Transcript: 2GB Sydney, Interview with Steve Price and Andrew Bolt

24 October 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Welfare reform: Strengthening mutual obligations
E&OE

STEVE PRICE: 
Alan Tudge, Minister good evening… Minister you there? No he’s not there.

ANDREW BOLT:         
You misled everyone, Steve, talk about an anti-climax.

STEVE PRICE: 
We’ll ring him back and get him, but I mean at 14, I think, is that too young? If you’re going to work at McDonalds you get trained, you get good discipline, [indistinct] rights and wrongs don’t they?

ANDREW BOLT:         
Absolutely, I was cooking hamburgers at 14 but still to my shame…

STEVE PRICE: 
At home?

ANDREW BOLT:         
No the service station, still to my shame I remember once handing over my hamburger that I’d cooked because I also pumped petrol, I hadn’t washed my hands, I still to this day, how many years is that later, 50 – 40 years later…  I still remember the look he gave my hands and to the hamburger.

STEVE PRICE: 
We do have the Minister on the line. Minister Tudge, good evening.

ALAN TUDGE:
G’day Steve.

STEVE PRICE: 
Andrew is here as well.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Can you settle an argument for us, Alan, we were under the mistaken impression and we’d been put right that you can’t work until you’re 16 years old, is that true?

ALAN TUDGE:
Ah gees, good question, I don’t know the answer off the top of my head.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Well if you don’t then I don’t feel any shame that I don’t either, there you go.

STEVE PRICE: 
None of us do.

ALAN TUDGE:
I’m sure the Employment Minister would know that, but as the Human Services Minister, I do not. I thought it was 15 actually.

STEVE PRICE: 
I’m sure one of your dozens of advisors can frantically now look it up for us…

ANDREW BOLT:         
No I don’t think… it’s a lovely day, they’re eating their dinner, I mean come on.

STEVE PRICE: 
Get them to do it. We’ve had a mother say her…

ALAN TUDGE:
We’re actually in a car driving to Sydney from Canberra so…

STEVE PRICE: 
Tell them Alan they’ve got…

ALAN TUDGE:
I do have a couple of my advisors in the backseat there…

STEVE PRICE: 
Tell them they’ve got Google on their phone, they can look it up for us.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Pass on my regards, tell them to sit back and enjoy the trip, don’t worry about it.

STEVE PRICE: 
So we’ve had one mum say her daughter works at Boost already at the age of 14, another at Maccas at 14 so it must be true.

ALAN TUDGE:
Right.

STEVE PRICE: 
You’ve made a speech today about welfare benefits in this country and people on permanent welfare and the fact that you want to get young Australians off permanent welfare.

How many people, how many young people and I wouldn’t mind your definition of young, how many young Australians permanently on welfare do you think don’t want to get off?

ALAN TUDGE:
Oh that’s a hard number to say, there’s certainly thousands of people I think who for one reason or another aren’t really looking for work aggressively; they haven’t got the social norms for work and it’s for those people that we do have to have a reasonable [indistinct] in place…

STEVE PRICE: 
That’s not sounding good.

ANDREW BOLT:         
That didn’t sound too good.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Indistinct]…

STEVE PRICE: 
We’re losing you a bit there, Alan, just hang on there we’ll get the producer to talk to you off air; we might have to wait until you get to a better spot.

            [Unrelated content – talkback about Scott Morrison]

STEVE PRICE: 
Okay, we’ll do a bit more work on that, we do have the Minister back on the line. Sorry about that, I think you were going through one of our many infrastructure tunnels in New South Wales were you?

ALAN TUDGE:
I was, which I was told that it had reception but it doesn’t. I actually do have the answer for that question, from one of my trusted advisors…

STEVE PRICE: 
Oh no, you don’t… well done.

ALAN TUDGE:
… they said it’s 14 years and nine months, so I thought it was 15.

STEVE PRICE: 
Well you got closest to the pin so well done.

ALAN TUDGE:
I got closest to the pin for that.

STEVE PRICE: 
Absolutely. Now your reforms, the Government obviously got a rebuff from the Senators without actually putting it to a vote but for a reform that I think makes perfect sense and that is to delay for one month school leavers before they can claim the dole…

ALAN TUDGE:
Sure.

STEVE PRICE: 
Do you think you can get to the same task in a different way, what is it?

ALAN TUDGE:
Listen we’ve got a big welfare reform agenda more broadly, Andrew, and it consists of a number of parts. A. we’d like to simplify the payment system over all and reduce some of those financial incentives for not taking a job.

B. We want to provide better support for those people who we know are particularly vulnerable to be on welfare for a long period of time.

And C. and this is what I was starting to outline tonight; we need to have a good, robust set of mutual obligations which in setting these mutual obligations we’re setting high expectations upon people.

Because we should be saying to capable people that if you’re assessed as being work capable, then we expect you to look for a job, we expect you to take that interview and we expect you to take a job when it’s available.

At the moment I think that our expectations upon many of these people as I suppose represented by the practical application of our mutual obligations are miserably low and we should have higher expectations.

STEVE PRICE: 
Every time I raise this on air, I will get calls from people saying that the middle man is part of the problem, that the job agencies are not doing a good enough job.

So are these reforms also going to look at the fact that you have a privatised job agency network that in some cases is simply willing to take the Government money and not do the follow through to find people work?

ALAN TUDGE:
Some of those job agencies do a very good job and others less so, and…

STEVE PRICE: 
So that would be a yes; you are going to look at reforming them?

ALAN TUDGE:
… and so certainly what I was articulating tonight is overall, in terms of the obligations which are placed upon jobseekers themselves, they need to be based in a – on higher expectations of what we expect.

Tonight I was talking more about the jobseekers themselves and those obligations placed upon them because you know, believe it or not, according to a recent estimate only four per cent of people who missed an activity such as a job interview; they didn’t turn up to a job interview, they didn’t have a reasonable excuse for missing that job interview but only 4 per cent of people actually faced any penalty and for me…

ANDREW BOLT:         
Wow why is that?

ALAN TUDGE:
It’s because when you go through the system it shows that yes the jobs – the job services agency has to call the jobseeker and say listen mate, did your mum die, were you sick, did something happen?

No, so they go through the reasonable excuse list but then the job services provider also then has discretion more generally as to whether or not they can refer it to Centrelink. So a lot of the times they don’t, it then goes across to…

ANDREW BOLT:         
But why is that, why is that?

ALAN TUDGE:
There’s no obligation…

ANDREW BOLT:         
[Talks over] They don’t want to seem mean or something?

ALAN TUDGE:
… and I think in some cases they don’t want to seem mean or they think it’s not in their best interests to do so.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Why would it not be in their best interests? They might get sued or…

STEVE PRICE: 
Because they’re public servants and it’s not their money for a start.

ALAN TUDGE:
This is one of the questions that we’ve got to get to the bottom of, Andrew, because in my view if a person has been assessed as being work capable, they’ve got a job interview there, a really important job interview and they don’t miss it and they haven’t got a reasonable excuse then I think we should be insisting upon the fact that they are there and are present because it’s an opportunity which could get them onto a better pathway.

ANDREW BOLT:         
And you’re focusing this mainly from the way you’re talking to the young jobseekers are you?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well it’s a combination. I mean obviously we have a lot of young jobseekers, but there’s also middle age jobseekers as well. But we want them to take jobs wherever they are available…

STEVE PRICE: 
Absolutely, but how do you get over that then Alan? I mean if you’ve already got the situation where you’ve set the rules and you said look we want a reasonable excuse, we’re not handing over the dole unless you’ve got an excuse for not turning up to this job interview and turning it down whatever.

How can you get the public servants who should or the job agencies which should be saying hey listen you didn’t turn up, no dole for you. How do you get them start to change their tune then?

ALAN TUDGE:
Yeah well it’s a combination of practice, of guidelines, of legislation and culture.

STEVE PRICE: 
We’ve got guidelines.

ALAN TUDGE:
There are guidelines in relation for example to Centrelink. Now Centrelink operates under a series of guidelines where they have the reasonable excuse definitions in the legislation but then under the guidelines they will be able to take any other factor which they deem fit into account in determining whether or not to take any further action.

And they’re encouraged under the social security guidelines to interpret those very broadly. So they’re something that we should be looking at those guidelines as well as just the general cultural practices.

STEVE PRICE: 
Andrew do you want to run you fruit picking theory past [indistinct]?

ANDREW BOLT:         
[Laughs] So look…

            [Cross talk]

ANDREW BOLT:         
For instance fruit picking [indistinct], we’ve got growers saying we can’t find labourers to pick fruit – which I’ve done, so I know when I say…

ALAN TUDGE:
That was my first job Andrew.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Well it was about my third job and I’ve done it up and down the Murray. Now, Alan, you know that anyone that’s got two legs and two arms and can use them should be able to pick fruit.

What sort of test would you run so that all these people that are claiming the unemployment dole within a car ride of fruit picking don’t get it?

ALAN TUDGE:
It’s actually one of the examples I gave in my speech tonight…

ANDREW BOLT:         
I wish I’d heard it now.

ALAN TUDGE:
…is the frustration that we have areas where we’ve got fruit pickers or we’ve got abattoirs that can’t get people to do the work and meanwhile you might have youth unemployment up in their high teens or 20 per cent youth unemployment.

Now something’s going wrong there and I’m suggesting that in part it is to do with the mutual obligations where we’re not insisting strongly enough that if a job is available that a young person needs to apply for it, interview it and needs to take it.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Still not getting the idea, yet these public servants know all this is happening to say listen, no dole for you, I want [indistinct] …soup Nazis there, where are your soup Nazis?

STEVE PRICE: 
It’s a cultural change. It’s got to happen.

ALAN TUDGE:
Yeah it’s a combination. It’s the cultural change, it’s the legislative change, you know there’s regulation changes, but overall we’ve got to set high expectations upon job seekers in my view because you know across all public policy areas if you set high expectations upon people then they tend to step up to the mark and meet those expectations.

STEVE PRICE: 
Well Andrew and I have been having a debate though Alan. Alan, Andrew and I have been having a debate here while we were waiting to talk to you about how do you need to legislate these changes because you’re never going to get this stuff passed Labor, the Greens and various other crossbench senators who just don’t want to take money off people.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Wait a minute Alan, just look you mentioned the figure here where you said only four per cent of people who didn’t turn up, you know, they didn’t go to that job interview that was all beautifully lined up, only four per cent…

ALAN TUDGE:
Did have not have a reasonable excuse.

ANDREW BOLT:         
…they did not have an excuse, only four per cent were breached, had their payments suspended.

You should have added on the radio the other half of that, and the four per cent that did have their payments suspended had them repaid later on anyway, so none, not one single person was left financially worse off for failing to look for work.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well for failing to look for work that is the case. Last year…

ANDREW BOLT:         
Wow.

ALAN TUDGE:
…not a single person. Not a single person…

ANDREW BOLT:         
Not one.

ALAN TUDGE:
…in Australia who lost a dime because of failure to look for work…

ANDREW BOLT:         
That’s incredible. So why bother looking at all. What is the penalty? That’s incredible.

ALAN TUDGE:
So this is my point in terms of setting expectations. Now on the face of it we appear to have very robust compliance system but in the practice I think it’s falling down.

ANDREW BOLT:         
I think the unemployment queues need to be added by all those public servants or those job agency people that didn’t impose any penalty. They should be out of a job.

            [Pause]

STEVE PRICE: 
Silence, out of tunnel…

ANDREW BOLT:         
That’s just incredible. What’s the point of having rules if not only the people that they apply to don’t obey them, but the people who are supposed to monitor the rules, don’t enforce them?

ALAN TUDGE:
And this is what I’m starting to get to the bottom of Andrew, so…

ANDREW BOLT:         
Oh my God.

STEVE PRICE: 
I [indistinct] get the point the Minister’s about to address that.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Yeah well I can’t wait for this.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, we’re trying to get to the bottom of it. But as I said, how I’m trying to position this is really in terms of the thing about the expectations that we have upon capable jobseekers and we should have high expectations upon them which should be [indistinct]

STEVE PRICE: 
[Interrupts] I think we should have high expectations of these guys that are supposedly enforcing the rules.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Indistinct] do that as well but [indistinct] these people should be saying yes you can do that interview, yes you can job search, yes you can take that job and we should insist upon it and at the moment we’re not doing that…

ANDREW BOLT:         
Wow.

ALAN TUDGE:
…and I think that’s to the detriment of the job seeker and it’s to the detriment of broader society.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Totally agree with you but my God, Hercules had nothing on your job.

STEVE PRICE: 
More power to you. Let’s hope this speech tonight sets off the chain of events that tightens that all up. We appreciate you joining us on the phone. Thanks a lot.

ANDREW BOLT:         
Good luck to you.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks Andrew, thanks Steve.

STEVE PRICE: 
Alan Tudge there, the Minister for Human Services.

[ENDS]