Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview — Australia Today with Steve Price (Triple M)

Ministers:

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

Topics: COVID-19 International vaccination certificate; International travel; Australia’s labour market; The Nationals deliberations on climate policy

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

STEVE PRICE:

Stuart Robert is the federal Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business. Minister, good morning.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Steve, good to talk to you. Are you technically astute, more to the point? 

STEVE PRICE:

Well, I've downloaded the Services Victoria app, which has my QR code and my vax status on it. I've also got it in my Apple Wallet and I've got it in my Medicare app on the phone. I've got the YouGov app there, MyGov app there. I'll do it today. Is it hard?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, it’s simple. You can just go to your Medicare app and do it from there and drop it either into digital form or print it out. I've just done mine as well. It works a treat. It’s nice and simple, the same as the other process flows you talked about.

STEVE PRICE:

Well, the one I've got on my Victorian VicGov app has a watermark, Stuart, in the background that moves from side to side. It's the Australian Coat of Arms. I presume that is there in that instance to prevent any fraud. Will it have a similar watermark on my COVID vaccination passport?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The international vaccination certificate is built to the what's called the ICAO Standard, International Civil Aviation Organization. It's got a QR code on it. It's called a visible digital seal, a cryptogram, if you like, which is read with the same technology as passport readers. So, it has the same level of security as a passport. Therefore, it doesn't need any holographic or other support. It's a standalone document; can only be read by passport readers.

STEVE PRICE:

So, a couple of things. Let's deal with the practicality of some of this. If I lose my phone and I'm overseas, what do I do?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Like all things, Steve, if you travel overseas, the advice from Foreign Affairs always is to have a copy in paper of your credentials. Because you always travel with a passport, you should have a paper copy of your passport in case you lose your passport. 

STEVE PRICE:

Yep. 

MINISTER ROBERT:

And that would solve that one. So, it's no different to any other credential you would carry like a credit card.

STEVE PRICE:

When I come back into the country, I'm very used to these days, Stuart, of - I used to be. I haven't been outside for 18 months like anyone else, but you pop your passport into the reader, it prints you out the card to get straight through immigration and customs. Will I have to put the passport in and then do the phone vaccination certificate? Will I have- will it be, now become a two-process plan?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Home Affairs is best to answer that but the process will likely be that when you actually check in and fly somewhere, you present your COVID vaccination certificate at the check-in counter, and that's where that would be done. And you would be- you’d struggle to book a ticket without actually verifying and saying I'm vaccinated because the passport readers only read the passport, won't need to read the certificate because that validation will be done prior.

STEVE PRICE:

And are all countries that I may travel to on board with accepting this as my proof of vaccination?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah, great question. The Civil Aviation Organization covers 145 countries and that generates all the public, private keys to develop passports. Clearly, there's more than 145 countries, but those countries also can't digitally read a passport, so they won't be able to digitally read a certificate. So, we've also created an app reader for any countries that do want to. For example, Fiji may wish to only allow vaccinated citizens in, so they could actually use that quick reader to actually read the certificate, see that it’s Steve Price, check against the passport and off you go.

STEVE PRICE:

The system’s strong enough that if you get a rush today, it's not going to crash on me?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, it'll be fine. We've generated millions and millions and millions of COVID vaccination certificates for New South Wales and Victoria over the last couple of days. Over 19 million downloads in New South Wales alone, 3.8 million downloads into their Apple Wallet. We've been delivering all of our COVID supports through MyGov. It is the largest authenticated platform now in Australia. 

STEVE PRICE:

And it would indicate there then, Minister, that there's a pent-up ambition for people to get out and travel again.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Oh, I think so. Thirteen point eight million Australians, Steve, travelled overseas pre-COVID. Now only 59 per cent of Australians have got a passport, so some clearly travelled twice. And, funnily enough, fun fact of the day, Steve: Australians spend more money, in fact, twice as much overseas, about $60 billion a year pre-COVID, than international tourists do when they come to Australia. They only spend about $30 billion.

STEVE PRICE:

Yeah, we certainly like our international travel. There's no doubt about that. Just on- with your portfolio of employment, workforce and skills. I was talking to Channel 7 correspondent Hugh Whitfield earlier today, and we'll play that interview later about a shortage - a staff shortage, worker shortage in the UK is so bad at the moment that they can't even get abattoir workers to slaughter pigs, and they're going to actually have to cull the herd in the UK pre-Christmas, because they haven't got enough workers. We are facing a similar workforce shortage. I know that your colleague, Dan Tehan, is attempting to do a deal in the UK to get the worker visa age up to 40. What else are we doing to try and cover this, this workforce shortfall, which is going to hit us pretty hard, pretty quickly here? 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah, you’re right, Steve, that there is going to be a bit of a skills crunch coming. In the UK it’s for a different reason because of restricted labour, coming out of particularly Eastern Europe, is no longer available. Our drama is we've had our borders closed, so we're short 400,000 skilled migrants, a couple of hundred thousand students that normally work 20 hours, as well as backpacker visas, short stay skilled workers and the like. And at the same time, hundreds of thousands of Australians have exited the labour market through unfortunate circumstances or indeed, just retiring. So that is the skill shortage. 

Now, in the same breath, there's 700,000 Australians on JobSeeker or Youth Allowance other, so there is a worker cohort. The problem is only 20 per cent of them have some skills post Year 12. The key to dealing with this is to get our international borders open, which they will be from 1 November. Then we will look in time to restart skilled worker migration and students and backpackers and get them back into the country. 

But we've got to balance that, Steve, we’ve got to have a national conversation about do we just let skilled workers come in and still allow Australians to keep JobSeeker? Or do we really need to focus on getting them skilled, getting them motivated, getting them into the workforce?

STEVE PRICE:

I'm sure you and the Prime Minister working on this, but I mean, New South Wales farmers, the head of the Farmers Association in New South Wales, their President, James Jackson, he estimated they’re 16,000 workers short. So that's one state in one part of industry, and that is agriculture. So it's an urgent requirement to fix it up. We're currently only allowing into the country, unless it's been changed in the last week or so, 300 people, total, a week. When will that number go up? I mean, is November the date and by how much?

MINISTER ROBERT:

These are all the caps that have been put in place by the states and territories, and under the national plan, those caps start to get removed from 70 per cent and then through to 80 per cent. Now we've doubled the number of seasonal workers we can bring in from our Pacific family. We have increased up to $9000, are payments for Australians to travel into the Harvest Trail. And so we'll do whatever we possibly can to encourage Australians to get into that Harvest Trail and get into those ag jobs. But in reality, we need borders open. Just like we've seen in New South Wales, we need to start getting skilled workers and seasonal workers in to do that work.

STEVE PRICE:

So the gap year students that would normally head off to Europe, you desperately need them to come and work, particularly in the short term, in agriculture and then in other jobs, right?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'd love to, and there's a fair bit of money on the table as an incentive to get them there. Now we've seen around 4900 young people heading to the Harvest Trail on the back of AgMove it's called, to take that incentive up. Now I concede most of those are visa holders, but we're still starting to see a couple thousand of those students move. We just need a lot more.

STEVE PRICE:

Just finally, when do you think you'll get a deal from the Nats on zero emissions?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the National Party’s a great party, Steve. And to quote a wonderful movie, no one puts the Nats in the corner. I'm sure they'll work it out.

STEVE PRICE:

Yes, we did actually run that vision and audio on The Project last night, quite surprisingly, Minister. It was very funny. Thank you very much for your time. I'll talk to you again soon. 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you. Cheers.

STEVE PRICE:

Stuart Robert, federal Minister for Employment, Workforce Skills, Small and Family Business