SUBJECTS: Newstart, Job Active, Robodebt   

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Labor’s Shadow Minister for Defence Industry Matt Keogh joins us now, after a few false starts last week, hopefully we can get a full interview done.

MATT KEOGH MP: Smooth sailing!

GILBERT: Hopefully more than 60 seconds this week! Newstart. The Government has released data saying people aren’t getting the full payment they could if they were trying to get a job. Is that fair enough in terms of having the whole debate?

KEOGH: It’s entirely irrelevant to the issue. The issue at hand is what is the full rate of Newstart? Even when you bring in the additional supplements some people receive, we’re still looking at just over $40 a day. The rate is too low. The issue that the Government’s raised today, which is clearly just a distraction, also highlights some of the other deficiencies in the programs they’re running. Even Matt O’Sullivan, new Liberal Senator from Western Australia raised these issues in his first speech last night, that Jobactive is not actually delivering on the outcomes we need. The Government’s pointed to people who don’t show up to meetings, I’ve met with some health providers in my electorate who have pointed out that some people don’t go to health appointments because they’re worried about losing payments so they’re going to meetings with their job active provider which are actually detrimental to their health, because they’re not going to those appointments. They’re having to do training that don’t actually prepare them to get a job which is what they need. We know that the average length of time on Newstart is 3 years. The rate is too low. Jobactive is clearly not getting them back into a job if people are spending three years trying to get back into a job, on Newstart going through that job active program. The Government has just raised a red herring today to try and get people off topic which is really how woefully low the rate of Newstart actually is.

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Well putting aside whether they did release that data as a red herring which many are saying they did this morning, there is some concerning data about people not actively looking for new jobs while they’re no Newstart, is that not the point of the program? To get people back into work? Because then it just turns into long form welfare.  

KEOGH: The point of the program is to get people back into work. The program’s clearly not working. What the government has pointed to is just some stats showing that their program is not working. The idea of getting people to apply for 20 jobs when 20 jobs aren’t there doesn’t help people get back into work when they need to be retrained, while making the appropriate training available to them. They’re generating work for the sake of work instead of looking at what do these people need? If you look at these statistics around why people aren’t showing up for appointments, many of these people have really complex needs and need additional support. What the Government should actually look at doing is look at why aren’t they showing up? What other support do they need to make them job ready? And sometimes more life ready. These people have complex needs and issues that need addressing and clearly the Government’s program isn’t addressing it. 

GILBERT: Would you like, as well, the retirement review to look into this given lots of people on Newstart have lost jobs later in their working life and as we know, there has been a bit of ageism in employment opportunities.

KEOGH: That is absolutely the case. I don’t think that’s necessarily part of the retirement review because these are people that are in their working part of their life and they want to work. I have lots of people come in to my electorate office with this complaint that they experience ageism, they find it hard to get a job once they reach a certain age.  

GILBERT: If people are volunteering, at Vinnies or salvos, or a local school or wherever, and they can prove they’re volunteering and doing several hours a week for social good, why should that not account as working hours and therefore they don’t lose welfare payments?

KEOGH: Well that’s a really good point and that’s something that should be looked at as part of the review into job active. What I don’t want to do Kieran is come in and say as part of a retirement review, we should look at fixing that issue because it implies that these people are at the end of their working life. Many of them don’t see themselves that way. Yes they might be working in a volunteer capacity, but they’re making a very valuable contribution to society. I don’t want to be writing their opportunity off by saying that’s part of a retirement review. We need to look at how we can help those people who want to work, be back in work.  

NIELSEN: We’ve seen Labor pretty consistently focus on Robodebt issues this week. It’s something the Government has said there could be areas for improvement. But at the end of the day don’t they need to be getting that money back and people have received Centrelink payments that they shouldn’t have received in the first place?

KEOGH: Another diversion by the Government. No one is saying that the Government should not get back from people who have been overpaid, money that they owe to the Government. We’re not saying that, we’re saying don’t go chasing people who don’t owe you money. The Government’s overly simplistic way of using the Robodebt system means it is chasing after people who don’t actually owe the Government money. Or they’re going after people to try and reclaim debts from a decade ago, when clearly no one has the right records to be able to see what went on. They’re debts the Government needs to go after even if they are legitimate debts and many of them are not legitimate debts. We’re not saying the idea of looking at debts is wrong, we’re saying the way they are doing it is wrong. Even listening to the Minister in Question Time yesterday, he doesn’t actually understand what a Centrelink debt is. It is not the case that it’s purely about looking at an annualised income then assessing whether someone should be repaying a debt. It is on a fortnightly basis and he clearly doesn’t understand it. This overly simplistic approach by the Government is actually really ruining people’s lives.

GILBERT: Matt Keogh, appreciate your time. 

KEOGH: Great to be with you guys, great we could get a full interview in.  

GILBERT: We did indeed! We’ll talk to you soon.