Transcript: AM Agenda – Sky News, Interview with Kieran Gilbert

25 October 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Newspoll, strengthening mutual obligations
E&OE

KIERAN GILBERT:

With me now on the program, the Human Services Minister Alan Tudge. Mr Tudge, thanks very much for your time. I want to ask you, first of all, about the poll before we get into an interesting speech you gave last night on the welfare spend.

Now, the Prime Minister said when he launched the challenge last year on Tony Abbott, he referred to the Newspoll and the consecutive number of Newspolls that Tony Abbott had trailed him as part of the justification for putting his hand up.

Now we are well within our rights, aren't we, to judge him based on the same numbers?

ALAN TUDGE:

Listen, you'd always like to see Newspoll figures up rather than down, but this was one poll of, I think, 1,500 voters. We just had a poll of 15 million voters just two or three months ago, and we won that election on the primary vote by about a million votes.

And I think the Australian public, through that poll, were basically saying we like your program and we want you to implement your program, and we've been doing exactly that.

Even in the last couple of weeks, as you know Kieran, we've had the CFA legislation to protect the volunteers, we've passed tax cuts, we’ve had budget repair bills, and of course have introduced the ABCC legislation.

So we're getting on with the job of what the Australian public voted us to do just a few months ago.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Why is he proving so unpopular, though? Coming from those stratospheric numbers that we saw when Mr Turnbull became Prime Minister. What in your view is providing the dampener on it?

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh, Kieran, this is one poll. There's going to be another probably a thousand polls...

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] Can he turn it around, though?

ALAN TUDGE:

...between now and the next election. Literally there'll be another thousand polls between now and the next election. And we've just come out of a federal election.

We've got a big agenda which we're trying to implement. I think last week we probably had a less than tidy week and perhaps that's reflected in the poll numbers today as well. But as I said...

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Interrupts] So unity is key.

ALAN TUDGE:

...We just had a big poll three months ago, and we're getting on with the job.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So discipline and unity are obviously key right now.

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh, they always are. I mean, discipline and unity are always important and all of us have to act in the interest of the team, and that's our obligation as Members of Parliament, and that's our obligation to the Australian people.

KIERAN GILBERT:

I want to ask you about this speech you gave last night. Quite amazing numbers, when you look at this mutual obligation system we have within the welfare system, yet it doesn't seem to be working that way.

Only a tiny fraction of those on Newstart are facing any penalties at all if they don't show up for either interviews or training. Talk us through the numbers for our viewers this morning.

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, that's right Kieran. This is a speech I gave last night in which I was asking for higher expectations upon job seekers, because even though in our mutual obligations they appear to be very robust on the surface, in the practical application of them, often they are not.

For example, last year not a single person lost a cent for failure to job search, and now we have an obligation upon people for good reason that we want them to job search, and we should expect them to do so.

We also have high expectations upon people to go to interviews and to take a job when they're available but often we don't back up those expectations with our policies and so that's what I was arguing for yesterday, that we've got to expect more of people because if we do expect more of people they tend to rise to the challenge.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So why are there now hundreds of thousands, we're talking hundreds of thousands of individuals who you're talking about, within this cohort of people who are required to job search but maybe haven't and yet not facing a penalty, why is that?

Is it due to the discretion of the Centrelink worker or the job service provider? What's the problem in the system?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's a combination of the legislation, some of the social security guidelines and the discretion which is built into the system for the job service provider as well as the Centrelink officials.

So it is right across the system really and that's what we need to delve into a little bit more, with the overall view that we should have high standards upon people because we know in other policy areas that if you expect more of people, people typically step up to the mark.

We know that in schools policy for example the high expectations schools do better regardless of their demographic composition. We expect so much of people when they're driving on the roads, we don't expect them to speed and we have no tolerance associated with that. It should be the same in relation to job seekers.

There's always going to be events that arise, and we’ve got to accommodate that, but nevertheless we've got to expect that if you're capable, there isn't a family emergency or a sickness, then you will look for that job, you will take the interview and you will take the job when it's available.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It makes a lot of sense what you're saying in terms of trying to build that cultural shift, which is necessary, but by the same token you have to be aware of not removing the discretion from those on the frontline because people who work for the charity or the other organisation, they see the individuals and they know what their personal situations are…

ALAN TUDGE:

Sure.

KIERAN GILBERT:

…so they should still have a discretion to make a judgment if this person is going to starve or not.

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh absolutely, and so, there will always be that. There will always be, if you like, a list of reasonable excuses for not being able to turn up to that job interview. Now, that's always going to be things like if you are ill, if there is a family tragedy.

All those things which life throws up for all of us frankly, and we always need to have those but I'm talking about outside of those reasonable excuses.

If you don't have a reasonable excuse and you're assessed as being able-bodied, then we should be expecting you to do that job search, to take the interview and indeed to take the job.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Interrupts] Finally, on this issue, isn't it also, as a Minister in this space, that we need to be cognisant of the fact that the people who are looking for jobs in the situation that many of them have very difficult personal circumstances to even get to the interview in the first place, that we're talking about a cohort in society which is the least well off.

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh, in some cases that's right but we've already done an assessment of this cohort to say that yes, you are capable of working.

That's the first step which is done Kieran, and after that we need to be able to say we're going to back you into that, because we believe that you can do that interview and we believe that you can take that job.

And I don't think it's compassionate, by the way, to say to someone, listen, we're going to make an excuse for you even though we've assessed you as being of capacity, we've assessed you as being capable of doing it, but we're going to make an excuse for you not attending that interview or not taking that job.

That's not in your interest, and it's not in society's interests.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Alan Tudge, appreciate your time, thanks very much for that.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks Kieran.

[ENDS]