Transcript: Weekend Sunrise interview with Andrew OKeefe and Edwina Bartholomew

17 September 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Youth unemployment/welfare
E&OE

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

So, where is the welfare system heading, what lies ahead for those who can't find work?

EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

Well, to discuss this further, we're joined by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge in Melbourne, and Greens spokesperson on Community Services, Senator Rachel Siewert, who is in Perth.

Good morning, to you both- Minister, we'll start with you- now, your colleague, Social Services Minister Christian Porter, is preparing to unveil this new Try, Test, Learn Fund - now, it's supposedly to break the cycle of intergenerational welfare.

How will it work and how will it be different to things that we've seen before or proposed before like the Prepare, Trial, Hire, or so-called PaTH Program, which was announced in the budget just a couple of months ago.

ALAN TUDGE:

Good morning. This compliments some of those other initiatives, but in essence, we now have more robust data than we've ever had before and on the basis of this data we can actually assess very clearly what interventions have been working and what have not.

It also allows us, in the future, to be able to provide very targeted interventions at individuals or smaller groups of people with much greater surety that those interventions will lead to those people having better lives.

Now this is based on what New Zealand has done already- in some respect we're replicating what they've done, investing that data, and then target very specifically at individual cohorts of people with the objective of getting them back on track.

EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

Have you got numbers for how successful it has been in New Zealand?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's still relatively early in New Zealand, but every indication has been that it's been getting very good results, and so the welfare trajectory for particular cohorts is much diminished, and so they can track that and model that out, and that's what we want to do. We know that at the end of the day it's much better- people are much better off if they've got employment.

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

[Talks over] Indeed.

ALAN TUDGE:

Long term- you know, long term welfare dependence ultimately is a poison on people, it sucks the life and motivation out of people.

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

[Talks over] Sure, but-

ALAN TUDGE:

Everything we've got to do is to try to get them back on track.

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

Minister, the rates of youth unemployment have, you know, been stubbornly high for 30 years - and underemployment, i.e. people who can't get as much work as they would like to, have tripled in the last 20 years - I mean, where are the jobs that these people are going to get? I mean, the jobs and growth mantra, where are the jobs coming from?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, so youth unemployment actually has come down in recent times, but it's still too high at about 12 per cent presently - but it is the central goal of this Government is to grow the economy because ultimately underpins jobs growth.

Now, it was only a few years ago in the Howard Government when the central problem was not enough workers for the jobs available, and now we've obviously got a problem with finding the jobs for those young people particularly.

Now, we've also got a task though for some people who, unfortunately, for whatever reason, don't want to work when there are jobs available. That's why we do have a reasonably robust compliance regime to insist that they do look for work and do take a job when one is available, because it's in their interest as much as it's in the community's interest for them to do so.

EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

Rachel, what are the prospects of this proposal getting through the Senate do you think?

SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT:

Which- the new proposal, Mr Porter's new proposal - well, I went to New Zealand last year to actually look at the system, and I'm a bit disappointed to hear the Minister say it's going to replicate it, because there are learnings that we can take out of New Zealand that would improve the system, and there's also differences between us and New Zealand.

If you- what happened in New Zealand is, when they brought the system in, they also ranked up their sanctions system - so they dropped a whole lot of people off welfare- off income support-

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

[Talks over] Yeah.

SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT:

- which made their lives more difficult. We do need to be making sure that we are targeting supports for people that meet their needs.

ANDREW O’KEEFE: Yeah.

SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT:

So, in- in theory it sounds good, but we need to see what the Government's proposing in terms of how they're going to roll it out - and if they rank up sanctions over here like they did in New Zealand, we're going to see a significant number of people breached - so it is easy to get people off income support, you can just dump them off-

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

[Talks over] Yeah.

SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT:

- dump them into further poverty. What we're looking for is supports that actually meet people's needs - targeting supports that genuinely help people find work - and also, address the barriers to them finding work, whether it is education, training, or some of the other complex barriers that people face.

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

Rachel, of course some of the reporting around this this week has been, you know, I think, highly inflammatory, I think it has- it's created a portrait of young people that is not necessarily true, extrapolating from the case of, you know, two girls who are obviously having a bit of fun at the expense of a journalist.

But, all of those 580,000 NEETs that the- the report, the OECD report does say there are about 40 per cent who aren't looking for work - now, there are many reason for that potentially, you know, intergenerational unemployment, the lack of prospects, et cetera.

Most people would think though, that able bodied, able minded people who aren't actively seeking a job or training should have some kind of income support consequence of that.

SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT:

Well, first off you need to look at those figures - and you're right, the story was inflammatory - and if you actually look at the OECD report you see that when you start breaking down some of those figures in fact it's not 40 per cent.

There's- they separate it into different categories and you see it's lower. But some of those figures, for example, are mothers at home looking after children, and with caring responsibilities, so we need to actually carefully look at those figures.

But there is a cohort that has disengaged, and that's because often they have dropped out of training for whatever reason- there's a high proportion of them that start, for example, in VET, and the system doesn't meet their needs so they drop out - so then they can't find work either.

They- There isn't very good transition, although they're trying- the Government's trying to target that, the transition from school to employment and training is not smooth and it can leave people behind.

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

[Talks over] Right. So is that- will that be addressed, Minister, in this new program?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well it's certainly being addressed in what we call the PaTH Program-

ANDREW O’KEEFE AND EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

[Talks over] Yes.

ALAN TUDGE:

- which we announced in the budget just a few months ago- and it will crate 120,000 opportunities for young people to get an internship- sorry, some training, an internship and then full time work, and that's going to be a great initiative which will really address some of those issues which we're talking about.

I agree with some of the things which Rachel Siewert has said, that you do need to look at that data, I think the vast majority of young people actually do want to work, and we need to ensure that there are opportunities for them to get the jobs available.

Sometimes those jobs aren't in the locations where they might be residing, and so we need to encourage young people, for example, to be more mobile to find the work.

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

Sure.

ALAN TUDGE:

In other cases, there are people, unfortunately, who, for whatever reason, don't want to work and will deliberately try to work around the system - and in those cases I actually think the compassionate response to those people is to be quite robust and insisting that they do apply for work, and insisting they do take a job when one is available because-

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

[Talks over] Right.

EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

[Talks over] Right.

ALAN TUDGE:

- as I said before, if you're on long term welfare dependence, it is an absolute poison on the individual, it sucks the motivation and life out of people-

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

[Talks over] And on the family.

EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

[Talks over] Yeah.

ALAN TUDGE:

I've seen this very, very clearly, particularly in remote communities in Australia where I've done a lot of work.

EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

[Talks over] Alright.

ALAN TUDGE:

So, you know, we've got to do everything we can to get the jobs available and then encourage people to take those jobs when they are there.

EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW:

Okay. Thank you both very much for your input this morning.

ANDREW O’KEEFE:

Cheers.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thank you.

SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT:

Thank you.

[ENDS]