Interview: Still Flying
International: President Gas
Politics: Australia: A Rogue State?
Unions: Welfare Max
Bad Boss: Welcome to Telstra!
Health: Fat Albert: The Grim Reaper
Satire: Iraq Pre-empts Pre-emptive Strike
Poetry: A Man From the East And A Man From The West
Review: The Sum Of All Fears
The Locker Room
Week in review
The Legacy of 11/9
The CFMEU Race Debate #2
Keeping it Clean
Sue the Leaders?
Maximus has brought out Brisbane-based Job Network provider Leonie Green and Associates, lock, stock and barrel for $20 million. Ms Green says, for the moment, she is still managing director and everything else remains as is but there is no doubt the multi-national wants a larger role.
Its arrival heralds the endgame in the Howard-Abbott drive to privatise welfare delivery.
Welfare privatisation is a cornerstone ambition of the New Right for two important reasons.
The first is economic. It cuts the role of the state in favour of private enterprise, while, the second is philosophical, turning the dispossessed from victims to be helped, to authors of their own misfortune, deserving punishment.
Deriding beneficiaries as "job snobs", dole bludgers and "welfare mums" is a precondition to slashing their share of budget expenditure .
There is an obvious synergy between Leonie Green and Associates, one of Australia's biggest Job Network providers, and Maximus Inc, which turns over more than $US 1 billion a year, from providing a range of services to state and federal governments.
But it doesn't end there. Leonie Green and Associates was forced to repay $70,000 last year after it had been found to have been moving the unemployed to make-work roles with an associated labour hire company.
Maximus has a long record of controversial dealings in the States, from botching and losing contracts to questions over the legitimacy of its contracting, and dozens of equal opportunity suits filed by disgruntled employees on the basis of alleged racial or sexual discrimination.
It was disqualified from bidding on a West Virginia contract after a state employee was found to have accepted $20,000 from company coffers.
After a botched childcare contract in Connecticut, local State Employees Union spokesman, Rick Melita, said: "in terms of service here, they've been abysmal. They underbid, over-promised and they didn't deliver."
A coalition of 50 Milwaukee-area church groups and six state lawmakers was moved to campaign against the company after it won a $US46 million job training contract
In July, 2000, a Legislative Audit Bureau report found $US800,000 in questionable spending as Maximus maxed-out on the Wisconsin experiment, something of a Holy Grail to Right commentators. It was claimed that substantial Milwaukee funds had gone on chasing inter-state contracts and concerts for clients by Broadway songstress, Melba Moore. Without admitting any liability Maximus agreed to pay back half a million dollars and kick in another half million to extend services to the poor, in the words of the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper, "to try and make amends".
Maximus was founded in 1975 by David Mastran, a West Point graduate and former Defence Department analyst, but it really blossomed, courtesy of a glittering 21st gift from former US president Bill Clinton.
His 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act opened welfare delivery to large scale privatisation. Maximus and fellow travellers, like one-time armaments giant, Lockheed Martin, were quick to cash in.
Howard and Abbott were right on Clinton's philosophical tail. Their destruction of Commonwealth Employment Services and creation of the Job Network has seen billions of Australian welfare dollars transferred to the corporate sector.
Just as in the US, it has brought a crisis of faith for established charities.
Essentially, they face a simple choice. Do they continue to selflessly assist the disadvantaged, or, do they reorganise along corporate lines and worship at the altar of the dollar?
In Australia, there has been trenchant opposition from the likes of the Rev Bill Crews but outfits like the Salvation Army and, most completely, Mission Australia, have fully embraced the latter option.
Like Maximus and Lockheed, Mission understands a bottom line which reads: small government = large corporate profits.
Australian Services Union officials Sally McManus and Jim Petrowski deal with Mission on a daily basis. They say it is no different to other corporates driven by aggressive HR policies.
It puts up with the union but strongly resists collectivism amongst employees.
McManus and Petrowski also represent members in community welfare agencies and say the difference in attitudes between the for-profits and non-profits is like night and day.
The corporates, they say, put the bottom line ahead of clients and workers, alike.
Petrowski cites the example of an Ettalong Mission employee disciplined after lining up 234 places for the unemployed with State Rail. The trouble, it seemed, was they weren't for "intensive assistance" clients, who carry the biggest Government bounties, and that they were for workers from outside his district.
Another Mission employee was disciplined after cutting a deal with a major Hornsby-based retailer. Again, he failed to send along the gold-plated "intensive assistance" types.
"There is pressure to achieve outcomes," McManus explains, "but it doesn't swing on the needs of the clients. A key problem is that different people are ascribed different financial values."
This, indirectly, leads to the controversial star system by which Government will let the bulk of the next round of Job Network contracts, valued at more than $3 billion.
Each existing operation is awarded stars, from one to five, for its work. Those achieving three and a half stars, or better, have been assured their contracts will be rolled over while those falling below that benchmark will have to tender alongside everyone else.
Stars, in the brave new world, are a bit like dollars. They treat clients differently.
According to at least one long-serving Mission employee it is creating a crisis of faith throughout the organisation.
Tracey, not her real name, has been part of the Mission set-up in a regional NSW centre for more than a decade. She says, more and more, her workmates are finding it impossible to serve both God and Mammon.
And, she says, the added pressure of the star system has brought an escalation in stress-related absences as management concentrates on "better" statistics.
Trouble is, in many regional centres, the star system is completely artificial. For example, most primary industries only want to hire over peak seasons. Financially, and in terms of stars, you only collect for 13 week placements and do even better for 26-week placements rendering appropriate jobs, most useful to the local economy, virtually worthless to Mission and other Job Network providers.
"When I started here the focus was on a holistic approach to the needs of the client," Tracey explained. "I wasn't a full-on Christian but I believed in a set of ethics that sat well with Mission's philosophy of providing a service to help the disadvantaged help themselves.
"But we have moved away from our value statement of serving the community, and helping the disadvantaged, to simply chasing the buck.
"The change has been absolutely dramatic since the Job Network. There has been a complete reversal in our approach."
Initially, she said, her job was to evaluate each client and try to do the utmost to prepare him or her for full participation in society. That could mean chasing fulltime work, looking for part-time employment while concentrating on dealing with accommodation, drug or alcohol problems; or maybe, in the first instance, getting someone a change of clothing and/or counselling.
The circumstances of some people, she says, make immediate fulltime employment counter-productive for both them and potential employers. Helping put those lives back together is "kind of like peeling an onion".
"But we have one objective now and that is meeting narrow outcomes, by hook or by crook," she says. "We are as inflexible as any Government department.
"Increasingly, a lot of people are unhappy working in the Job Network."
McManus and Petrowski tell of a Mission employee in Wagga who arranged a meeting between herself, her branch manager and the local MP to discuss the limitations of the star system only to have the company forbid her discussing anything that might impact on future contracts. The order pretty much over-rode the purpose of the meeting.
In May, Mission launched a desperate bid to lift its star rating, prior to this month's cut-off date, by enticing potential employers to hire its clients.
Under its JobReady Rewards Program it doled out gold watches, cameras, televisions and hi-fi systems to employers who used its services.
It is perhaps unfair to concentrate so heavily on Mission Australia. It is only one of a number of charities that has corporatised itself but it is the biggest and it is headed by Patrick McClure, generally regarded as the Government's ball-carrier for privatisation.
McClure boasted that the rewards program boosted Mission placements by 105 percent over the same period last year.
Nevertheless, Tracey and other employees, suggest there is an increasing uneasiness permeating the one-time charity about the way it is operating under McClure's leadership.
No such doubts are likely to bother Maximus Inc.
It never had a charitable, community or religious under-pinning in the first place.
Observers say Maximus, which handles $US500 million in child support payments, runs courts, mental health services, city and state-based welfare programs, has the infrastructure and experience to do everything currently done by Centrelink
That may well be another argument but with Howard and Abbott looking to cement their right wing credentials it is almost certain to be rehearsed by Centrelink management as their staff gear up for enterprise bargaining negotiations.
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