MINISTER ABETZ: Today has been a very exciting occasion for the University of Wollongong. It has yet again shown itself to be an innovative university at the very forefront. Not only does it accept the opportunities of our university reforms in general, it has shown itself to be a world leader in, today, the opening of the Sustainable Building Research Centre – a great credit to the university, and it’s done exceptionally well. This centre hopefully, and I am sure it will, deliver new industries, new jobs in a situation where today we have been told the unemployment rate has regrettably hit 6.4 per cent.
What that tells us, as an Australian Government is, that we have to get the economic parameters right to grow the economy, to grow jobs. To do that, you needed to get rid of the carbon tax. We’ve only just achieved that. We have to get rid of the mining tax. We have to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We have to get the budget back into shape. We need free-trade agreements like we have just signed up with South Korea and Japan so we can play to our strengths.
That was our vision – that was the vision we took to the electorate. Yet for nine months straight, Mr Shorten, the Labor Party and the Greens have been blocking these reforms in the Senate, and we’ve only just been able to introduce the repeal of the carbon tax, which we know was so destructive to jobs and job creation and the cost of manufacturing, the cost of agriculture, the cost of mining and, of course, the cost of living to the average family of $550 per annum.
So these are the sort of economic inhibitors that we need to shed. That is what we as a Government are seeking to do, and, regrettably, for the past nine months, Labor and Greens, led by Bill Shorten have blocked these economic reforms. And then he has the absolute audacity to ask today, what is the Government doing about unemployment?
The question the Australian people would be asking, why Mr Shorten have you presided over such an obstructionist opposition that deliberately sought to derail the economic recovery strategy which was so vital for the Australian nation and for the Australian people, to able to reboot the Australian economy?
JOURNALIST: So how will the axing of those reforms help the Government achieve a better unemployment rate?
MINISTER ABETZ: The carbon tax, for example, was putting an impost of $400 on every Australian-made motor vehicle. It was like a reverse tariff. Dairy farmers had an impost of an extra $10,000 per annum on their production of dairy product, making our product less competitive on world markets. If it’s less competitive, you sell less and as a result, less jobs. You remove those imposts, the price overseas becomes cheaper, we can sell more, we can grow more jobs.
Similarly with the free-trade agreements. Just a very minor example - my home state of Tasmania grows potatoes exceptionally well. South Korea used to have a tariff of 304 per cent on the importation of potatoes - now removed. And what do you think that will do to the potato growing industry in Australia?
And that is just one of many areas where Australia will be able to now become a lot more competitive. What Labor couldn’t do in six years, Andrew Robb achieved in six months. They’re the sort of things that we have been doing where we haven’t had to rely on Mr Shorten and the Greens delivering the numbers in the Senate.
We are committed to growing the Australian economy, getting rid of the mining tax. What is one of Australia’s great strengths? What is one of Australia’s great wealth generators? It’s the resource sector. What does Labor do? Whack it with a mining tax to make it less competitive. And, as a result, we are not getting as much research, not as much exploration being undertaken and there are resources of coal and iron ore all around the world. People don’t have to dig it up in Australia. And so what we have got to do is be internationally competitive. That is what we are seeking to do to reform the Australian economy and every single step of the way, Bill Shorten and the Greens have blocked us in the Senate.
JOURNALIST: It’s a fairly alarming rate, though, the worst since 2011?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, in anybody’s language 6.4 per cent is a very high rate of unemployment. And can I say it’s not only an economic figure, it is a social figure. In that 6.4 per cent are literally hundreds of thousands of our fellow Australians who are without of a job, who want a job, but have been denied a job because of the recalcitrance of Mr Shorten and the Greens in the Senate not allowing the economic reforms to be progressed that would have guaranteed their jobs or, indeed, grown job opportunities.
JOURNALIST: I understand that Victoria is some of the worst, I think, the highest in the country?
MINISTER ABETZ: Clearly, different states have differing impacts, and every single state has a concern about the unemployment rate. My own home state of Tasmania had the highest rate of unemployment for far, far too long, and I know the social consequences of that. All the social data tells us that one’s physical heath, one’s self-esteem, one’s social interaction are all negatively impacted by unemployment. And that is why getting people into employment is not only a good economic outcome, but it is a fundamentally vital social outcome, and that is what motivates us as a Government.
JOURNALIST: We did see the number of full-time jobs apparently has increased, though. Obviously that’s a good thing, but, I mean, is that where we should be focussing on?
MINISTER ABETZ: I suppose with figures like this you can always say every cloud has a silver lining, and if full-time employment’s gone up, that, of course, is a good thing. But at the end of the day it is the unemployment rate that you’ve got to concentrate on. That is a serious figure, and it just highlights why the Government’s agenda needs to be progressed through the Senate. And now that we’ve got a workable Senate rather than a Senate that just blocked everything, led by Mr Shorten, Labour and the Greens, we are hopeful that we will be able to overcome the challenges and introduce some of our dynamic economic reforms so that we can grow the economy, which in turn will grow jobs.
JOURNALIST: There are concerns that 457 visas have become too readily available to businesses. What’s your Government doing to make sure businesses try hard enough to find Australian workers before they fill them with overseas labour?
MINISTER ABETZ: The employment situation with 457 visas as a two-way street. Sure, employers have to search the market to ensure that there aren’t Australians available. But might I also say Australians need to make themselves available for these jobs. And it does seem a disparity within the Australian community at the moment that we have all these applications for 457 visas when we’ve got such a high, or large pool of unemployed. And we do need to dovetail that situation to ensure that Australians do get jobs first. But as I understand the situation, employers do go through the system correctly and simply are unable to get Australians to work in particular circumstances. And that is where, with our new approach to job service providers, we hope that there will be a greater emphasis on getting people off welfare and into work, as a result of which we will have less reliance on 457 visas.
JOURNALIST: But don’t the checks need to be tighter on these employers to make sure they’re making adequate effort?
MINISTER ABETZ: As I understand the situation – and the rules that we’ve been operating under have been around for some time – the employers do advertise, the employers do seek out the market and, indeed, the cost of getting a 457 visa holder is quite substantial. And therefore employers tell me that if at all possible they do choose Australian workers if they are available because they don’t have the cost of applying for a 457 visa, and of course, if you are employed under a 457 visa, you are employed under Australian standards and, therefore, employers cannot wage gouge.
JOURNALIST: …just one comment on the university… Our university students at Wollongong are getting together today to discuss the impact that possible cuts could have on education. Obviously there is a worry that that will increase tertiary fees.
MINISTER ABETZ: The University of Wollongong is one of the universities that has actually embraced the opportunities that our reforms have instigated. It will see, our reforms will see, an extra 80,000 students being able to access university education. That provides an extra revenue stream for universities, and that, I think, is a very good thing. Can I also indicate that everybody in the community understands and accepts that we are currently under fiscally restrained times and circumstances and, therefore, the taxpayer dollar has to be spent very expeditiously. In relation to student loans, can I simply say to students that have the benefit of – or are the beneficiaries of a university education. Over their lifetime they are likely to earn one million dollars more than those of their fellow Australians that have not been given the benefit of a subsidised tertiary education. And, therefore, it is not unreasonable for their fellow Australians to ask these university students and graduates to make a contribution to their own education from which they are going to benefit an extra one million dollars, on average, in their wages over their working life.