Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 February 2021



7:30 pm

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

I rise this evening to speak on mutual obligations and employment providers. Today the government announced, as part of that dreadful announcement on the JobSeeker payment, a reporting line so employers can dob in people to the government if people are in an employment program and, in the government's words, 'refuse to take a job'. But we hear absolute crickets from the government on the employment programs and providers that are being paid a lot of money to find these magical jobs when we have 1.5 million people on JobSeeker and youth allowance and 175,000 jobs available. Those figures just don't match. This is all part of the sick obsession of this government, with their picking on and blaming people for the fact that they can't find a job. In the light of those figures, it's hardly surprising. And that's during a pandemic and a recession.

For many years my office has been contacted by people who have been bullied, harassed, ignored or treated very poorly by their employment service providers. I asked people in the community how they are going with their providers, so I could share some of these accounts with the Senate. To date—and I only asked over the weekend—I've had 700 responses, so I'll only be able to share a handful with you now. I'm quoting the messages that I got. One said: 'My absolute low point was when I was turned down for a job washing dishes because the employer believed I was overqualified.'

Another said: 'I was diagnosed with a degenerative muscular disease and need ongoing physio. Due to the loss of muscle tone, I have to drag my right leg upstairs and often can't climb them at all. My job network provider thought it would be a really great idea to enrol me in a forklift course. The problem is that there are steep narrow steps to get on the forklift. Imagine my embarrassment when I couldn't climb on the forklift, with everyone in the class watching. I was then told I couldn't complete the course. In response, my JSP accused me of not trying hard enough and threatened to have my payment suspended.'

Another said: 'Pre-COVID I was told by my employment consultant that I wasn't trying hard enough to find work. They made me come in every day, under his supervision, to look for work as my "methods obviously aren't working". I am in my 50s, with a partial capacity to work. I really didn't anticipate his attitude or approach. I do not feel supported at all. I am legally blind and also have a chronic health condition that is so life-threatening that I have a medical alarm at home.'

Another person: 'One time, I had to change my meeting time to earlier in the day to accommodate a job interview. I contacted my JSP and was told it was all okay. Half an hour after the job interview finished I received a message saying I'd missed my JSP meeting and would have my payment temporarily suspended. I've been in a payment for just under a year. In that time my provider has spoken to me only twice. I was actively trying to get assistance from them, even when there was no mutual obligation, but they were nowhere to be found. I've applied for more than 70 jobs this year, in 2021, with absolutely no support whatsoever, not from writing applications, finding jobs to apply for or interviews. My job provider repeatedly ignored my emails and never called me back. The only time they contacted me was when they wanted copies of my payslips when I started working. I found out later that they wanted my payslips because they got bonuses for getting me a job. So I refused to send them. I missed an appointment over the phone that fell outside the time I was told to expect the call. In the time it took for me to call back, less than five minutes, they had already put my payment on hold. I couldn't get through to my consultant to figure out what had happened.'

And there's this one: 'My son has been suicidal for a few years and was finally well enough to return to university studies, last semester, doing one unit. He recently got a call from his JSP informing him that as he is no longer suicidal he needs to either get a job or study full time.' I should have issued a trigger warning when I read that out.

These are the lived experiences of people trying to get appointments and help from their job service provider. They're the very people—and I've got 700 of these; I'm sure I will have more soon—to whom the government are saying, 'It's okay, you can ring a job in a JobSeeker line.' It's appalling. (Time expired)