2UE Breakfast with John Stanley and Garry Linnell - Job seeker compliance

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

COMPERE: Now the story, we referred to it in The Whisper, this loophole that exists so people who are on the dole who are offered a job, and then say they're going to knock that job back, they can use a loophole to get out having their benefits suspended for eight weeks by saying well I'll go off and do some work for the dole.

COMPERE: These are people on that Newstart Allowance, and they're refusing jobs that pay as much as $27 an hour, then they just go and request a waiver so they don't incur that eight week welfare ban.

COMPERE: And then they go off and do some work for the dole. Let's find out a bit more about how this works, this loophole works because the Government's trying to close it. Michaelia Cash is the Employment Minister who's on the line. Minister good morning.

MINISTER CASH: Good morning, thanks for having me.

COMPERE: [Audio error]... works how this loophole operates?

MINISTER CASH: What can occur is you have this loophole that means that people who should be applying for jobs, and are refusing them, are still able to get the job search allowance. What we're looking at doing is strengthening the compliance framework. We're introducing more immediate consequences for inadequate job search. So at the end of the day getting job seekers into jobs is obviously what we all want to do. The Government believes that the best form of welfare is work.

What we also know is there are significant weaknesses in compliance arrangements for job seekers who basically are not making real efforts to look for work. All we're doing is putting in place a new process that is going to mean if you do not properly apply for a job you're going to have a consequence. That's it. Nothing more, and nothing less. This is all about incentivising job seekers to say yes to a job.

COMPERE: How many people are we talking about here Minister?

MINISTER CASH: When you talk about sort of the system that's been in place, eight week penalties for refusing work have existed since 2006. In terms of the loophole though the waiver provision was only introduced in 2009. If you look at say 2008/2009 before the waiver provision was introduced, around 650 serious failures for refusing work, jump forward now to the data that we have, say 2013/2014, you're looking at an additional 1000 penalties being applied.

COMPERE: I'm still trying to get... the loophole, how does it work? What do they do? If they say okay I don't want to do this job, what do they then do? How does the loophole work?

MINISTER CASH: The job seeker is refusing to take up a suitable job offer, and they are supposed to incur a serious penalty. What we've found though is approximately only 22 per cent of these job seekers are subjected to the penalty, and the reason is because in 2009 the Government brought in a waiver provision. So all the job seeker has to do to avoid the penalty is to agree to participate in extra activities, so for example Work for the Dole, for the duration of the penalty. What we're saying is you've been offered a good job, you have refused to work without good reason; you should incur the penalty. Because what we want to ensure is we are giving you every incentive possible to say yes to the job that you are offered.

COMPERE: Now you've tried to change this... close this loophole off once before, we heard that whisper earlier this morning that you tried in 2014, it was rejected by the Greens and Labor. So you're bringing it back into the Parliament again. If it's knocked back again that'll provide you with a double dissolution trigger won't it?

MINISTER CASH: No, because it's not exactly the same bill that was rejected. As I said we've already got a double dissolution trigger on other bills in any event. For this though I think this is something that you know it's all about strengthening the compliance framework. If as a job seeker you are offered suitable work, and you say no because you either don't want to work, you don't give a clear reason, the pay is not good enough for you, you cited the example of I don't want to work for $27 an hour, or for example I'm too busy to start work, I've got other things on, I need to play golf, we're just saying hey mate, enough is enough.

COMPERE: You've had actually people say that they've got a golfing appointment which will prevent them starting a new job?

MINISTER CASH: Unfortunately we've been given these specific examples of reasons for refusing work; a 19 year old male refused a job as he wanted to follow his dream of becoming an actor, 25 year old male refused work, he was going on a holiday. Like you I'd like to go on a holiday occasionally, but we all need to go to work. A 22-year-old male refused full-time work; he only wanted part-time work so that he could continue flying lessons. Again the best form of welfare is a job, this is a government that takes that very seriously, and if you as a job seeker have the opportunity to take on suitable work we believe that you should take on that work and that if you don't then you should be subject to a penalty that has real consequences.

COMPERE: So you lose your benefits for eight weeks?

MINISTER CASH: That's exactly right.

COMPERE: Minister, we've been going on about dole bludgers…

MINISTER CASH: We’re about incentivising people to say yes to a job.

COMPERE: Minister, we've been banging on about dole bludgers in this country since the 1970s. Do we have a cultural problem in Australia with people not wanting to work or is the notion of dole bludgers just a useful political stick for us to get out once every few years?

MINISTER CASH: At the end of the day I think that one of the issues becomes we do seem to have created a society whereby the rules that are in place allow you to basically say no to a job. That then the Government has to look at and say if the rules that are in place are failing to do the job, and we say they are, then as a government our role is to tighten those rules and that's exactly what this government's doing. Unfortunately though and the bill was debated two weeks ago in the Senate, Labor don't support it, the Greens don't support it, the crossbenchers, a number of them don't support it. So yet again despite our best effort to strengthen the compliance framework, because ultimately we want the system to be sustainable for those who are genuinely in need of government assistance, but again it probably won't get through because according to Labor and the Greens we're just too hard.

COMPERE: Alright, we've got a Budget coming up very soon. Now the Treasurer has told all the senior ministers including you he's looking for cuts. Are you looking at a further crackdown on welfare payments in that Budget?

MINISTER CASH: You'd need to speak to the relevant minister Christian Porter there. At the end of the day we are all about making the system sustainable and where we see, you know, flagrant problems with the system, for example here you've been offered a job, you've been offered suitable work, and you refuse that work, we say there is a loophole there and it does need to be closed.

COMPERE: Minister, if someone refuses a job and they're unemployed, why don't you just take the dole away from them full stop?

MINISTER CASH: Well that is what this will allow us to do. You can have payment suspension and a possible penalty for job seekers who in this case refuse suitable employment, who show up for appointments but deliberately behave inappropriately at that appointment so that the person interviewing them actually says; you're not suitable for this role.

It is a balancing act because what we don't want to see is obviously people who are literally on the bones of their back with nothing. The Government always does have a responsibility to provide but we should be providing for those who are most in need. We should ensure that at all times we have a strong compliance framework. And that is why, all we are doing here, as I said, this is only closing a loophole that we believe was introduced in 2009. The evidence is there; before the waiver was introduced you had a lot less people doing this. The minute you can apply for a waiver you saw the numbers jump in terms of refusing suitable work.

COMPERE: Okay, Minister thank you.

MINISTER CASH: Absolute pleasure to be with you.

COMPERE: The employment... the minister for public service, the area here and employment, Michaelia Cash.




For more information

Media mailbox: media@employment.gov.au