SARAH HENDERSON MP: Good morning, everyone. It’s wonderful to be here with the Prime Minister, in Geelong, who was here just a number of weeks ago talking about our Free Trade Agreements and our focus on work. Of course, it’s also great to have Eric Abetz, the Employment Minister, as well as Luke Hartsuyker, the Assistant Minister for Employment. And today it’s all about jobs and, Prime Minister, it’s wonderful to have you here talking about jobactive – our $5 billion programme to focus more on driving people into work, directly into work, where we’re focusing more on the outcomes rather than the processes. So, Prime Minister, welcome once again. We are a great city, we’ve had some challenges, but we are a great city of many small businesses, we have a great future. There’s a lot of confidence in the air about Geelong, with our strong advanced manufacturing future, with our strong small businesses all around the region and it’s wonderful to have this national announcement here in Geelong with the Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks, Sarah, and, yes, it is good to be here in Geelong, it’s good to be with the Minister – the Senior Minister – Eric Abetz, the Leader of the Government in the Senate and with Luke Hartsuyker, the Assistant Minister for Employment, who has driven this new jobactive system. I want to say at the outset that the Government is absolutely focused on jobs. Jobs are essential for a strong and prosperous Australia, and over the last 12 months this Government has overseen job creation rates three times those of the last year of the former Labor government. So it’s a good record, and today’s announcement is designed to build on that good record. This is not just a new name, it is a new system. I want to stress that, it is not just a new name, it is a new system. It is a system which is absolutely focused on job outcomes, not on process; particularly not on training for training's sake, which was what bedevilled the former government's Job Services Australia system.
There are two features I would like to point to in this new jobactive system before throwing to both Minister Eric Abetz and Minister Hartsuyker. The first is our determination to ensure that our employment agencies are out there looking for all jobs for potential job seekers. In the past, we have only paid on 12- and 26-week outcomes. We know that there are a lot of short-term jobs available, particularly in regional Australia, there are jobs that are seasonal and these are often the start of someone's renewed connection with the labour market. That’s why an important innovation in this new jobactive system is the four-week outcome payment.
The other thing I would like to stress as a former minister for employment services – as the minister in the Howard government who really presided over the big expansion of Work for the Dole – is the renewed place of Work for the Dole in our employment services system under the jobactive system. We are working towards a situation where, if you are long-term unemployed and you are under 50, you will have to do a form of Work for the Dole. It is part of giving back to the community. We want to see a situation where people are not simply showing the world what they can't do, but where people have the opportunity to show the world what they can do, and that is the great thing about Work for the Dole. It is an opportunity for people who are receiving a government benefit to give back to the community.
I know that is what people want to do. They really want to do it, they want to give back to the community, and this is a good opportunity for that to happen. As well as more Work for the Dole, as well as more outcome payments, we obviously have subsidies – wage subsidies – for young job seekers, for older job seekers and long-term job seekers. So, this new system is based on the experience that we have gained over the last 15 years or so, with the Job Network and Job Services Australia, it is a better system and I want again to thank Luke Hartsuyker in particular for the work he has done to bring it into being.
EMPLOYMENT MINISTER: Thanks, Prime Minister. jobactive says it all. We, as a Government, are determined to ensure that every possible job is taken up within the Australian community by Australian citizens. And therefore, the new jobactive programme and the contracts that have been announced today and will come in force as of 1 July, are designed to ensure that the job service providers are focused on getting people into jobs.
Why is that so important? We often talk about the economic imperative of somebody becoming a taxpayer rather than a tax taker. But if I might suggest even more importantly, it is the social benefit of people actively participating within their community. All the data tells us that if you are gainfully employed, your mental, your physical health, your self-esteem, your social interaction, are all enhanced and not only for you as an individual but everybody else in your household. And that is why for the long-term unemployed to be engaged in Work for the Dole, for example, is not only an important mechanism to say thank you to your community, but it is also of untold social good to the individual.
Similarly, with the short-term employment opportunities that are out there in the community, the job service providers will now have an incentive to actually place people in those short-term jobs. One, it is a break from welfare; two, we also know that if you have one or two short-term jobs, you are so much more likely to gain a full-time job. So, this jobactive programme has a name that says it all, to put a contract of some $5,000 million together is a huge task and I want to pay particular tribute to Minister Luke Hartsuyker who has done the hard yards in putting this measure together and I’ll now turn to him for him to indicate to you some of the details of the contracts that are being announced today.
ASSISTANT EMPLOYMENT MINISTER: Thank you, Prime Minister, Minister Abetz, the dynamic local Member, Sarah Henderson. Look, it’s great to be here on what is an important day for me and an important day for our jobseekers in moving towards implementing Employment Services 2015. It’s going to deliver better services to job seekers and better services to employers.
When we came to Government, we inherited a system that was mired in red tape, that wasn’t meeting the needs of job seekers, that wasn’t meeting the needs of employers. Employment service providers were telling me they were spending up to 50 per cent of their time filling out forms. So, on coming to Government we embarked on a process of reducing that red tape, freeing them up to be able to spend more time with job seekers which is what they are being paid to do.
We have moved to a system that rewards outcomes rather than process and, as the Prime Minister has said, we are eliminating training for training’s sake. Training, yes, it is important, but the previous system was churning people through endless training courses that were not leading to a job. The new system will provide more intense services to people under the age of 30. For the first time ever we will have targets for indigenous employment. We are moving to five-year projects – something the industry has been calling for for some time so that we reduce the disruption each time a contract is renewed. These are major initiatives and we are continuing with our commitment to continually reduce red tape so that those employment service providers can be dealing with their clients – both employers and job seekers.
I have been delighted by the response to the tender. We have received some 184 tenders from various organisations of which 66 will be delivering services under the new system. Services that will get people into work more efficiently, more effectively, delivering those better services that the Government is wanting.
We are also seeing with the results of the tender will be on the Department’s website at 12.30 today. We are seeing many of the smaller providers increasing their market share which is great news. We are also seeing partnership forming between some smaller providers and larger providers. So, we are doing what the Government had intended and that is encouraging our smaller providers, encouraging that delivery of specialist services but also maintaining the balance of for-profit and not-for-profit providers pretty much as it was under the old model.
So, it is great news for jobseekers, it is great news for employers and we are looking forward to getting more people from welfare into work come 1 July.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you so much. Do we have any questions, and let’s try to start off with the issue of the day which is jobactive.
QUESTION: The Geelong region lost a lot of full-time ongoing jobs in the past year. Is this change designed to help people like that, who have been in work for a long time and are now out of work or is it targeted towards people who have been on welfare for a while?
PRIME MINISTER: It is targeted to both. We want people who currently don't have work to have work. We want them to be placed in whatever jobs are available so that over time they can move into the best possible job. That is why it has got outcome payments at four weeks, as well as the more traditional 12- and 26-week outcome payments. Just on the subject of Geelong, I know this city has had some disappointing announcements over the last couple of years but it is a resilient city, full of creative people. We have the new Australian Bureau of Statistics centre of excellence that’s opening up here and I am sure that the association with Deakin University will be great for the city of Geelong. We have got the National Disability Insurance Scheme headquarters here in Geelong, a number of State Government agencies have relocated to Geelong as well and, if we are to build the East West Link, we will not only create 7000 jobs, but we will provide a massive economic stimulus to the city of Geelong because of the much greater ease of access to the great city of Melbourne.
QUESTION: So, for those people who may have been in work for 40 or 50 years in some cases, do you think going into short-term work for a while, may enhance their chances of getting a long-term job?
PRIME MINISTER: It is always better to get the next job if you have got a job now. It is always better to have some job than to have no job. As Minister Abetz has pointed out, it is not just the economic benefits, it is all the psycho-social benefits of work. If you are working, you are having a go. That is why the nearest thing to work we can get you, whether it is a short-term job or indeed Work for the Dole, is an important step in the right direction because you are having a go. That is the important thing. It is very much part of our Australian characteristic. We want to deliver a fair go to everyone but we want to encourage people to have a go and that is why this new system is called jobactive because we want the name to describe what it is doing. The previous name, Job Services Australia, talked about the institutional structure, the important thing is what the institutional structure is doing, and it is helping people to be active in pursuit of work – active in gaining work.
QUESTION: You talked about targeting indigenous employment. Will that be in regional areas such as – I know Mildura and Sunraysia has a big indigenous population – is that something they will look at?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, and to complement the main jobactive network, we have also got some specific indigenous employment schemes. While the jobactive network has drawn much inspiration from the work of Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, obviously there are some indigenous-specific employment programmes that are very much based on his good work and, frankly, he has been a real apostle of getting away from this training for training's sake notion and ensuring that people are being prepared, not for training, but for work.
QUESTION: On the Government's higher education reforms…
PRIME MINISTER: Could we just finish dealing – happy to go to that subject – but can we finish dealing with employment services?
QUESTION: Prime Minister, just on that, is there any concern that the short-term outcomes that you are announcing on jobactive may lead to increased casualisation of the workforce which makes it even more difficult for the employees to have a reliable, ongoing income?
PRIME MINISTER: I understand the question you are asking and I know there are fears out there in the community. But our role as a Government and our role more generally as leaders in our community – and everyone in this room is a leader in our community – our role is to encourage people to be their best. Our role is to encourage people to have a go. And sure, it is always good to have secure long term jobs but very often a short-term casual job is the best possible stepping stone into secure long term jobs. Often you can start with an employer as a short-term casual and then become a long term permanent employee once the employer has had a good chance to have a look at you.
Ok, on higher education?
QUESTION: Yes, well there’s news this morning that the Group of Eight universities has withdrawn support for the reforms in the form that they are now and given that you tried to put them through twice, is it instead then time to consider a review of the sector?
PRIME MINISTER: My understanding is not yours. The Group of Eight universities strongly support the reforms that we’re putting forward. They think they are absolutely necessary if our universities are to flourish in the years and decades ahead. We don't just want to have one university – Melbourne – in the top 50, we’d like to have two, at least, in the top 20 and if that’s to happen we need to liberate our universities from the shackles of bureaucracy which is an inevitable part of the existing system that the former government put in place. So, that’s the first point I want to make.
The second point I want to make is that, as I understand it, the issues that the Group of Eight have are with the amendments that the Senate crossbench wanted and I think this is a challenge for the Senate crossbench to try to work with the Group of Eight as well as with the Government to come up with the best possible change.
As for a review, well, there have been 33 reviews since 1950 – 33 reviews of higher education since 1950. I don't say that there is no place for reviews. Obviously, there are some big topics which can benefit from a very thorough review, particularly a review that engages the community, but we have a very highly reviewed higher education system already and what our higher education system needs are beneficial reforms, not yet another study.
QUESTION: Fairfax is reporting just only an hour or so ago that the Group of Eight says the way that they have been watered down now is to the point that it actually compromises… being made to the point where it’s defeating the purpose.
PRIME MINISTER: This is a criticism of the Senate crossbench. This is the Group of Eight being highly critical of the Senate crossbench. My plea to the Senate cross bench is: please engage with the Group of Eight as well as with the Government. I respect their right to be a very important part of the legislative process, but it’s not the Government's fault when the Senate crossbench go off on all sorts of tangents and I think it’s important for the Senate crossbench to go back to the Group of Eight and say, “What can we do to make these reforms as beneficial as possible?”
EMPLOYMENT MINISTER: Prime Minister, if I may…
PRIME MINISTER: Sure.
EMPLOYMENT MINISTER:… the Senate has its own group of eight, so chances are that group of eight ought to deal with the Group of Eight from the universities sector and see if the two groups of eight can come to a solution that is within the parameters of the Government's policy.
PRIME MINISTER: It would be nice to have a group of eight producing something that’s great, wouldn't it?
QUESTION: Prime Minister, in October last year you raised the possibility of P-Tech schools in Australia and you flagged Geelong as a possible location. Are we any closer to seeing that?
PRIME MINISTER: We are working with the state government which, as you know, runs public schools and my understanding is that those discussions are going well and we’ll have an announcement to make in the not too distant future and yes, the first of the P-Tech schools will be here in the Geelong area.
QUESTION: Should Bill Shorten defend or denounce Martin Ferguson for his comments ahead of the New South Wales election about power privatisation?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, yet again we’ve seen another failure of leadership from Mr Shorten. Martin Ferguson has said nothing that wasn't said by Paul Keating, a former Prime Minister, by Morris Iemma, a former premier, by Michael Costa, a former head of the New South Wales trade union. So, Martin Ferguson is on a unity ticket with some Labor legends and Bill Shorten can't make up his mind on whether he should be in or out of the Labor Party.
I want to see a Labor Party which is comprised of Australian patriots who call it as they see best for our country and I think it’s high time that Bill Shorten came off the fence and told us what sort of a Labor Party he wants.
QUESTION: Have you seen the policy of the Labor Party about increasing tax on the super of the very wealthy?
PRIME MINISTER: I have seen those observations from the Shadow Treasurer and it’s so typical of the Labor Party that they immediately want to see more tax, not less. As far as I am concerned, as far as this Government is concerned, we want lower, simpler, fairer taxes and we have made a very good start to that by scrapping the carbon tax which means that every household is about $550 a year on average better off. We have made a good start by scrapping the mining tax which was just a terrible handbrake on jobs and investment and we want to do more but we can only do more responsibly if we can get spending under better control than the former government had it.
Under the former government, spending was growing at 3.6 per cent a year. It was completely out of control. Under the policies of this Government, it’s growing at less than one per cent a year and this is what we need if in the years ahead we are to have the kind of responsible and sensible tax reform that Australia obviously needs and deserves.