Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - 5AA Mornings with Leon Byner

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business

E&OE-------------------------------------

LEON BYNER:

We note that there are literally hundreds of people under investigation through what’s called the Employer Reporting Line, and this is really odd because it’s only just happened. This reporting line being set up and there’s already been a stack of complaints. So, the situation is a lot of people like to say, well, look it’s very nice for me to get these benefits but that particular job doesn’t quite suit me so I’ll just sit on the sidelines and wait for something that I feel is appropriate. Well, let’s talk with the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert. Stuart, thanks for joining us today.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Leon, great pleasure as always.

LEON BYNER:

Now, it looks as if, if what you’re telling us is right, there is quite a degree of job snobbery going on here.

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Employer Reporting Line, Leon, as you quite rightly said, is designed for employers to let my department know if Australians are not taking this seriously, i.e. they’ve got a job and they’re saying, you know what, I just don’t want to do it anymore. Or, they’re not turning up for job interviews or they’re applying to be a vet when they’ve got a Cert I in massage therapy, or they’re turning up wearing a Superman costume, i.e. they’re just not taking it seriously.

LEON BYNER:

Who turns up wearing a Superman costume, unless you’re doing an audition for Movie World?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, which people tick: I am a qualified vet and then attach a Cert 1 in massage therapy? There are people who aren’t taking this seriously. Majority do, vast majority of Australians, Leon, superb, they want to get work and they’re really trying hard. But there’s a small minority that are saying, I’m happy to take my next door neighbour’s money through tax, as benefits, but I’m not happy to do a mutual obligation, i.e. stump up on this, and that’s what we’re after.

LEON BYNER:

Alright. So, does that mean that you’re going to be more, seeking compliance to mutual obligation as a result of what you’re telling me?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No question. We’re strongly focussing on mutual obligations, which is, if you’re in receipt of benefits, in terms of JobSeeker payment or Youth Allowance other, well you need to be intentional about looking for work. And if you’re not intentional, there are consequences. And that’s the mutual obligations part of it. That’s the social contract, if you like. The taxpayer, the lady across the road, she’ll work hard and pay tax so you can have a benefit, but we expect you to actually stump up, train, skill and get a job.

LEON BYNER:

So, what’s happening to people getting a benefit? Do they, all of a sudden, get a call or an email or a text, asking them to answer a few questions? How are you running this compliance?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely. There’s a compliance framework that’s legislated whereby if you’ve done the wrong thing, your jobactive provider or my department will contact you and ask. Now, it might be you didn’t attend an interview because one of your children was sick and you had to rush them to hospital. Well, clearly that’s acceptable. We’re a compassionate, sensible country in that respect. But if you just couldn’t get out of the doona, well there are consequences for that.

LEON BYNER:

So, approximately, how many people have been disciplined or dealt with, who are taking money but aren’t doing the right thing? Is it a large proportion?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s always the minority. So, if you look at the Employer Reporting Line, that’s only been in place for a couple of weeks. We’re actively investigating 240 instances. [Indistinct] investigation is simply a quick discussion with the Australian to say, hey, why did you turn up in a superman suit for? Why did you leave this job? Why did you apply to be a vet and you ticked that you’re a qualified vet when clearly you’re not? You can’t do that. That’s a cross, that’s a strike. And if there’s any more of these, well there are consequences that include removing all of your payments. So all of that’s an ongoing process. It’s fair, it’s transparent. Everyone’s engaged one-on-one.

LEON BYNER:

Tell me, we know that right now, a lot of businesses are finding it hard to get staff, particularly good staff. Have you had that same feedback?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Oh, massive, Leon. It’s extraordinary. We’ve got the highest rate of job applicants in 12 years, over 250,000 applicants right now. The online index is at that number as well. So we’re seeing a huge demand for labour and skills. But at the same time, we’re also seeing demand for labour for non-skilled. The top three skills that people are looking for now are chefs, welders and registered nurses. But the next seven are unskilled. So there’s a lot of work available for people if they wish to get a job. And the last series of surveys are showing up to 50 per cent of employers are actually looking for staff, they’re looking to hire. So very strong demand.

LEON BYNER:

Okay. Which of the relatively unskilled jobs are available but they’re having trouble filling?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Anything in hospitality. So, I was at Café 21 in Darwin a few weeks ago. The lovely lady who runs there has 53 staff but she has to close at 2pm every day because she can’t get staff to keep going. If you go to Alice Springs – and many other hotels around the country are saying the same thing to me: they can’t keep the majority of their hotel rooms open because they can’t get cleaning staff and staff to work in that area. So, cleaning, hospitality, those areas that are relatively unskilled, there is demand everywhere.

LEON BYNER:

How are you going to remedy this?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, these are the challenges. So, the Budget’s got almost $4 billion – a billion dollars for JobTrainer so we can train another 163,000 Australians in skills that are needed, 2.7 billion for Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements to get another 170,000 apprentices in. We’ve already got 143,000 new apprentices. So, the Commonwealth is stumping up serious money to skill Australians and to give them the training they need. But we need Australians to also intentionally lean into that, and we need employers to give Australians a crack, give them a go. And if they’re not going to have a go, that’s what the Employer Reporting Line’s all about.

LEON BYNER:

Are you implying that if you want a job, you can find one easily? Is that what you’re saying?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I’m saying with the rate – number of jobs advertised and available now is at the highest level in 12 years, and the anecdotal evidence of cafes closing, restaurants closing, hotels not able to find staff – there is a lot of work available.

LEON BYNER:

Why do you think there is a reluctance of people to apply for jobs?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There’s about 1.1 million Australians on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance other, which means a young Australian, 16 to 21, is not working and not training. They’re coming out of COVID. I think they’re slowly starting to get back into the workforce. We’re trying to move that slowly into quickly to get people moving quickly. Unemployment’s at 5.5 per cent. We’ve still got a long way to go. There were 813,000 Australians on payment pre-COVID as an indicator, compared to 1.1 million today. So, there are still a lot of Australians that have got opportunities to get into work, and I would really encourage them to lean into that.

LEON BYNER:

How does South Australia look?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Interestingly, in terms of the Employer Reporting Line, only three per cent of calls are coming from South Australia compared to 25 per cent in Queensland and less than 20 per cent in New South Wales. The unemployment rate is a little higher in South Australia, so there are a lot of people looking for work, but there’s still a lot of work available. And the skilled shortages in the nationwide and the demand for work is nationwide, so there’s still a lot of Australians in South Australia that will be able to find work today.

LEON BYNER:

I’ve got a question. We normally – when it comes to skill, we normally rely short-term on employment from overseas. Are we finding that more problematic now because it’s harder to get in?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Massively. You normally get a net migration flow or net overseas migration over 200,000, but we had none of that last year. We’ll have ostensibly none of that this year, although we are getting Australians returning from overseas. And we’re looking at a new migration in-flow with a negative in front of it for the first time in a long, long time.

LEON BYNER:

How do you explain that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, because the borders are closed, the states are determining how many people they’ll take into quarantine, so therefore that is a natural cap on people coming through. And the priority is for returning Australians, therefore there is no room in the quarantine sector for skilled overseas migration. Now, if you think back to post-GFC, Leon, one of the good things Mr Rudd did was to almost double skilled immigration, well above 300,000 for a couple of years. So, he brought in over 600,000 for the last – in two years post-GFC, we can’t do that. So, this is the first time as a nation we haven’t been able to do skilled migration, and I think we’re really feeling that now.

LEON BYNER:

Well, if we can’t get people with skill to do the jobs that are skilled jobs, then that’s a real problem for not only the economy, but the community in general, isn’t it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

That’s why we’ve got to train them, and that’s why the Budget has got $4 billion, an unprecedented amount of money for training in the Budget. That’s why it’s there, to do exactly that because of that skills shortage. The Commonwealth Government is stumping up in terms of skilling, training, and JobTrainer – a billion dollars, we’ve already put a billion dollars into JobTrainer last year. That covers for the vast majority of courses 100 per cent of the course costs and for a small number, the vast majority of it. We’re saying to Australians: we’ll skill you. Australians, we want you to lean in, take those skilled opportunities, then we want you to intentionally apply for jobs. And we want Australian employers to take a crack on an Australian.

LEON BYNER:

Stuart Robert, thank you. That’s the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Small Business and Family Business.

[ENDS]