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Estimates: Education and Employment Legislation Committee: Jobs and Innovation Portfolio

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 13 Jun 2018

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Josh Park-Hing

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, you've got the call.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. I want to go to the issue of Josh Park-Fing's death. Shortly after his tragic death, the minister said a report would be published within a month. Is it correct that the report has still not been made public? And, if so, why hasn't it been made public?

Mr Hehir : At the time of the death at Toowoomba, the department undertook an investigation. However, our investigation wasn't into the death itself.

Senator RHIANNON: Not into the death?

Mr Hehir : Not into the death. That was the responsibility of Work Health and Safety Queensland. While we've provided information and support, whenever requested, from Work Health and Safety Queensland, the investigation into the death was always their responsibility.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, when you said a report would be published within a month, what report were you referring to?

Mr Hehir : The department undertook to look at the compliance of the provider with the work for the dole arrangements, but not the actual death itself. We investigated the compliance of the provider with the requirements under our work for the dole requirements in the deed, and that's the work that we undertook.

Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean you're still waiting for the Work Health and Safety Queensland or the outcome of the case currently before the Toowoomba's Magistrates Court?

Mr Hehir : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it acceptable that Josh's family have waited over two years and more for any kind of report, justice or closure?

Senator Cash: Senator—and obviously, this has been covered at a number of estimates hearings now—as the matter is before the Toowoomba Magistrates Court, it is not appropriate at this point in time to release the report. We've always said we're awaiting the outcome of what occurs in the Magistrates Court. We don't want to prejudice, obviously, the hearing in any way at all.

Senator RHIANNON: No, I appreciate that, and I wasn't asking those questions. It really is about how it's handled when these tragic situations occur. What steps have been taken to ensure that such a delay does not occur in the future? They've lost—

Senator Cash: You're right, and like everybody here we continue to express our sympathy, obviously, to the parents of Mr Park-Fing. Ultimately, though, this is a matter for Queensland, and it's before the Toowoomba Magistrates Court. It's not a matter that the federal government is dealing with. This is being dealt with by the state of Queensland.

Senator RHIANNON: But really, are you seriously saying that you've not considered in any way that such a delay could be avoided in the future?

Senator Cash: We had written—again, this has been canvassed over a period of estimates hearings—to the Queensland government asking for updates et cetera and advising that we were awaiting the outcome of initially the Queensland work health and safety inquiry, which did take some time, and then ultimately it was referred to the Toowoomba Magistrates Court. Again, our position as a government is very clear. As soon as the proceedings are finished, then obviously it is a different situation. But at this point in time it is important that the government does not prejudice the court cases or the rights of relevant parties.

Senator RHIANNON: Do any of the parties charge in the case—and I'm referring to NEATO Employment Services, Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland and Work for the Dole project coordinator Adrian Strachan—still have a relationship with any federal department or the Work for the Dole program?

Senator Cash: I'll get the departmental officers to respond to that.

Mr Hehir : NEATO Employment Services is still a contracted provider of an active provider of jobactive services. We did limit its access to Work for the Dole activities in terms of whether they could run them themselves. The last information that I have is that Mr Strachan isn't working in jobactive at this point in time, and I don't believe there are any Work for the Dole activities at the Toowoomba showgrounds.

Senator Cash: And I think that's the important part. NEATO is obviously a large organisation. This was in relation to a particular project. So, perhaps the department could take you through what occurred in relation to that particular project.

Senator RHIANNON: Well, I just want to ask this question, which I hope is relevant to what you wanted to inform us of. Shouldn't those relationships, all the contracts, be severed, or at least suspended, given that they've been charged?

Senator Cash: No. Hence I'll get the department to take you through what occurred in that situation.

Mr Hehir : As I said, we did limit their activity in terms of Work for the Dole. I'll get Ms Milliken to go through that in a second. We also imposed some penalties under the deed for failings that we identified in our audit. However, we've also retained the right to impose further penalties, depending on the outcome of the Toowoomba Magistrates Court. Given that this activity is part of their responsibilities and not their entire responsibilities, the focus has been on allowing them to continue to provide support to jobseekers but initially limiting the areas where they could do Work for the Dole. We are still waiting on the outcome of the Magistrates Court before we finalise our action on this matter.

Senator RHIANNON: I just want to ask a general question to understand how you handle questions when you receive outside information. How many incidents and complaints have been received through the customer service line and the tip-off line? Also, how many of them resulted in an investigation?

Mr Hehir : While Ms Milliken's looking up that information, I just want to let you know the specific action we've undertaken following the incident. The Work for the Dole activity was suspended immediately and did not resume. We suspended nine other outdoor activities managed by NEATO involving plant and equipment. No new Work for the Dole activities have commenced at the Toowoomba showgrounds, or with the Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland, or YWCA Toowoomba. There are specific deed and guideline requirements relating to work health and safety under the Work for the Dole program, including the conduct of risk assessments for each Work for the Dole activity and every jobseeker referred to an activity. As you've noted, we established a task force on 3 May 2016 to investigate the management of Work for the Dole by NEATO, and the department's managing and monitoring of the provider's deed. The terms of reference for that investigation were provided to the Senate estimates committee at the hearing of 6 May 2016. I think at the last estimates we provided a comprehensive response of all the changes. I can refer to that question on notice—

Senator RHIANNON: Are you going to take on notice the question that I asked about the national customer service line and the tip-off line? You've got the information?

Ms Milliken : In relation to complaints to the national customer service line, to date in this financial year there have been 10,311 complaints with respect to jobactive. I don't have that broken down by the nature of the complaint. In respect of tip-offs to the employment services tip-off line, to date in this financial year there have been 40 tip-offs. Of those, 23 are currently under investigation. With respect to jobactive, complaints are usually dealt with in real time, so I expect that all of those 10,311 complaints have been addressed.

Senator RHIANNON: You said you 'expect', so can you take it on notice and clarify?

Ms Milliken : Yes, Senator.

Senator RHIANNON: I also just want to clarify: Senator Cameron asked questions in March, and, Minister, you said, similar to what you said now, that as the matter was before the court it would not be appropriate to release information about the incident, including the department of employment's report. I notice on 22 March last year, in response to an order for the production of documents, Senator McGrath said:

Once the investigation—by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland—has been finalised and reported on, the department will be in a position to release its own review.

Has the Queensland investigation been finalised, or hasn't it?

Senator Cash: The answer is it's been referred to courts, and Senator McGrath did not know that at the time.

Senator RHIANNON: Right. So, does his comment still stand? Will the department release its own review once that case is finished?

Senator Cash: That's what I basically said. As the matter is now before the Toowoomba Magistrates Court, so there is another step in the proceedings, it would obviously not be appropriate to comment on the incident or to release information about the incident. But once that is concluded then obviously the situation is different. I mean, it could be appealed—don't get me wrong—depending on what the outcome is. But once the proceedings are concluded the intention is to release the report.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Chair, I want to share my time with Senator Rice. If we could go to her for the Greens' time, please.

CHAIR: Certainly.

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