Subject/s: Employment sector, university education system, border closures
MARK LEVY: Now, Australia's economy has been put through the wringer. More than 600,000 people are out of work, 3.5 million are accessing the JobKeeper payment. As we lift ourselves out of the worst pandemic in a century, the focus is beginning to shift to the rebuild. Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, the Prime Minister has outlined what he calls his JobMaker plan. It's a blueprint to kickstart our economy on the other side of coronavirus. High on the agenda is better skills training, an overhaul of the TAFE sector and a new look for industrial relations. Tax reform is also on the table, with the Prime Minister declaring all taxes a business pays must encourage them to invest and employ. Now, for years, the unions, employers and governments have been at each other's throats in a variety of issues. Now it's hoped they can find a unity ticket so our economy can bounce back in the strongest way possible.
Michaelia Cash is of course the Minister for Employment, Skills and Small Family Business. She's on the line now. Minister, good afternoon.
MINISTER CASH: Good afternoon Mark and good afternoon to your listeners.
MARK LEVY: Well, lovely to talk to you as always, Minister. I thought it was an impressive speech by the Prime Minister but it's all well and good to say that we've got to get everyone together. Do you think it can happen?
MINISTER CASH: Look, I actually do. In the skills space, that’s where we've been making real progress. COVID-19 has now shown us life as we once knew it, policy making as we once knew it, needs to change. There is an urgency now – and particularly given those figures that you just read out – in terms of the economy, the number of people who transferred out of work and onto the JobSeeker payment. There is an urgency now like there never was before. I've been working incredibly constructively with my state and territory counterparts, regardless of politics, to put in place skills training, that would normally take 12, 18 months to two years, in a matter of weeks. It can be done. It needs to be done. And this is the time as a government to put the Australian people first.
MARK LEVY: Well, he’ll be a hero if you can pull it off, the Prime Minister, because according to Treasury – and he said this today – this plan will see 850,000 jobs ultimately restored once the full impacts are realised in the months that follow. So, they are big numbers.
MINISTER CASH: Look, they are huge numbers. You know Mark, when we actually entered COVID-19, we had a record number of people in employment in Australia. We need to do everything we can as a government to get back to that. As the Prime Minister has made very clear today, as a Coalition Government, we have done this before. That's why we're up for it. That's why we know that our plan can work. Again, it's all about the Australian people and doing what is best for them. This needs to be above politics. This is all about working together in the best interests of Australians.
MARK LEVY: You've been around politics though long enough, Minister, to understand that it's not that easy. Are you confident though that the unions- I mean, well, we've heard from Sally McManus this afternoon already. She's saying that, yes, we can all work together but- you know, the unions have caused problems in the past, what's to say they don't cause problems here?
MINISTER CASH: I think the statistics and the impact of COVID-19, certainly in the skills base with my Emergency Response Sub-Committee, we've turned around with Liberal states, with Labor states, with the ACTU working with us - infection control training. We've fast tracked that, we've funded it. $18 million for 80,000 places – 40 from the Commonwealth, 40 from the states and territories – in record time. We've also just announced a new skill set to support aged and disability sectors. Again, Liberal states, Labor states, working together with the ACTU.
So, from my perspective, Federal Labor- they’re out there today slamming everything the Prime Minister is talking about and then you have Sally McManus actually say, “if you're going to increase employment, it's about investment. It's about investment in skills.” A better skilled workforce equals higher paid jobs. So, we've shown in the skills base we can do it. Let's now elevate that across portfolios and work together. The common goal we need to have here is the answer to every question has to be jobs and it's got to be in the interest of the Australian people. And that's what we're committed to as a Federal Government.
MARK LEVY: Alright. Minister, while I’ve got you, a couple of other things. The New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, she's pushing to allow foreign students back into Australia to support the university system. The question needs to be asked, shouldn't we be putting Australian students at the front of the queue?
MINISTER CASH: Oh look, absolutely. And certainly, I mean, that's one of the reasons that we took to obviously stop migration in Australia and focus very much on putting Australians first. But as we also know- and I know Dan Tehan has been doing some fantastic work in this space. It's our third biggest export industry. We need to ensure that we have a good higher education system and in particular, one that caters for those international students. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we need to ensure everything we do is done safely. That is the key to everything going forward, the COVID-safe economy.
MARK LEVY: One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson told me half an hour ago, Minister, that she's enlisted a high-profile barrister to take up a fight to the High Court to do with these border closures. Clive Palmer is doing the same. Having state borders closed isn't good for business. So, what can you do if state premiers refuse to reopen soon?
MINISTER CASH: Well, pretty much the Prime Minister, from the federal perspective, has made it very, very clear. There is no medical advice that says that state borders should stay closed. So, from our perspective, we would like to see Australians and Australia getting back to business as quickly and efficiently and safely as possible. So that is certainly the position of the Federal Government. We acknowledge obviously that states themselves make those ultimate decisions, but from our perspective, the sooner we can reopen state borders safely, the better off we’ll all be.
MARK LEVY: Now, Minister, I've got a fair bit of work on my plate at the moment so I got home last night, I couldn't be bothered cooking and I ordered some Indian food.
MINISTER CASH: Oh, yes.
MARK LEVY: Yeah, went viral. Have a curry for the country.
MINISTER CASH: You know, that's the great thing about being the Minister for Small and Family Business. You can be enthusiastic. You can show support for those fabulous restaurants that are out there who have been really been doing it tough. So many of them have. And certainly, I thought it was a great proposition that was put to me by the journalist who was interviewing me. And look, well, you know me, I'm enthusiastic. I'll wear that as a badge of honour. And certainly supporting small and family businesses, but in particular, those in the restaurant trade, I'm proud to do so. So good on you for having a curry last night.
MARK LEVY: Well, it's much better to go viral for good things as opposed to bad things. It's lovely to talk to you, Minister, and I love your enthusiasm.
MINISTER CASH: Good on you. Okay. Bye.
MARK LEVY: See you soon.