A key plank of the Abbott government's employment strategy is on the cusp of failure, with just over 500 job seekers so far joining a scheme meant to benefit 32,000.Let's revisit the key Abbott goal here:
The $10,000 Restart incentive was unveiled in Treasurer Joe Hockey's May 2014 budget, the latest bid to tackle a policy area that has long vexed both sides of politics: how to encourage employers to hire mature-age Australians.
Moments after the budget was handed down, Employment Minister Eric Abetz said Restart "more than delivers on the government's 2013 election policy commitment to lift workforce participation and improve quality of life".
It was projected to help up to 32,000 people annually.
However, Senate documents show employers have hired only 510 job seekers through the scheme in the five months since its July introduction.
There are nearly 175,000 Australians over 50 looking for work through Job Services Australia.
The documents warn it is difficult to predict the take-up rate for the $10,000 incentive but it was "likely" demand would grow. If it does not, it's possible the program could fall 95 per cent short of the government's target.
Job seekers aged 50 or over who have been receiving income support for at least six months are eligible. Employers who hire them receive up to $10,000 depending on whether milestones are met. The government has budgeted $524.8 million to fund the project over four years.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Senator Abetz point to the scheme as an important component of the government's so-called Economic Action Strategy.
"As our population ages it's more important than ever that we try to ensure older people are contributors economically as well as simply culturally and that's what will happen under an incoming Coalition government," Mr Abbott said during the 2013 election campaign.
Senator Abetz on Thursday said the government "expects that take-up will increase as employers become aware of the programme".
"As it stands, there are more than 600 mature-aged workers in jobs today that weren't as a result of this programme," he said, suggesting the total number has grown slightly since the 510 figure was reported in the Senate documents.
"The government is focused on building a stronger and more prosperous economy which will see more employment opportunities as employers gain confidence."
Luring more mature-age Australians into the workforce is a potential boon for the economy but finding the right policy settings to make it happen has vexed both sides of politics for many years.
Under questioning at Parliament House earlier this year, Department of Employment deputy secretary Martin Hehir said programs targeting mature-age workers had proven to be "quite intractable".
Just 230 employers took advantage of a $1000 annual subsidy under the two-year life of the Gillard/Rudd government's Jobs Bonus scheme. That program was also meant to benefit up to 10,000 employers.
"So in one sense we know what has not worked in the past, and it has been quite an intractable area," Mr Hehir said.
"So while the days are very early and the numbers are probably still low to begin with, you would probably have to say that it [Restart] is making faster progress than the previous work in this area."
The Abbott government's Commission of Audit noted that the effectiveness of wage subsidies "is open to question" because they may displace other job seekers and jobs may be lost once incentives expire.
Meanwhile, another job-creation scheme has also struggled to gain traction. The Tasmanian Jobs Programme, which offers $3250 to employers in an effort to revive the state's sluggish labour market, has created 114 jobs in its first year. The government said it would employ 2000 Tasmanians over two years.
Opposition employment services spokeswoman Julie Collins said wage subsidies were "not enough" to support older Australians.
"We have Tony Abbott telling Australians they need to work longer – but in what jobs? People aren't taking up wage subsidies because the jobs aren't there," she said.
The government has pledged to re-evaluate Restart in mid-2016.
"As our population ages it's more important than ever that we try to ensure older people are contributors economically as well as simply culturally and that's what will happen under an incoming Coalition government," Mr Abbott said during the 2013 election campaign.Yes, if it's not the under 30s being slackers, it's the over 50s. The Abbott Government apparently thinks that 50 is the new retirement age, and those middle aged people need to be encouraged to 'contribute economically' (other than by being consumers). This is complete bunkum, of course. Most 50 year olds have no chance of retiring at that age, and if they find themselves unemployed, still raising children and paying rent or a mortgage, they are sick with the desperation of trying to find work.
The biggest problem and failure of the Abbott Government is in the framing of problems, which so far has invariably been all about punishing and shaming people - well, only some people, those at the bottom of the food chain ('poor people don't drive' - hello to Mr Hockey). They have no care for or interest in the welfare of the individual or of families.
I bet the Libs continue to wonder why their 'popularity' keeps plummeting.
Key Abbott Government Employment Scheme Struggles to Meet Target