ABC Melbourne with Ali Moore Friday 17 May - Transcript

FRIDAY 17 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: JobSeeker, Support for long term unemployed, AEC Transparency Register.  

ALI MOORE, HOST: Andrew Leigh is Assistant Minister for Employment. Andrew Leigh, welcome to Drive.

ASSISTANT MINISTER ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks, Ali, great to be with you and your listeners.

MOORE: How concerned are you by the length of time some people are spending on JobSeeker payments?

LEIGH: Clearly we know from academic research that the longer someone spends out of work the more, what we call "scarring effect" there can be; people can get discouraged, their skills can start to atrophy, and they can become disconnected from the labour market. We do have an historically low unemployment rate at the moment, so means having an unemployment of 4.1 per cent is by any historical standards a very strong performance of the labour market, but that's not to mean that there aren't some people who are missing out, and the figures you've talked to are certainly concerning. The best way in which we can ensure that everyone has a job is to maintain those low levels of unemployment.

MOORE: That said, you don't want everyone to have a job; I mean it is a fact of life that in order for this country to have a reasonable rate of inflation you do need around 4 per cent of people to be unemployed, you just don't want them to be the same 4 per cent over a decade.

LEIGH: Well, invariably there's going to be churn between jobs as people are switching work or people are coming back into the labour market after a period of being out of it for a while and looking to find the right opportunities. But I have always thought of unemployment as wasted human potential, and so maintaining a low unemployment rate really is one of the priorities for the Government. The full Employment White Paper, which we brought down was in that tradition of Curtin who announced his full Employment White Paper at the end of World War II; that's been a Labor mission for a long time. It's really important to me personally as somebody who works on poverty and inequality during my time as a professor and now in my time in the Parliament.

MOORE: So what is going wrong? I mean how does someone end up being on a JobSeeker payment for up to five years or even 10 years?

LEIGH: Everyone will have their own unique circumstances, and I certainly don't want to be generalising across that, but I know that it can be about your match of skills to the workplace, it can be about health challenges, whether those be physical or mental health challenges.

One of the things that our Employment White Paper did was to think about how we can get more people with disability into the workforce. The work that social enterprises do, I think about Coffee Doughnuts, which operates in my electorate, or many of the other social enterprises that work actively with people who are marginalised. Street Café in Collingwood is another great example of a social enterprise that works with people who've been marginalised, in some cases people being living rough or just come out of jail and looks to find them a place in the hospitality landscape. All of those initiatives are important, and we're supporting them as a government as part of aiming to get more people into work.

MOORE: But I guess you very much addressed the issues with the person seeking the job, so it's their skills or their health or their disability. What about the system itself and the fact that, as we were hearing earlier from the Salvos, the JobSeeker payment is simply so low, when you are trying to exist on that, you can't present well for jobs, you can't prepare for jobs, you're not in the head space to sell yourself as a good employee.

LEIGH: No, I certainly understand that, and that was one of the reasons why we increased the JobSeeker payment in last year's budget. We understand it's important to increase that payment and there will be ongoing calls for that to be increased through the Employment Inclusion Advisory Committee, I certainly respect that argument. It's also important though that we look at ways in which employers can be encouraged to hire more marginalised job seekers. I was meeting with somebody today - discussing with large employers what they can do in order to get more people with disability into their workplaces; what are the accommodations to be made, how the Federal Government can assist in paying for some of those accommodations, how having a diverse workforce can actually be really good in the customer‑facing sense. So I commend the many employers who are stepping up to hire people who are unconventional employees; you know, somebody who's spent some time behind bars, somebody who is recovering from an addiction, people who are working with a disability. Those employers really do help to tackle this challenge of long‑term unemployment.

MOORE: Andrew Leigh, what about the way the system works again, things like Work for the Dole, we know a number of organisations have made it clear they don't think that is an effective program, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, for example, has pulled out of that program. They say it's not in the best interests of people who are unemployed. Why persist with programs that would appear not to be working?

LEIGH: Well, the Employment Services Review that was done by Julian Hill and his colleagues talked about how we need to revamp the employment services system. We agree it's not working well for everybody; we need to do better; we need to get more evidence to bear. We're putting a place a series of employment services trials which are trying to build the evidence base about what works and what doesn't. This is an area that's been too dominated by ideology in the past, Ali, and not enough driven by evidence as to what works and what doesn't. So by bringing that "what works" works lens to employment services, we're able to do a better job of assisting the most vulnerable.

MOORE: How many of those people have been on JobSeeker, have been on unemployment benefits for a long time, like three, four, five, right up to 10 years, how many of them should be on that benefit, or maybe should be on a disability support pension. And I raise that 'cause I've got a number of texts along the lines of this one from Don on the Mornington Peninsula who says, "Someone I know couldn't work. They were observed to not be able to work by their job service, they said they should be on the Disability Support Pension. The bar is set so high, it took them, with my help, two years to submit the application." That's an extraordinary amount of time.

LEIGH: The bar is high for getting on the Disability Support Pension, that's absolutely right. We don't have huge numbers of people who've been on JobSeeker for more than five years, but there are more than 100,000 in that category, and that's too high if you think about the lost human potential I was talking about before, the emotional toll of being on JobSeeker, or as it was before, New Start, for more than five years. So that group are a priority for the Government. There's a range of initiatives that Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, had pursued over the last couple of budgets in order to focus on the most vulnerable. The Employment Services Review that we're doing is aimed at revamping the whole system and really giving it a stronger focus on those most vulnerable job seekers.

MOORE: Do you think you can get that number down realistically in the next year or so?

LEIGH: I certainly hope so. The big priority, Ali, is to make sure that we keep unemployment low. The Treasury forecasts are for unemployment to tick up slightly, but still to be in the region of what we economists call "full employment", four point something per cent. That's the best way in which we can help vulnerable job seekers, by making sure that there's plenty of jobs out there. We know that if you take unemployment to 8 per cent, for example, then people who are more marginalised just don't get a look‑in at job interviews, so keeping unemployment low is vital, and then having employment services provisions to go alongside that to assist vulnerable job seekers. Some of those will be in social enterprise, some of them will be in other forms of supported employment, in other cases it will be tackling issues around health and homelessness. So what we're doing in other areas of social supports also play into creating an environment in which people are able to move from welfare into work, if that's the right path for them.

MOORE: Andrew Leigh, just before I let you go, a very different question, and you may not be able to answer it, because it's just news that we have just got. But the Australian Electoral Commission says it's temporarily taken down its Transparency Register, which is where all the candidates' political donations and other disclosures are made, after it was discovered the Register had listed the residential addresses of some candidates. They say it's not a cyber security breach. But are you aware of what's happened there?

LEIGH: I'm not aware of that, Ali, but it certainly sounds troubling. You know, you'd have to imagine this is an honest mistake, but it's one which will have a direct impact on candidates, and one I imagine would be troubling in an environment of which we know there has been more targeting doxing of people in the political environment. So yes, it's a concern to me.

MOORE: We'll try and find out a bit more about it. Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.

LEIGH: Real pleasure, Ali, thank you.

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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.