Subjects: Unemployment rate, Syrian refugee crisis
MINISTER ABETZ: The Government has always been focused on job creation. We said we would be focused on job creation during the campaign and the Government's endeavours since election have been about creating job opportunities for our fellow Australians.
Today's unemployment figure suggesting a 0.1 decrease is of course welcome, but I'm sure everybody would agree that more needs to be done. The employment growth that we have seen in Australia since the change of government is four times the rate than Australia experienced in the last year of the Labor Government, so that is a significant shift.
We believe that there is a new confidence in the economy that is allowing this employment growth to occur. We believe that if the Australian Labor Party are concerned about unemployment with a six in front of it, as we are, and indeed as I've said on occasions such as this, on many occasions, a six, a five, a four, a three, a two or a one in front of the unemployment figure is unacceptable because we need to do more because every one of those figures is an individual Australian or indeed thousands of Australians without employment and employment is important for all of our fellow Australians.
So we have a plan that we've been implementing, to get rid of the carbon and mining taxes, get rid of red and green tape, implementing the free trade agreements. Now, if the Labor Party want to assist in that regard, in creating employment, come on board and support the China Free Trade Agreement, no ifs or buts, just come out and say this is a good thing, we will support it. Get rid of any of the uncertainty and allow business to capitalise on the opportunities that are now available in the biggest market in our region, namely China.
I would also call on Mr Shorten to abandon the ridiculous notion of re-introducing a carbon tax which was so destructive of job creation when it was introduced. We have got rid of it and the Labor Party should say it is no longer on their agenda because of the job destruction that it caused in the past and will undoubtedly cause again in the future.
I will take questions.
JOURNALIST: With the unemployment rate, we've seen it start to come down in places like Tasmania, your home state, and Western Australia. That’s obviously something that you welcome as well?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well, thank you very much for asking about my home state of Tasmania. Yes, very encouraging and as a Tasmanian, can I pay a great compliment to the Prime Minister and the Premier of Tasmania who have worked together to ensure that there is a new sense of optimism which has seen jobs growth where the unemployment rate, where we used to be on the top of the league table, we are now slipping down close to the national average, so substantial improvements there. Similarly in Western Australia, there have been some tough periods, especially with the resources sector, and to see their unemployment figure coming down and stabilising, I think is something that West Australians will be welcoming as well.
JOURNALIST: Senator what of the under-employment rate, that is still quite high. What are you doing to get people more work?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, under-employment is a very good question and indicates that you understand, if I might say, the real issues, and I've said this in the past and I don't know why it is, but the economists tell me that if you are employed for one hour per week, you are considered to be in employment. I think we would all be agreed that that is insufficient period of employment to be considered employed. So, under-employment is a huge issue as well.
How do you overcome that? By creating more sustainable jobs, by creating free trade agreements, by getting rid of carbon and mining taxes, by getting rid of red and green tape. They are the sort of initiatives that we have been pursuing. Getting the Australian Building and Construction Commission back on track. They are the sort of things that we need to do to grow jobs and put the economy front and centre. That is what we have sought to do as a government and we will continue to do so.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you were in South Australia recently. First-hand, what do you think is going on there? The unemployment rate is far above any other state.
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, unemployment in South Australia is a problem. Can I tell you if the China Free Trade Agreement were to be achieved, the wine industry in that state, which is so important to it, would see a substantial growth. The 14 per cent tariff currently on wine would be removed and, as I understand it, the wine export market to China now is our third largest export destination with a capacity to grow like you would not believe. Further, and on top of that, of course, the Government has made an announcement in relation to ship-building, to get rid of the Valley of Death in the ship-building industry for South Australia which will provide an anchor, an anchor for their economy and for their manufacturing sector.
JOURNALIST: Minister the Senate crossbench doesn't think you're doing enough as a Government on youth unemployment measures. Would you consider working with them on job creation measures in order to pass legislation like the four-week freeze on dole payments?
MINISTER ABETZ: The youth unemployment problem is a matter of genuine concern and that is why earlier this week the Assistant Minister and myself announced the Transition to Work, the $331 million program that we announced in the Budget, ready to go out for tender in the various employment regions around Australia, to help young unemployed people to get job-ready. So very focused on it and just this week we announced the programme and the draft tender for that to go ahead to be rolling out by the beginning of next year.
JOURNALIST: Is there scope for negotiation when this comes to those sort of dole freeze payment kind of issues and taking into account other measures like job creation?
MINISTER ABETZ: Always room for negotiation and discussion and I'm always willing to listen to what anybody is willing to put forward on the basis that we know that it's not destructive of jobs and that it actually will help create jobs, so if people have positive ideas, we are all ears. If it is the suggestion of another carbon tax like Labor, no, because we know that destroys jobs. If it's trying to delay the China Free Trade Agreement, we say no, because that will delay the creation of jobs, but if there are positive suggestions, then of course more than willing to look at them.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the focus of the refugee intake is on persecuted minorities. Would you still like to see Christians make up the majority of those taken to Australia?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well be very careful. What I said was and I re-read the transcript of what I said yesterday, and I make no apologies for saying that it is important that there be a focus on Christians- a focus, not the only focus, or the focus, but a focus on Christians. There is no doubt that in the Middle East area, a lot of the Christian groups are substantial minority groups that even in the event peace were to be restored, they basically have nowhere to return to in the event of peace. They will be displaced people and therefore I think if we can assist them, we should.
Having said that, are there other minorities such as the Yazidis, et cetera? Yes, of course and that is why I also said that it should be based on need and I of course repeat that again.
JOURNALIST: The Grand Mufti on Australia says focusing on Christians is discriminatory. Do you think there is a danger of isolating this community when they’re so important for measures like de-radicalisation?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well that is, with respect, either a misunderstanding or something else of what was said. It is, I believe, quite clear that Christians are a persecuted minority in these- in this particular region, and the advice I have at least is that they won't have anywhere else to go, even if peace is restored, and therefore to make them a focus- not the only focus, but a focus- what I said the other day is I think perfectly reasonable, and I would invite anybody who wants to take issue with what I said to actually have a look at what I said.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] Muslims from the region to be welcomed to Australia?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, as I said, it's got to be on the basis of need, and if the need can be made out and that there would be no other place for them to be re-settled or would be very difficult for them to re-settle in the event of peace, then of course in those circumstances they would fit into the category of being in need.
I will take one more question.
JOURNALIST: Is Mr Andrews mistaken to say that Australia would be at war for two to three years this morning?
MINISTER ABETZ: Oh, look, these are the sort of games that, with respect, journalists play. We will be there until such time as the task is undertaken. We all hope and pray that it will be as short as possible because what we want to do is to defeat the evil and let's keep in mind, you know, why do we concentrate on whether somebody said two years or might it be a little bit longer or a bit shorter, do we put a time limit on it? The issue here is that there is a death cult beheading people, raping women and killing them because of their religious beliefs, and we want to have a national debate about times? Excuse me, the issue here is to root out this evil once and for all for the protection of men, women and children in the region so that they can live peaceably and that is what we as a government are committed to doing, along with our allies in the United Kingdom and the United States to restore peace in an area and to protect people from these barbaric operations. Let's concentrate on that and let's not talk about timetables, but let's concentrate on getting rid of that evil.
Thanks a lot.