Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - Business Weekend with Ross Greenwood

Ministers:

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

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

ROSS GREENWOOD:

Joining me now is the Federal Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills and Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert. Many thanks for your time. Can you just, first off, take me through the impact you’re seeing from any of the franchisees and small businesses in Victoria as a result of these lockdowns?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s pretty tough, Ross. For those companies that can have their staff work from home, clearly, that’s happening. But for many small businesses in tourism, in hospitality, those that provide services in restaurants and catering in those areas, it’s a very difficult time as soon as lockdowns occur, and of course as soon as Premiers close borders, that has an impact on trade across borders.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

So, is it a situation where the Morrison government had no choice but to try and protect workers, and some of those businesses in Victoria because, of course, the other side of this could be it’s actually seen as rewarding Victoria, which clearly has had a more lax system?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Putting aside the fact we’ll continue to work with our states and territory colleagues, we’re all in this together and it’s important we all lean in this together. After a week lockdown when you start moving into another week or another period, that’s when the Federal Government felt we had to sort of step in to help, especially households and those impacted strongly, and that’s the result of the Prime Minister’s announcement, and that’s what he’s working with state and Premiers today. It’s also an indication that the Federal Government is going to be here in terms of extended lockdowns, and we are going to work with small business and the Australian people as we move through the vaccination pathway and as we move towards getting out of this.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

Yeah, but doesn’t that just sent a message to every state Premier that the Federal Government will be there almost as a last resort funder for them, and that they can take, always, a politically safe decision of closing borders if there are further outbreaks?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We’ll leave the state Premiers to determine their own strategy. It’s an emergency payment the Prime Minister has announced and working with states Premiers today in National Cabinet on. It will be run, of course, through the auspices of the Emergency Minister, Minister Littleproud. And it’s not a Victorian emergency payment, all emergency payments are available right across the country, whether it’s a flood, a fire or, indeed, a pandemic. You’ve seen the $1,500 pandemic payment. This is now another emergency payment that is designed to help Australians regardless of the difficulty they find themselves in and regardless of decisions that state Premiers make.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

Okay, that being said, though, the Victorian government has clearly, in many people’s eyes, made poor decisions. It’s led your Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to say this week: 140 days is the average time a Victorian has been locked down, compared with people in other states that have been locked down for just six days. Now, that suggests that something is not right, in turn affecting families and businesses that you represent in that state.

MINISTER ROBERT:

The iron laws of arithmetic seldom lie in that respect. I’m speaking to you from New South Wales, which I think is a really rolled gold standard in response to COVID and how outbreaks are dealt with. But, again, different Premiers have different ways of responding. We’ll leave them to explain that to their own citizenry. Our job, federally, is to ensure that we continue to focus on jobs and jabs. My focus is on jobs. It’s upsetting to see what’s happening to so many people employed in Victoria, hence why we’ve responded with the Prime Minister’s announcement.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

So, then, take me to many of the businesses responsible for employing more people. That’s the government strategy. The many franchises around the country, for example, how are you making certain that they’re protected and not vulnerable so they can employ more people and get on and make themselves a dollar?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely. A lot of measures, there’s 40,000 more Australians employed now, post-COVID, than pre-COVID, the only advanced economy that’s been able to achieve that, which is really pleasing. And it’s because Australian employers are stumping up and people are wanting to work, which is really good. But there’s a real skills gap emerging. So there’s over $4 billion in the Budget to really assist with that. And in terms of franchising, 90,000 franchisees, a lot of them mums and dads, across 1,200 brands, and it’s $154 billion into the economy. And there’s a range of changes I’ve made to the Franchise Code to provide greater protection, greater fairness, greater equity for those mums and dad franchisors. Majority of those start on 1 July.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

Yeah, well I know that in the past, franchising has been fraught for many Australians who put superannuation money or other capital they had, savings, and found themselves in a significant imbalance of power. In many cases, they were wiped out by egregious franchisor that really paid little heed to their rights. Don’t you think Australians now need to be confident enough in these new laws to take on franchises, have a decent go at making a living for themselves?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The changes I’ve announced that start on 1 July – they’re now public; the legislative instruments of course are all made public – are designed to give greater transparency and greater confidence. Now, we’ve increased penalties: $1.1 million for corporations, over $200,000 for individuals who do the wrong thing. So there is a big stick. We’ve increased transparency of documentation key factsheets, about disclosing information, giving people 14 days to consider it, not allowing sneaky things to happen like franchisors to write in that a franchisee, a mum and dad starting something, has to pay the franchisor’s legal cost. I mean, that’s outrageous. So putting paid to all of that, allowing the Small Business Ombudsman to do a mediation conciliation role, and of course, I’ll be putting out a discussion paper.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

So, you mentioned earlier skill shortages, and given your employment hat, I just want to go to whether Australia’s real answer to employment and skill shortages that we currently have is simply to open our international borders. That’s ultimately got to be it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

1.1 million Australians on JobSeeker or Youth Allowance Ross, and we need to look after Australians. Now, the easiest thing in the world to do is to increase skilled migration. Mr Rudd did that, doubling it to over 300,000 for two years post GFC. Now, we don’t have those leavers; normally, you have a net overseas migration of a couple hundred thousand each year, so we’re missing a couple hundred thousand skilled migrants each year. Now, we could say, hey, let’s open our borders quickly and get more skilled migrants in, or we could say, you know what? Why don’t we focus on skilling Australians and giving Australians a crack? Why don’t we ask businesses right around the country to employ an Australian? Do that, train and skill them. There’s $4 billion in the budget for skilling and training Australians, $1 billion JobTrainer to get another 163,000 Australians into a qualification, and of course, extending the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencement, $2.7 billion for another 170,000 apprentices. We want to actually put our faith in Australians, and I’m really asking Australian businesses. We’ll fund the training. The budget funds the training for Australians, but I need Australian businesses to give Australians a crack. Now, in time, COVID will move on. We’ll open our borders. Skilled migration will start to come in. But we have a wonderful opportunity now to really focus on Australians, and I think we should do that.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

So, that’s not a protectionist policy, is it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, no, because the international borders are closed, and we can’t open them. Right now, the focus of Australians coming through is Australians returning home, and the numbers are set by state premiers in terms of quarantine. So the Federal Government doesn’t affect that. In the state I’m in now, in New South Wales, the Premier Berejiklian is taking 3,000 per- or 3,000 coming through into quarantine, which is superb. A leader in terms of what states are doing. But there is a natural limit to that, and Australians returning is the first priority, and the Prime Minister has spoken about international students coming next. So we don’t have opportunities to bring skilled migrants in because of those limitations, which is fine: great opportunity now to focus on Australians.

ROSS GREENWOOD:

Stuart Robert, I appreciate your time today.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you, Ross. Cheers.