The federal government has flagged it is open to reforming Australia’s brand-new controversial $7 billion unemployment scheme and has announced the creation of a parliamentary committee to scrutinize it.
The government has announced a parliamentary committee will examine Workforce Australia
The Employment Minister says the system requires “fresh parliamentary scrutiny and oversight”
The committee is set to report back to parliament in September next year
It comes following months of concern and confusion from jobseekers prior to the launch, as well as a deluge of criticism from them since.
Employment Minister Tony Burke said on Tuesday the federal government would create a lower house committee to examine the implementation of Workforce Australia, the program that replaced the maligned jobactive program last month.
Workforce Australia was passed under the Morrison government and voted for by Labor prior to the May election. Contracts with job service providers worth $7 billion were also signed.
Under the shift, those engaged in mutual obligations earn points for activities in return for the sub-poverty line JobSeeker payment.
But Mr Burke said on Tuesday while Labor supported the principles behind Workforce Australia, including mutual obligations, some aspects required “fresh parliamentary scrutiny and oversight”.
“While the [Coalition] spent nearly two years designing and building the software for the new system, they did not properly explain it to the Australian people,” he said.
“We are concerned we have ended up with a system that is driven more by the details of contracts with providers than the legislation the previous government brought to parliament.”
Mr Burke said the committee would take evidence on “where best practice is occurring and where it is not”.
“It will recommend where we can make long-term reforms, as well as where we can make more immediate improvements,” he said.
The committee is scheduled to report back to parliament in September 2023.
System needs to be ‘fit for purpose’
The transition to Workforce Australia has been shaky.
In the lead-up to launch, jobseekers said the changes had been poorly communicated, with some still unclear about what the changes meant for them and their JobSeeker payments just days before the program kicked in.
Social services advocates also voiced concern many of the “punitive” aspects from jobactive remained a part of Workforce Australia, and a new points-based system would force people into more mutual obligations sooner.
Since the scheme launched, jobseekers have reported a raft of issues, including being unable to access the app and online portal, being recommended jobs based on states they do not live in, and further confusing communication.
Mr Burke noted that on Tuesday, saying it appeared “user experience of the system varies wildly from person to person and provider to provider”.
Labor made a series of last-minute tweaks to the original design of Workforce Australia last month.
It also extended a suspension on payment penalties, though advocates want to see it stretched further until at least October.
The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the creation of the parliamentary committee.
“For too long, people who’ve been looking for paid work have been blamed for being unemployed rather than actively and positively supported to find jobs,” acting CEO Edwina MacDonald said.
“The announcement of this review is a good move to ensure the voices of people who use these services inform the reform process, and that feedback from the experiences of the early days of this new model can be used to ensure Workforce Australia is fit for purpose .’