Subject/s: Participation rate, wage growth, mutual obligation and VET sector
STEVE PRICE: Talking to Ross Greenwood earlier this hour about whether we are too negative in this country about our economy and I'm sure Senator Michaelia Cash ‑ Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Minister ‑ would agree with that. She's been good enough to join us on the line. Senator, thanks for your time.
MINISTER CASH: Absolute pleasure to be with you, Steve.
STEVE PRICE: We’ve got unemployment at a pretty good level. We've got participation rates at record highs.
MINISTER CASH: Record highs, yes.
STEVE PRICE: But we still seem to have this incapacity to talk the economy up.
MINISTER CASH: Well, the RBA said it themselves yesterday, they themselves actually talked about the positive benefits of the interest rate cuts that we put through; from the tax cuts, from the extra spending on infrastructure, from the stabilisation of the housing market and obviously the uptick in mining and investment. I am out there, Steve, as you know, every other day talking to people and they are acutely aware that we have record high employment in Australia, almost 13 million Australians are in employment. They are acutely aware that we have record high participation. What does that mean for the average Australian? It means people are putting their hands up and what are they saying? "We have faith in the jobs market. We have faith in the economy and we're putting our hands up and we are saying we are ready, willing and able to work." So, Steve from my perspective, I'm out there talking to people every day and they understand the benefits of the strong economy but they also understand the benefits of investing in small and family business as the job creators of this country.
STEVE PRICE: You see the numbers, there seems to be a trend of older Australian workers ‑ the Baby Boomers if you want to have a generic term for them ‑ people in their early to mid 60s staying in work and not retiring for a whole bunch of reasons. Are you seeing that in the data?
MINISTER CASH: Certainly what the data shows is that there is an issue in terms of people above the age of 55 and employment. That is why as a Government we are so focused on having different plans and different policies in place to get people who need to be in the job market back into the job market. When you actually look at the jobs that are being created, I mean, it's great that businesses are out there creating full time employment. Do you know over the last year, full time employment comprised in excess of 60 per cent of total employment growth. So, regardless of who you are, if you're on welfare, the Government has a plan to get you off welfare and into work. When it comes to the types of jobs that are being created, we are seeing notably fulltime employment being over 60 per cent of the jobs growth in the last 12 months. I'd say to any of your listeners the jobs are out there and if you need help, the Government has policies in place to assist you off welfare and into work.
STEVE PRICE: What's the Government's plan to get wages growth going?
MINISTER CASH: Well, we've always said that businesses out there ‑ if you're returning profits you do need to ensure ‑ especially big businesses ‑ that you are passing them on to your employees. When you look at the other ways that you're able to give people money in their back pockets, in particular our tax cuts which, as you know Steve, we had to fight long and hard for to get through. We are returning money to the Australian people by way in particular of getting them personal income tax cuts. If you just look at how many people, put in their income tax returns, we now see under the Government's personal income tax plan, immediate tax relief is flowing to 10 million low and middle income earners of up to $1,080 for singles and over $2,000 for couples. As of 1 October, that was just yesterday, over $18.7 billion has been paid in refunds to hard‑working Australians. That is getting money back into people's pockets.
STEVE PRICE: The Government has signalled they are going to get tough on people who don't fulfil their NewStart obligations and that means go to job interviews. I note a fulltime activist protesting the construction of a housing estate has been taken off her dole payment according to the Courier Mail.
MINISTER CASH: Yes.
STEVE PRICE: Is that happening in more than one case? Is this a regular occurrence?
MINISTER CASH: Steve, as you know, as a Government, our focus ‑ what is it? It will always be unashamedly, we make no excuses for this, to get people off welfare and into work. Taxpayers themselves expect nothing less. In terms of the new compliance system that we brought in, what the compliance system is now showing is that the majority of people actually do the right thing. So if you do miss a job interview or you know you have a child that gets sick or you've got a reasonable excuse, we are able to step in, assist you to overcome that and get you back on the right track. But, there still is a component of job seekers who are wilfully not actually discharging their mutual obligation. In relation to those people, what we say is the system will help you but if you wilfully and deliberately fail to engage in mutual obligation, then you will have your payment cancelled.
STEVE PRICE: Survey out today you won't be surprised with, you and I have talked before about how we are big fans of vocational training.
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely.
STEVE PRICE: This survey ‑ one in four uni graduates say, "I should have trained to become an electrician or a carpenter or brick layer."
MINISTER CASH: Exactly! This is why the Government has such a strong focus on lifting the profile of vocational education and training. If you look at the research that we recently released as a department, 31 out of the 50 top‑earning occupations ‑ guess what? They require a VET pathway. What I'm all about is making sure that parents, but also young people in particular, they understand all of the options that are available to them. What are we hearing loud and clear from employers? We are hearing, "I want someone work‑ready from day one, who's going to add value to my business." And that is exactly what a vocational education will give to not just the young person or basically anybody who's thinking of entering the job market. You can be an older Australian and still undertake an apprenticeship but this is very, very much all about responding directly to industry's needs and industry's needs are work‑ready, day one which equals vocational education.
STEVE PRICE: Just shake my head at the damage that the uncapping of university places did.
MINISTER CASH: Steve, when Labor uncapped university places they did much more than set the university sector, you know, on a path of more and more and more people going into university. What they also did ‑ and they did this, I think, quite deliberately ‑ they undermined vocational education and training in Australia. They did that by ripping the guts out of the employer incentives. They did that by literally opening up vocational education to all of those dodgy providers. We are still paying the price for that, Steve, but I can assure you this Government has listened and with our in excess of half a billion‑dollar investment in skills and Australians. I am determined as the Minister ‑ and I make no apologies for this Steve ‑ I am determined to bring the respect back to vocational education and training in Australia. So that everybody knows you have a choice and at this point in time in Australia, employers are making it pretty clear what they want out of their employees.
STEVE PRICE: Always a pleasure to catch up, Senator. Thanks a lot.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.
STEVE PRICE: Michaelia Cash.