MINISTER ABETZ: The unemployment figures tend to bounce around month-to-month and today’s figures indicate that the unemployment rate has bounced down to 6.1 per cent. And of course, as a Government and as an Australian people we always prefer the figures to bounce down rather than up. There are now 1500 less Australians unemployed and we have a slightly higher participation rate.
Now, having said that, we still have a six in front of the unemployment figure and indeed if it was a five, four, three, two or a one, that would still be too high because every single statistic of unemployment is a human tragedy in the Government’s mind.
The benefit of employment is there for all to see. All the data tells us that. Physical, mental health, self-esteem, social interaction, all enhanced, not only for the person, but the whole household, if somebody is going to be employed.
That is why this Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that we keep fixing the economy. That is why we were so determined to get rid of the carbon and mining taxes. That’s why we were so determined to get the budget back into shape; why we were so determined to ensure we have a good infrastructure fund to build the infrastructure of the 21st century. Here in Tasmania, building the irrigation schemes that we needed and getting an equitable freight scheme across Bass Strait. These are all things that will drive economic activity for one purpose only and that is to drive job creation for our fellow Australians.
Can I specifically say it is hugely disappointing when there are state Labor Governments spending hundreds of millions of dollars to deliberately not create jobs such as the Labor Premier in Victoria has been doing. That is irresponsible, it’s not forward-planning and it indicates a commitment to not the Victorian people, not to the Australian people, not to the national economy, but some bizarre ideology where they believe the taxpayers’ money should be spent to stop job creation.
JOURNALIST: How worrying is it that that figure of six could remain when the Government is going to an election next year?
MINISTER ABETZ: The unemployment rate with a six, or as indeed as I said, with five, four, three, two, one, whatever figure is of concern. We want to drive down the unemployment rate, not only do we want to turn tax takers into tax payers from an economic point of view, but the social good of getting people into employment can and should never be overlooked. And what I think the Australian people want to see is a Government determined to put jobs first and foremost and that has been the driving philosophy behind us getting rid of the carbon and mining taxes, getting the budget back into shape, getting free trade agreements happening, getting the infrastructure happening.
They're the things that will drive the economy that will then allow job creation.
JOURNALIST: The participation rate has fallen in Tasmania. How do you account for that? What's your response?
MINISTER ABETZ: The unemployment rate in Tasmania has remained stable, as I understand the figures. With the participation rate, as with all these figures, they regrettably bounce around, but the good news is that since the election of the Coalition Government about 18 months ago, an extra 9600 jobs have been created in Tasmania. We no longer boast the highest unemployment rate in the country, and with our new Freight Equalisation Scheme, to start as of the first of January next year, with the irrigation schemes being rolled out, with Hobart Airport development, with the Midland Highway redevelopment, with all those things I am confident that we can see further jobs growth.
And indeed the free trade agreements right here in Tasmania will be of assistance to our dairy industry. And who would have thought that South Korea for example had a 304 per cent tariff on potatoes being imported, now removed. So there are some real benefits for our seafood industry, agricultural sector with these free trade agreements for Tasmania.
JOURNALIST: The numbers are going to take a fair hit by the end of the year though, with 280 jobs going out of Burnie with the Caterpillar plant closing. What will the Federal Government do to support those people and make sure they're not moving interstate to look for work?
MINISTER ABETZ: The Burnie situation is a matter of concern and, as was in the media today, there will be a meeting with my Departmental officials with management, tomorrow, just to ensure what the timetable is. These people as I understand it, will, thank goodness, not lose their jobs overnight but over a period of time. And when we get a full understanding of that, we will then ensure that those workers, who will be displaced, get as much support as possible from the Government agencies to ensure that they can find alternate employment.
Look, a disappointing decision, but this is a company that has relied especially in Tasmania on the mining industry, and with the mining tax and things of that nature, Australia has taken a bit of a beating, along with a fall in iron ore prices. Regrettably, they have decided to move to Thailand and that is part and parcel of what we as a country need to face. And what it highlights again is that we can never take any jobs for granted, and we've always got to be focused on ensuring that every single job is as viable as possible, not only in Tasmania, but on the world scale.
JOURNALIST: Is there a chance that cash could be on the table with Caterpillar to try and turn that decision around, is that something the Federal Government’s considering?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well look, I saw the Leader of the Opposition here, Mr Green, saying that the Governments should somehow reverse the decision.
This is a management decision. How on earth would you reverse the decision in simply paying money to a company in circumstances where they want to leave anyway? Has been a very sad experience for Australia as we’ve witnessed in the car industry, where under Labor, Ford and Mitsubishi have left Australia, and then under us, as we got into Government, with Holden and Toyota closing.
So what we’ve got to do is not throw money at industries that want to leave or believe they’re not as viable as they might be. What we’ve got to do is look to the future and that is why we need an upgraded airport, why we need an upgraded Midlands Highway, that is why we need the irrigation schemes and that is why we need an enhanced Freight Equalisation Scheme across Bass Strait to get our products to market, at equitable prices, which means they can produce more which means they can employ more. And that is what drives this.
JOURNALIST: The economic growth plan that the Federal Government laid out while you were campaigning for the last election. You promised to cut red tape and improve the business operating environment in Tasmania. There are businesses saying that hasn’t happened yet and there are people who are saying Caterpillar has left because that’s remained the case. What are you going to do to change the operating environment in Tasmania to encourage businesses to stay here?
MINISTER ABETZ: The red tape and green tape removals have been there for all to see. It is over $2 billion worth for the Australian economy and Tasmania has benefitted from that as well.
Having said that, this red and green tape, that is the responsibility of the local and state government and they have to deal with those situations.
But look, one of the things impacting on Tasmania as we speak is the coastal shipping arrangements that the Labor/Green foisted upon this nation, which has been one of the reasons why we no longer have a national shipping service coming to Tasmania.
We need to get rid of those sorts of impediments that were designed to featherbed the Maritime Union of Australia and with a complete disregard for on-shore jobs.