QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Senator FIFIELD (2.00 pm)-My question is to the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Arbib. As the minister was made aware yesterday that 47 per cent of job seekers will be changing their caseworkers and providers on 1 July, can the minister advise the Senate on how many existing sites will be closing on 30 June and how many new sites will be opening on 1 July?
Senator ARBIB-Part of this question was asked yesterday, and I do have a response. For job seekers, the paramount consideration in the transition is to connect smoothly to the provider. Senator Fifield knows that. Those providers are going to be helping to assist them in the new and enhanced services. The level of job seeker disruption is expected to be lower than for comparable transitions in the past, such as at the time of the introduction of the current Job Network contract in 2003. In that round 82 per cent of job seekers required a new or changed provider compared to the 47 per cent that Senator Fifield raised yesterday. In 1998, when the job services turned over, 100 per cent of jobseekers required a new provider. Imagine the chaos then.
Job seeker transition arrangements include allowing job seekers to remain with their current provider where possible or offering them an alternative provider in their local area. In this transition it is estimated that around 48 per cent of job seekers require a new or changed provider. Current personal support program providers will have been asked to organise an introductory meeting with the current participants and their future Job Services Australia providers. More job seekers have the opportunity to be assisted-
Senator Fifield-Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The question was very specific. It asked: how many sites will close on 30 June and how many new sites will open on 1 July? Senator Arbib has not remotely touched on the specific question.
Senator Ludwig-Mr President, on the point of order: in this instance, unless I am mistaken-and I am always open to correction-Senator Arbib was answering the question both in terms of the substantive matter and the percentage of the offices that are opening and closing, as I recall his contribution. If it was not in the exact form that those opposite want it to be in, I am sure they can do the sums later on the issue and read the Hansard accordingly. But, in terms of being relevant to the question, Senator Arbib was dealing with the specifics and was in fact referring to what the question asked, which was in the area of those offices that are opening and closing, and he was providing percentages in relation to the broader population of the job services network itself.
Senator Fifield-Mr President, on the point of order, Senator Arbib is merely giving the Senate the information that we gave him yesterday in our question.
The PRESIDENT-Senator Arbib, I draw your attention to the fact that you have 24 seconds left to answer
the primary question, and I draw your attention to the question.
Senator ARBIB-As I said yesterday, the old system had seven programs, seven doors that a job seeker had to go through. Now there is going to be one. I was coming to the exact point of Senator Fifield’s question. Under the new Job Services Australia, there will be access to around 2,000 sites Australia-wide, at least 200 more than is currently available. (Time expired)
Senator FIFIELD-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. My supplementary may give Senator Arbib the chance to answer the first question. Minister, could you please advise the Senate how many sites will
close on 30 June and how many sites will open on 1 July? Also, when will the new sites which are opening on 1 July be fully operational?
Senator ARBIB-I think I have answered that question. I will just say this again: there will be 2,000 sites Australia-wide. That is at least 200 more than under the current system through the 196 providers. We on this side of the chamber are happy to talk about jobs all day. We will talk about them all day because there is a big difference between what we are doing-supporting and protecting jobs-and what they are recommending on the other side in their economic prescription: ‘do nothing’. Job Services Australia is one of the biggest reforms this government has put in place, because it is not just dealing with unemployment; it is dealing with longterm unemployment. That is something that this side of the chamber cares about, unlike the conveyor belt system that the other side-
Opposition senators interjecting-
The PRESIDENT-Order! When there is silence, we will proceed.
Senator ARBIB-The other side of the chamber really only cared about one job, which was the leader’s job. (Time expired)
Senator FIFIELD-Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I can only assume the minister does not know the answer to the question of how many sites will close on 30 June, so he might take that on notice. Again, the minister might be so kind as to advise the Senate how many sites will be fully operational on 1 July. Also, can the minister advise the Senate, given the large number of existing providers that are closing their sites and the large number of new providers that are opening new sites, whether he seriously believes that Job Services Australia will be fully operational on 1 July, and can he give that guarantee? Isn’t it a fact that the Labor government has completely bungled employment services, leaving thousands of unemployed Australians in the lurch?
Senator ARBIB-I have already answered the large part of that question, but I have also been advised by the department that all sites will be operating from 1 July so that just goes further to answering your questions.
Senator Fifield interjecting-
Senator ARBIB-Senator Fifield, please wait for this answer. The old system was a conveyor belt. I told you yesterday that I was down in Melbourne talking to the workers who had actually been mentoring the longterm unemployed. And what did they say about the old system? They said it was a conveyor belt with no real pathway into employment-it was just training for training’s sake. This government is about proper reform. Senator Fifield is right: this is a large transition-and it is going to be bumpy along the way. All transitions are when something is this big. Already 700,000 letters have gone out to fully eligible job seekers. We are contacting a large number of jobseekers who were involved in these-
Senator Fifield-Mr President, I rise on a point of order going once again to relevance. My question was specific: can the minister guarantee that all sites will be fully operational on 1 July-I am not just talking about them having their doors open; I am talking about being fully operational.
Senator Chris Evans-Mr President, on that point of order, I think Senator Fifield has completely missed the point. He got to speak twice on one point of order earlier. But I think to call a point of order with one second to go, even for him, actually indicates that he has lost the plot.
Senator Fifield-Mr President, on that point of order, I got to my feet with 15 seconds to go. I cannot account for when I received the call.
Senator Abetz-Mr President, I rise on the point of order. Can I simply indicate to you that one second would be more than long enough for the minister to say ‘no’.
Senator Chris Evans-Mr President, I rise for the second time on Senator Fifield’s point of order and would draw your attention to the fact that, as I understand it, we cannot all speak twice on the same point of order-but today we seem to be able to. Perhaps you can clarify that, as Senator Fifield twice has had two goes.
The PRESIDENT-Senator Arbib, I draw your attention to the fact that there is one second remaining to answer the question.
Senator ARBIB-Jobs. Nothing. Inaction.