Workforce Australia Inquiry recommends putting humans back in charge of employment services

December 1, 2023


The Inquiry into Workforce Australia has recommended a significant redesign of employment services to put the public service back in charge of the system, echoing Per Capita’s submission.

Many of Per Capita’s recommendations have been adopted in the final report, released yesterday, including a stronger focus on employers, accountability to service users, improved data and IT systems, and trialling a Work in the Community program to replace Work for the Dole.

Senior Fellow and the author of Per Capita’s submission, Dr May Lam, said “Robodebt showed us the worst of whatgovernment can do in a mass automated system of compliance and punishment inflicted on people the government should instead be helping through hard times”. 

The Inquiry, chaired by Julian Hill, did not receive any submissions arguing the current system was working well. In response, the Committee has called on the Government to create a new public entity, Employment Services Australia, to lead on a locally coordinated response, instead of setting contracted KPIs from Canberra. This body would listen to and learn from unemployed people and employers, deliver some services itself, and contract other services to providers in a way that meets local needs and priorities.

Per Capita’s Executive Director, Emma Dawson, said “The call by the Committee to reinstate a Commonwealth Employment Service is most welcome and well overdue. Government must have a much stronger role, both as an active steward of the system providing enabling services in each region and a direct provider of services.”

Reforming “mutual obligations” to make them genuinely mutual would be a significant step: tailoring programs that provide education and training, skills matching services and social supports such as treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues where needed, are the proven pathways to help people who face barriers to participation to break out of long-term unemployment. This form of “mutual obligation” would be a positive, supportive offering from the state, not a form of punishment.

Under the Committee’s recommended reforms, contracted services remain, but their value and quality, along with the work of Employment Services Australia, would be monitored by a newly established Employment Services Quality Commission. This would ensure that unemployed people and employers looking for staff could be heard about what is working in Australia’s complex and diverse labour markets.

Emma Dawson said “This is an incredibly detailed and thoughtful report, resulting from more than a year’s worth of work by a non-partisan committee, which has engaged in good faith with all interested parties. It offers a considered, practical yet transformative vision for a radical overhaul of employment services that would genuinely serve the interests of unemployed people and the businesses desperate to hire them”. 

Media enquiries: Emma Dawson on 0400 372 738 or