SUBJECTS: The launch of the Transition to Work service in Northern and North-Western Tasmania; pre-selection of Liberal party members; legislation of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
LEON COMPTON: We know that Tasmania’s unemployment figures look in some ways to be improving, we also know that youth unemployment remains high here. Some of the highest in the country and it comes with that corrosive statistical attachment- the longer a young person spends unemployed after leaving school, the more likely it becomes that they’ll fall through the cracks forever into a long term path outside the workforce. Northern and North-Western Tasmania today become two of seven places in Australia where the Government’s new Transition to Work programme rolls out. We thought we would talk about it and see what it might actually do to deal with youth unemployment in Tasmania. Michaelia Cash is the Minister for Employment, Minister good morning to you.
MINISTER CASH: Good morning and great to be with you and your listeners.
LEON COMPTON: How will what you’re proposing reduce youth unemployment in Tasmania Minister?
MINISTER CASH: Well, one of the things that the Government recognises is that we can’t stand by as a Government or as a country, while a generation of young Australians remains without gainful employment. We are firmly of the belief that the best form of welfare is a job and we are committed to ensuring that every young Australian who can find work is able to find it.
LEON COMPTON: Okay with respect, Minister, they’re platitudes or motherhood statements, what are you actually doing in this actual policy to help young people get into work?
MINISTER CASH: This is a $322 million commitment by the Government to help young people get into work and in particular this is all about targeting young job seekers between the ages of 15 and 21 who are going to receive intensive support from community-based organisations. And you were right, in Tasmania, the successful provider in round one was Northern Joblink Limited. They’re going to work intensively with these young job seekers to ensure that they have work-like skills or if they wish to, to go back and finish off their education. So it’s very much about that intensive support for young people who are at risk of long term welfare dependency.
LEON COMPTON: How will people become eligible for this scheme?
MINISTER CASH: You need to be on Government support. In particular, this is part of a number of programmes that the Government has. We have in total a $6.8 billion jobactive contract. Targeting youth unemployment is a very, very necessary part of that. For example, we also have the Empowering YOUth Initiative, and this again is something that’s looking at young people at risk of welfare dependency. We’re working with not-for-profit community organisations to put forward innovative ideas, looking outside of what we would normally do to assist young people but very much the Government’s focus is on helping young people transition into work and this - the Transition to Work programme - is another part of what the Government is doing.
LEON COMPTON: Coming up for you in a moment we’ll actually be catching up with Northern Joblink to find out how it will work on the ground. While people are going through this transition process, Minister, will they be eligible for unemployment benefits?
MINISTER CASH: I believe that they would be but what we’ll also be doing at that same time is working with them in terms of addressing, for example, language and literacy skills, also looking at training that relates to a specific job that they might want to get and then of course there are just those practical skills that they might need. Sometimes you need a driver’s licence and you don’t have that ability to get a driver’s licence so that is also something that we’ll be looking at. Also in terms of communication skills; so often we hear from employers that the one thing that they’re lacking in particular from the young people is that they just don’t know how to communicate. Again, this goes very much back to how we can work one-on-one with these young people 15 to 21 to get them into work or alternatively, do they want to go back and undertake an education course that helps them complete year 12 or gain a certificate III qualification. That’s what this is all about.
LEON COMPTON: And just to be clear to go back to a point I made, asked earlier, how will they put food on the table, how will they pay for a roof over their head while they are undertaking this scheme, what benefit will they be eligible for?
MINISTER CASH: Well they are eligible for income support. In terms of their participation requirements, they’re expected to participate in the Transition to Work services for 25 hours per week for up to a maximum of 12 months - and because they are in receipt of income support they will be able to, as you say, put food on the table. This will allow them to meet any of their mutual obligation requirements. So we have looked at the programme and we’ve looked at them on the basis of how many hours per week are they going to need to participate in the Transition to Work to ensure that they are getting that intensive relief that they require but at the same time how do we ensure that they’re able to meet any mutual obligation requirements? At the end of the day this is all about ensuring that the youth do transition into work, so we want to set the programme up to do exactly that.
LEON COMPTON: On ABC local radio, the Minister for Employment, federally, Michaelia Cash is our guest this morning. Minister, I spoke to somebody from the sector on the weekend who said that this was simply replacing money that your party took out of the sector when you came to power. Is that a fair assessment of what’s happened here?
MINISTER CASH: No it’s not. We certainly changed the way we provide the service in relation to employment services generally. What we found was that under the former government and Job Services Australia it was just about the placement. It’s not just about the placement at all; it’s about placing someone and then ensuring that they remain in employment. It’s about sustainable employment. So did we change the way that we looked at the system? Yes we did. It is now focused on outcomes; not just placing someone but placing someone in the right job so that they can have that sustainable long term employment. But in terms of the statement you’ve just put to me, no, I disagree with it. This is in excess of $6 billion that the Government is providing to ensure that Australians who are not in work and Australians who are at risk at long term welfare dependency have the skills they need to get into a job and then ensure that they stay in that job. This is about outcomes and sustainability.
LEON COMPTON: Minister before we leave you this morning, one of your predecessors from the Liberals in the Employment portfolio, Amanda Vanstone has come out this morning and said Tony Abbott, along with Bronwyn Bishop and Philip Ruddock, should stand down at the next election to make room for new blood within the party. Do you agree?
MINISTER CASH: I said yesterday that I was pleased that Tony had reflected on his position, and he has determined that he still has a lot to offer the people of Warringah as their local member. Pre-selection, and whether or not you put yourself forward for pre-selection, is ultimately a decision for yourself, and I will let the individual members make their own decisions.
LEON COMPTON: Philip Ruddock and Bronwyn Bishop – on them – is it time perhaps to let some new blood into the …
MINISTER CASH: Again, pre-selection is very much- it’s an individual decision and I will let them make their own decisions.
LEON COMPTON: But as a party, do you think this is an opportunity for new blood to come into the backbenches and potentially one day aspire to ministerial positions?
MINISTER CASH: Across all parties we should always look towards renewal. The one thing I have learned in particular as a Senator for Western Australia is not to comment on other states’ pre-selections. Again, that is for those state bodies to decide, but it is always up to the individual person as to whether or not they put themselves forward, and of course being a pre-selection process, everybody is up for challenge and there may well be challenges in those pre-selections. Let’s just wait and see.
LEON COMPTON: Okay, and just finally this morning Minister, the Federal Opposition leader Bill Shorten has just come out this morning and announced a number of reforms to protect low paid workers; that could include stronger penalties for bosses who underpay their employees. It could even see some face two years in prison. Would that sort of thing be appropriate in making workplaces potentially fairer for workers and employers?
MINISTER CASH: The Government last year announced a ministerial working group in relation to the protection in particular of visa holders. This is something that we have been working on for some time, and certainly we will be releasing a policy in the lead-up to the next election. I question though the timing of the announcement by Mr Shorten and Mr O’Connor. I believe it’s one of deflection and distraction, given tomorrow the Government is re-introducing its legislation to stand up the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which of course – is a body that the Opposition and the CFMEU are fundamentally opposed to. So the Government is already taking steps – and very strong steps – in relation to worker exploitation. I did see some of the press conference, and I noted that some of what was put on the table, the Government is actually already doing. Other policy ideas are taken directly from the Productivity Commission report, which I have already stated the Government is considering in detail.
LEON COMPTON: I think everyone listening to this’s minds might have turned to the 7-Eleven scandal at the moment and the situation around that. Do you think that this is an appropriate, tougher response to deal with management, where issues around like what have been revealed in the 7-Eleven case?
MINISTER CASH: Again, the Government has already taken steps to address this. We are very concerned about worker exploitation in Australia, and in particular I have been working very closely with the Fair Work Ombudsman. Again, I go to the bigger picture of deflection, denial and distraction. Why do you only target employers? You should target employers, but you should also target rogueunions. You target the behaviour, and if the behaviour is across the board, you target the behaviour and the system, and that is what the Government is looking at doing.
LEON COMPTON: Good to talk to you this morning.
MINISTER CASH: Okay, great to be with you, thanks for having me on the show.
LEON COMPTON: Michaelia Cash, Federal Employment Minister.