Subject: Employment in Western Australia
GLENN BARNDON: Well in recent times we’ve been hearing plenty about the steam coming out of the mining sector across the country and manufacturing continues to linger in the doldrums in Australia. National employment figures have bucked the trend, heading downwards, but where are the jobs of the future going to come from, and how do we create them in the regions?
Federal Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz is coming to the Mid West tomorrow and he’s taken the time to join us this morning. Good morning Minister.
MINISTER ABETZ: Good morning. Good to be on the programme.
GLENN BARNDON: Minister you must be pleased with the most recent employment figures?
MINISTER ABETZ: The unemployment figures bounce around but I am cautiously optimistic that some of the green shoots in our economy of which we’ve been talking about are providing jobs for our fellow Australians, so that is good news. But look, we’ve still got a six in front of the unemployment figure and even if we had a five, four, three or a two in front of it, that would still be too high. So that is why we as a Government are focused on creating the environment where we can have job creation in our economy.
GLENN BARNDON: As you would be aware Minister, in the Mid West the unwinding of the mining resources boom, the iron ore price has crashed and of course, there needs to be a transition from what people have been doing to something else.
MINISTER ABETZ: Clearly there needs to be a transition and that is why Melissa Price, the local member is working so effectively on the White Paper for northern Australia with Minister Andrew Robb and she is also a member of the Parliament’s northern Australian development committee and that’s looking at all the options for northern Australia which of course includes part of Melissa Price’s electorate.
But what we’ve also got to do is not stand still and say ‘woe is me’, we’ve got to ask ‘what are the opportunities?’ The opportunities are Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, China and Japan for example and especially with China, the seafood industry… I know in my home state of Tasmania and I look forward to visiting the Geraldton Fisheries Co-op with Melissa Price tomorrow, they will undoubtedly be telling us about the real market opportunities that a Free Trade Agreement will provide the seafood industry.
GLENN BARNDON: So are you excited by primary industry, agriculture and as you mentioned, fishery?
MINISTER ABETZ: Yes, absolutely and I understand that you have had relatively good rains in recent times—Melissa Price has been telling me—and as a result, you can have a good wheat crop to look forward to, getting reading to plant. So the vegetable, citrus and all types of agricultural production, will, I believe, have a great future in the area because of the growing middle class and demand for food from south-east Asia.
So there is no doubt that Australia and Western Australia in particular is well-based geographically to be a food bowl and producer for south-east Asia. Aquaculture is another area, prawn farming. So look, what we’ve got to do is instead of moping about what’s happening in the resource sector, and don’t get me wrong, we’ve got to look after the resource sector, that’s why we got rid of the carbon and mining taxes because we want those sectors to go well, but we’ve got to look elsewhere as well. We have to create every job opportunity that we can and that means aquaculture; that means agriculture; that means northern development. It means whatever we can do, we need to do. And that is what, as a Government, we are seeking to do.
GLENN BARNDON: Are the policies in place to develop these new opportunities?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well, we went to the last election saying that we wanted to develop northern Australia and we’ve got a parliamentary committee working on that. We’ve got a ministerial committee working on that with Melissa Price having input. We’ve got our Free Trade Agreements underway with more to come, hopefully one with India. Once again, Western Australia is exceptionally well-placed geographically to be able to get dividends from that. We’ve got rid of the carbon and mining taxes. We’re getting rid of red and green tape. We’re bringing the Budget back in to shape. We’ve been doing a lot of work to regenerate, to reboot the Australian economy so that there can be jobs growth. That is our focus. That is Melissa Price’s focus and that’s why I’m delighted to be in the Mid West with Melissa Price tomorrow to understand and see first-hand the issues that need to be addressed in Geraldton and in the electorate of Durack.
GLENN BARNDON: This is ABC Mid West and Wheatbelt. Our guest this morning is Senator Eric Abetz. Senator Abetz is a Liberal Senator for Tasmania, is Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister for Employment, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service.
Minister, looking at the GST, you being a Tasmanian, there’s been a fair bit of interesting discussion in recent times regarding the GST. And as you are aware, Western Australia believes that things haven’t been quite fair. How do you see that?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well the Abetz family has a very good view on these matters of GST distribution. I’m a Senator from Tasmania and I’ve got a brother in the West Australian Parliament, the Member for Southern River. So we have a good understanding for the needs for a fair and reasonable GST distribution.
What I would say is that the formula is relatively well-known and what the states need to do if they have a problem with a mechanism, with a methodology, they need to come together and work out that which they believe to be fair.
And so, is Western Australia at the moment getting a bit of a cut? Yes, absolutely. And the good news is for Western Australia that all the indicators are, that in the years ahead, that will improve. So that matter for my home state of Tasmania, things will in fact decrease financially from the GST share.
So that’s the predictor on the basis of a three-year lag. And when you’ve got a three-year lag in the distribution sometimes you get windfalls and other times you get a double-whammy, and at the moment Western Australia clearly is suffering from a double-whammy and in the future it will undoubtedly improve again. So a fraught issue, a difficult issue, but one which the states do need to sort out between themselves.
GLENN BARNDON: Minister, earlier on you were speaking about perhaps the trend of jobs from resources into primary industry. Where will jobs in the future come from in other parts of Australia that don’t have the resources or don’t have the opportunities that perhaps Western Australia do in this regard?
MINISTER ABETZ: Some sectors of the Australian economy are very service-oriented, services-rich. And so the hospital sector, the health sector, the social services sector, have a real opportunity because with our Free Trade Agreement and, if I may refer to China, we are now allowed to establish Australian-owned providers in China. So private health care, carers, private aged care facility providers—they can now establish in China and sell their expertise. Now, that is going to be a huge growth area, the same with accounting firms, legal firms. So the services sector will also be a great beneficiary of our Free Trade Agreement and that is an area where Australia has an exceptionally good reputation.
Another sector right on the eastern seaboard around Sydney, we have a substantial pharmaceutical manufacturing sector employing about 41,000 Australians. Australian-made pharmaceuticals are sought around the world. One, because they’re quality product; two, there’s the constant sea of supply; and three, people know that there won’t be contaminants or impurities in that which we manufacture.
So, here we have a niche marketing opportunity on the eastern seaboard to create the medicines for the 21st century for the burgeoning south-east Asian population with a reputation second to none in the region for pharmaceutical manufacturing.
So, what we’ve got to do is look for those niche areas and, whilst it’s agriculture and aquaculture I believe in your part of the world, on the eastern seaboard it can be pharmaceutical manufacturing. In my home state of Tasmania, there are a whole lot of agricultural opportunities, especially dairying, so we’ve got to look at those things that are our strengths and then play to them rather than trying to subsidise those areas of our economy that have failed us in the past.
GLENN BARNDON: Minister, we appreciate your time this morning. Enjoy your time in the Mid West.
MINISTER ABETZ: I will indeed, thank you very much.