I am so pleased to be able to be here with you today and to officially open your conference.
Over the next three days you will have many important discussions, hear interesting and new perspectives and learn valuable information to help our employment services system to best meet the challenges of the future.
For my part this morning, I wanted to take this opportunity to bring you in on my thinking about where we are and about the next steps and future directions for our sector.
We come together at a time when it’s absolutely critical that we both celebrate our successes and work together on ways that we can improve and do things better moving forward. In both of these categories there is much to talk about.
In terms of successes there have been many. The work that you are doing is extraordinary in its ability to quite literally transform the lives of thousands of Australians and their families.
But it’s important that we hold up those successes. It’s important so that you receive the recognition and appreciation that you deserve- so that your role in the extraordinary achievements of maintaining our low unemployment rate and excelling at getting Australians into work is clear to all.
But it’s also important because it must be all of our priority to market JSA to market our system broadly: to employers, to jobseekers and indeed to taxpayers.
It is critical to the success of us all in employment services that we sell our achievements and don’t just wear our shortcomings- that our successes are better known than just our setbacks.
You know and I know that some incredible work has been taking place and I for one am proud of our successes.
I am proud that Job Services Australia has made more than 1.25 million job placements since it began three years ago.
I am proud that Job Services Australia continues to outperform its Liberal designed predecessors in outcomes for the most disadvantaged job seekers. Particularly that instead of wait-listing those most in need, we’re actively assisting these job seekers in Stream 4 and seeing a 90 per cent improvement in their outcomes than under the previous system.
I am proud that since it began in just January you have already placed over 9000 Very Long Term Unemployed Australians into jobs through the use of our new Wage Connect subsidies. This is 9000 job seekers who were unemployed for more than 2 years that now have a job. That’s extraordinary. And we should celebrate it.
I am proud that our Disability Employment Services are also achieving far better outcomes than the previous model with more than 122,000 people placed into employment. Our DES providers out here today have also achieved over 81,000 13-week job placements and more than 57,000 26-week outcomes.
I am so incredibly proud of all of these achievements and so many more. We need to make sure that those in the community know about the good work you are all doing. Controversies can be front page news - we know that, but what we need to ensure is that we work together to hold up our successes and hold up the reputation and the achievements of our system so that they can be known. They are so much more common, so much more positive and so important for people to get an accurate idea of the health of our sector.
I know that personally, I’d be really interested in how I can work in partnership with you to celebrate our good news stories and ensure you get appropriate recognition.
Now, just as we hold up the successes in our current system of course we need to also look at how we can continue to improve our system and to strive for even better results. When I first became Minister in this great portfolio, I heard the same message over and over and over again: “we want less red tape, less bureaucracy and less Government paperwork”. I can assure you, I heard it!
But when I asked, how specifically can we achieve that. What systems could be refined without undermining appropriate accountability to ensure that the over $6 billion dollars of taxpayer funds supporting our system are spent appropriately, the answers were not as forthcoming. I want to be clear with you here today, whilst of course my job is to ensure best practice use of public money, it is a priority of mine that employment providers should spend the maximum amount of their time assisting Australian job seekers into work, not filling out paperwork.
Eager to find solutions to achieve this goal I appointed the Advisory Panel on Employment Services Administration and Accountability- the fact that they were originally referred to as the anti-red tape committee should make clear where my focus was. The Advisory Panel spent a year investigating what aspects of the employment services model created a burden on employment service providers.
They consulted widely in their forensic enquiry into how we can more effectively get the results we all want to see- with less paperwork burden, and I thank those of you here today who participated in that consultation process. In addition to the consultative process, the Advisory Panel also undertook analysis of the current employment services model and looked at previous reviews and research of the employment services system to determine what was working and what could be improved to enhance service provision.
I understand that I will very shortly be in a position to receive and release the panel’s final report. I think this will be significant. Together we should consider the Report’s recommendations as a conversation starting point about how we improve our structures and processes in the short and the longer term.
This is what you asked for - a serious discussion on this and a review of the processes in place. It’s an opportunity to be an active participant in building a stronger, more efficient and accountable employment services system for the future, and I urge you all to take this chance and to have your say on the recommendations.
Speaking of discussions, reform and the future- this brings me to my next point.
Today I announce that the process of working on the next reforms and the next contract for Job Services Australia starts today.
Whilst services are contracted until 2015 and whilst overall, our employment services are performing well, this is the time that we must turn our attention to the next great reforms, the areas where change is sought and the ways we can better meet the needs of job seekers in the next incarnation of Job Services Australia.
This is the time when we can put the energy required into tackling emerging challenges, developing next steps and turning an eye to the labour market of the future and how we can best serve it.
To meet this end, I today inform you of the establishment of a broad reference group to formally commence 2015 deliberations. One of their first tasks will be to develop a discussion paper to encourage feedback from far and wide.
The job that we do is important. The economic conditions at present mean that we have a remarkable opportunity to truly transform Australian lives, increase the participation base and better spread the benefits of our national prosperity.
To ensure we capitalise on this amazing chance I want to make sure we have the ultimate model in place and that we have time to adequately explore potential improvements.
So I have made it clear that nothing will be on or off the table for the consultations.
This is the time we work in partnership, inspire new thinking and propose new pathways.
I expect we will hear many ideas and cover many topics. I can mention a couple that I’m personally keen to see pursued.
Firstly, I don’t think that across the board we’ve adequately formed the strong partnerships with other service providers to ensure best results.
If a job seeker has built up the trust, shared their story and opened up to their homelessness provider/women’s shelter/refugee support service etc then surely we should be using those relationships and connections to get best outcomes.
I’m aware of some great examples of how Job Services Australia providers work well with other organisations to deliver this.
But, we need to make sure that better practice becomes the norm, across all provider sites, not the exception.
Let me be clear on this, in my view to be competitive in future purchasing rounds, all providers should need to demonstrate their ability to deliver wrap-around services to disadvantaged job seekers.
As an example of this, yesterday the Department trialled a better practice forum.
A number of Job Services Australia providers and complementary service providers who deal directly and indirectly with young and homeless job seekers in the Melbourne metropolitan area attended.
The forum provided participants with the opportunity to meet other service providers and discuss opportunities, such as developing Memorandum of Understandings and fee for service arrangements, that can support collaboration to realise mutually beneficially outcomes, and most importantly, for the job seekers.
I hope we can see much more of that. I believe we need to.
We will also have the opportunity to examine the impacts of our investments in Innovation Fund Projects and JSA Demonstration Pilot Programs to see how the lessons learnt can be incorporated in the future contract.
Another area requiring our focus and attention is the issue of labour mobility.
We all see before us a labour market that is uneven and contrasting - of local areas with high numbers of redundant workers and long unemployment lines in comparison to other areas literally crying out for workers but struggling to attract new families to take up the plentiful jobs.
Now we have an employment system based on the local community. Since privatisation our employment services have competed for work in local ESAs- taking on board the local jobseekers and building relationships with the local businesses. It’s never been a system to overly encourage a national approach.
Current conditions demand that we address this.
We can help to address this mismatch by supporting people to look further afield, to connect with jobs that may be available in other areas.
We’ve seen the Connecting People with Jobs program support the move of more jobseekers than any previous Government’s program has succeeded in doing- but of course we know we need to do more.
The Government also recently launched the Resources Sector Jobs Board, a free service that aims to connect job seekers with employers in the resources sector.
It also provides a range of additional information for job seekers including careers information and a guide to the types of incentives for which they may qualify if they choose to relocate.
This Jobs Board complements the work that you do and I ask that you use it and raise awareness of it amongst the job seekers that you service.
Of course, we still need to do more.
As the Prime Minister recently talked about at her Economic Forum, the Government is committed to improving labour mobility and providing stronger incentives for employment services to grasp interstate opportunities available in the jobs market.
We need to provide better incentives to put people into jobs wherever they are in the country.
You will hear more from me in the short term on this issue but of course we will also need to be mindful in the future design of our employment services of the differing conditions, structural adjustment and geographic circumstances that those services will need to address.
These will be just some of our challenges.
As you can see there is so much we can touch on, so much to discuss, so many considerations- I wish you well in dissecting them over the next three days.
I know there have been challenges and I know there’ll be some discussion of those- I’m ensuring that my staff and department are available to take part in that. But what I hope you’ll also believe is that this is a most exciting time for our sector. We have a successful system that with your hard work is getting some incredible results and runs on the board. We have a strong economy and an economy which is providing almost unprecedented opportunities to do what we do best and now together we’re about to embark on the journey of next steps- on the chance to take our system to the next level.
I look forward to working in a real partnership with you and making the most of the opportunities available in these next steps.
In the meantime, thank you for your time and it’s a pleasure to declare the conference open. I wish you well for your discussions over the next three days.