In January 2018, the Federal Government appointed an independent Expert Advisory Panel to help shape the future design of employment services in Australia. To support the review process, the Panel released a discussion paper (‘The next generation of employment services’).

In our response to this discussion paper, the Society sketches out the key principles and approach that we believe should underpin a reformed employment services system.

Ultimately, we believe the core assumptions and guiding principles that underpin the current service delivery framework require reformulation, including the reliance on outsourcing and the dominant ‘work-first’ orientation. In theory, outsourcing and competition is meant to deliver better, cheaper, more tailored services, and more choice. Yet genuine competition in employment services has been illusory in most regions and, where it has existed, it has tended to create barriers to collaboration and the sharing of data and ideas. At the same time, reforms ostensibly designed to monitor and improve the performance of services have resulted in inflexibility, risk aversion and onerous compliance and reporting burdens, while at the same time failing to overcome endemic gaming and rorting by providers. Overlaying all of this have been perpetual issues around underfunding and the focus on narrow notions of ‘efficiency’ and cost minimisation.

In this context, reform of the employment services system is imperative. The Australian Government’s review of employment services is timely and we welcome it as an ideal opportunity to examine existing policy settings, identify shortcomings and set a new direction in employment policies and programs.