Employment Services - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 - Consideration in Detail

By Matt Keogh MP

16 June 2021

Watch Matt's speech here

When the idea of employment services in Australia was first contemplated, it was based on the question: how can we get the best result for our society and economy by creating more productive jobs and businesses and linking them to the people who need them? We know Australians want to work. But well-paid, secure jobs simply are not there, or at least they don't seem to be available. Only one country in the OECD has more casual jobs than we have here in Australia. When it comes to employment services, there are four things the New Employment Services Model has missed. The Treasurer talked a lot about full employment before the budget, but when it came to the delivery of the budget it was nowhere to be found. The use of technology should be about doing things better, not just efficiencies using digital platforms as a tool for cost cutting. So much good work was done as part of consulting on the new system, but it looks like the findings of the review of the current system have been forgotten.

There is limited investment in longer-term unemployment. We know that well over half of the people on unemployment payments are long-term unemployed. Addressing this means creating more well-paid, secure jobs. Nothing we have heard from the employment minister since his appointment offers any confidence to anyone looking for a job that this government is on their side. If the best the Morrison government can come up with for close to two million Australians looking for work is a hotline for employers to report people who haven't agreed to a job regardless of the reason, they really are showing the hallmarks of a tired and empty eight-year-old government. We know from the most recent round of estimates that just eight cases have been subject to compliance activity under the new hotline. What a bargain!

We're not opposed to reform, but that must be fair and improve outcomes for people accessing employment services and the people providing them. The government needs to explain why it is rushing through the New Employment Services Model instead of spending some time to get it right. The best path to employment is more job creation, and yet industries are experiencing workforce shortages. How is it that the government has got it so wrong over its last eight years that it hasn't managed to ensure enough Aussies are suitably trained for the jobs that are available and needing to be filled?

Getting skills and employment policy right has never been more important. And, after eight long years under this tired, old Liberal government, we are in the midst of a skills crisis with one in five businesses reporting difficulty finding suitably skilled staff. At the same time the number of long-term unemployed in the job hunt has never been greater as part of the employment services case load.

The minister was appointed as minister for education, skills, employment and small business on 30 March this year. Since then, the department has entered into 579 contracts worth millions of dollars. We have rightly raised concerns about whether processes are in place so that we do not end up in a situation where government contracts end up being shrouded in concerns over conflicts of interest.

At Senate estimates we were advised that there is an annual process as part of the development of the department's financial statements where ministers, coordinated through the Department of Finance, are required to declare related transactions. We heard that there is an annual process where any ministers from the department that had a relationship with any of the transactions or entities that the department is dealing with are declared and ministers would be assessed through a process so that the department became aware of any potential conflicts of interest. Our concern here is not one of politics but the need to always ensure that appropriate processes are in place so that the millions of dollars in contracts are not awarded inappropriately, as seemed to be the case with the same minister back in 2016. The department has advised there's a process for assessing these potential conflicts with regard to the minister at the end of the year. If that is the end of the financial year, all the better, because that is only a few weeks away. We need to know that this process is undertaken and that this will be a transparent process so Australians can have confidence in the integrity of the decision-making and procurement processes of this government. After sports rorts, the Leppington Triangle and a proposed integrity commission with absolutely no teeth, when will the conflict of interest review in relation to Minister Robert take place?