"Check against delivery"
PATRICIA KARVELAS: It's six past six. Prime Minister Tony Abbott today announced a $5 billion revamp of employment services. The old Job Services Australia is out and jobactive is in. To talk us through what it means, I'm joined by Employment Minister Eric Abetz. Welcome to the programme.
MINISTER ABETZ: Good evening Patricia, good to be on the programme.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now, Minister, there are around 795,000 Australians seeking work now, and only 152,000 job vacancies at the end of each month. How are you going to fix this discrepancy?
MINISTER ABETZ: What we need to do is fix the economy. That clearly is the number one issue confronting the Government. That's why we've removed the carbon and mining taxes, that's why we've engaged in Free Trade Agreement negotiations, that's why we're getting rid of red and green tape. That is why we are seeking to get the Budget back into shape. So they're all the…
PATRICIA KARVELAS:[Interrupts] But unemployment has risen under your watch, while you've done all - you know, you may have implemented all these measures, but unemployment's going up.
MINISTER ABETZ: Patricia, with respect, keep in mind we have been in Government now for 18 months. The first nine months we were denied the capacity to repeal the carbon and mining taxes, which we had as our platform for the election, because of the manic determination by Mr Shorten and the Greens to block virtually every measure in the Senate. So we've only been able to roll out our policies in the last few months, with the assistance of the cross-benchers. Having said that, the trajectory for unemployment under Labor was heading north, and we are still experiencing that. That is why it's so important to fix the economy and in the meantime ensure that every possible job that is available is matched up with the best applicant for that particular vacancy.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On RN Drive, my guest is Employment Minister Eric Abetz, and you can text us with your views - 0418 226 576, or tweet us @rndrive. Minister, is the policy unveiled in last year's Budget to deprive people under 30 from accessing Newstart for six months still Abbott Government policy?
MINISTER ABETZ: The Government policy is that those under 30 should either be earning or learning. We are aware of the situation in the Senate, and as the new Minister Morrison has indicated in this area, we are working through those issues as we speak. But look, the purpose is to get as many people actively engaged within the community and this is all about not only being economically active but also socially active.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] But given there's no way it will get through the Senate - why not change your policy just like you have on a number of other issues - the GP co-payment - there's a number of issues where the Government has identified it as a barnacle and said it doesn't support the policy anymore. Why not on the six months off the dole for under 30s?
MINISTER ABETZ: As I indicated to you just then, Minister Morrison is working through that issue as we speak. And I am sure that in due course a statement may or may not be made in that area - so simply watch this space. But the purpose of the policy, the motivation of the policy, was to ensure that we actively engage people in their community and all the data tells us that if you are engaged in employment or meaningful activity such as Work for the Dole, your mental health, your physical health, your self-esteem, your social interaction are all enhanced. And not only for you, that's for every other member of your household as well. So the benefits are social and economic, and in relation to Work for the Dole, of course, it is a community benefit as well. Because…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] On Work for the Dole, Minister, can you guarantee that no real jobs will be replaced by Work for the Dole type jobs? That there'll be no displacement of real employment?
MINISTER ABETZ: We don't anticipate any displacement of employment through Work for the Dole. We see Work for the Dole being an activity that basically enhances community infrastructure, and assists local councils…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Will there be any policing of that? Because certainly if you're trying to expand into areas like aged care, some council services that are provided, ultimately some of those jobs are paid jobs. There is the risk that you could replace real employment.
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, Work for the Dole is a programme that lasts for six months, and maximum is 25 hours, but look, the good news is - and there was a great story the other day of a young lady who was involved in Work for the Dole, at an aged care facility under the Howard Government, and there she met somebody else, she is now married to that person and she is a fully trained aged care nurse. And it was Work for the Dole placement that got her on that life journey of marriage and the career journey of being involved in aged care. So, there are some real benefits from Work for the Dole and we need to celebrate them, but in the meantime, even if there aren't job outcomes at the end of the day and for some, clearly there won't be, it is the social interaction and doing something useful for your community during the day…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] I just want to get to…
MINISTER ABETZ: …that is a real benefit.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I want to get to some of the announcements today. On the line, of course, I have Employment Minister Eric Abetz, our number is 0418 226 576.
Now you'll be offering employment service providers cash incentives to place job seekers in short-term positions as well as longer terms one. Paying employers to give someone a couple of weeks of work hardly sounds like a solution to long-term unemployment. How can you be sure they won't be rorting it and why should they be paid for placing someone in a job for only four weeks?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well, four weeks, not a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks is two weeks, so let's double that number…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: All right, so it's four, which is still not a long-term job.
MINISTER ABETZ: And what all the data tells us, if you have one job, a short-term job and another short-term job, your chances of getting a long-term job is so much more enhanced. Further, it is good for the individual to actually take a break from welfare for four weeks whilst they are in that particular employment and the four-week payment, might I add, cannot be made up by churning somebody for six months and as a result, get a greater payment than if you would have placed somebody in a six month job. So, the Assistant Minister Luke Hartsuyker has been very careful and explicit in designing this scheme to ensure that you can't get those rip-offs, so you can't get the churning. But we do have to encourage Australians to take whatever job is available to them.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, is this so that you can get Australians to do some of those jobs you were talking about; fruit picking, those kinds of jobs?
MINISTER ABETZ: Absolutely right. And we have, as we speak, over 100,000 overseas people in our country doing that sort of work whilst we have, as you would know, over 700,000 people on unemployment benefits and the Australian people are rightfully asking why is there this disconnect. And under the previous Labor scheme, employment service providers were only paid for outcomes for 13 weeks or more. We have now reduced that to four weeks so that they aren't - they have an incentive to place people into short-term employment, knowing one it's good for the person, two it's good for the economy and chances are it will help that person on the path to long-term sustainable…
PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Minister, I have one more question. Australia's lowest paid workers could receive almost $1500 in extra money every year if a push for an increase in the minimum wage is approved. Do you think it will cost jobs if that's the outcome?
MINISTER ABETZ: At the end of the day, that is a decision for the Fair Work Commission, to get the right balance to ensure that wage increases to not cost jobs and that's a balancing act and the Fair Work Commission in recent times just made that determination in relation to a penalty rate on the casual award, where they reduced it because they accepted the evidence that the higher payment was in fact costing Australians jobs.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you do think there's a risk if the minimum wage is increased that it will cost jobs?
MINISTER ABETZ: If it is increased too much, it stands to reason that the higher the wage, the less likely it is that people will be employed. On the other side, of course, you don't want people living in poverty. We want to be a high-wage country. We've got to get the balance right and that is what the task is of the Fair Work Commission, to get that balance right. It is why they hear evidence from employers, employee representatives, government and they also take into account other evidence; economic factors, trends etcetera, overseas experiences. And then they come to a determination which ultimately is the independent umpire's decision and in Australia that's the decision we've always lived with and that is what's going to happen to - that is what will continue to happen under this Government.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Eric Abetz, thanks for joining me on RN Drive.
MINISTER ABETZ: Thanks a lot.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And that's Employment Minister Eric Abetz, joining me to talk all things jobs.