SKY AM Agenda - Transcript - Monday 27 January

On 27 Jan, I joined host Kieran Gilbert and Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield to discuss the evidence against Work for the Dole, the possible sell-off of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Australian of the Year Adam Goodes and speculation about the next Governor General. A transcript is over the fold.



SUBJECT/S: Work for the dole, privatisation of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Adam Goodes, Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, Peter Cosgrove.

KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Mitch Fifield, if I could put it to you on this work for the dole story, is it fair to say as I said there just a moment ago that it is in general terms a return to the Howard era approach?

MITCH FIFIELD: Well the Coalition since Howard government has been committed to the concept of work for the dole, but more broadly committed to the concept of reciprocal obligation, and that is, if the community is supporting you in a time of need, it is not unreasonable to expect that you put something back into the community. So that's been a long-standing principle of the Coalition and we have made no secret of the fact that if we were successful in gaining government that we would want to revitalise the work for the dole program. Now, how we give expression to that, the details are yet to come, but we will be announcing in due in due course, but look, we want to make people have a sense of value. The best way to do that is for them to have a job. If for whatever reason they don't get a job at a point in time we want them to be engaged in an activity that has meaning and that makes them feel that they are making a contribution to the community.

GILBERT: I don't think you're going to announce all the details this morning, but in terms of the things that are around this morning in the NewsCorp papers, that local government, not for profit groups, that they are being called upon to recruit some of the 800,000 plus unemployed. That all makes sense given your broader point this morning. Is that generally right? Are those details that are out there today correct?

FIFIELD: Well any work for the dole program, any program with reciprocal obligation, is obviously a partnership between government, the individuals taking part in that program, and community organisations and businesses. So obviously in any scheme you need to partner with other organisations. But as I say the details of how we give expression to the program, they are something come.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, your response to the notion or reciprocal obligation. Is that fair, if people are receiving welfare that they should chip in a bit as well.

ANDREW LEIGH: Kieran I've certainly got no issue with reciprocity. The challenge with work for the dole is what the evidence says. I am basically an evidence guy, if the evidence points towards a policy I'll go for it. In the case of work for the dole, we have one high quality evaluation done by Jeff Borland of Melbourne University for the Howard government. It found that work for the dole increased joblessness because it ended up diverting people from job-search activities into work for the dole activities. So if the Coalition pursues work for the dole they will be pursuing a policy which, on the evidence, will increase the jobless rate.

When people talk about bad policies they are typically talking about policies that don't have the desired effect. This is worse than that. This is a policy that would actually make the problem worse. Only a government that was really wilfully willing to ignore the evidence in favour of pure ideology would pursue work for the dole. But this is a government whose every policy seems to be jeopardising jobs at a very fragile stage in the labour market. And as Bill Shorten has pointed out, we have seen a worsening of the employment situation since the Abbott Government came to office, we are seeing public service jobs going –

GILBERT: But I think a lot of our viewers watching this morning would like the idea of some of what we are hearing today, like if someone is offered a job, that they can't simply refuse it because they don't necessarily want it or it is not convenient. If they are unemployed and on welfare should they not then be required to take that job?

LEIGH: You want to get the policy settings absolutely right, and jobs are a hallmark of Labor's time in government, saving those 200,000 jobs in the global financial crisis –

GILBERT: But to the point of the question, if someone has a job offer and doesn't accept it, stays on welfare, why not use a bit of the stick? The government is talking about a carrot and stick, giving people bonuses in they take a job, but also a stick if they don't. That's fair enough isn't it?

LEIGH: You do have bonuses if people find jobs in the form of the working credit which kicks in for people who have been unemployed for a long period, and in the case of particular jobs you want to make sure that it's a good match, that you are not simply forcing someone into a job that they are going to have to leave weeks later. That doesn't benefit the person or the employer.
Work for the dole is different though, work for the dole is compelling people into other jobs which Jeff Borland has clearly shown drives up the jobless rate.

GILBERT: Senator Fifield, what do you say to Andrew Leigh this morning, quoting that report out of Melbourne University that the whole thing could be counterproductive if people are required to work for the dole projects and spend less time looking for a job?

FIFIELD: Well we put a policy forward at the election. We were elected on that policy and it is our intention to implement it. But I have every confidence that work for the dole, giving people that experience, giving them that meaning and purpose in continuing to the community at a time when they are receiving a payment form the community, is an unqualifiedly good thing.

GILBERT: Along with a bit of tough love if they don't take the job, that they should lose welfare?

FIFIELD: Well look, we are also doing many things to encourage people into the workforce. From July 1 we are going to have a job-commitment bonus. So for long-term unemployed people between the ages of 18 and 30 if they commit to a job for twelve months they will get a payment. If they stay in work for two years they will get a larger payment. We will also have a mature age employer encouragement scheme for those employers who take on people who've been on a payment who are a little older, that will be an incentive for them. We are also introducing a relocation payment for people who need to go from the city to the country or from the country to the city for work. So we've got a range of things that we are doing to encourage and support people into work, but we want to make sure that people have that positive and good experience that everyone wants.


GILBERT: Senator Fifield, something you've got responsibility for is the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I want to turn our attention to this now. A couple of weeks ago Tony Shepherd, the head of the government's Commission of Audit, told the Senate that he would refuse to rule out the prospect of a sell-off of the National Disability Insurance Agency, which is set to oversee the rollout of the NDIS, a privatisation of sorts. What do you say in response to those reports and comments in reaction to it at the time?

FIFIELD: Look Kieran, I think the scare campaign that Labor is running in relation to the government and the NDIS is deeply disappointing. I would have hoped that this is something that could have been elevated beyond partisanship, but in relation to the specific issue of privatisation which Labor have been running around taking about, it really is a moot point. The whole essence of the NDIS, the whole design of the NDIS, isn't for government to deliver the services to people with disability, it's for not-for-profit organisations and for private providers to do so. So an individual is assessed, they get an entitlement commensurate to their need, an individual takes that entitlement to the service provider of their choice. So the NDIS is all about contestability, it is all about the individual being in control, it is never –

GILBERT: Can we talk about the Agency though? Can we talk about the Agency that runs and oversees the whole thing, that that prospect wasn’t ruled out by the Commission of Audit?

FIFIELD: Kieran I think Labor are trying to set up a straw man. That somehow government is the deliverer of disability services through the NDIS. Government isn’t the deliverer of disability services through the NDIS, it’s not-for-profit organisations and it’ll be private providers as well. I’m actually very heartened by the Commission of Audit. I’m not worried by their work. One of the principles under which the Commission of Audit is operating is that government should do those things that only government can do and no more. The Commission of Audit, I’ve got no doubt, will find that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is core government business. And look, we’re getting on with the job of implementing it, and I just wish the Australian Labor Party could elevate this beyond partisanship.

GILBERT: Andrew?

LEIGH: Kieran, I share Mitch’s passion for making a difference to the lives of people with disabilities. But when you’ve got a Commission of Audit which is so dominated by big business, which lacks representatives from the social sector, the community sector, the disability sector, then you’re going to find extreme proposals like this, the notion of selling off the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

GILBERT: It’s not a proposal. It was just simply a question put that wasn’t rejected. It’s not a proposal.

LEIGH: Well it has been proposed by various people in the community and the Commission has signalled that it’s something they’re looking at.

GILBERT: They just refused to rule it out. They’re not saying they’re looking at it. They just refused to rule it out. There’s a difference.

LEIGH: Well if they don’t think that the Agency should be privatised they could very easily have said so. But that prospect is on the table and frankly, that would mean that we’d be selling off the Agency that runs disability care just while this initial work is being done. I mean, the Government shouldn’t be running around seeing who it can sell the Disability Insurance Agency to, it should be trying to get the rollout absolutely right.

GILBERT: Shouldn’t Labor be trying to elevate it above politics, as Senator Fifield says?

LEIGH: Kieran I think one of the great truths of these kinds of shows is anytime you see someone saying let’s elevate it above politics, it essentially means they don’t want to answer the question. If the Coalition wants to categorically rule out selling the Agency, I’d be greatly heartened by that. And Senator Fifield had an opportunity to do that on your program today but didn’t do it.

GILBERT: Senator Fifield, any response to that?

FIFIELD: There is nothing to sell. Let me repeat. There is nothing to sell. Labor don’t know the design of the scheme that they themselves legislated. It is not government that is delivering services to people with disability through the NDIS. It’s private providers and it’s not-for-profits. The role of government is to facilitate. The job of providers is to give those direct services to the people who need them. And that’s what’s going to happen.

GILBERT: Let’s move on. I want to talk about Adam Goodes, the Australian of the Year. Your thoughts on that Senator Fifield?

FIFIELD: I think he’s a terrific choice. He is a great role model for younger Australians. He is a very articulate individual. He’s got a lot of views on a range of issues and I think it’s great we have an Australian of the Year who’s going to be able to contribute to a range of debates.

GILBERT: And this is good in the lead up to the constitutional recognition attempts by the Government. Andrew Leigh, the Prime Minister says he wants the draft amendment to the constitution by September of this year. This is something you would hope would be above politics?

LEIGH: Certainly it’s had bipartisan support and I think that’s great. And indeed I saw Adam Goodes speaking about this. I think Australia’s treatment of Indigenous Australians needs to be tackled on a whole range of fronts. So we need to make sure we’ve got support for Indigenous bodies, that we have constitutional recognition. But as Adam Goodes has shown us, in our daily lives, all of us have moments, choices, in which we can speak out or stay silent. His example of dealing with the spectator who used a racist slur against him is just a terrific example to Australians young and old, whether in the school or the workplace, just not to stay silent on those racist quips. Building bridges and reconciliation isn’t just a job for government, it’s a job for all of us.

GILBERT: Mitch Fifield, finally on this matter, the Prime Minister wants constitutional recognition of Australia’s first people. He wants it to be a unifying moment. How hopeful and confident are you that that can be the case?

FIFIELD: I think Australians have open hearts and open minds. And the Prime Minister has really led on that journey. It’s important that there is a draft form of words put to the Australian people for discussion, which will happen by September. And we should let people have their say. If this is to go forward, it’s important that all Australians have a sense of ownership. And I think that can happen.

GILBERT: Finally Minister, I want to ask you about Peter Cosgrove, likely to be announced Governor-General this week. I’m told an announcement is imminent. That would be a traditional appointment. The military have a long history of serving in that role, doesn’t it?

FIFIELD: We’ve been very lucky in Australia with the people who have served in the office of Governor-General. It’s important that the holder is someone who is beyond reproach and above politics. There are many Australians who could well serve in that position after Quentin Bryce. But I don’t think as a Minister that I should be speculating in any way as to who the Prime Minister may recommend to Her Majesty. We’ll all just have to wait.

GILBERT: Good career move I think there Mitch Fifield! Andrew Leigh, your thoughts?

LEIGH: A very worthy Australian Kieran, and somebody who is extraordinarily articulate on our national character. When I wrote my last book about inequality in Australia, I talked about Peter Cosgrove’s view on our egalitarian military, about how our foot patrols get amongst people and hear from common people, not just from elders as some other militaries do. He talked about us as being out in the streets, rather than hiding behind sandbags. So he’s got some passionate views, he’s a worthy Australian and I’ll leave it to the Government to make any announcements that need to be made.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, Senator Fifield, appreciate your time.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.