Senator FIFIELD (2.21 pm)-My question is to the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Arbib. With regard to the new Job Services Australia contracts, will the minister confirm that there were employment services providers who were deemed not to be preferred tenderers in a particular employment service area on 5 March yet who were subsequently offered business in that employment service area on 2 April?
Senator ARBIB-Thank you, Senator Fifield. I know you have had an interest in this area. Mr President, I am unaware of what Senator Fifield is referring to, but I am happy to attempt to find that information for him. In terms of the unsuccessful providers, there have been a number of issues in the media and there has also been a parliamentary inquiry. Almost 3,000 bids were received for the new Job Services Australia from over 400 organisations across all the employment services. It was a very competitive process-there is no doubt about it-and there was a strong field of candidates. These are major reforms and any change like this has to be managed and managed properly. Many of the providers who have not been successful are disappointed, of course. Many of them are decent organisations, community organisations, working for the common good, working to get long-term unemployed back into work. Thirty-seven organisations that have not been successful in the tender have been assisted by the Agency Adjustment Fund, receiving up to $100,000. My department, as the opposition knows, are absolutely at arm’s length from the government. They assess these providers against published criteria, including the key consideration of past performance. I remind those opposite that the government consulted industry throughout the process and in finalising the tender criteria.
Organisations that tendered successfully were able to demonstrate performance, an understanding of the new service delivery model, connections with local community and the ability to translate this to effective local strategies. The overwhelming majority of current five-star providers will be delivering Job Services Australia. Eighty-five per cent of the successful providers were ranked- (Time expired)
Senator FIFIELD-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am surprised that Senator Arbib is not aware of such a fundamental component of the Job Services Australia contract arrangements, but I appreciate the fact that Senator Arbib has offered to take that notice. I assume that he will report back to the chamber as soon as possible. Could the minister also provide on notice, unless he finds it in his notes while I am talking, the reasons, if my proposition is correct, for these employment services providers being offered additional business in each ESA in which this occurred? Could the minister also advise the Senate which organisations were involved and what employment services areas this occurred in?
Senator ARBIB-This was a competitive process. Obviously there are many people that are disappointed. We are working with those groups. We have put in place the adjustment fund. We have put in place the Jobs Fund. I think it is good we are talking about jobs, because in terms of jobs there is a real difference between what this side of the chamber is doing and the record of that side of the chamber. On this side of the chamber we have people that are actually working to help workers and working to help the unemployed through the global recession. That is why we are attempting to stimulate the economy. On the other side, the member for Wentworth-273 days, no jobs plan.(Time expired)
Senator FIFIELD-Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I assume Senator Arbib took that question on notice, because he did not directly address any element of it. A more straightforward question for Senator Arbib: can the minister confirm to the Senate whether during the probity period there was any communication relating to purchasing matters between the previous Minister for Employment Participation or his staff and a tenderer? Straightforward question-an answer, please, Minister.
Senator ARBIB-The tender process for the Job Network was at arm’s length from the government. The tender process for every tender for the Job Network was ticked off by an independent probity auditor. The probity auditor in his report on the procurement process said:
… the ES procurement process represents a high benchmark for the conduct of Commonwealth procurements …
He also said that the achievement in delivering such a well-run procurement process is emphasised by the scope and complexity of the endeavour involved in the ES procurement process. In relation to the minister, my advice is that any MP who sent correspondence from constituents to the former minister’s office in relation to the employment services tender was referred immediately to the department and to the independent probity auditor.