Address to the Jobs Australia Conference, Sofitel, Brisbane

Speech
  • Minister for Child Care
  • Minister for Employment Participation

Thank you for having me here today. As you know, the theme of this conference is wellbeing.

I’ve spoken before about the many wellbeing benefits of holding down a job. A job means so much more than collecting a fortnightly pay cheque.

A job gives people dignity, a sense of self, a sense of pride and indeed a sense of social connectedness - as well as providing opportunity to contribute to Australia’s economy.

These potential benefits are even more acute when we are talking about helping the most disadvantaged job seekers into work.
For example, recent research has revealed that young men are 40 times more likely to commit suicide once they’ve been out of work for more than six months.

These findings provide us with more than enough evidence of the importance of the work that employment services providers, like those of you here today, undertake.

And with that in mind, I would like to take some time to talk to you today about our Government’s commitment to helping the most disadvantaged Australians and our determination to ensure that no Australian is left behind.

I want to share with you some of the next steps and then I have the great pleasure of launching an important new book.

Australia’s economic outlook is strong

In looking at how we can improve the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable people, we must of course look to the future and consider what our economy is going to look like going forward.

Australia’s economic outlook is strong.

Our economy has displayed remarkable resilience over the last year, with GDP increasing by 1.4 per cent over the year to the June quarter 2011.

After strong growth in 2010, the labour market has slowed, but still maintains one of the lowest unemployment rates of the major advanced economies.

Our September unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent compares favourably with 9.1 per cent unemployment in the United States and the 10 per cent recorded in the Euro Area.

This economic strength provides new opportunities for disadvantaged job seekers to move into employment – some for the first time in many, many years.

How JSA is delivering for the job seekers facing the greatest challenges to find work

Our Government wants all Australians to have access to the best possible services to assist them to find work.

Since we launched Job Services Australia in July 2009, we’ve achieved 920 000 job placements.

This is a fantastic outcome for job seekers, employers, services providers and the Government alike. It also shows us that the demand-driven approach of Job Services Australia is working.

We expect to invest $5.5 billion in Job Services Australia over the next four years.

As you know in the design of Job Services Australia the Government placed an increased focus on supporting the most disadvantaged and vulnerable job seekers and we’ve seen great improvements in services for Stream 4 job seekers, and outcomes have been trending up.

In fact, Stream 4 job seekers are achieving double the education and training outcome rates that were achieved under previous programs. Since the start of JSA more than 9,200 Stream 4 jobseekers have been placed in into education and training.   

Since the start of JSA more than 136,400 Stream 4 job seekers have been placed into jobs.

The employment outcomes are 70 per cent improvement on previous arrangements, where many were not receiving active assistance into employment or training.. 

Over the past nine months – through three consecutive quarters of Post Program Monitoring data - we’ve seen a 19 per cent increase in employment outcomes for job seekers in Stream 4. 

That’s the biggest trend in improvement across the job seeker streams over this period. 

That’s our community’s most disadvantaged people – those with multiple barriers, including homelessness, drug dependency, disability and limited English language ability – finding a dignified place in society.

That’s a testament to the hard work of those gathered here today and employment service providers across the country.

Speaking personally, I’d like to add that improving the lives of those most disadvantaged in Australia is one of the reasons why I am so particularly proud to be part of a reformist Labor Government.

These are great results, but we can always be doing more to assist disadvantaged job seekers and I want to take a moment now to touch on some of the new initiatives in the recent Budget that will be important tools for your work into the future.|

Encouraging employers to take on very long term unemployed job seekers

From January next year, the Wage Connect Subsidy will provide additional incentives to encourage the employment of people who have been on an approved income support payment for at least the last two years. 

It will be available to employers, including social enterprises.

We know that people who have been unemployed for a long period of time have difficulty finding employment because they often don’t have the necessary skills and work experience employers are looking for.

In fact, once a job seeker has been unemployed for one year they have a 54 per cent chance of being unemployed for at least one more year after that.

This subsidy is an important new tool to assist the very long term unemployed into work and will equate to the average rate of Newstart Allowance over 26 weeks.

Over the next three and a half years we will be providing funding for 35 000 places Wage Connect Subsidies.

Intervening early to prevent disadvantage in the first place

In tackling disadvantage, there is no question that early intervention is important.

Young people who leave school early risk falling through the cracks, finding themselves lacking the education and training they need to find work.

Transition Support for Early School Leavers is a new initiative designed to assist eligible job seekers to develop basic literacy and numeracy skills, along with employment, study and life skills, to succeed on their chosen pathway. 

Job Services Australia providers will be required to deliver structured activities of 25 hours a week that address these skills needs, and could include transitions to the formal Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program.

To assist with associated costs providers will have an additional $500 credited to their Employment Pathway Fund at a total cost of $67 million.

The Employment Pathway Fund was one of the genuine innovations associated with Job Services Australia. It gives you greater flexibility and I’m pleased that in total the EPF has been boosted by $200 million through this Budget.

Tailoring our employment services to the needs of the job seeker

I spoke earlier about economic growth and that the outlook for the future of our nation’s economy is generally strong. However growth in the past decade has not been uniform across industry and regions, resulting in what we call a ‘patchwork’ economy.

In some parts of Australia, businesses, jobs and people are thriving, while others face high unemployment rates and other disadvantages, like multi-generational unemployment, low socioeconomic status and low education levels.

Some regions are still experiencing record high unemployment rates, with Wide Bay-Burnett in Queensland recording the highest rate in August 2011, of 11.2 per cent.

Compare that to Central Perth’s unemployment rate of just 2.3 per cent.

I firmly believe that where you live should not limit how you live and the opportunities available to you.

It is for this reason that our Government recognises that when we seek to tackle disadvantage - different locations will need different types of support.

For these reasons we are deeply committed to delivering the place based initiatives announced in the Budget.

As you may be aware, David Thompson, your CEO has agreed to serve as a member of the National Place-based Advisory Group advisory group for these measures.

I also wish to thank David for his wise counsel to me over what has not been just over a year in this portfolio.  He manages to retain a strategic focus both on the interests of job seekers and the need to build strongly performing services and programs. 

Over the past year, on your behalf, David has been a dog with a bone about addressing administrative burdens and it is in large part due to his advocacy that there have been some improvements as well as the establishment of the Advisory Panel on Employment Services Administration and Accountability.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to publicly point to some of the recent milestones in what has been a long career of community service from David.

Delivering the best possible employment services for job seekers with disability

When we speak about disadvantage and barriers to finding work, it is a sad reality that people living with disability often face the greatest challenges in finding work.

I am proud that the uncapping of Disability Employment Services (DES) in 2010 has seen a 41 per cent increase in the number of job seekers with a disability accessing assistance.

This is no small achievement.

Over the next four years, the Government will spend more than $3 billion on Disability Employment Services. This of course, reflects the fact that these services work with those who face the greatest barriers to finding a job.

And as a Government we are looking to give employment service providers new tools, new supports and new ways to assist people with disability to find work.

For the first time, DES providers will be able to directly refer, support, and count placements of people with disability into the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme.

And new financial incentives, including new wage subsidies, can help to get people with disability in the door and into employment.
I firmly believe that as we invest more than ever before, as we unveil more programs and assistance – we should also demand the highest quality services.

And I refuse to accept anything less than the very best possible assistance available to disabled Australians who are seeking to enter the workforce.

As you know, to ensure consistent, high standards of service, the DES Employment Support Service program is being opened up to a competitive tender process.

This pathway forward will deliver more stable and higher quality services – and ultimately, outcomes – for job seekers with disability. Those who most need our support to overcome the barriers to work that they face.

Rewarding, highlighting and learning from the best

I am a great believer in rewarding good performance and also highlighting good performance so that we can learn from one another and I want to take a moment to talk about next steps.

It is by looking to those who are performing the best in our sector that we can commit ourselves to a philosophy of continual improvement.

The Job Services Australia Demonstration Pilots are an important first step in identifying how we might be able to improve the work we do to help the most disadvantaged Australian job seekers.

This is an industry-led measure - so the pilots will be delivered by high performing JSA providers.

The Government is investing $4.7 million to run 20 pilots that will be delivered by Job Services Australia providers in eligible areas. These will be innovative pilots, conducted by those providers performing most strongly in working with the most disadvantaged job seekers in areas of highest unemployment.

My Department is currently finalising which JSA providers will deliver the pilots but I am told that the projects will generate some interesting outcomes. Things like:

  • How wrap around servicing (including joint case management) can be done better so that experts in; for example, health, mental health, drug and alcohol counselling, can help you to assist job seekers in a more holistic way; and
  • Alternative approaches to Stream 4 service delivery such as more structured programs to increase engagement, including additional contact with the job seekers, and formal activities focused on developing vocational and non vocational skills; and
  • Service models to reduce job seeker churn so we can increase employer engagement, improve post placement support and mentoring, to ultimately increase retention rates for the most disadvantaged.

The JSA Demonstration Pilots will commence by the end of this year and I look forward to being able to visit and learn from those JSA’s that are implementing these innovative and effective new approaches to assisting disadvantages job seekers.

Conclusion

I have spoken to you today about how job services are integral to helping disadvantaged Australians turn their lives around. By working together, service providers and government can help more these people succeed in employment and in life more broadly.

I would like to leave you today by reiterating the links between employment and wellbeing.

Having a job gives an individual more than economic benefits. It’s the missing piece of puzzle in addressing disadvantage. Effective service delivery is absolutely vital and I’d like to thank you for your invaluable work.

I look forward to continuing along these exciting new directions for employment services, towards our shared aim of greater wellbeing for the nation and a positive future for all. 

For more information

Media mailbox: media@jobs.gov.au