House with the help of the Greens, the Upper House, the Senate, we’ll have a double dissolution and we’ll start all over again with the new Senate.

MINISTER CASH: At this stage the Prime Minister has indicated that he does expect the Parliament to go its full term.  However, election decisions are for the Prime Minister.

The bigger point that I make is this.  Strengthening job seeker compliance, that’s all we’re trying to do. Australians believe in mutual obligation. You get something from the Government, you should give something back. You should accept a suitable job offer. Where there is a loophole in the system that is not going to leave people who are in genuine need worse off, where the system incentivises people to say no to a job, we should ensure that loophole is closed.

For me, it’s as simple as, Ray, this is good policy, I believe it is backed by the Australian people, and even then, we can’t get it through the Senate.

RAY HADLEY: And that’s probably a reason why we need to go to a double dissolution election, and get rid of the Senate as it currently stands and get rid of the preference whisperers as well. Thanks for your time Minister.

MINISTER CASH: Absolute pleasure to be with you.

RAY HADLEY: Michaelia Cash, impressive woman, Employment Minister in the Federal Government.


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