Release type: Transcript


Interview – Triple J Hack with David Marchese


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts

DAVE MARCHESE, HOST: I want to get into this a lot more now with the Employment Minister, Tony Burke. He's with us. Minister, welcome back to Hack.


MARCHESE: This new system, it wasn't your idea these changes were pushed through by the former Morrison Government, but that you're out there selling it to Australia now as Employment Minister, you've made some tweaks. Can we expect more young people getting into jobs under this scheme?

BURKE: Well, that's what I'm trying to make sure of. So just before we went into caretaker, all the contracts were signed and the entire software system had been built before I was sworn in as Minister. So what I'm trying to make sure of is at each stage, that we can effectively make sure that wherever I can take pressure off people in how the system operates, that I'm doing so. The big thing, first of all, was to give everyone a clean slate. The second thing was to increase how much credit people were getting for different tasks. So there is nothing that, in terms of obligations on people, there is nothing that people have now that is tougher than what they had a week ago. Nothing. But there's a series of areas where individuals now have more control and there's also a series of areas where there could be things that people are doing to get themselves job ready, where they didn't used to get credit and they now will. So can I just give two quick examples of that, if that's okay? Yeah.

MARCHESE: Yeah, and I mean, studying is probably a big one for people, I'd think.

BURKE: Okay, so what was happening with studying was the way the previous government was going to have it happen; you are going to get some credit for study, but not enough, even if you're doing full-time, that you didn't also have to be shooting off applications. Now, my frustration with that was that, well, that means if someone is trying to get job-ready, you want them to finish their course. And I didn't want a situation where someone's firing off extra applications, knowing that if they score an interview with any of them, then they're going to be missing the exact classes that were meant to make them job ready. And the work they've been doing that month effectively falls over. So we've made it so that if you're in full-time study, and this is full-time study on JobSeeker, so you'll have a lot of full-time students who are on different programs to JobSeeker, but if you're on full-time study as JobSeeker, then the extra applications are suspended for that time. And I think that was just a much more sensible way of dealing with it. The other was to increase how much credit you get if you're undergoing drug or alcohol rehab. So, sure, if you want to keep shooting off 20 applications a month, then the obligations don't change at all. But if you're wanting to do extra courses or you're spending time doing drug and alcohol rehab, then you can actually get some credit for that, that then takes the pressure off in other areas.

MARCHESE: But people, if they were operating well under the previous system, they can still do that?

BURKE: Exactly what they were doing.


BURKE: And they still qualify for everything.

MARCHESE: Look, you said that not all of the issues have been fixed. And we've heard from ACOSS, the Australian Council of Social Service, that they're a bit worried about some issues that still need to be sorted out. Like if someone might not be able to report online because of where they are, that they're not penalised for that. How do you make sure that people in regional remote areas don't lose payments because they might not have reliable access to data or internet, for instance?

BURKE: Yeah. And there will be plenty of cases where individual allowance needs to be made and providers can do that and the online system can do that. And I've made clear to people that I expect those allowances to be made. Now, for the first 30 days, there's absolutely no suspensions anyway. And the fact that I've given everyone a clean slate means any of the sort of penalties that can potentially happen in the system are some months away before we need to even consider those sorts of issues.

MARCHESE: Look, there is mixed reaction, protesters outside your electorate office last week, they were saying they want mutual obligations abolished. They're saying they are sick of people being punished for being poor. What do you say to those people?

BURKE: Yeah, and there are a number of groups in good faith where their view is to have no mutual obligation at all. Look, I'll just be upfront here. That's not my view. But I do think if you're on JobSeeker, there is an obligation to be seeking work. I do think that's a fair thing, and so I don't want it to be done. I don't like the concept where the whole lens of ‘it’s punitive’ and you'll never find me bashing the table and deriding people who are looking for work or unemployed. Like, that's not something, you'll find previous ministers of a different government running that sort of game. You'll never find me doing that. But on the principle where some people just say you should be able to get the payment and there should be no obligations on you to engage in different forms of activity, that's not my view. That's not the Government's view.

MARCHESE: Minister, can I ask you about the rate of JobSeeker? Because everyone knows how tough things are at the moment, and Labor has made a big thing of saying they don't want to leave anyone behind. But the JobSeeker rates about 40% of the minimum wage and so many experts are saying that's nowhere near enough. We don't need to hear it from experts, though, because we've got young people telling us here all the time they're struggling. Shouldn't the Government be prioritising this increase to JobSeeker now of all times, when young people are under so much financial stress and we know how devastating and really concerning the situation is?

BURKE: Yeah, I hear the point. We, for years, campaigned for an increase. There was a significant increase that happened during the pandemic that stayed. That said, our position is every time the budget comes around, there needs to be a review of trying to get these rates to the right levels.

MARCHESE: But isn't this the perfect time? Because when we come up to elections, it's not an issue that politicians really want to speak about. It's not a popular issue, but Labor’s in government now and, as you say, campaigning for a while about seeing an increase. Shouldn't that just be happening now?

BURKE: Well, we've got a budget this year, it will be one of the very few years where there are two budgets. And we've said every budget, this is something that we’ll review. Exactly where the rate goes. It's not something I can offer in this interview. It's not something that's been decided, but it's something that we've made a commitment to that we look at every budget.

MARCHESE: All right, Employment Minister Tony Burke. Thanks for coming on Hack. 

BURKE: Great to talk to you Dave.