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Labor Shake-Up to Jobactive Celebrated by Sector

9 January 2019 at 5:09 pm
Maggie Coggan
The community sector has welcomed Labor’s proposed changes to unemployment services, saying an update to a broken system is long overdue, but the Coalition government has argued the proposal will make Australians reliant on welfare.

Maggie Coggan | 9 January 2019 at 5:09 pm


Labor Shake-Up to Jobactive Celebrated by Sector
9 January 2019 at 5:09 pm

The community sector has welcomed Labor’s proposed changes to unemployment services, saying an update to a broken system is long overdue, but the Coalition government has argued the proposal will make Australians reliant on welfare.

The opposition’s employment services spokeswoman, Terri Butler, announced plans on Tuesday for the revamped mutual obligation scheme, which focused on job programs that were less about welfare compliance and more about finding long-term employment.

The changes would include flexible plans to cater to individual needs and barriers to employment, slashing the requirement of applying for 20 jobs a month, and a re-design of the work-for-the-dole scheme.

Butler said that with the current unemployment system costing $6 billion a year, and growing evidence that it was hardly working well at all, a program that worked for industry, business and the unemployed was needed.  

“That means refocusing the employment services system back towards its fundamental purpose: getting people into work. Australia needs labour market programs, not privatised welfare compliance agencies,” Butler said.

But Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher attacked the proposed reforms, and said it would make Australians reliant on welfare.

“Labor want to junk the principle of mutual obligation that has reduced welfare dependency to record lows and helped create 1.2 million new jobs. They want and consign many more Australians to a life of welfare dependency,” Fletcher said.

“Labor’s plan means welfare payments would balloon again and they’d be paid for by higher taxes on those working.”

Jacqueline Phillips, Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) co-director of policy and advocacy, told Pro Bono News ACOSS welcomed the Labor announcement, as it addressed many of the organisation’s concerns over Jobactive.

“What the ALP is trying to do is create a more flexible system which is more responsive to people’s individual circumstances and we would absolutely support that,” Phillips said.  

“There is no point asking people to apply for 20 jobs a week if they are in a remote area where there are very few jobs in the first place, or if they have poor health, or caring responsibilities.”

She also said it wouldn’t retreat from a mutual obligation framework, as job seekers would still be required to engage in activities that led to paid work.

Emma Dawson, executive director of Per Capita, also welcomed the announcement, and said it was encouraging Butler had an understanding of the structural problems within unemployment services.

The problem is the structure of the contracts between the government and the service providers, where they are actually rewarded for the number of interviews people get, and they can churn people through the system repeatedly, which Butler recognised in her statement yesterday,” Dawson told Pro Bono News.

“I think it’s really well overdue that these reforms are made.”

In December, Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said the government would review Jobactive, following the ‘I Want to Work’ report, which found the current system was punitive, and had failed to keep up with technology.

Philips said she commended the way the government had conducted that review, but in absence of a formal response to the review, Fletcher’s comments were unhelpful.

“Fletcher’s remarks in response to Terri Butler [proposal] outlined yesterday are not very helpful in the absence of the government’s complete response to its report,” she said.   

Some in the sector were skeptical over a lack of detail, and for Labor not making a real commitment to abolishing programs such as work-for-the-dole, which has been widely criticised for being ineffective and punitive.



But Phillips said she was pleased a promise had been made to look into the program, and was hopeful it would be replaced with something more worthwhile.

“We would like to see it replaced with a properly funded work experience program that actually puts people into placements which would help them get closer to a properly paid job on completion of the program,” she said.

Dawson said it was important the community sector pressed Labor for more detail on the proposed changes, and raised awareness about the issue coming into an election year.

I think the sector needs to ensure that we are keeping the pressure on for meaningful support for people that do have barriers to work,” Dawson said.

Phillips said ACOSS would be making it a key issue to comment on this year, and encouraged the rest of the sector to do the same.  

“I think it’s really important that the community sector keeps talking publicly about the problems and the urgent need for reform particularly in an election year,” she said.  

“It’s about really encouraging all major parties to take action on the inadequacy of the unemployment payments, the very tough compliance system that’s in place and the inadequacy of funding in the job services system.”

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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