SUBJECT/S: Job seekers missing employment meetings and appointments with job service providers.
COMPERE: So what do we make of nearly four-and-a-half million people – because we still find that figure quite staggering. Well, four-and-a-half million meetings. So that would still be millions of people, would it not? I presume.
COMPERE: [Indistinct]. That is an extraordinary number. I mean, you would have to think close to a million people have missed their meetings with employment agencies and they've offered various excuses, but the majority of them have simply been because they just missed the meeting. They either slept in or they failed to get there on time.
COMPERE: Luke Hartsuyker is the Assistant Minister for Employment. Joins us now. Mr Hartsuyker, good morning.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Good morning.
COMPERE: Well, four-and-a-half million. Would that be, what, around a million people, you think?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Look, it is certainly hundreds of thousands of job seekers who've missed their appointments, because quite a number are missing a large number of appointments, not just one. It is simply unacceptable to have wasted taxpayers' money for job service providers waiting around for four-and-a-half million appointments where people don't show up. It's a waste of effort and it's simply not good enough, and things have to change.
COMPERE: Minister, it's just extraordinary. I mean, what happens if a job seeker misses an appointment?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well, currently the controls are simply not strong enough. What happens is that if a job seeker misses an appointment, his pay will be suspended only up until that time that he agrees to attend the next meeting. So that's not actually attends, that's agrees to attend the next meeting. And at that point, benefits are then reinstated and there is back pay for the time that is missed. The Government is moving to a situation where if you miss an appointment without a reasonable excuse, your pay is docked and will not be reinstated without back pay. There will be no back pay for this until you actually attend the next meeting. So we think that's appropriate. A strong financial signal to turn up, to do the right thing, and to take advantage of the services that the job service provider is there to provide the job seeker.
COMPERE: We've had a couple of people respond to this by suggesting that some of these people might actually be doing work for cash somewhere, which might be why they can't go to the appointments.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Look, one can only speculate on the real reason why so many people are missing these appointments. It's interesting to note that some 280,000 job seekers were found both by the job service provider and the Department of Human Resources – Human Services, rather – to have missed the appointment without a valid excuse. That's one or more – on one or more occasions. So some people may have missed many appointments. So it is a massive problem. The previous Government took some steps to improve the situation. They were aware of it and made some modest improvements, but we need to do much more.
COMPERE: So, Minister, how low can you go, though? Some of these people have been lying about the death of relatives. There's the old “my grandmother died” excuse.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well look, some of the excuses that I've heard from job service providers are really quite ridiculous, and I mean it's a matter of common courtesy. If you have an appointment, you should keep it, and if you can't keep it for a good reason pick up the phone and let the job service provider know that you can't make it in and reschedule. And we think that's totally reasonable, yet there are many job seekers not doing the right thing.
COMPERE: What sort of excuses have you heard?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Oh, look, from a range of excuses that you've just chronicled, but that they had some medical condition that was alleged to have been current which couldn't be proven. There are so many. The mind boggles at the types of excuses that are put forward.
COMPERE: All right, so you're just looking at tightening the penalties around people who fail to turn up for these appointments in future.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Look, what we're doing – firstly, we're going to ensure that the protections for vulnerable job seekers are maintained and that the reasonable-excuse provision remain in place. That's the very first point. But once having established that, what we are saying is that if you miss an appointment without a valid excuse, a financial penalty starts there and then and remains in place until such time as you turn up to the next appointment. So the onus is on the job seeker to turn up. These appointments are there to benefit them, to help them find a job, to give them a lead where perhaps a new job opportunity may arise, to improve their job skills. This is all there for their benefit, and yet they're sleeping in – many of them – and not taking advantage of what's on offer.
COMPERE: Now, just on another matter, and I know it doesn't – it falls outside your portfolio – but there are reports this morning that people are using online forums to rort the Disability Support Pension and advising people on how to make sure they do get the DSP. Is the system as it is currently tough enough?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well, look, I know Minister Andrews is very focused on the fact that those who rightfully need support, who have a disability, should receive that support. But we want to ensure that taxpayers aren't subsidising those who seek to rort the system. It's absolutely unacceptable that there are individuals out there who are attempting to take advantage of the system. We want to see those people who genuinely need support supported, but when we get this systematic type of rorting as you describe, it makes the role that much difficult. But the Government is committed to that – support for those who need it and weeding out the rorters.
COMPERE: All right. Minister, thank you.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Pleasure.
COMPERE: Luke Hartsuyker there, the Assistant Minister for Employment.