Chapter 7 - Regulation, accreditation and oversight

  1. Regulation, accreditation and oversight

This chapter examines issues associated with contract management of employment services, including accreditation, audits, assurance and monitoring processes, and compliant management, as well as ITsystem concerns. It also responds to calls for the establishment of an independent regulator for the employment services sector.

Stakeholders highlighted that there is a significant amount of red tape across the system, with the administration of contracts by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) characterised as excessive and resource intensive. Far too many resources are sub-optimally allocated to process driven tasks and interactions with DEWR or Services Australia—not to the active servicing of jobseekers and employers. Of particular concern is the evidence that accreditation processes act as a barrier to market entry by smaller organisations, while other administrative requirements and the IT system are a barrier to innovation and provision of quality services to clients.

Service providers are required to achieve accreditation against the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) and Right Fit For Risk (RFFR, focused on IT security). Accreditation is expensive and time-consuming. An employment services system that supports Australia’s most vulnerable people should facilitate access to support from a range of services. Accreditation requirements should be simplified and—if possible—reduced, with the Committee seeing merit in a number of solutions put forward that would enable service delivery partners to efficiently interface with and provide services as part of the rebuilt Commonwealth Employment Services System.

Accreditation, against a variety of strict controls, also seems to be undervalued. Even after achieving accreditation, providers are required to submit to disproportionate assurance and monitoring processes. It would appear DEWR does not value or trust its own accreditation processes. DEWR should demonstrate greater confidence in the controls its accreditation processes have provided, supported by a more relational approach to contracting supplemented by an appropriate assurance regime. A well-designed approach to provider accreditation and compliance will still be able to satisfy Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) expectations regarding a proportionate, risk-based approach to assurance.

Critical to reducing administrative and compliance burden is more effective use of data and greater collaboration between government agencies. In particular, incorporating Single Touch Payroll (STP) data into assurance processes would result in substantial efficiencies. Adopting a more general ‘tell government once’ principle would also avoid clients being obliged to repeat information to multiple sources. Steps to reducing red tape and improving the IT system must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The Committee is also concerned that Australia’s employment services system is characterised by power imbalances between providers and government, reflected in the current monopsony position of DEWR. Unlike most other areas of human services delivery, DEWR are responsible for both policy and program management along with regulation and quality assurance. Stakeholders expressed concern that far too many functions are performed by the same entity, DEWR and noted that employment services is of the few services sectors without an independent regulatory agency.

In addition, with the transition to Workforce Australia and the implementation of Workforce Australia Online, DEWR is now in effect the regulator for the system and the largest provider of services. In the proposed future model, DEWR will also assume a more active role in system stewardship and service delivery—assuming the recommendations of this report to rebuild a public sector core within Employment Services Australia (ESA) are adopted by the Australian Government. Several stakeholders raised concern that these arrangements create a potential conflict of interest and role confusion that can be better addressed through an independent regulator.

The Committee strongly recommends an independent regulator for the sector be established—with the suggested name Employment Services Quality Commission. Restructuring an existing entity to incorporate the Employment Services Quality Commission would be preferable to creating a new regulatory body, with one practical option the establishment of an arm within the Australian Skills and Qualifications Authority. Functions of the independent regulator, as put forward in this and other chapters, should include:

  • establishing a quality framework and licensing standards;
  • workforce standards and sector professional development;
  • provider licensing and accreditation;
  • advising government on appropriate pricing for high quality services, commissioning, and payment models;
  • complaints management;
  • data collection, analysis, and release, as well as championing data transparency across the employment services system; and
  • research, evaluation, continuous learning, and quality improvement.

For the avoidance of doubt, in recommending that an independent regulator be established, the Committee is not suggesting the public sector must be ‘licensed’ or required to bid for market share, nor that government agencies need to be undertake service delivery on a competitive neutrality basis.

The sector is also atypical in that there is no legislative framework underpinning its operation or governing provider conduct, with only jobseekers’ obligations related to income support clearly set out in law. Should legislation be required to establish the Employment Services Quality Commission, there may be an opportunity to review other aspects of the system that could be strengthened through legislation.

Contracting and operating framework

Legislative basis for employment services

7.1With partial outsourcing of employment services in 1994, the Employment Services Act 1994 was introduced. Among other matters, the Act provided for the establishment of the following:

  • Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) within a partially outsourced system;
  • Employment Assistance Australia as the Commonwealth service delivery arm for case management services;
  • Employment Services Regulatory Authority (ESRA);
  • an accreditation framework for outsourced organisations to deliver case management services; and
  • a regulatory framework for case management services, including a Code of Practice.[1]
    1. Government announced its intention to marketize employment services in 1996 and proposed amendments to the Employment Services Act 1994 to establish a new market. When the Senate did not pass the relevant amendments, government proceeded without legislation using administrative measures.[2] Regulatory and governance arrangements for the various iterations of employment services, including Workforce Australia, have since that time largely been specified in contracts (Deeds), guidelines, and service guarantees.
    2. The Social Security Act 1991 authorises expenditure relating to employment services. In this respect, the Act empowers the Employment Secretary, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to make, vary, or administer grants of financial assistance in relation to specified services and activities.[3]
    3. Jobseekers’ obligations relating to income support are set out in Social Security Act 1991 and Social Security Administration Act 1999. These include:
  • Requirements for jobseekers subject to RapidConnect to attend their initial appointment with a provider in two business days of being referred by Services Australia. Income support payments start from the date of the appointment.[4]
  • Actions jobseekers must undertake to receive income support payments. These include activities recorded in the Job Plan.[5]
  • Compliance action where a jobseeker fails to comply with their mutual obligation requirements. These may include the suspension, reduction, and cancelation of income support.[6]
    1. By comparison, other human service sectors are underpinned by legislation which provides for the delivery of assistance and governs the conduct of service providers. For example:
  • The early childhood education and care sector is subject to a National Quality Framework which establishes minimum qualifications for educators and provides for educator to child ratios. The Education and Care Services National Law 2010 also provides for matters such as compliance with Child Safe Standards.
  • The Aged Care Act 1997 establishes rules for funding, regulation, and approval of providers, quality of care, and the rights of care recipients.
  • The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 provides for the responsibilities of the Australian Skills Quality Authority, including registration of training providers and compliance with the Vocational Education and Training (VET) Quality Framework.

Provider accreditation

7.6Service providers are required to achieve accreditation against the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) and Right Fit For Risk (RFFR).[7]

7.7The QAF requires providers to implement practices to support ongoing improvement in service delivery. It applies only to Workforce Australia Services. To be certified against the QAF, a provider must:

  • achieve certification against one of two approved quality standards—the International Standard for Quality Management Systems ISO9001:2015, or the National Standard for Disability Services NSDS:2013; and
  • demonstrate adherence to the seven key Quality Principles determined by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR).[8]
    1. RFFR accreditation is required for most employment services.[9] The intent of RFFR is to ensure information and data is protected, including where a provider is using an external IT system that interacts with DEWR’s IT system. Under RFFR, a provider’s information security and IT systems must be accredited against:
  • International Standard for Information Security Management Systems ISO/IEC 27001:2013—the international standard outlining the core requirements for Information security, cybersecurity and privacy protection;and
  • the Australian Government Information Security Manual.[10]
    1. Some providers acknowledged the benefits of the accreditation process, including the role of RFFR in protecting sensitive data.[11] Yilabara Solutions noted that accreditation may assist providers to monitor progress in the implementation of governance measures and identify opportunities to improve.[12] Other providers asserted that evidence is at best mixed as to whether accreditation contributes to improved service delivery.[13]
    2. The final jobactive evaluation found (in relation to the QAF) that audit processes often focus on establishing that minimum standards exist, as opposed to establishing that they are followed in practice. The evaluation concluded that the QAF was not a suitable tool for assessing the quality of employment support.[14]
    3. Stakeholders also expressed concern that accreditation processes are prohibitively expensive and administratively burdensome.[15] For example:
  • SSI indicated that the cost of RFFR accreditation was upwards of $500,000.[16]
  • The Angus Knight Group (AKG) noted that self-assessment—which is part of the Quality Principles assessment and separate from the two approved quality standards—can take 75 hours to complete.[17]
  • Sarina Russo Job Access (SRJA) noted that on top of meeting QAF and RFFR accreditation standards, there are a further 1,137 audit requirements (353 for QAF and 784 for RFFR) that must be externally audited. SRJA stated that many of these requirements are duplicative.[18]
    1. In addition, stakeholders highlighted that the costs of accreditation act as a barrier to entry for smaller and community-based organisations.[19] Women’s Health and Family Services (WHFS) observed in this regard:

We incurred significant costs to bring all the systems online and meet the requirements, and there was no negotiation for costs to be returned. If you're a small $1 million or $2 million, really good, community centred, place-based organisation, you just wouldn't bother. You just wouldn't do it.[20]

7.13Stakeholders called for additional financial assistance for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help them meet the costs of accreditation, and for government to invest and build the capacity of smaller providers.[21]

7.14A Capacity-Building Fund was established as part of Workforce Australia to support small businesses to establish themselves in the sector by assisting with the cost of accreditation. The fund provided $5 million over four years, with reimbursement capped at $300,000 per Head Licence.[22]

7.15Only three providers have accessed the Capacity-Building Fund, with a little over $700,000 reimbursed.[23] This is despite 14 of the 43 Workforce Australia Services providers having not been a previous jobactive, or sub-contractors with a jobactive provider[24], although not all of them would be eligible to access the support.

7.16Organisations delivering multiple services must achieve accreditation against separate (though similar) standards. Stakeholders indicated that this leads to additional cost without commensurate gains in security or service quality.[25] Workways Australia Ltd (Workways) suggested that there are opportunities to create efficiencies by reducing duplication and harmonising both accreditation and assurance across services managed by DEWR, the Department of Social Services (DSS), and the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA).[26]

7.17AKG observed that providers delivering VET courses will be subject to accreditation requirements determined by Australian Skills Quality Authority. This adds to cost and administrative burden.[27]

7.18Stakeholders also expressed concern that while accreditation should confirm that a provider has achieved minimum service standards, the provider is also required to demonstrate compliance via multiple audit and assurance processes.[28] SYC Ltd (SYC) noted that while the QAF was expected to reduce compliance requirements, it has instead increased costs without reducing provider’s compliance burden:

Accreditation to the [QAF] should suffice to demonstrate that a provider has achieved required standards. Ongoing and multiple requests to provide supporting evidence of compliance and quality should no longer be required unless a provider is new to the delivery of employment services or has demonstrated a quality and compliance breach.[29]

7.19SRJA asserted that modules three to five of the Provider Performance Framework (PPF) can also duplicate auditing and assessment completed to obtain QAF accreditation,[30] while CoAct similarly stated that there is overlap between QAF and RFFR accreditation.[31]

Assurance and red tape

7.20Stakeholders expressed concern that there is not only a high cost and administrative burden associated with accreditation, but a significant amount of red tape across the whole employment services system. This can result in significant challenges for participants and employers seeking to access programs to obtain vital support and lead to overall reductions in service quality. Stakeholder also noted that excessive red tape in the sector has led to the creation of an ‘industry within an industry’, with providers hiring numerous staff exclusively for administrative tasks.[32]

7.21Stakeholders provided examples of excessive administrative burden in the system. For example:

  • The National Self-Employment Association (NS-EA) stated that it is simpler to apply for a home loan than to access a one-hour business advisor session from a Self-Employment Assistance (S-EA) provider.[33]
  • The Australian Services Union (ASU) provided a quote from one of its members who worked as a case manager, highlighting the significant amount of paperwork required to place a jobseeker in work, to secure a wage subsidy, and to obtain funding for work-related equipment.[34]
    1. Evidence also indicated that providers are often obliged to manually complete tasks that should be automated. For example, The Salvation Army Employment Plus (SAEP) noted that its staff have been obliged to monitor the flow of participants approaching activation points due to a lack of relevant information on the jobseeker’s record.[35] During a site visit, one provider indicated they were not able to organise activation activities ahead of time as they would only find out a few weeks before the jobseeker reaches their activation point. This results in the jobseeker being referred to a sub-optimal activity, as the provider has little time to organise a fit-for-purpose placement.
    2. The Committee heard that much of the administrative burden imposed on providers is associated with assurance. Stakeholders raised concern that DEWR continues to conduct burdensome audits of providers, notwithstanding that those providers have already satisfied an externally audited accreditation process. Providers called on DEWR to demonstrate greater trust in their risk management and quality assurance practices.[36] For example, MAX Solutions (MAX) stated:

The majority of providers and their staff do the right thing with providers also engaging external auditors. We are not suggesting that there be no oversight, however government need to strip back the complexity of the service to ensure that providers spend most of their time focussed on job seekers and employers, not compliance and assurance.[37]

7.24Stakeholders also argued that current levels of assurance activity may be unnecessary given the high levels of payment integrity achieved. For example, SRJA noted that under jobactive, 97percent of providers achieved a Compliance Indicator score of 90 or higher—the highest in 24years.[38] Similarly, the NS-EA called for a differentiated approach based on providers’ compliance history.[39]

7.25Stakeholders also raised concern that assurance requirements can be duplicative.[40] For example, SRJA noted that the Continuous Assessment of Payment Integrity requires providers to submit documentary evidence of their compliance with reimbursement and claiming requirements.[41] This is notwithstanding that the QAF requires providers to implement measures that would ensure practices align with the Workforce Australia Deed and guidelines.[42]

7.26Jobs Australia indicated that the expectations of the Australia National Audit Office (ANAO) may contribute to unnecessarily high levels of red tape in the sector and highlighted a 2020 ANAO Audit of the Disability Employment Services (DES) contract which resulted in increases to evidentiary requirements. According to Jobs Australia, ANAO audits have led to DEWR adopting an overly risk-adverse position.[43] Issues in risk aversion were summarised by Mr Colin Williams—a former senior public servant involved in the administration of employment services—as follows:

While integrity is needed in any "system" my experience is that a risk averse approach by "remote" decision and policy makers leads to cumbersome systems that deter take up by employers or for that matter jobseekers. Intervention programs should not be over engineered as the more complex they are the greater level of resource is needed [at both user and government level].[44]

7.27Providers also informed the Committee that audits may be conducted a substantial time after relevant activities are complete. Workways noted that DEWR may conduct assurance activities up to 18 months after a transaction occurs. According to Workways, this leads to providers being reluctant to innovate and to try new approaches that are in the best interests of their clients.[45]

7.28Other stakeholders also asserted that extensive and rigid provider compliance arrangements stymie innovation and lead to greater standardisation.[46] For example, MAX stated:

Genuinely innovative and individualised services will not be delivered if there is more prescription about what services should and should not be delivered.[47]

7.29Some providers expressed frustration at a lack of timely feedback from assurance processes. Some providers indicated that they had undergone several rounds of assurance without receiving feedback.[48] This was echoed by during the Committee’s program of site visits. For example, one provider told the Committee that they had been asked to provide evidence for seven Continuous Assessment of Payment Integrity cycles but had only received results back in relation to one.

7.30In its 2002 review of the Job Network, the Productivity Commission recommended a risk management approach to contract monitoring and compliance that encourages innovation and minimises costs, with the least amount of monitoring needed to ensure full accountability.The Productivity Commission also recommended that:

  • DEWR avoid imposing additional compliance costs on providers in response to poor performance;
  • DEWR collect and publish data on the nature, extent and cost of its compliance monitoring activities, as well as information about provider behaviour; and
  • providers be financially compensated for significant additional administrative or compliance burdens, to encourage government to consider whether changes to a program may impose unnecessary red tape or cost.[49]
    1. Evidence from providers indicated that the recommendations of the Productivity Commission had not been implemented, with DEWR exercising an increasingly strict level of control over providers and implementing increasingly complex procedural requirements.[50]
    2. NESA indicated that concerns as to provider’s compliance burden have persisted for a significant time. In 2012, the Advisory Panel on Employment Services Administration and Accountability found that the ability for providers to innovate was significantly constrained by red tape, and that compliance burden could be materially reduced without jeopardising accountability. NESA stated that that it has also been seeking an opportunity to work with DEWR to create a measure of administration for the sector, and to identify where government and providers could work together to reduce administrative burden.[51]
    3. Several stakeholders highlighted opportunities to streamline administration via the use Single Touch Payroll (STP) data.[52] For example, Workskil Australia (Workskil) stated that better integration of STP data would result in material improvements to efficiency and minimise burdens for jobseekers and employers.[53]
    4. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) noted that STP is limited to data captured on the payroll system. As a result, it identifies the name of an employer and how much an employer earned, but does not identify work the employee performed, where they worked, or the hours worked. Under legislation, the ATO can share information with the Secretary of the department responsible for employment policy for the purposes of administering laws relating to pensions, allowances, or benefits. However, legislative provisions limit the sharing of data for any other purpose. This appears to restrict the use of data for research and program evaluation.[54]
    5. The benefits of incorporating STP data have long been recognised. For example, in its 2002 review of the Job Network, the Productivity Commission recommended automatic verification of outcomes via data sharing with Centrelink and the ATO.[55]
    6. Stakeholders also observed that integration of STP data would allow providers to direct resources away from administration and towards service delivery. SAEP observed that it needed to engage 29 full time staff to collect payroll information and administer evidentiary requirements associated with lodging outcome claims.[56]

IT system concerns

7.37Providers raised serious concerns in relation to key deficiencies in the IT system, noting that these deficiencies increase costs and administrative burden and limit their ability to effectively serve participants.[57] Concerns about the Workforce Australia IT system grew over the course of the inquiry as the inefficiencies in the system and impacts on productivity became more apparent.

7.38For example, NESA stated that providers’ ability to engage with jobseekers has been hampered by the removal of key functions in the move to Workforce Australia. These include providers’ ability to view participants' CVs, career profiles and Points Based Activation System (PBAS) points and activities; and tools used to match participants to vacancies. NESA asserted that removal of these functions was not an error but a deliberate design decision which was implemented without proper consultation.[58]

7.39Workways noted that there are a ‘myriad of issues’ with IT systems and processes that providers and participants are required to use, including:

  • participant information is often unreliable or incorrect, and changes rapidly;
  • providers have little if any access to participant resumes or job search attributes;
  • tailored PBAS targets often contradict what is in a participant’s Job Plan, with providers unable to make amendments in the system to align the targets with the Job Plan;
  • double, triple, or even quadruple reporting of participant activities and outcomes may be required;
  • inconsistent information available to providers and the Digital Solutions Support team, leading to significant inefficiencies;
  • certain bookings (for example, Youth Advisory Sessions) cannot be made even where the relevant activity is contractually required;
  • dual referrals are challenging to resolve; and
  • providers are unable to access previous activity records or placements for a participant who has exited the system.[59]
    1. Workways indicated that many of the issues may have been identified and addressed had online systems (including the new Workforce Australia Online) been sufficiently tested with providers and other key stakeholders before the systems were rolled out, and if providers had been given more time to adjust to the new systems. Workways also observed that the issues are compounded by the assumption that all participants have access to and ability to use technology. Ultimately, Workways recommended that providers be an integral part of design and testing for new and updated systems; providers be given additional time to learn new systems and provide training to staff; and the career and CV profile section be returned to the IT system.[60]
    2. Mission Australia highlighted a series of issues with the IT system for Transition to Work (TtW) providers, including:
  • providers cannot block out time in the system calendar shared with Services Australia for events other than appointments (for example, external marketing and training), which was a function available under the old system;
  • the current ‘Open Tasks’ view does not have accurate information, for example, it may not display future appointments with participants notwithstanding that these have been confirmed;
  • a general lack of intuitive functionality and too many actions (often ‘clicks’) being required to progress simple tasks; and
  • the inability for providers to edit client information such as addresses.[61]
    1. Mission Australia recommended that DEWR commit to a program of work focused on identifying administrative burden on TtW providers with the aim of reducing red tape and streamlining administrative requirements.[62]
    2. IntoWork Australia (IntoWork) stated that the IT system is not employer focused, and called for consideration of how providers’ and private sector recruitment systems can be leveraged to better meeting employers’ needs.[63]
    3. SAEP published a 25-minute YouTube video detailing potential enhancements to the IT system with a focus on mandatory activation, PBAS points tailoring, compliance, job search quality, and calendars. The video explained that the system monitoring a jobseeker’s mandatory activation requirement does not display whether a jobseeker has met their activation requirement and, if so, how. Instead, providers rely on files notes and system reports.[64]
    4. DEWR acknowledged that that the IT system has limited functionality in some areas, and that this constrains the ability of the Digital Services Contact Centre (DSCC) to support jobseekers on the digital caseload. DEWR indicated that the challenges the DSCC is facing in relation to IT systems are similar to those facing providers. According to DEWR additional investment in IT infrastructure is needed to improve the services the DSCC delivers.[65]

The purchaser-supplier relationship

7.46Within the employment services system, DEWR has almost total control over the purchase of services.[66] Stakeholders argued that DEWR has not always been fair or even-handed in exercising this control, and expressed concern that:

  • the relationship between DEWR and providers is one of limited trust;[67]
  • DEWR does not genuinely consult with providers or other stakeholders in relation to policy and program settings and often fails to provide realistic lead times on significant system-level changes;[68]
  • Deeds are one-sided and onerous;[69]
  • there is a lack of clarity in relation to program guidelines;[70] and
  • there is a lack of timely, appropriate responses to challenging situations in which providers are seeking to assist jobseekers.[71]
    1. Professor Jeff Borland argued that cultural change is critical to the success of any reforms to employment services, stating that the current system places too much weight on technical design rules. Professor Borland observed that one means of effecting cultural change would be to integrate innovative programs into the national system, with the organisations that deliver those programs made service providers.[72]
    2. MAX asserted that while purchasers usually take a ‘trust but verify’ approach to contract management, DEWR has not taken such an approach in Workforce Australia. Rather, DEWR manages providers as if they are seeking to defraud the government.[73] Frontline provider staff raised similar concerns, with one asserting that DEWR mistrusts all providers due to isolated instances of misconduct.[74]
    3. The Committee also heard that there has been a cultural change within the sector, with discussions between DEWR and providers increasingly focused on contract compliance.[75] For example, The BUSY Group Ltd (BUSY) noted that monthly meetings with their contract manager have begun to focus on matters such as the number of bean bags in an office and the size of a door sign. BUSY advocated for a return to the partnership approach in place under previous iterations of employment services.[76]
    4. Stakeholders also asserted that key consequences of DEWR’s apparent mistrust of providers and focus on compliance are poor service quality and limited opportunity to innovate.[77] For example, Campbell Page stated that over-regulation of the sector leads to good practice being defined by strict adherence to rules rather than by innovation and high-quality customer service.[78]
    5. Stakeholders indicated that the power imbalance between purchaser and supplier is also reflected in the time DEWR takes to action requests compared with timeframes imposed on providers. For example, the Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation (NAC) noted that it would take nine months to hand back a Workforce Australia contract.[79] Incomparison, providers were required to stand up services in three months after the announcement of the results of the tender.[80]
    6. The Australian Centre for Career Education (ACCE) asserted that relationships between providers and government should be underpinned by a strong partnership approach.[81] Jobs Australia stated that key elements of such relationships include trust; mutual and timely responsiveness; consistency; openness and transparency; and simplicity and effectiveness.[82]
    7. DEWR observed that the Joint Charter–Workforce Australia sets out a framework for collaboration between the department and providers, framed around the vision of Workforce Australia being simple, supported, connected, and respectful.[83] NESA raised concern that there is no operational framework to enable resolution if issues with the Joint Charter were present, and that the Joint Charter itself contributes to risk aversion, service standardisation, and lack of innovation.[84]
    8. Academic research indicates that significant internal regulation eventually become a feature in quasi-markets, as without it some providers inevitably exploit the system for financial gain and focus on securing work for jobseekers who are closest to the labour market at the expense of those who need additional support. This was the experience of outsourcing both in Australia and in other countries. The response to this issue is typically to impose greater oversight—including reporting and compliance architecture; minimum service standards; and prescriptive regulation—toaddress the behaviour and respond to community expectations and concerns.[85] The Committee’s engagement with providers and other stakeholders during site visits in Australia and during the European delegation indicates that the appropriate level of regulation for the sector is a conundrum. Over-regulation inhibits innovation and efficiency, while under-regulation can fail to address poor behaviours enabled by a quasi-market system.

Access to Centrelink and to jobseeker (client) information

7.55In its interim report, the Committee noted that a key challenge for both providers and DEWR was lack of access to Centrelink staff in to address participant issues.[86] The Committee heard that these issues are common across Australia’s employment services system.[87] This was reinforced during the Committee’s site visit to the DSCC, with DSCC staff noting that they face similar challenges. This can have significant negative impacts on jobseekers—for example where the DSCC needs to assist a person who is working or studying and needed to seek an exemption to their job search requirements.

7.56Jobseekers called for a direct line from providers to a dedicated Centrelink team who can answer questions and provide current, accurate advice, noting that a phone call can diffuse a situation that in some cases may take weeks or months to resolve.[88]

7.57There were also calls for a return to arrangements in place under previous iterations of employment services which included local tripartite meetings between Centrelink, DEWR and providers to address servicing and participant issues and experiences.[89]

7.58Concerns were raised about the inability of frontline staff to access information for and about the clients they are seeking to support, and the consequent requirement for people to continuously tell their story and share (often traumatising) information multiple times.[90] A particular concern was the deletion of all CVs from the IT system in the transition to Workforce Australia, which reportedly caused great distress and frustration to clients, providers, and frontline staff. Workways noted that one of their new clients had expressed dismay that Workways did not have a copy of their résumé. The participant told Workways that their previous provider had a copy of their résumé just a few days before they commenced with Workways and expressed concern that the résumé and appeared to have been lost during the transfer.[91]

7.59During site visits, providers similarly expressed reported concern that they are unable to see a range of critical information in the IT system. Clear evidence was not provided to the Committee as to the philosophy or policy basis for the decision not to make this information accessible to providers. However, suggestions were made that was driven by concerns for client privacy. It was also acknowledged that there is a trade-off between protecting client’s privacy and the ability of the service to work efficiently and provide a quality service.

7.60Individuals also told the Committee that they were obliged to tell their story multiple times due to failures by government to share information. One person told the Committee that after undergoing the difficult process of telling their story to Centrelink, Centrelink failed to pass on the information to the relevant provider. This led to the person having to retell their story to their provider once they commenced in services. They were also forced to tell their story multiple times thereafter to different staff, due to high levels of turnover in the sector.

7.61During its delegation to Europe, the Committee heard that Estonia’s public employment services are underpinned by the principle that clients should not be required to repeat their experiences to multiple sources. Relevant systems and regulations are built around this principle and aim to enable the sharing of client information while protecting the client’s privacy. Other governments, such as Canada[92] and the Queensland State Government[93] are making system changes underpinned by a similar ‘tell government once’ principle.

The role and functions of an independent regulator

7.62In addition to being the supplier of assistance to roughly 25 per cent of participants (via Workforce Australia Online), DEWR is responsible for procurement, policy and program design and administration, and complaints, regulation, evaluation, and accreditation.[94]

7.63Several stakeholders raised concern that this arrangement creates a potential conflict of interest and role confusion—particularly where DEWR is both service delivery agency and regulator.[95] APM also noted growing international recognition of conflicts of interest where one entity has the functions of policymaker, legislator, funder, regulator, market steward, and service provider. APM observed that several jurisdictions have given regulatory functions to an independent entity as a means of addressing this issue.[96]

7.64SRJA similarly stated that it was not optimal that DEWR is responsible for providing and regulating service provision—particularly when the department also oversees, manages, and sanctions other organisations which provide employment services.[97]

7.65Several stakeholders called for the establishment of an independent regulator and for functions to be split between a regulator and the department. Stakeholders observed that a separation of functions would increase confidence in the system, promote objectivity, improve the quality and fairness of decision-making, and help ensure stability across the sector.[98]

7.66For example, Dr Ann Nevile indicated that it should be an independent body which monitors the operation of the employment services system, rather than the agency responsibility for developing policies and programs. Dr Nevile stated that conferring monitoring functions on an independent entity would also help improve transparency in and the availability of evaluation data.[99]

7.67By contrast, atWork Australia (atWork) asserted that there is no need for an independent regulator, stating that existing accreditation and assurance processes are sufficient to ensure providers deliver a high-quality service.[100] Yilabara Solutions stated that they did not support an independent regulator.[101] However, they also clarified that their concern was with the diversion of resources to fund such a body, noting that they saw value in having an independent entity with responsibility for evaluation and complaints.[102]

7.68Regulatory functions are separated from policy and program design in other human service sectors, and employment services are relatively unusual in not having a regulatory and licensing body.[103] In this respect:

  • The Australian Skills Quality Authority is responsible for regulation and performance assessment in the VET sector.[104]
  • The Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority is responsible for regulation and quality assurance in the childhood education and care sector. It also conducts research and provides expert advice to government.[105]
  • The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission provides end-to-end regulation for aged care services. This includes granting approval for providers to deliver aged care services.[106]
    1. With partial outsourcing of service delivery under Working Nation, an independent regulator, ESRA, was established. The functions of the regulator were to regulate and promote competition in outsourced case management services, monitor and evaluate the operation of those services, and develop partnerships with relevant stakeholders.[107] ESRA ceased operating with the start of Job Network on 1April1998, with the Minister issuing a direction following the 1996–97 Budget for ESRA to cease purchasing case management services by that date.[108]
    2. The issue of whether the sector needs an independent regulator was addressed in the Productivity Commission’s 2002 review of Job Network. At the time of the review, the commission was not convinced of the need for an independent regulator, instead advocating for the department to improve transparency, accountability, monitoring, and compliance. The commission asserted that government should consider establishing a regulator if significant problems of transparency, accountability, and power imbalance persisted under subsequent employment services contracts. The commission stated that a regulator should be completely separate from DEWR.[109]
    3. The Committee received suggestions as to the entity which should take on the role of a regulator. These included conferring additional powers and functions on Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA);[110] creating an Employment Services Ombudsman;[111] and establishing a local oversight body made up of stakeholders with direct experience of employment services.[112]
    4. Stakeholders also made suggestions for the functions of the regulator, including:
  • regulatory oversight and compliance;[113]
  • investigation and enforcement;[114]
  • setting standards and guidelines;[115]
  • provider and jobseeker complaints;[116]
  • pricing, including advising government on effective and efficient pricing to deliver a quality service;[117]
  • data collection, provision, analysis, and evaluation;[118] and
  • licencing and performance monitoring.[119]
    1. Dr Nevile argued that functions of the regulator could include assessing the capability of providers against agreed performance metrics covering financial viability and planning; governance; recruitment and training; complaints and feedback processes; connections to other organisations; and employer engagement. The regulator would also undertake independent evaluations of the employment services system; report to Parliament on provider performance; and maintain a register of individuals with relevant expertise experience who would be interested in working with providers to evaluate innovative projects.[120]
    2. According to Dr Nevile, conferring these functions on a regulator (and removing them from DEWR) would allow a greater focus by DEWR’s central and regional offices on, respectively, policy and program design and building relationships with providers and employers.[121]
    3. Professor Mark Considine asserted that a regulator should focus on problem solving and working with providers rather than trying to ‘catch out’ poor performance.[122]
    4. During its program of site visits, the Committee noted a clear difference between providers’ engagement with local DEWR offices and the national office. Providers indicated that they have a good relationship with their local office but felt that these regional offices were somewhat disempowered, despite local staff having better knowledge and understanding of frontline service delivery.

Complaint processes

7.77Participants in Workforce Australia who wish to make a complaint about a provider—including the DSCC, for participants in online services—or the quality of the services they have received may contact the National Customer Service Line (NCSL). The NCSL is also the central point of contact for information on all Commonwealth employment services (including DES and the Community Development Program (CDP)) and a range of vocational training services.[123] Issues relating to income support are addressed by contacting Services Australia or Centrelink.[124]

7.78In 2021–22, the NCSL handled 247,136 contacts, including 15,428 which pertained to complaints about jobactive (including policy and program parameters and complaints about providers) and the Digital Services Contact Centre (DSCC).[125]

7.79If a complaint is received, it is typically sent to the provider for investigation. An NCSL officer will review the provider’s response and, if needed, work with the provider until all issues have been addressed. The NCSL will the respond to the jobseeker.[126]

7.80Where a person is dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint, they may also contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman.[127]

7.81Several individuals raised concerns about complaints processes for the employment services system. Concerns included dissatisfaction with the outcome of processes followed by the NCSL; a lack of empathy from NCSL staff; and lack of procedural fairness afforded to the individual.[128]

7.82One jobseeker stated that when they made a complaint, the issue was marked as having been resolved following the NCSL making a brief phone call to the provider. According to the jobseeker, this was without giving the complainant the opportunity to hear or refute the provider's arguments.[129] Another submitter stated that while their complaint about a provider was initially accepted by DEWR, they were later told that the complaint would not be forwarded to the provider for resolution. The submitter stated that as a result, they were in constant email correspondence with senior customer service officers who ‘clearly had no interest in [the] complaint nor … any desire [to respond] …to other queries’.[130]

7.83ACOSS observed that jobseekers experience a clear power imbalance, and often lack access to complaint or review processes. ACOSS called for more resources to improve the accessibility of independent advocacy and problem-solving services and for greater clarity around key terms in social security law to enable jobseekers to understand relevant processes and make complaints where appropriate.[131]

7.84Stakeholders emphasised that the department must implement robust, accessible procedures to handle complaints about providers and clearly communicate these procedures and how to access them to participants. Moreover, feedback about Workforce Australia captured via complaints processes should be captured and used to support improvements to the system.[132]

7.85These issues were reflected in the Productivity Commission’s 2002 review of the Job Network, indicating that concerns in relation to complaint processes are not new. The commission found a lack of awareness of complaints processes and recommended measures be adopted to ensure that jobseekers are aware of avenues of appeal.[133]

Committee comment

7.86Throughout this inquiry, the Committee continued to hear that employment services suffer from excessive, over-engineered and poorly targeted administration. Current administrative requirements are a major barrier to innovative support, person-centred assistance, and productive employer relationships. There are veritable armies of staff—in DEWR and in service providers—dedicated to administration, compliance, and box-ticking. Many providers have been forced to prioritise employment of staff focused on compliance over staff focused on supporting jobseekers and employers.

7.87Inefficiencies in the IT system are a critical issue facing providers and participants—including the DSCC. Some of these issues appear to be avoidable, or to be driven by policy settings which can be changed. Others are an inherent feature of a quasi-market. Judgements must be made about what information should be shared outside the public sector. A common IT system and user interface should also be available to contracted service partners, while acknowledge that some service partners will likely need to operate their own IT systems in parallel (whether for compliance or administrative reasons or to support service innovation).

7.88Inexplicably it seems that when Workforce Australia was established, DEWR was not provided with any discretionary funding to address the inevitable IT glitches in transitioning to an entirely new IT system. As such, while DEWR it is aware of the myriad of IT issues, it is unable to address them. This is hampering productivity.

7.89Issues of particular concern to the Committee which relate to the IT system include the lack of reliable, accurate information on participants and their service needs; the requirement for a participant to tell their story and provider the same information multiple times; the necessity for workers to enter the same information multiple times in order to make a claim (for example, for an outcome-based payment); and the inability to make changes to participants’ information in the system, even where this is required or would be of benefit. That there is—at least in some areas—less functionality under Workforce Australia than under previous employment services is incomprehensible. These issues must be resolved as a matter of urgency, noting the frankly ridiculous productivity impacts on providers.

7.90Part of the reforms to the IT system and to employment services more generally should be the adoption of a clear ‘tell government once’ principle, to avoid clients being obliged to repeat information to multiple sources. This experience is frustrating at best, and at worst can be traumatising. A ‘tell government once’ principles has been adopted in comparable overseas jurisdictions, with work also ongoing at the state and territory level to implement a similar principle in relation to services administered by other governments. Adopting this principle should involve system changes which allow critical information about a client to be shared between relevant public sector agencies and providers contracted to support that client. The principle should be given greater weight than narrow privacy considerations given the overwhelming feedback through the inquiry and the approaches observed in other jurisdictions.

7.91Accreditation can—if properly administered—be effective to ensure that minimum standards of service quality and data security are maintained and can be effective to support continuous improvement in service delivery. However, current accreditation requirements appear to be prohibitively resource-intensive and act as a barrier to entry into the employment services system—particularly for smaller organisations.

7.92DEWR should pursue opportunities to streamline and simplify the accreditation processes over which it has direct control. In the longer term, DEWR should also work with other accrediting authorities to identify common quality service delivery processes. The Committee would support development of a framework for mutual recognition of practice requirements as a means of minimising—and ideally eliminating—duplication.

7.93To enable smaller and community-based employment service providers, and providers of state- and territory-based or non-government programs, to efficiently interface with and provide services under the Commonwealth system, the Committee also sees merit in exploring and trialling alternative solutions, before they are rolled out across the system, including:

  • the Commonwealth becoming a supplier of IT security systems for smaller organisations, who would be enabled to purchase RFFR compliant security services from the Commonwealth;
  • one or more enabling organisations such as a peak body or lead not-for-profit entities to provide the necessary accreditation, assurance, and controls for smaller, locally embedded organisations, leaving them free to focus on supporting jobseekers; and
  • the ability for small organisations providing service or support to utilise web-based portals to access required information and provide reports and data.
    1. The Committee is also concerned that DEWR appears to see accreditation as merely a minimum requirement to retain a contract and does not recognise that completion of the costly accreditation process demonstrates that a provider has implemented strict compliance measures. This leads DEWR to subject providers to costly, potentially unnecessary assurance processes. Accreditation should not remain so disconnected from assurance and DEWR must revise its assurance processes to ensure recognition of accreditation and demonstrate an appropriate level of trust in the service partners which it has engaged.
    2. The Committee understands that DEWR's very low appetite for risk may be driven by an aversion to possible negative reflections or outcomes in ANAO's audit processes. A well-designed approach to accreditation and compliance should satisfy ANAO expectations of a proportionate, risk-based approach to assurance and the Committee encourages DEWR to engage with the ANAO to gain the benefit of their insights as part of its work to reform its approach to assurance.
    3. It appears that there are also changes that can be implemented relatively quickly and easily to reduce red tape. DEWR should implement the micro-level suggestions for streamlining management of employment services and improving IT systems set out in submissions to the inquiry. These include addressing the need for manual workarounds; and ensuring jobseekers’ participation in activities does not need to be recorded multiple time. There also appears to be no defensible reason why providers cannot view their jobseekers’ profiles in the system. These measures should be implemented as soon as possible, with funding urgently allocated for this purpose.
    4. The Committee is also attracted to the idea of implementing mechanisms to measure the level of red tape in the sector as a means of ensuring stakeholders are not unduly burdened by administration and providing a robust evidence base for future changes.
    5. It is also an absolute expectation of the Committee that DEWR will, as a matter of priority, leverage existing data such as STP to reduce cumbersome, poorly focused payment and assurance arrangements. The advantages of leveraging STP are substantial and include automatic verification of employment outcomes and reduction in burden for employers who are frequently hounded to supply evidence of employment. There is also merit in exploring how STP could be used as part of the evaluation strategy for employment services acknowledging that this will require legislative change.
    6. The Committee also reiterates the conclusions of its Interim Report that dedicated channels into Services Australia must be established (or re-established) for service delivery partners including employment service providers and the new Employment Services Australia (ESA). There is also clearly merit for a return to more collaborative arrangements as in previous iterations of employment services where Centrelink, DEWR and providers worked collaboratively to address servicing and participant issues and experiences. These should be designed into the new ESA Regional Hubs and Commonwealth Employment Services System models.

Recommendation 17

7.100The Committee recommends that the Australian Government address issues impacting the functionality of employment services IT systems as a matter of urgency. A continuous improvement fund and program should be implemented for IT systems, with priorities determined collaboratively with providers having regard to evidence provided to this inquiry. The fund and program should include implementing measures to:

  • streamline reporting and other information requirements, with a view to significantly reducing the number of times a provider is required to report the same information;
  • improve accuracy, reliability, and consistency in the information available to providers, and to other key stakeholders as appropriate;
  • ensure that providers have access to up-to-date information on participants on their caseloads, including information on resumes and job searches;
  • allow providers to make changes to the information in the system regarding participants on their caseloads;
  • ensure significant changes to IT systems are rigorously tested with providers and other key stakeholders before they are rolled out; and
  • provide ongoing funding to DEWR to enable it to undertake minor and periodic changes to IT systems to avoid the current situation arising again.

Recommendation 18

7.101The Committee recommends that the Australian Government adopt a clear ‘tellgovernment once’ principle for employment service clients, whereby critical information relevant to a client’s employment potential and service history is available to relevant public sector agencies and service partners contracted to support an individual.

Recommendation 19

7.102The Committee recommends that the Australian Government expedite work between the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Australian Taxation Office to fully integrate Single Touch Payroll data into the management and administration of employment services and introduce legislative changes to make it available for broader research and evaluation purposes.

Recommendation 20

7.103The Committee recommends that:

  • dedicated channels (email and telephone) into Services Australia be reestablished for service delivery partners including service partners and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations; and
  • the rebuilt Commonwealth Employment Services System include more collaborative arrangements between Services Australia, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and providers to address servicing and participant issues and experiences.

Recommendation 21

7.104The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, working with key stakeholders in the employment and human services ecosystem, simplify and streamline the approach to assurance and accreditation for employment services. This should include:

  • identification and removal of duplicative and redundant requirements in the accreditation process;
  • development of a framework for mutual recognition of accreditation across the employment services and broader human services ecosystem;
  • implementation of a risk-based approach to assurance, incorporating clear recognition of provider accreditation and a focus on demonstrated risk indicators;
  • providing timely feedback to providers after an audit or assurance process, including implementation of standard timeframes;
  • identification of future opportunities to leverage data to support payment and process compliance; and
  • the Australian Government or a suitable intermediary becoming a supplier of Right Fit For Risk compliant IT security services for smaller organisations.
    1. The Committee is also persuaded that there would be merit in conferring several key functions of DEWR on an independent statutory entity as a regulator. DEWR occupies a position of considerable power in the sector and is responsible for several functions which—if not entirely incompatible—may give rise to actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Employment services are one of the few human services sectors without an independent regulator.
    2. Previous reviews have recommended that an independent regular be established in the sector if government failed to address issues with transparency, accountability, and power imbalance in the sector. While acknowledging that DEWR has made efforts to address these issues, the Committee considers that further safeguards—including establishment of an Employment Services Quality Commission to act as regulator for the sector—should be implemented. DEWR has already taken on additional service delivery responsibilities with the move to Workforce Australia and will assume a more active system stewardship role with a more hands on involvement in labour markets and service delivery if this report’s recommendations are adopted which will further strengthen the arguments for an independent regulator.
    3. The Committee considered various suggestions for the functions of the Employment Services Quality Commission, as well as the responsibilities of current and former regulatory bodies (including ESRA and regulators in other sectors). Ultimately, the Committee considers that appropriate functions for the Employment Services Quality Commission include:
  • Quality framework and licensing standards. This includes building a view of what a quality employment service is; and embedding this in a quality framework, licensing standards, and advice to government and the sector.
  • Provider licensing and accreditation. Functions or activities which may from time to time be delivered in the public sector may not necessarily be licensed, but would be subject to oversight, inspection, and quality assessments.
  • Workforce standards and professional development. This includes establishing and promulgating workforce standards as part of a longer term shift to reprofessionalise the sector (also discussed in Chapter 6).
  • Pricing, including advising government on the appropriate pricing for high quality services, commissioning, and payment models.
  • Complaints management, including a public facing complaints handling function. This function should also include the development of a complaints procedure that is user-friendly and accessible to participants.
  • Data collection, analysis, and release. This includes championing data transparency across the entire system based on the presumption that all performance and system data should be published unless there is a valid reason not to (also discussed in Chapter 8).
  • Research, continuous learning, and evaluation functions, including establishing and facilitating communities of policy and practice, service improvement trials and pilots (including Randomised Control Trials) and sharing best practices (also discussed in Chapter 8).
    1. More generally, the Employment Services Quality Commission would have the role of building a clear picture of a ‘quality’ employment services system and supporting continuous improvement within the sector. Further refinement and detail on a Commission’s powers and functions would be a matter for the Australian Government. If government adopts the Committee’s recommendations relating to the establishment of an Employment Services Quality Commission, a proposed model should be released for stakeholder consultation before being finalised and implemented.
    2. Conferring regulatory functions on or creating a new regulatory arm within an existing entity would be preferable to creating a new regulatory body from a cost and efficiency perspective. One possibility would be for the regulation of employment services to become a new function of a restructured Australian Skills and Qualifications Authority. While this would need to be considered by government in more detail and there may be a better option identified, this approach would have the advantage of more closely linking the employment services and skills functions. The Committee also sees no reason why an Employment Services Quality Commission would not progressively assume the same responsibilities for all Commonwealth employment services including the DES and CDP.
    3. Alternative regulatory models in other jurisdictions may also have merit. For example, in the Netherlands regulatory functions are exercised by the same department which is responsible for commissioning and program management—albeit by a different division. However, on balance and for the reasons detailed above, the Committee is of the view that the regulatory functions need to be in a separate entity (that is, the Employment Services Quality Commission).
    4. The Committee also considers that the Employment Services Quality Commission should be based outside of Canberra in one of the large capital cities. This would place the regulatory, quality, and continuous learning functions closer to the service delivery ecosystem and tap into a broader recruitment pool. It is acknowledged that the Commission may need a small footprint in Canberra, particularly to ensure close ongoing collaboration with the department’s data and evaluation functions and the Australian Centre for Evaluation.
    5. The Committee strongly emphasises the need for a regulator to have a strong focus on continuous learning and improvement. While this matter sounds dry, it is arguably the most important issue of any the Committee has identified. There is a major shift required to rebuild a culture of learning, improvement, and evaluation across the employment services system, as this culture has been lost since marketisation. Thisissue is discussed in further detail in Chapter 8.
    6. Genuine system learning will be part of a major shift in system and market culture from compliance enforced from above to learning driven from the bottom up. Notwithstanding competitive tensions and the various arguments the Committee has heard about “Commercial in Confidence” and “Intellectual Property”, in principle it is difficult to see why providers receiving Commonwealth funds in a human services system should not be required to participate meaningfully in collective learning and evaluation activities and share knowledge to improve system performance. This seems essential if a rebuilt system is to improve quality in a collaborative way. The Committee acknowledges Jobs Australia’s stated support for this proposition.
    7. Noting the concerns expressed by stakeholders regarding potential deficiencies in complaints processes currently managed by the NCSL, the Employment Services Quality Commission should ensure that its complaints functions in particular are understood by all employment services clients and that complaints data and other feedback are used to inform ongoing improvements to the system.
    8. The establishment of the Employment Services Quality Commission is expected to require enabling legislation. In the Committee’s view, this would be an ideal opportunity to consider whether other legislation should also be implemented to strengthen key aspects of the employment services system—including the structure of the system and the duties of providers. The Committee encourages the Australian Government to have regard to the legislative framework in the former Employment Services Act and legislative frameworks in comparable human services sectors.
    9. For the avoidance of doubt, in recommending that an independent regulator be established, the Committee is not suggesting the public sector must be ‘licensed’ or required to bid for work as a marketized actor in a competitive model. Two decades of that approach has manifestly failed as most other countries have similarly concluded or wisely avoided experiencing. The intent of this report is to re-establish a public sector core to employment services which stewards the system nationally and in regions and enables a rich and diverse ecosystem of external services and place-based programs to thrive.
    10. Rebuilding a public sector core to employment services (as most nations maintained or have done) does not mean a giant bureaucracy or that the public sector can or should do everything. As this report proposes, the Committee envisages that the bulk of case management and service support for unemployed people and employers would continue to be delivered by contracted service partners. However, the fantasy that government has no role to play in service delivery or that the public sector must always compete on equal footing with the private sector must end. It simply doesn’t work and there are numerous reasons why that core capability must be maintained in the public sector. Consistent with the findings outlined earlier in this report, a regulator can still assess the quality of a publicly delivered service while government simultaneously recognises there are valid and abiding reasons to maintain strong core capability augmented by external service partners, rather than privatise the stewardship functions and destroy all in-house experience of service delivery.

Recommendation 22

7.118The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish an Employment Services Quality Commission as an independent regulator for the sector. The Employment Services Quality Commission should have functions in accordance with the findings of this report including:

  • establishing a quality framework and licensing standards;
  • workforce standards and sector professional development;
  • provider licensing and accreditation;
  • advising on pricing for high quality services, commissioning and payment models;
  • complaints management, including the development of a complaints procedure that is user-friendly and readily accessible to participants;
  • data collection, analysis, release, and championing transparency; and
  • research, evaluation, continuous learning, and quality improvement.


[1]Employment Services Act, sections 3, 22, 49, 63, 68. ESRA is discussed below in relation to establishing an independent regulator for the sector.

[2]A O’Donnell, ‘The Public Employment Service in Australia: Regulating Work or Regulating Welfare?’, Australian Journal of Labour Law, 12(2), 2000, p. 160.

[3]Social Security Act 1991, section 1062A. Prior to the relevant amendments, authority for expenditure on employment services was provided by the Financial Framework (Supplementary Powers) Regulations 1997.

[4]See Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, Schedule 2. These requirements are broadly referred to as ‘RapidConnect’.

[5]See Social Security Act 1991, sections 500, 540, 593, and 729. The Act uses the term Employment Pathway Plan, but the program-specific term is Job Plan.

[6]See Administration Act, Division 3AA.

[7]Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR), Submission 254, pages 117–119.

[8]DEWR, Submission 254, pages 117–118. See also DEWR, Workforce Australia Guidelines – PartB: Workforce Australia Services, pages 335–339, 343–355,, viewed 20 November2023.

[9]For example, it also applied to Disability Employment Services (DES), Department of Social Services (DSS) Submission 192.2, p. [1] and Community Development Program, National Indigenous Australian Agency, Submission 176.1, p. [1].

[10]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 119. See also DEWR, Accreditation overview,, viewed 22August2023.

[11]See, for example, Workskil Australia (Workskil), Submission 196, p. 31; atWork Australia (atWork), Submission 210, p. 14; Yilabara Solutions, Submission 231, pages 25–26; Asuria People Services (Asuria), Submission 246, p. 30; MatchWorks, Submission 263, p. 40; Mr Con Kittos, Executive Chairman, Asuria, Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p.27.

[12]Yilabara Solutions, Submission 231, pages 25–26.

[13]See, for example, CoAct, Submission 151, p.22; The Salvation Army Employment Plus (SAEP), Submission199, p. 66.

[14]DEWR (2022), The Evaluation of jobactive Final Report, p. 217,, viewed 22 August 2023.

[15]See, for example, CVGT Employment (CVGT), Submission 106, p. 25; CoAct, Submission 151, p. 22; SSI, Submission 193, p. 17; Training Alliance Group (TAG), Submission 195, p. [4]; SAEP, Submission 199, p.66; Workways Australia Ltd (Workways), Submission 239, p. 16; MatchWorks, Submission 263, p. 40; MrKittos, Asuria, Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p.22.

[16]SSI, Submission 193, p. 17.

[17]The Angus Knight Group (AKG), Submission 208, p. [10].

[18]Sarina Russo Job Access (SRJA), Submission 145, pages 13–14.

[19]See, for example, SSI, Submission 193, p. 17; Workskil, Submission 196, p. 31; Ms Sally Sinclair, CEO, National Employment Services Association (NESA), Committee Hansard, 14March2023, p. 45. MsSandra Elhelw-Wright, CEO, Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA), Committee Hansard, 17May2023, p.27.

[20]Ms Felicite Black, CEO, Women’s Heath and Family Services (WHFS), Committee Hansard, 1February2023, p. 8.

[21]See, for example, TAG, Submission 195, p. [4]; Mr Mark Van Lith, Managing Director, ABS Institute of Management, Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p. 22; Mr Kittos, Asuria, Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p.27.

[22]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 25. See also DEWR, Workforce Australia Guidelines – PartB: Workforce Australia Services, p. 360.

[23]DEWR, Submission 256.8, p. [2].

[24]DEWR, Submission 256, p. 25.

[25]See, for example, CoAct, Submission 151, p. 22; SAEP, Submission 199, p. 66.

[26]Workways, Submission 239, p. 27.

[27]AKG, Submission 208, p. [9].

[28]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, pages 24–25; MAX Solution (MAX), Submission 146, p. 15; IntoWork Australia (IntoWork), Submission156, p. 5.

[29]SYC Ltd (SYC), Submission 189, pages 18–19.

[30]SRJA, Submission 145, p. 19. These modules are Quality of Service to Participants, Quality of Service to Employers and the Provider’s compliance with the licensing standards.

[31]CoAct, Submission 151, p. 22. In their submission, CoAct indicate that the ISO27001, which is a requirement for RFFR, duplicates some of the requirements in principles 1, 3, 6 and 7 of the QAF.

[32]See, for example, Colin Williams, Submission 64, p. [1]; Enterprise & Training Company (ETC), Submission 133, p. 7; Dr Colin Harrison, Submission152, p. 7; WDEA Works, Submission 168, p. 5; HOST International (HOST), Submission188, p. 5; SYC, Submission 189, p. 3; MatchWorks, Submission263, p. 5. Mr Matthew Clarke, CEO, Yilabara Solutions, Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p.47.

[33]Mr Adam Collinson, Deputy Chair, National Self-Employment Association (NS-EA), Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p. 14. This was echoed in evidence received from Mr Luke Van Lith, Operations Manager, ABS Institute of Management, Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p. 23.

[34]Mr Angus McFarland, Branch Secretary, Australian Services Union (ASU) NSW & ACT (Services) Branch, ASU, Committee Hansard, 16June2023, p. 10.

[35]SAEP, Submission 199, p. 36. DEWR stated that participants receive notifications regarding their activation requirement from four weeks prior to their activation point, See DEWR, Submission 254, p.104.

[36]See, for example, SRJA, Submission 145, p. 19; Workways, Submission239, p.16.

[37]MAX, Submission 146, p. 43.

[38]SRJA, Submission 145, p. 13.

[39]NS-EA, Submission 225, p. 18.

[40]See, for example, MAX, Submission 146, pages 42–43; IntoWork, Submission 156, p. 2; atWork, Submission210, p. 14.

[41]See SRJA, Submission 145, p. 13.

[42]See ANAO (2022), jobactive: Integrity of Payments to Employment Service Providers, Auditor-General Report No.31 of 2021–22, p. 27,, viewed 20 November 2023.

[43]Jobs Australia, Submission 185, p. 22.

[44]Colin Williams, Submission 64, p. [2].

[45]Mr Kieran Kearney, CEO, Workways, Committee Hansard, 6June2023, pages23–24.

[46]See, for example, ETC, Submission 133, p. 7; CoAct, Submission 151, p. 11; DrHarrison, Submission152, p. 7; WDEA Works, Submission 168, p. 5; HOST, Submission 188, p.5; SAEP, Submission 199, p. 15; APM, Submission 213, p.21; NESA, Submission 260, pages 21, 56, 80.

[47]MAX, Submission 146, p. 24.

[48]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, p. 24; SRJA, Submission 145, p.13.

[49]Productivity Commission (2002), Independent review of the Job Network, Inquiry Report No. 21, pages12.13–12.15,, viewed 20 November 2023.

[50]See, for example, CoAct, Submission 151, pages 3–4; Dr Harrison, Submission 152, p. 7; Asuria, Submission 246, p. 30.

[51]NESA, Submission 260, pages 13, 57, 86, 89; See also Ms Annette Gill, Principal Policy Advisor, NESA, Committee Hansard, 14March2023, p. 37. Original paper citied available at, viewed 20 November 2023.

[52]See, for example, MTC Australia (MTC), Submission 164, pages 3–4; SYC, Submission 189, p. 15.

[53]Workskil, Submission 196, p. 33.

[54]Ms Usha Narain, Acting Deputy Commissioner—Superannuation and Employer Obligations, Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Committee Hansard, 20 September 2023, pages 40, 41.

[55]Productivity Commission (2002), Independent review of the Job Network, pages10.36–10.37.

[56]SAEP, Submission 199, p. 15.

[57]See, for example, AKG, Submission 208, p. [9]; Workways, Submission 239, p. [8].

[58]Ms Sally Sinclair, CEO, NESA, Committee Hansard, 14 March 2023, p. 34. Issues around visibility of the jobseeker profile were also raised by MAX, Submission 146, p. 12; WDEA Works, Submission 168, p.5.

[59]Workways, Submission 239, pages [8–13].

[60]Workways, Submission 239, pages. [8, 11].

[61]Mission Australia, Submission 190, pages 11–12.

[62]Mission Australia, Submission 190, p. 12.

[63]IntoWork Australia (IntoWork), Submission 156, p. 4.

[64]SAEP, ESS Enhancements Suggestions Full Version,, viewed 15 August 2023.

[65]Ms Melissa Ryan, First Assistant Secretary—Workforce Australia for Individuals, DEWR, Committee Hansard, 20 September 2023, p. 45.

[66]Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Submission 203, p. 31.

[67]Ms Sinclair, NESA, Committee Hansard, 14March2023, p. 35.

[68]Workskil, Submission 196, p. 31. See also Ms Black, WHFS, Committee Hearing, 1February2023, p. 9.

[69]Workskil, Submission 196, p. 8. WISE Employment in their submission described the relationship as Master/Servant, see WISE Employment, Submission 169, p. 22.

[70]CVGT, Submission 106, p. 24

[71]WISE Employment, Submission 169, p. 22.

[72]Professor Jeff Borland, Submission 171, p. 14. See also Professor Borland, private capacity¸ Committee Hansard, 14March2023, pages 1-2.

[73]MAX, Submission 146, p. 42. See also HOST, Submission 188, p. 2.

[74]Name Withheld, Submission 140, p. [4].

[75]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, p. 24; WISE Employment, Submission 169, p. 22; Jobs Statewide, Submission 272, p. 9.

[76]The BUSY Group Ltd (BUSY), Submission 227, p. 3.

[77]See, for example, Mrs Kathleen Newcombe, Group CEO, SRJA, Committee Hansard, 6June2023, p. 13; Mrs Nicole Mattsson, National Services Design and Integration Leader, IntoWork, Committee Hansard, 14March2023, p.59.

[78]Campbell Page, Submission 150, p. [6].

[79]Mr Joseph Grande, CEO, Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation (NAC), Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p. 40.

[80]Workskil, Submission 196, p. 8.

[81]Australian Centre for Career Education (ACCE), Submission 149, p. 12.

[82]Ms Debra Cerasa, CEO, Jobs Australia, Committee Hansard, 14March2023, p. 35.

[83]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 120. See also Ms Natalie James, Secretary, DEWR, Committee Hansard, 3November2022, p.3.

[84]NESA, Submission 260, pages 57–58.

[85]See, for example, F Larsen and T Bredgaard (2007), ‘Quasi-markets in employment policy in Australia, the Netherlands and Denmark: do they deliver on promises?’, Social Policy and Society, 7(3), pages 13, 22-23; R van Berkel (2015), ‘Quasi-Markets and the Delivery of Activation—A Frontline Perspective’, in MConsidine and S O’Sullivan (eds), Contracting-Out Welfare Services, Broadening Perspectives in Social Policy Series, p.78; P Lewis (2017), Quasi-markets:An overview and analysis, King’s College London, pages 13-14; OECD(2022), Paying for results: Contracting out employment services through outcome-based payment schemesin OECD countries, Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers No. 267, p. 7,, viewed 20 November 2023.

[86]Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services, Your Future Planning: Interim Report on ParentsNext, pages 98–101, 119.

[87]See, for example. Workskil, Submission 196, p. 12; Workways, Submission 239, p. 8.

[88]See, for example, Name Withheld, Submission 229, p. [5]; Dr David O'Halloran, Advocacy and Research Officer, Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU), Committee Hansard, 19 September 2023, p. 9.

[89]See, for example, Mission Australia, Submission 190, p. 9; Workskil, Submission 196, p. 12; Workways, Submission 239, p. 6, 14, 15; MatchWorks, Submission 263, pages 16–17.

[90]See, for example, Name Withheld, Submission 116, p. 2; Name Withheld, Submission 184, p. [1]; SAEP, Submission 199, pages 36, 63, 64; Per Capita, Submission 252, p. [15]; ‘Lewis’, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 20 September 2023, p. 32.

[91]Workways, Submission 239, p. 12.

[92]Government of Canada, Tell us once, we got you. Tell us twice… well, there’s no need,, viewed 31October2023.

[94]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 49.

[95]See, for example, Professor Leila Green, Dr Kylie Stevenson, Dr Kelly Jaunzems, Ms Claire Hanlon and Mr Arthur Hanlon (Professor Green et at), Submission 120, p. [12]; CoAct, Submission 151, p. 21; WISE Employment, Submission 169, p. 22; Workskil, Submission 196, p.31.

[96]APM, Submission 213, p. 20.

[97]SRJA, Submission 145, p. 20.

[98]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, pages 23–24; Professor Green et al, Submission120, p. [12]; SRJA, Submission 145, pages 20–21; CoAct, Submission 151, p. 21; Joblink Plus, Submission157, p. 19; SAEP, Submission 199, p. 14; Ms Sinclair, NESA, Committee Hansard, 14March2023, p. 44.

[99]Dr Ann Nevile, Submission 136, p. 10.

[100]atWork, Submission 210, p. 14.

[101]Yilabara Solutions, Submission 231, p. 25.

[102]Mr Clarke, Yilabara Solutions, Committee Hansard, 26May2023, p.46.

[103]See, for example, WISE Employment, Submission 169, p. 22; ACOSS, Submission 203, p. 31.

[104]Australian Skills Quality Authority, About Us,, viewed 22 August 2023.

[105]Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority, About Us,, viewed 22 August 2023.

[106]Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, About Us,, viewed 22August 2023.

[107]Employment Services Regulatory Authority (ESRA) (1996), Annual Report 1995–96, pages 10, 12. See also NESA, Submission 260, p. 4.

[108]ESRA (1998), Annual Report 1997–98, pages 3, 14.

[109]Productivity Commission (2002), Independent review of Job Network, pages 14.13–14.14.

[110]Antipoverty Centre, Submission 276, p. [19].

[111]See, for example, NFAW, Submission 135, p. [3]; Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU), Submission 253, p. [9].

[112]Antipoverty Centre, Submission 276, p. [6].

[113]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, p. 24; Professor Green et al, Submission 120, p. [12]; SRJA, Submission 145, pages 20–21; WISE Employment, Submission 169, p. 22; ACOSS, Submission 203, p.33.

[114]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, p. 24; SRJA, Submission 145, pages 20–21.

[115]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, p. 24; Professor Green et al, Submission 120, p. [12]; SRJA, Submission 145, p.20; ACOSS, Submission 203, p. 33.

[116]See, for example, Dr David O'Halloran, Submission 108, p. [8]; CoAct, Submission 151, p. 21; Economic Justice Australia (EJA), Submission 153, pages [1–2]; ACOSS, Submission 203, p. 33; NESA, Submission 260.1, p. 1.

[117]NESA, Submission 260.1, p. 2.

[118]See, for example, CVGT, Submission 106, p. 24; Professor Green et al, Submission 120, p.[12]; WISE Employment, Submission 169, p. 22; ACOSS, Submission 203, p. 33; APM, Submission 213, p. 4; NESA, Submission 260.1, p. 2.

[119]See, for example, Dr Nevile, Submission 136, p. 10; Joblink Plus, Submission 157, p. 19; ACOSS, Submission 203, p. 33; APM, Submission 213, p. 4; NESA, Submission 260.1, p. 2; MatchWorks, Submission 263, p. 14.

[120]Dr Nevile, Submission 136.1, pages [1].

[121]Dr Nevile, Submission 136.1, pages [2].

[122]Professor Mark Considine, private capacity, Committee Hansard, 14March2023, p. 15.

[123]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 120.

[124]See Services Australia, Complaints and feedback,, viewed 20 November 2023.

[125]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 120.

[126]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 121.

[127]DEWR, Submission 254, p. 120. It is the department that is within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, not providers themselves, see Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission 134, p. [10].

[128]See, for example, Name Withheld, Submission118, p. [1]; Name Withheld, Submission 121, p. [1]; Name Withheld, Submission 126, p.1; Miss Mary Hill, Submission 181, p. [1]; Name Withheld, Submission 223, p.[2]; Name Withheld, Submission 245, p. 1.

[129]Name Withheld, Submission 160, p. 19.

[130]Name Withheld, Submission 118, p. [1].

[131]ACOSS, Submission 203, p. 43. See also Dr Shelley Bielefeld, Submission 202, p. 6.

[132]See, for example, Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission 134, p. [1]; National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW), Submission 135, p. [3]; Centre for Policy Futures–University of Queensland (CPFUQ), Submission 217, p. 4.

[133]Productivity Commission, Independent review of the Job Network, p.8.30.