IMAGES: Above – Centrelink office in Alice Springs. Below – from the Centrelink website.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
It’s an outrage: dole bludgers lying on the couch all day, smoking dope, pooling their money fleeced from the taxpayer to rent a share house, while we’re out there, working our guts out, keeping the economy afloat, by the sweat of our brow.
Onya, Tony, for getting right up them. Learn or earn, you bastards.
Mmh. But is there a flipside?
Are the providers of the “learn” side of the equation doing rather well from doing very little that is of much use? Are they in fact the main beneficiaries?
Millions are poured into training and employment agencies, a dozen or so in Central Australia. Yet they are not being remunerated for imparting skills that lead to jobs and a better life.
No, their rewards are for signing people up, then more for keeping them for a few weeks. There is a further payment if the “trainee” gets a job – but in many cases that never happens.
Does the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is now in charge of the scheme, really care? It doesn’t seem so.
The Alice Springs News Online looked into programs including one called Terrific Tucker in thee Central Australian communities.
We were told by the department: “The former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) provided Community Enterprises Australia Ltd (Alice Springs) with $8,341,868 in 2010-11 to undertake several projects under the Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) programme.
“The money was provided for three programmes (Women and Youth Sport, Fire Preparedness, and Terrific Tucker) to be delivered in communities in the MacDonnell Shire.
“$2,094,000 was allocated to the Terrific Tucker programme.
“This funding was allocated to: Capital expenditure ($1,104,000), salaries and on-costs ($720,000) and operational costs ($270,000).”
Those amounts do not include the dole being paid to the participants.
We asked the department:-
• How many unemployed people participated in each location? (They were Santa Teresa, Titjikala and Kintore).
• For how many days did each of the participants attend? (There is no privacy violation as we don’t require names.)
• How many obtained permanent employment after attending the course?
• Where and with what employer?
This was the answer we got: “The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has nothing to add to the response we provided yesterday.”
To care little about what happens with people after being trained is not confined to the government. Another provider, Batchelor College, which gets more than $30m a year from the taxpayer, does not release information about how many of its ex-students move on to jobs.
Oh yes, we were also told: “All of the FaHCSIA funding has since been fully acquitted in accordance with approved budgets.”
This cynical charade no doubt was along the lines of: “You say you have spent 92 cents on paper clips.” “Yes, we have, here is the receipt.” Where are the “outcomes”? No comment.
This is the picture drawn by a former employee of a local provider, speaking to us on the condition of not being named. (We have a statutory declaration from him.)
This whistleblower, who contacted us after reading our account of the local golf club’s experience with the scheme, paints a stark picture of the system.
The person says: “Rorting and outright theft are rife amongst some staff and management.
“Participants (clients) are getting away with ignoring the new conditions under which they are getting the dole because Centrelink and the Department of Employment don’t have adequate manpower to investigate and prosecute.
“While the job agencies are meant to be not-for-profit organisations, some pay hefty service fees – as much as 30% – to a parent firm, My Pathway Enterprise Management Group, that is privately owned and pockets the profits.
“The principal objective of the providers is to sign up as many people as possible, getting $1500 for each new ‘client’ for joining.
“If they stay for 13 weeks another fee, $2000 per head, is collected.
“Getting people to attend courses, for example, Certificate 2 in Music, also count as service by the provider for which it gets further payment,” says the whistleblower.
“These payments to the agencies are irrespective of the final outcome, ideally a full-time job, a rare thing in Central Australia at the moment.
“There is just a 50% chance that absenteeism is pursued. And even if it is, the ‘client’ may be breached but the provider gets to keep the fees it has received.
“All it has to do is to make a written report about the defaulting client to Centrelink.
“The clients are meant to work 16 hours a week, the supervisors, 20. Frequently the supervisors are mates of the staff working at the provider firm.
These taxpayer funded schemes seem to have a lot of slack: $150 a day travel allowance (for trips that may or may not have been taken); tyres for a mate’s car on a company purchase order, TVs, furniture and so-on pilfered by the staff,” says the whistleblower.
The local provider of Terrific Tucker wouldn’t comment to the Alice Springs News Online.
My Pathway did initially, but soon switched to a “no comment” position.
Centrelink referred us to the Department of Employment which flicked us to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
This wasn’t a smooth process, but interspersed with about 100 emails and phone calls over two months, and messages such as: “If you can provide any further details it will help us track it all down, if we can. For example, what program was the funding under and what Department funded it.
“There have been a series of programs responsible for rolling out programs over the years so we really need to identify that first.”
We had provided the three locations, the nature of the program, the number of staff, the provider and the timeframe, yet it took weeks to get the sparse answer quoted in this report.