31 July 2019






SUBJECTS: Newstart, Job Active, Robodebt

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Labors 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 arent 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: Its 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, were still looking at just over $40 a day. The rate is too low. The issue that the Governments raised today, which is clearly just a distraction, also highlights some of the other deficiencies in the programs theyre running. Even Matt OSullivan, 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 Governments pointed to people who dont show up to meetings, Ive met with some health providers in my electorate who have pointed out that some people dont go to health appointments because theyre worried about losing payments so theyre going to meetings with their job active provider which are actually detrimental to their health, because theyre not going to those appointments. Theyre having to do training that dont 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 theyre 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 programs 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 arent there doesnt help people get back into work when they need to be retrained, while making the appropriate training available to them. Theyre 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 arent 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 arent 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 Governments program isnt 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 dont think thats 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 theyre volunteering and doing several hours a week for social good, why should that not account as working hours and therefore they dont lose welfare payments?

KEOGH: Well thats a really good point and thats something that should be looked at as part of the review into job active. What I dont 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 dont see themselves that way. Yes they might be working in a volunteer capacity, but theyre making a very valuable contribution to society. I dont want to be writing their opportunity off by saying thats 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: Weve seen Labor pretty consistently focus on Robodebt issues this week. Its something the Government has said there could be areas for improvement. But at the end of the day dont they need to be getting that money back and people have received Centrelink payments that they shouldnt 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. Were not saying that, were saying dont go chasing people who dont owe you money. The Governments overly simplistic way of using the Robodebt system means it is chasing after people who dont actually owe the Government money. Or theyre 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. Theyre debts the Government needs to go after even if they are legitimate debts and many of them are not legitimate debts. Were not saying the idea of looking at debts is wrong, were saying the way they are doing it is wrong. Even listening to the Minister in Question Time yesterday, he doesnt actually understand what a Centrelink debt is. It is not the case that its 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 doesnt understand it. This overly simplistic approach by the Government is actually really ruining peoples 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! Well talk to you soon.