Transcript: 2GB Sydney, Interview with Chris Smith

12 April 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Work for the Dole
E&OE

CHRIS SMITH:   
Alan Tudge is the Federal Minister for Human Services, he's on the line right now. Minister, thank you for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:   
G’day Chris.

CHRIS SMITH:   
So are we getting rid of or keeping the Work for the Dole scheme? What is happening, what is the update?

ALAN TUDGE:   
We are absolutely keeping the Work for the Dole scheme. This was something that we introduced back in the Howard Government and we think it is a very good scheme.

Because not only does the person have to contribute back to society in exchange for their welfare payments, but it is also good for them because it keeps their skills up, it keeps their work discipline high.

CHRIS SMITH:   
But it is broken. It is broken.

ALAN TUDGE:   
No I wouldn't say that Work for the Dole is broken. I think there are some areas where we do need to work on, and particularly on the compliance side which is what you have been discussing.

If people aren't doing the right thing there needs to be consequences and serious consequences. And we are concerned at the moment that there are too many loopholes.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Are the public servants involved in policing this too soft?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Oh it is not the public servants' issue, it is actually one of the rules that the Labor Party introduced when they were in government - they introduced this waiver system.

What that effectively means is that, if you don't do the right thing, you don't turn up for Work for the Dole for example, you are supposed to face a financial penalty.

But Labor introduced this waiver system where you can just ring up and say; hey, but I'm going to do a training course and straight away your penalty is abolished.

CHRIS SMITH:   
You can just say you're doing a training course?

ALAN TUDGE:   
You can just say you're doing a training course.

CHRIS SMITH:   
You don't have to provide evidence of that?

ALAN TUDGE:   
You have to go and enrol in it of course, and you will provide some evidence that you are doing some sort of course or re-engaging in some way. But those who are trying to work around the system - and there are people - can deliberately exploit this loophole.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Don't tell me 93% - that is those people who haven't been punished here through Work for the Dole - don't tell me 93% have had the same excuse.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Oh that's exactly right. The vast majority of those people who are supposed to face a serious financial penalty, an eight week suspension, the vast majority don't because they ring up and use this waiver provision.

CHRIS SMITH:   
So what do you intend to do about that one?

ALAN TUDGE:   
First of all, we tried to abolish that waiver provision. It was knocked back by the Greens and the Labor Party.

But we are also doing further work, as we speak, between Michaelia Cash, Christian Porter and myself. We are looking at the compliance system as a whole.

Because we want to make sure that the system is there to (a) support those who actually need the additional support, and there are people who do need that, but (b) where people are taking us for a ride that we identify them early and that there are consequences for them.

CHRIS SMITH:   
But Labor and the Greens have got you snookered. You can't fix this flaw.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well let's …

CHRIS SMITH:   
The waiver is in place and it cannot be changed.

ALAN TUDGE:   
We are taking a look at the system as a whole. We foreshadowed this some time ago and we have been doing some work on this. We have identified where the issues are. I should point out that …

CHRIS SMITH:   
So what are you going to do about it?

ALAN TUDGE:   
I want to point out, Chris, this is important, that the vast majority of people actually do the right thing. Two-thirds of people who are unemployment benefit never miss an appointment or only miss one appointment in any six month period.

But you have got about 100,000 people who continually miss appointments, continually don't do the right activities.

Half of that, they have probably got some issues going on in their life, they probably need a bit more structure and we want to identify them.

And the other half are taking the taxpayer for a ride and that is where we do want to do work on and ensure that if we are being taken for a ride that there are consequences associated with it.

CHRIS SMITH:   
But you don't quite know what to do yet?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Oh I don't want to foreshadow exactly what we are proposing to do, we have still got some work going on.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Why? Because you're not sure yourself?

ALAN TUDGE:   
I just don't want to pre-empt anything yet.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Okay. Is it still the case of welfare payments…

ALAN TUDGE:   
…I do want to assure you that we are very aware of this issue and that we are working on it and we do want to fix it.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Okay. Is it still the case that welfare payments are suspended as a punishment for people not turning up to job interviews and then when they re-engage they get back-paid?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Correct. Correct. That is another loophole. I have spoken about this publicly in the past…

CHRIS SMITH:   
That's dumb!

ALAN TUDGE:   
…and another one of these things which we are…

CHRIS SMITH:   
It's so soft and limp-wristed!

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well…

CHRIS SMITH:   
They just run rings around the Government and the taxpayer.

ALAN TUDGE:   
And again, it was not out of- when you look through all that the people who had to look for work last year - that is one of your requirements.

If you are on unemployment benefit, you are supposed to look for work - not a single person last year lost a dollar for failure to job search.

Now that to us is a problem and we have identified that and I can assure you we are working on it.

CHRIS SMITH:   
But we still give them their money and put it in their pocket even after they run rings around the system.

ALAN TUDGE:   
I can assure you, we are working on this. I don't pre-empt anything we have not announced. But I can absolutely assure you, Chris, that we have been forensic in terms of trying to understand this very complex system - and it is complex.

CHRIS SMITH:   
But you know it is not just about trying to save money and fix the Budget and fix our debt problem. It is about attitude.

We have become a handout society where, you know, this is the way we are going to live. We are simply not going to work because there are too many generous taxpayers we can take advantage of.

ALAN TUDGE:   
There are some attitudinal problems. I mean I always talk about the need to raise expectations on capable young people, particularly.

To say that if you have been identified as being capable of working, then we have very high expectations upon you. We expect you to look for work, we expect you to take a job and we expect you to hold that down. Because we expect so much of you…

CHRIS SMITH:   
But you have got to toughen penalties and police them.

ALAN TUDGE:   
And that goes with that high expectations that there are consequences if you do not…

CHRIS SMITH:   
Alright. Who are the main bludgers? Is it men under 30, is it?

ALAN TUDGE:   
When you look through the data, as I said, two-thirds of people just do the right thing, they need very little compliance at all, they are hungry to get work.

And then you've got about, say, 100,000 people who are constantly missing activities, well we estimate maybe about half of that group have probably got serious things going on in their life and we actually want to be able to identify those people earlier and give them more structure.

I think that is important. We are not doing that well enough. And the other 50,000 …

CHRIS SMITH:   
Okay. Meanwhile last year's review of Work for the Dole …

ALAN TUDGE:   
…the other 50,000 is where they are taking the taxpayer for a ride and that is where we need to have the stronger consequences …

CHRIS SMITH:   
And it is men under 30.

ALAN TUDGE:   
And it largely is that category of people.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Okay. What about this review of the program Work for the Dole last year that found the probability that an unemployed person will find a job improved by just 2 percentage points? That tells me, once again, that the system is broken.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well the system is not broken. You look through that review and it also shows that 79% said that the routine of Work for the Dole was good for them, and that about three-quarters said that it increased their desire to find work.

Now Work for the Dole, yes, it is an encouragement to get a job subsequently, but it is also just an important mutual obligation for taxpayers.

To say that if you are getting a payment, then in exchange for that you have to contribute back to the community and that is an important principle in and of itself.

CHRIS SMITH:   
But 98% didn't go on and get a job!

ALAN TUDGE:   
No, no. That's not right, 30% of those who participate in Work for the Dole got a job within three months.

CHRIS SMITH:   
But it was only 2% likely that they would if they went through Work for the Dole. How do you construe that statistic then?

I'm getting it wrong?

ALAN TUDGE:   
No, that is one of the statistics that is in that report.

CHRIS SMITH:   
The probability that an unemployed person will find a job improved by just 2 percentage points because of Work for the Dole.

ALAN TUDGE:   
And also, as I said and I have gone through some of those other figures which show what it does to people's attitudes by participating in Work for the Dole.

And I have also talked about the key principle, which is a standalone principle, of giving back to the community in exchange for your welfare payments.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Alright. I look forward to chatting with you, Minister, when you have got answers for us on these two major flaws that make the system a really old clunker. And I have a feeling there is a lot of work to do.

ALAN TUDGE:   
A lot of work is being done, let me assure you of that. And I think you will like the direction which we are going.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Okay. Thank you very much for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Thanks so much, Chris.

CHRIS SMITH:   
Federal Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge.