LEON COMPTON: Let’s talk about the Federal Liberal Party, the Federal Coalition, at the moment and how they’re going. If you’re a regular listener to the programme, you’re interested – you would have heard regularly our conversations around the fairness to deny under 30s unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs. I wonder if that’s one of the policies the Government’s considering at the moment in terms of its fairness and saleability to the Australian public. Eric Abetz is a Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Federal Employment Minister. Senator, good morning to you.
MINISTER ABETZ: Good morning, Leon.
LEON COMPTON: And thank you for talking with us this morning. Is it fair to say the policy to deny under 30s unemployment benefits is one of the policies that Australians think is unfair – one of the policies you’re reviewing at the moment?
MINISTER ABETZ: With respect, Leon, it is unfair to say that that is the Government’s policy. The Government’s policy is either “earn or learn” if you’re under 30 or Work for the Dole, and there will be periods in which you won’t be getting unemployment benefits. But to simply say that if you lose your job you are then denied unemployment benefits is just, with respect, wrong.
LEON COMPTON: No.
MINISTER ABETZ: [Indistinct]
LEON COMPTON: Again, it is absolutely right. You are under 30, if you don’t have a child and you lose your job there’s no dole.
MINISTER ABETZ: You’re required to undertake “earn or learn” and if you’re learning you will get support, if you’re on Work for the Dole for six months you will get support. And, so, to suggest that there just would not be anything anytime, with respect, is wrong. But, look, having said that, we as a Government have seen some of the real social problems arising from young people thinking they can leave school and then go to welfare. That is something that is socially corrosive. We have tried in our policy announcement to overcome that. We are mindful of the fact that the Australian people, whilst electing us to government, did not give us a majority in the Senate and, as result, we need to work through that and see if we can come to a landing that will be of – that will be acceptable to a majority of Senators, and that’s what we’re working through as we speak.
LEON COMPTON: So, are you planning to jettison the approach of denying the dole to people under 30 who lose their job? Are you planning to let that go?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, we are looking to work through in a methodical way with Senators. And that’s now the task of Scott Morrison, the new Minister in this space, to work through these issues to see if we can come to a situation which is acceptable. And, you know, if I might say, with removal of the carbon tax, with removal of the mining tax, with our direct action plan, with temporary protection visas, with national security legislation, what happens is the Government comes up with a proposal and then in discussions with other Senators and Senate groupings you come to a situation that then is, if you like, a nuanced position and it gets through the Senate. Sometimes you don’t reach a nuanced position.
LEON COMPTON: Can you give me, Employment Minister, a straight answer, though? Are you planning to get rid of the proposal to ditch unemployment benefits for under 30s who lose their jobs?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, Leon, with great respect, I’ve already told you what the situation is [indistinct].
LEON COMPTON: [Interrupts] …yeah, you’ve been in Cabinet for two days – you must have decided if this is one of the barnacles you’re going to swipe off the hull of government or not. Are you planning to get rid of it or not?
MINISTER ABETZ: The Government situation remains the same, but we are aware of the fact that the Australian people didn’t give us the numbers in the Senate. We appreciate that, we respect that, we accept that and that is why we are willing, like we have done with other measures, to work with the crossbenchers or the Labor Party. There was one issue just before Christmas where we had a policy position and the Labor Party came to us with a number of amendments and it was in my area. I considered them and I said, look, that sounds like a fair compromise and, as a result, we got the legislation through the Senate. That is historically the way the Senate works, and we are always willing to try to get the very best outcome for the people of Australia. And I’m not going to try to predict now what that outcome may be or might be or what it should be, and we will see how that organically progresses through the Senate.
LEON COMPTON: Is this part of the questions about your Government’s approach to being in power? You’re saying that Brett Whiteley should continue to walk around the electorate with the highest youth unemployment in Australia, at the pub, and say to people, yeah, your kids still will be subject to no unemployment benefit if they lose their job? He should still (be) championing that policy until he hears otherwise?
MINISTER ABETZ: With great respect, Leon, it is not that there should be no unemployment benefit. It is a situation where you would be on Work for the Dole for six months, during which time you would get support, and then another six months where there wouldn’t be support in circumstances where the person was deemed to be completely job ready. Now, if the person is not job ready, if the person has a disability et cetera, there are a huge number of exemptions. But, you know, in the electorate of Braddon, as we speak, there are 160 seasonal workers from overseas engaged in the agricultural sector. There are thousands of backpackers in Tasmania as we speak dealing with the agricultural products that are ripening and we have got a huge youth unemployment as well. And that is something we as a Government are trying to grapple with, to understand why it is that people are willing to come from overseas to take up some of our jobs, yet locals are not taking those jobs up And we are working through some of those legacy issues that we inherited and you don’t fix these problems overnight – it does take some time. You’ve got to work through those issues, but that is what we are seeking to do. The scourge of unemployment – especially youth unemployment – it’s not only an economic issue, Leon. It is a huge, huge social issue, and we do nobody any favours by saying leave school, go on to welfare, that’s your right and that can be your lifestyle. We need to encourage our young people to say – like the Beacon Foundation does so exceptionally well right around Australia these days getting school leavers to sign the no-dole pledge and working so hard as they do to encourage people to get into education or get into a job and improve themselves.
LEON COMPTON: I think, Minister, the implication from your Government is that there are many people in north west Tasmania – young people – who leave school and want to be on the dole – it’s their preference. And I think many of their parents would find that offensive, the suggestion that it’s the young person who doesn’t have a job that’s causing the problem rather than the lack of opportunities in the area in which they live. But we should move on to other matters. I’d like to talk…
MINISTER ABETZ: But Leon, Leon, look, with these things there’s always a spectrum. But in this spectrum there are literally hundreds of people from overseas undertaking jobs in Tasmania in north west Tasmania…
LEON COMPTON: Look, we know that all too well. But there’s 22 per cent youth unemployment in north west Tasmania, and this approach seems to be incredibly harsh on many of those young people who need to spend some time battling through to get work.
MINISTER ABETZ: And what we’re saying to young people is, if there’s no job available at the moment, consider another educational course or an educational course to make you even more job ready than you otherwise would be, and so inviting and encouraging young people to say we as a community will support you after leaving school if you continue on with study or an apprenticeship or whatever it might be. That is, I think, a better way than simply saying, oh well, we’ve all thrown our hands in the air, here’s a welfare cheque, we’ve now absolved ourselves of our social responsibility. No, that’s not the way this Government will behave. We will try to do everything we can to encourage people from school into earning or learning, and I think that is a policy that most thinking people will accept is the right approach now
LEON COMPTON: Okay, we need to keep moving, Senator. Let’s talk about the leadership of your party for a moment and whatever the latest twist and turn will be today in that. Would it not be better to sort this out, to just have a leadership spill and let Tony Abbott show his strength in numbers in the party room?
MINISTER ABETZ: Leon, the situation is this – there is no challenger, there’s nobody willing to move the spill motion. There has been a lot of hyperventilation over this issue. It nearly seems as though the silly season has sort of had a few weeks extension this year – so be it. The Prime Minister has the overwhelming support of the party room. He has the unanimous support of his Cabinet, and we are committed to continue doing that which Australia needs, and that is reducing people’s cost of living and increasing job opportunities and job security for people. They are the two big issues on which we are concentrating. And that’s why we wanted to and have got rid of the carbon tax, got rid of the mining tax, we’ve stopped the boats which now saves us well over Labor’s period – it cost $12 billion this leakage of our porous borders. The taxpayers had to pay – pick up that bill. That’s now been stopped. We’ve got free trade agreements happening, which will really help Tasmania.
LEON COMPTON: Okay, and a range of other issues. But I think many people looking at the party and asked to consider what they’re up to at the moment would say they’re battling incredibly within themselves to work out what to do next given that the inability to sell these policies into the market. Senator, we have to leave it there. Good to talk to you this morning.
MINISTER ABETZ: All right, thanks a lot, Leon.
LEON COMPTON: Eric Abetz, Employment Minister, on 936 ABC Hobart.