Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019


Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business; Consideration

5:45 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This report makes for some incredible reading. If you read this report, you would think that everything was perfect in the land of jobs, small business and employment when, in fact, there are many issues. I note that the department raises as a highlight the ParentsNext employment program. It says it has been successfully implemented from 2 July 2018 and has completed its first year servicing contracts. Then, if you turn over the page to 'Challenges', apparently one of the challenges the department had was:

On 4 December 2018, ParentsNext was referred to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry into the program’s trial and subsequent broader rollout.

I question why that's a challenge. Why is the Senate looking at ParentsNext as a challenge? It's absolutely remarkable! The fact is that the department failed to rollout that program properly, which is why we needed a Senate inquiry into the program. That inquiry found many problems with the program, to the extent that the department has changed some of the mechanisms they were using to rollout that program. It has put more controls on the providers, but it has not done it adequately, because we are still hearing about onerous activities being placed on parents.

They go further in the report, giving a little vignette of someone who's participated in the ParentsNext program and qualified for a job. It doesn't point out that the program itself is so blurred it doesn't actually know what it's supposed to be targeting. They claim employment outcomes, but it's not supposed to be an employment program. The program doesn't know whether it's an early intervention and prevention program—and, if it is, it should give the money to the agencies that are doing a very good job at state and territory level with some of those early intervention and prevention programs but which don't have enough money. Is it a pre-employment program? Is it an employment program? The government says it isn't an employment program, because we're talking about, by and large, mothers. Most of the participants in this program are mothers. The program doesn't have a proper exemption process either, so it's caught up mothers who were already studying. They've had to, in fact, drop their study in order to go and see the service providers. But one of the most fundamental flaws in the program is the fact that it applies the Targeted Compliance Framework. That's also claimed as a highlight in the department's report. It says:

The Targeted Compliance Framework was implemented successfully from 1 July 2018.

I challenge that.

The government must be so worried about the fact that the first two reports they tabled on the targeted compliance program in estimates gave us a lot of detail. They broke the information down into cohorts and where people were getting demerit points. They were quite useful documents. What they've provided most recently for the most recent data, which they didn't report for quite a long time, is a document that does not provide the detail and the data most useful to see whether the program is affecting people on ParentsNext—women on ParentsNext—and whether it's disproportionately impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, for example, or people with disability and homelessness. The preliminary data showed it actually was. A very important indicator that came out of the data they did provide is that 44 per cent of people that have three demerit points—in other words have a capability assessment—were taken back to zero. In other words, their vulnerabilities were not picked up and the employment plan they were put on was inappropriate, which points to very clear flaws in the whole jobactive process. My question is: why are the government not releasing the full data? Why didn't they enable us to see the full data so we could see where the program is impacting? Who were those people? In what streams were the 44 per cent of people who were taken back to zero demerit points because of the inappropriateness of their plans? What streams were they in? Were they in A, B or C? I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.