Transcript: 2GB Drive Interview with Ben Fordham

26 September 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Helping young people get into work, Welfare reforms
E&OE

BEN FORDHAM:
We're being warned our welfare bill is ballooning, as if we needed another warning, and if we don't do something about it, well, we just won't be able to afford it. Our welfare bill is growing at six per cent per year, it's predicted to hit $190 billion by 2019.

It is a grim warning and the Social Services Minister says previous governments have been too scared to tighten eligibility for welfare but he says this Government wants to do something, it has to do something.

And they're currently looking at a number of proposals as part of sweeping reforms, as they like to call them, in the system but there's not silver bullet here.

They've got to make changes in virtually every part of the system to correct the imbalance and put more pressure on people who are taking the system for a ride and taking all of us for a ride. It's about making life uncomfortable for people who are just too lazy to work while helping people who can't work for legitimate reasons.

A few weeks back we spoke about a new breed of welfare recipient, they're known as NEETs which stands for not in employment, education, or training; NEETs. There are 580,000 Australians aged between 15 and 29 who are on the dole and not undertaking any education or training; 580,000 Australians in that category.

They account for one in every eight Australians, I think, aged 15 to 29. Now, let's be clear, this group specifically is not to blame for all of our problems on the welfare front but it's an important group nonetheless because if you can get to people when they are younger, aged between 15 and 29, you can save billions down the track. Otherwise, these people may end up on welfare for life.

And while we were discussing this group recently, we had a chat to the Minister who is wanting to do something about it, his name is Alan Tudge. Now, when we spoke to the minister, we decided for a dose of real life experience.

We also invited on Ivanka Pelikan who's our mate who runs the Graceades Cottage in Mount Druitt because I thought it's one thing to hear from the minister who spends his time in a beautiful building like Parliament House in Canberra, it's another thing to hear from Ivanka who runs Graceades Cottage in Mount Druitt.

Now, Graceades Cottage looks a bit better these days than it did when we first met Ivanka because we undertook a massive renovation of it but it is a very different set of circumstances to what the Minister would see on his daily route.

So, what happens when we brought the two of them together? Well, they had a very interesting conversation and at the end of the chat, I threw it out there to the Minister that if he wanted to connect at all with Ivanka, all he had to do was make contact with us and we could put the two of them together.

Well, I'm very happy to say that last week, that Alan Tudge followed up on that, he spent some time in Mount Druitt with Ivanka and the team at the Graceades Cottage and it's enabled him to help make some decisions about where the Government is going to be headed in this direction and how we can make some savings or some better investments when it comes to welfare.

Alan Tudge, the Human Services Minister is on the line. Minister, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:   
G'day Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:
How was Graceades Cottage?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Oh, it was terrific, Ben. I'm so glad that you encouraged me to go out there and take a look. Ivanka greeted me very warmly when I got there. The place looks incredible by the way, which is a result of your listeners contributing; they've painted the place, it's got a lovely garden, there's a new computer room, a new kitchen, and terrific group of people that run it.

Probably the most interesting part of my visit, though, was actually meeting Paul Breen. He runs what is called Productivity Bootcamp which runs out of Graceades and …

BEN FORDHAM:
[Interrupts] I should just make sure my listeners know, as well, Paul and the team from Productivity Bootcamp, I've interviewed Paul before and also spoken about him a number of times. These are the guys who did a lot of the heavy lifting on the renovation that we did.

He had probably a dozen young kids out there and these are often young unemployed people, he teaches them construction, leadership, communication, and then that's a pathway for them into paid work. So, tell me, what did you learn from Paul?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah, that's right. So, I met up with him and I met up with perhaps ten or 20 of the young men that's he's working with and he does exactly that.

He takes these guys who are typically long-term unemployed, provides them with some motivation, some training, some structure, over a course of eight weeks and then places them into a job and from what I could see he seems to be getting terrific results.

And, I mean, it's pretty amazing speaking to some of these young men as well. They're all there, they're getting there now at 7.30 in the morning. Some of them come from as far away as Lakemba to Mount Druitt.

They're uniformed up, they're ready to go, and they're motivated by and large. And some of these guys have got some real pressures, even when they get home, because they were telling me that sometimes their families don't support them going down this path and actually taking a job because they'll be the first ones to do so, they might then get asked for the money, and so they're not getting many rewards.

BEN FORDHAM:
[Interrupts] Because you've got some of these kids who come from families where work is something that happens on another planet.

Exactly, who have basically never seen a person work in their life and so the …

BEN FORDHAM:
[Talks over] And Paul Breen, Paul Breen raised with you, Minister, an idea which is probably a bit controversial but it's one worth discussing where he said to you, would it be possible that someone like me who's running a program that is getting people off welfare and into work, would it be possible for someone like me to have some kind of power over these young kids to be able to say, look, if you are given an opportunity in a job like this and you then stop turning up to work that I might be able to flip a switch or talk to someone at Centrelink and you no longer get your dole.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah, that's exactly right. So, basically people receive their dole while they're going to his eight-week boot camp program and he provides the opportunity, he provides the structured support for them, but what he was seeking was just a little bit more teeth, if you like, to encourage those young men.

BEN FORDHAM:
[Talks over] A bit more stick, he's got the carrot but he wants a bit more stick.

ALAN TUDGE:   
… a little bit more stick. That's right, he said it's only for a handful of them but sometimes they just won't be turning up and he feels a little bit helpless at the moment when they don't do so because they're getting this opportunity, they're getting the structured support, but they're not fulfilling their obligation so it seems to me …

BEN FORDHAM:
[Talks over] And we should point out 90 per cent of people who turn up for something like Productivity Bootcamp are there every single day, on time, in uniform, ready to roll because they want a new opportunity in life.

But for that other ten per cent who might be having a bit of a laugh and taking us all for a ride, he wants to be able to say, righto, give me the power to stop their welfare.

ALAN TUDGE:   
That's exactly right. So, because at the moment if somebody doesn't turn up, he would have to inform the job service provider, the job service provider would have a bit of discretion as to whether or not any action should be taken.

If they decide action should be taken, then they have to refer it to Centrelink, Centrelink then has further discretion themselves, has to assess whether there's any reasonable excuse, before then they might decide to take any penalty on the individual.

BEN FORDHAM:
Too long, too slow.

ALAN TUDGE:   
So, and that's what I'm concerned about that for some people it might not be fast enough and some people get through loopholes. So, all I'm saying is …

BEN FORDHAM:
[Talks over] You're putting some- you're putting some serious consideration into this now as a result of that conversation.

ALAN TUDGE:   
[inaudible] consideration into giving somebody like Paul the authority to be able to make that decision in a reasonable manner himself. So, we want to have a look at this. Now, Paul as you know, he's a big hearted guy.

He's got a terrific program it seems, running on the ground, providing great structure for these young men, and if we can just provide him with that extra little bit of teeth to encourage those young men who aren't stepping up to the mark, then I think those young men will be better off as well as the community being better off.

BEN FORDHAM:
Can I just confirm, Minister, this is now something under active consideration by the Government off the back of that chat with Paul?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah, so off the back of that we are now taking a look at this and we've got to look at it from all angles, of course, and we'll do so over the next little while to see if we can … implement something exactly along these lines.

By the way, it's something which we had looked at as well in … in some of the more remote Indigenous communities where there's full time Work for the Dole in operation, we're trying to do exactly the same thing there, that if someone doesn't turn up for the day to do their activity, then they'll get docked a day's Centrelink so that there's that immediate…

BEN FORDHAM:
Response.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Response to not doing the right behaviour. Now, again, you've got to have reasonableness put into this if you’re sick …

BEN FORDHAM:
Sure.

ALAN TUDGE:   
… if there's a tragedy in the family or something along those lines but the basic principle I think has to be there that you've got to take personal responsibility when you are given these opportunities.

BEN FORDHAM:
Alright, well I'm glad it was fruitful your visit to Mount Druitt and I'm glad we could play a part in it and well done to you, I'm glad that you had so much to talk about following your discussion with Paul and the rest of the team at Productivity Bootcamp because he is, he's out there every day doing it, I've seen it for myself, you've seen it for yourself so I hope it helps in some way Minister. Thanks for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Yeah, thanks very much, Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:
No problem. Alan Tudge, the Human Services Minister and it all came about following a conversation on this program with Ivanka, our mate from Graceades Cottage and when he went out there, Ivanka must've called our mate Paul Breen and he came along and the Minister had a look at this and thought, alright, well that makes sense.

It's a golden opportunity to lift people from welfare into work. 90 per cent of people realise that so they do the right thing and turn up all of the time and there's ten per cent who don't because they're hungover or stupid of something else.

So, he wants to be able to take a bit more stick to the ten per cent and say if you don't turn up to an opportunity like this, then you don't get the dole. Sounds fair to me.

[ENDS]