Release type: Speech


Speech to the National Employment Services Association Practitioners’ Conference


The Hon Kate Ellis MP
Minister for Employment Participation
Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care

Check against delivery

It is my pleasure to be here today to address the 8th NESA Practitioners’ Conference.

And that is because it is absolutely critical that we have conferences like this one.

Conferences where we bring together the actual practitioners in our business – the staff who are doing the front line work – so that you can share ideas, experiences and build towards best practice.

While it is my role and the role of governments, to get the policy settings and framework right, it is ultimately the people in this room that put those policies in to practice.

It is the people in this room who do the important work – day in and day out – to help unemployed Australians into work.

And it is only when we work together – policy makers and practitioners – that we can ensure the best possible outcomes for the job seekers who rely on us.

Now we’re meeting at a time when there has been some controversy around one element of the work that we do and that is the provider brokered outcome payment.

You may have seen reports in the media over recent days about the findings of Mr Robert Butterworth and the strong action the Government has taken.

Let me be absolutely clear that it is in all of our interests that we protect the integrity and good reputation of Australia’s employment services.

The public must have confidence in the work that we're doing together to get Australians into jobs.

I want to be upfront with you today and talk to you at the outset of my speech about what led to our decision to take such strong action to maintain that system integrity and public confidence and why that decision is the right one.

We introduced the provider brokered outcome payment in 2009 with the start of Job Services Australia (JSA).

This approach was designed to encourage providers to place greater emphasis on assisting employers to fill job vacancies – and to help overcome the reluctance of many employers to take on unemployed people.

We then strengthened the evidentiary requirements around this payment in June 2011, requiring providers to maintain evidence to demonstrate there has been direct engagement with the employer.

Then late last year allegations were aired publicly that threatened the good reputation of the JSA system and the work that you do.

I then took the decision to immediately commission a review of the provider brokered outcome payment and identify and inappropriate practices. I appointed Mr Robert Butterworth to oversee that work.

Our Government is proud of its employment record which has seen around 750 000 more Australians enter into paid employment since 2007.

That’s 750 000 more Australians who are bringing home a pay packet each week and gaining the promise of a brighter future.

And a key part of that success story has been Job Service Australia and I am determined to ensure that confidence in that system is maintained.

I'm not in the job of covering up problems if they exist. 

If there are problems arising in an area of policy that I am responsible for, I want them brought out into the open and I want us to fix them.

And that is exactly what we’ve done.

Early findings of Mr Butterworth’s review indicated there were sufficient grounds for action period to issuing contracts.

That is why the Australian Government took action to immediately amend all new employment services contracts so that there is no longer scope for exploitation of the system.

By simplifying the system and making it more user friendly, we are also ensuring that you – the staff - can spend more time on the work that really matters and that is getting people into jobs.

Let's be honest here - this has been criticised by the Opposition.

They’ve claimed we are using ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

Well I’m clear in my view that 40 per cent is not ‘a nut’.

The control group used in Mr Butterworth’s review showed us that this problem was widespread and I absolutely do not apologise for taking action to ensure that tax payer funds are used appropriately.

Tax payers are entitled to have faith that government are spending their money effectively and honestly and I will not let that faith be compromised.

Mr Butterworth’s review found an unacceptably high rate of claims by JSA providers that should have been paid at the lower rate and made nine recommendations to improve the system.

And the Australian Government has agreed to progress all nine recommendations to ensure the integrity of our employment services system.

Now, these changes were not just the right thing for tax payers and job seekers but also for practitioners like you.

You deserve to work in a system that has integrity and have your work respected, valued and trusted – because it is important work.

No doubt there will be lots of discussion about the extent of misuse of that payment and different views about the reasons, but our focus now needs to be moving forward with confidence in the system.

Absolutely central to this will be ensuring that we have a well resourced system, with committed staff who are working in a strong policy framework that helps get the people who walk through your doors – a job.

The other benefit of the swift action taken by the Government, is you can now get on with doing what you do best and that is helping people into jobs.

And you are achieving extraordinary results, especially for the most disadvantaged.

In the first 30 months of its operation, JSA providers have made more than one million job placements.

Our success when it comes to getting stream 4 job seekers into work has improved by 90 per cent when compared with the arrangements under the previous government.

Stream 4 assists some of the most disadvantaged unemployed Australians including those who are homeless, suffering from mental ill-health and who face significant language barriers.

We all know the stories of these people, many of them face the most difficult challenges we can imagine.

Overcoming those challenges is not simple and it's not easy and while those job seekers deserve to be congratulated on their achievements – you all deserve congratulations as well.

I said at the commencement of my speech that the success of the employment services system is built on Government and providers working in partnership. One excellent example of this is the Wage Connect Subsidy.

The Government provided funding for this measure – securing an additional $95 million in last year’s budget and designing the policy settings to deliver 35 000 subsidies.

The Wage Connect Subsidy provides that added incentive employers need to give someone who has been unemployed for an extended period a chance.

We know that people who have been out of the workforce for a long period of time have difficulty finding full time employment because they often don't have the necessary skills and work experience employers are looking for.

We know that these cases can be amongst the toughest but also the most important that you deal with.

Each of the 4000+ individuals who have found work because of this subsidy has been unemployed for at least two years and many for much longer periods.

Take Colin Dreyer from Toowoomba in Queensland. As a stay at home dad Colin had been unemployed for four years and was having trouble reconnecting with the workforce but with help from Wage Connect, he secured a position as a welder with Queensland Truck Centre.

Entering the workforce again and being able to earn a living, will give Colin the opportunity to transform his life and the lives of his family.

The success of this new subsidy shows that me going in there and arguing for funding and piecing together the policy framework – is only one part of the puzzle.

It takes you – the practitioners on the front line to actually use this new tool, to make a difference in people’s lives. And you are doing just that.

Those 4000+ lives that have already been turned around shows the power of use working effectively together.

Part of the success of Wage Connect has been it is helping a diverse range of  job seekers – the mature age, Indigenous job seekers, people with a disability.

Countless studies have shown us the benefits of a diverse workforce – not just for individuals but for businesses.

Making this a reality, helping you to make those necessary job placements, relies upon us working to effectively change cultures and attitudes.

That is why I am proud that our Government is supporting ACCI to deliver the Think Outside the Box Campaign and also providing funding for Disability Employment Australia to open employers minds to the benefits of a diverse workforce.

Many employers are starting to consider the benefits of workforce diversity to help meet these challenges and that is something that as employment service providers – you need to harness for the betterment of job seekers.

And our Government is committed to giving you the tools to do that.

We know that when mature age people find themselves unemployed they're on average unemployed for more than twice as long as any other group in our community. 

I find – and I am sure every local MP does – that a common complaint of older constituents is that they feel they aren’t being given a chance by employers.

The new Jobs Bonus will be a $1000 payment for employers who choose to hire a mature aged job seeker (50+ years) for more than three months.

The Jobs Bonus is designed to encourage employers to embrace diversity and give mature age people a chance.

It’s also about changing attitudes - so that when you're working to help and older job seeker find work, you don’t keep hitting up against that brick wall of age discrimination.

That's why last week we also announce that we're increasing funding for the Age Discrimination Commissioner and investing $16 million in the Corporate Champions initiative.

Corporate Champions will be expanded to provide additional support and advice to participating employers to change their workplace culture and hiring practices, focusing on improved workforce diversity. 

The Corporate Champions expansion will mean more businesses can receive the support they need to make the shift – and reap the rewards – of workplaces that identify and value the contribution of skilled, experienced, loyal mature age workers.

These new tools that encourage workforce diversity, are something that you can leverage in assisting job seekers to overcome the barriers they face to employment.

And the Government is also taking action to reduce red tape, so you can spend less time on paperwork and more time using these new tools to help people find a job.

The Advisory Panel on Employment Services Administration and Accountability released a discussion paper in late 2011, which gathers stakeholder views on possible reform themes and structural improvements to the employment services model.

The panel is expected to finalise its report later in 2012.

In the interim, there are a couple of pivotal steps we need to take together.

The draft quality framework recently published by the department is intended to provide a pathway to greater ownership of the transparency required in a large system.

This is not going to be a journey without its challenges, but the outcome will be revolutionary for the sector. 

Currently, we use infinitely detailed contracts to administer a complex web of interdependent polices – it was the mechanism of its time – a time of outsourcing when efficiencies were thought to be found in monitoring rather than doing.

We see a quality framework as something that will support the natural evolution of employment services – and we need your input to make sure it hits the mark.

Consultation on this type of reform with people on the front-line - who know more than anyone about our system - provides a unique opportunity to capitalise on your knowledge and experience to strengthen our employment services.

Our Government is committed to continuous improvement  into the future and we need your feedback about how to do that.

But what does that future look like?

As part of our longer term policy development perspective, we are looking at the design of employment services post-2015.

The review will assess our current employment services model, to inform the development of the employment services market and other employment related services from July 2015.

It will examine our initiatives and their links with other employment-related services programs, including the skills training framework.

We will engage with stakeholders throughout this process and will be establishing a 2015 reference group later this year.

As key stakeholders, I will be consulting with you throughout the 2015 policy development and value the insights you all bring.

I know it has been a tough few weeks for your sector.

There have been some practices brought to light which are entirely regrettable.

The negative focus of the media at this time is inevitable.

But all of us here know that the real story is the great success of JSA and the achievements you make each and every day.

So let’s put the past in the past.

Having removed the scope for misuse of the system in the ways that have been uncovered, we can move forward with confidence in the integrity of our services.

We can move forward and get on with the real job – of helping more Australians gain the benefits and dignity of work.