A decade and a half ago, in mid 2003, the federal government stoppeddoing something that governments have done continuously since 1946. It would no longer help unemployed people find jobs, and would instead give the task to a group of charities and private providers. Justifying this transition to a scheme it called Job Network, the Howard Government argued that finding jobs for the unemployed wasn’t core government business. “If that’s not a core responsibility,” responded Labor’s Anthony Albanese, “then what is?”
The question is still timely. The multi-billion-dollar employment services market offers very patchy results for the hundreds of thousands of jobseekers in the system. Through Jobactive, the post-2015 version of the scheme, the federal government pays $7.3 billion over five years to sixty-five private and not-for-profit service providers to assist about 750,000 jobseekers each year in over 1700 locations. With that amount of public money, and with fifteen years in which to fine-tune the service, Jobactive should be an exemplar of how outsourced human services should work in a mature market.