Transcript: 4BC Brisbane, Interview with Ben Davis

12 April 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Strengthening mutual obligations, Work for the Dole
E&OE

BEN DAVIS:                      
Alan Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:   
G'day Ben.

BEN DAVIS:       
Minister, 7% of those who shirk their responsibilities. Why is it only 7% facing penalties?

ALAN TUDGE:   
That is right and it is not a great number.

The reason why is because the Labor Government, when they were last in office, introduced a loophole basically which said that if you are facing a financial penalty you can avoid it simply by agreeing to do a training course of re-engaging in some sort of activity.

Now, we have tried to get rid of that loophole, it has been blocked in the Parliament by Labor and the Greens, and now we're working on different proposals to try to strengthen those laws again.

We want to send a very clear message, Ben, that Work for the Dole scheme is there and it is there to assist the community through a mutual obligation arrangement and also it assists the individual because it keeps their work skills high by having to get up and contribute each and every day.

But if you don't turn up, there has got to be consequences, and that is what we want to achieve.

BEN DAVIS:       
And, see Minister, that is what I thought yesterday before speaking to my listeners. They have said it doesn't give them any extra skills. The biggest thing that I heard from my listeners yesterday that there is no supervision. People turn up, they basically tick a box.

They sit down, they might have a smoke, have a cuppa, have a chat. Oh, I have been here for a couple hours I can take off. There is no supervision, system is broken.

ALAN TUDGE:   
There was an evaluation done - when was it? - at the beginning of last year and it did show, based on the participants' evaluation, that they did feel that it did improve their skills.

I think from memory about 79% of people said it did better prepare them for work and make them more likely to be able to work subsequently.

Of course, the core philosophy around it is to say, well, if you are in receipt of welfare payments and you are able bodied, then you should contribute back to the community in some way.

I think that is a very sound principle and that is why it has been in place for 20 years since the Howard Government introduced it and we have ramped it up in the last two or three years.

I think the core weakness, though, is on this compliance side of things. So, for people who are trying to work around the system, maybe just rock up for five minutes and then bugger off, then they need to face consequences.

And at the moment there are a couple of loopholes which need closing and we are working on closing them.

BEN DAVIS:       
Alright, you said a couple. You spoke about one just before where if you go and do a training course you can get out of having to pay …

ALAN TUDGE:   
You get out of having to suffer a consequence for not doing the right thing. So, we want to set high expectations on people.

BEN DAVIS:       
Sure. What other loopholes?

ALAN TUDGE:   
Well, we are taking a look across the board so it is not just the Work for the Dole, but also you have got obligations to look for work, for example.

Last year, we know that not a single person lost a dime for failure to search for work. Now, many people had a suspension, but then when they re-engaged they got all their money back. Nobody lost a payment …

BEN DAVIS:       
Yeah, that's getting back-paid, is that right?

ALAN TUDGE:   
And then they are getting back payments.

BEN DAVIS:       
No.

ALAN TUDGE:   
Again, we are looking at entire systems here with the view of … I should give context.

Most people who are on unemployment benefits, Ben, they are hungry for work, they are doing the right thing. In fact, two thirds of people never miss an appointment, or maybe miss one in a six month period.

But you have got about 100,000 people who continually fail to meet their obligations, to search work, take those interviews, do the Work for the Dole, or the like.

Now, even within that category, you have got a big chunk of that, there are a whole stack of issues going on in their life. We actually want to be able to identify those people early in the system.

So, then there's perhaps 50,000 people who, frankly, are taking the taxpayer for a ride and they are getting around the system, they are not facing consequences.

And they are your classic young man, basically, the stereotype if you like, who really … makes the system not as robust and makes the public lose confidence in it. And that is where we want to make sure they are being picked up as well, that they face consequences for their…

BEN DAVIS:       
So, Minister, 30,000 people who failed to meet their obligations did not get any financial punishments. You have just told us what the problems are, how do we fix it?

ALAN TUDGE:   
We have been taking a very forensic look at the entire compliance system over the last few months. It is a complex system, it is too complex.

We want to simplify it and we want to make it in some respects lighter touch for those who are doing the right thing.

We want to be able to identify those with serious issues in their life earlier on in the system, but then we want to be able to crack down on those people who are taking the taxpayer for a ride. So we are …

BEN DAVIS:
Do you need legislation changes for that to happen?

ALAN TUDGE:   
There are some things that we can do without legislation and there are some things that would require legislation. We are doing a lot of work on this at the moment …

BEN DAVIS:       
Let's do it.

ALAN TUDGE:   
So, I haven't got the full answer for you here today. But I can just say that between Christian Porter, the Social Services Minister, Michaelia Cash, the Employment Ministers, and myself we are looking at this, we are conscious of the problems, and we want to improve it for the benefit of the taxpayer and also the benefit of the individual.

BEN DAVIS:       
Yeah. Well, three heads on it. Hopefully we get some answers shortly. When we get those answers we will be speaking to you. Appreciate your time Minister. Alan Tudge there, Minister for Human Services, part of Centrelink.