Allison Langdon: It’s been dubbed dobseeker, the Government's employment hotline encouraging bosses to dob in people for rejecting work. The program’s been running for less than a month, but is being criticised for demonising those without a job. Joining us now is Employment Minister, Stuart Robert. Thanks for your time this morning, Minister. How many people have been busted?
Stuart Robert: The national reporting line has only been operating for a couple of weeks, so we’ll get numbers at the end of each month - so it is too early to determine yet. But the whole point of the national reporting line is to ensure that mutual obligations, which is people's responsibility back to their community, to their neighbours, are fulfilled.
Allison Langdon: We’ve heard stories from businesses, particularly in the north of Queensland, far North Queensland, who say this is an issue. People turning up for interviews who don't want the job. Tough to prove, though, I imagine.
Stuart Robert: Yeah, difficult. Remember, 1.23 million Australians are now receiving JobSeeker and youth allowance benefits - almost 400,000 more than pre-COVID. So there’s still a lot of Australians who are out of work. Unemployment at 5.6 per cent is encouraging.
But we see in Queensland, Hervey Bay for example, unemployment at 8.5 per cent, and yet pubs and clubs can't find staff to work. So the opportunity is there for Australians who are on benefits to get out there and get a job. They can seek training if they need it - 300,000 extra subsidised courses have been made available - but we really want Australians into work.
Allison Langdon: But why would an employer want to hire someone who doesn't want a job in the first place?
Stuart Robert: That's a great question. The key thing, and one of the reasons for the national employer line, the Employer Reporting Line, is to say to Australians, you have a responsibility. You just can't sit on the JobSeeker payment and expect your neighbours to cover that lifestyle. We want you into work. We want to give you every opportunity to train or re-skill, and we want you to turn up. If you’re going to turn up, be intentional, be intentional about working - that's the whole point of this.
Allison Langdon: Minister, you would know that plenty of people, including those within your own party, think that this is a bad idea, it’s a waste of time, that you’re demonising those out of work. Would it be better to look at getting in more foreign workers, to get seasonal workers from the Pacific islands in to fill those job vacancies?
Stuart Robert: Well, we’ve just been talking about the challenges of international borders and the challenges of getting foreign workers in, as well as Australians who want to return. So the difficulty of bringing international workers in is for all the reasons your show has just been highlighting.
So whilst that is important, and the seasonal worker program helps when it comes to picking fruit in orchards and other areas, why have we got to a point where we’re happy for Australians to say, no you don't have to do those jobs, we’ll get someone from overseas, you just stay on benefits and your neighbour will pay those costs. How have we got to the point where that's acceptable in our country? Why have we got to the point where people are talking about their entitlements but not their responsibilities? And that's what, partially, the Employer Reporting Line is all about.
Allison Langdon: All right. I mean, it’s a fair argument you make there. I'm just not sure how you force people who don't want to work to work. And I guess that's the issue you face, Minister. Thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.