Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview with Gary Hardgrave, Chris Smith Tonight, Sky

Ministers:

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

Topics: Morrison Government’s record on skills and training, Australia’s workforce, Brisbane 2032 Olympics, National Cabinet meetings

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

GARY HARDGRAVE:

Good to see you, Minister. We've got a real shortage in this country of people ready to go to work. What are you going to do about it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's a complex question, Gary, because there’s 1.3 million people that are on a primary payment- a welfare payment, but of course, 500,000 of those have a disability; 80, 90,000 would consider themselves in degree of homelessness; another 80,000 have got some mental health challenges; 130,000 have been released from prison. So there's a range of issues with a ready workforce. But, we have to train the Australians we've got - give them absolute priority. Things like this $2 billion in JobTrainer, $3.9 billion in boosting apprenticeships. And of course, we've got to supplement that with skilled migration, and on the 15th of December, 243,000 visas were issued. So we're very cognisant of what we need to do, but it’s certainly Australians first.

GARY HARDGRAVE:

You know, Stuart Robert, it's- as you know, I was a minister in this space at one stage, the workforce training side of things, so it just leaves me cold to think how exposed Australia is. A lot of the economic recovery we so desperately want is contingent on people getting to work if they're capable of working. Maybe some people are going to take on second and third jobs if they want to do that.

STUART ROBERT:

Absolutely. We've got to pull out all stops. So we’ve allowed those on student visas to have unlimited hours in hospitality and tourism areas. We’re allowing those on an age pension to ostensibly have their age pension not frozen, but for two years, they can go on a nil-rate and work. Normally it would be 13 weeks and you have to reapply for two years, you can go and work and join the workforce and then when you finish, come straight back onto the pension. So it is not a disincentive, if you like. And of course, we're training like there's no tomorrow. Highest number of apprentices in training right now: trade apprentices, 220,000, and 463,000 Australians have taken up a free or very low-fee training course, for example, $140 to do a Cert III in childcare through our JobTrainer program. So all stops are being pulled out, Federal Government will spend $7.1 billion on training this year. Gary, think back when you were the Minister, it would be lucky to be $2 billion. That gives you an idea of the quantum we're now investing in skilling and preparing Australians.

GARY HARDGRAVE:

Yeah, indeed. I think the last vote of money was about $1.5 billion through the Australian Technical College Network and a bunch of other money after that. But look, I mean, the point here is that migrants coming from other countries are not going to come tomorrow. It's going to take time. It's going to take 6 to 12 months to get them here. This is going to stall what I hope is an economic growth story.

MINISTER ROBERT:

You're going to see unemployment come crashing down. We've already seen that. One of the only advanced countries on Earth, Gary, with more of its citizens employed now than when COVID started, which is an extraordinary result. Now unemployment, of course, starting with a four, and rapidly coming down. But if you think through the catch-up, we've had two years with no skilled migration. That’s circa 350,000 to 400,000 migrants who would normally come, both skilled, and of course, with their dependants, a couple hundred thousand students, a hundred thousand backpackers or seasonal workers. And of course, a few hundred thousand Australians would have left the workforce, retiring and the like. So we may be short over the last few years, something like up to a million workers. Now it will take a year or two to catch up...

GARY HARDGRAVE:

Wow.

MINISTER ROBERT:

There's never been a better opportunity than now, Gary, if you're looking for a job, to get a job. Right now, there's over a quarter of a million jobs if I look at the internet vacancy index right now.

GARY HARDGRAVE:

If they're extraordinary numbers, big numbers, and they really should pose the question: if you're working so hard to stay unemployed, why are you doing it? The time is now. I mean, is part of the problem that unemployed or in one part of Australia, and the jobs are in other parts- that all of this border stickiness- I heard the Prime Minister wants the country open, but premiers are playing games. Is that part of the problem?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There’s a few problems. One is labour mobility, the capacity to move across state borders. It's certainly having a problem, and we're seeing that in Western Australia particularly. Queensland has now managed to keep itself open, which is pleasing. The other thing is a skill mismatch; 80 per cent of jobs going require skills, yet 80 per cent of those looking for work don't have skills, hence this massive investment by the Morrison government in skilling and training, leading to 463,000 training places for those looking to train, 220,000 trade apprentices. And of course, then you get these little quirky areas. For example, Byron Bay there’s 13,500 people on payment, but only 1350 jobs going there. So you do get areas where people enjoy being, but there's no work.

GARY HARDGRAVE:

Yeah. Well, okay. I guess that they're going to have to be pushed and shoved a little bit. David Littleproud, your very effective colleague, told me yesterday that the AWU were travelling the world, telling people in other countries: don’t come to Australia, they're going to get exploited in the workforce setting. I mean, this sort of nastiness is not good. It’s trying to attract people from other countries is a challenge, as you know, to get- Canada's after them, America’s after them. They're paying incentives for people to travel to those countries. Australia really has to work extra hard to get the talent we need in Australia.

MINISTER ROBERT:

We do, but think about the Australian story, Gary. Think what the Morrison Government has now delivered. Probably the best, if not, a top few countries’ response to COVID: over 90 per cent double dose; more people employed now than pre-COVID, one of only a few countries on Earth to achieved it; 20 million boosters already in the country, and the booster programme rolling out. I don't think there's a country on Earth like Australia, and how the Morrison Government has worked so cooperatively with the states and territories for a response. So who wouldn't want to come to Australia? And of course, our Fair Work Act requires workers to be paid the same rate regardless of whether they're citizens or visa holders, so you are lawfully not allowed to underpay foreign workers. So the AWU is wrong, they’re wrong in law, they’re wrong in principle. I’d encourage skilled workers: Australia is the best friend that skilled workers have got, but we will give priority to Australians, hence why we're skilling them like mad.

GARY HARDGRAVE:

I know you're not responsible for it, but it's in your part of the world. The South East Queensland Olympics, I am deadset fearful of the way the Greens could actually muck it up, could actually stop some of the things that need to be done to make these Olympics work. There is a risk associated with changing government and I think this is one of them, Stuart Robert.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the answer is quite simple: if you vote for Labor, you vote for a Labor-Greens government. It’s just a statement of fact. We’ve seen that in the past. We saw Prime Minister Gillard claim there will be no carbon tax, no deals. Of course, the first thing she did in 2010 was to do a deal with the Greens, sign a coalition and implement a carbon tax. The leopard hasn't changed its spots. In terms of the Olympics in south east corner, the way we protect it, the way we ensure that Queensland is ready for it, is to ensure we’ve got a Coalition Government. The organisation committee, if you like, the corporate structures of 50/50 with the state and the Commonwealth, that will go very well. As long as that good balance is there between the state and the Commonwealth, simple answer, Gary, don’t vote in a Labor-Green government. It will not fare well, like it didn’t fare well last time.

GARY HARDGRAVE:

Well, I guessed you’d say that, and I sort of set it up for you to do it. But I mean, there are those who are saying the Prime Minister's actually been too cooperative with these premiers and they have betrayed him. That he's actually invited them into the room, thought they would play grown-ups. They have no interest in national issues, it's purely parochial. So the Prime Minister may have to actually toughen up and take these premiers on if they don't deliver on their parts of various bargains.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, if you look at what the Prime Minister's done now, Gary, since the pandemic started, he's convened and chaired 58 National Cabinet meetings to coordinate Australia's world-leading response. And I'm quite serious on world-leading. Over 90 per cent double vaccination; kids vaccination rolling out; I believe from 10 January or thereabout, 20 million boosters, probably the most advanced booster program outside of a few countries; and an economic response with an economy roaring back. Literally every country on Earth would give their eye teeth for that. That's what the leadership of Scott Morrison has done, and that’s what he's been able to do in cooperation with states and territories. Yes, we have some challenges, there’s no question about that. Yes, it can be difficult in Commonwealth- state relations. We don't begrudge that, we understand it. It’s our founding fathers set up our nation. But the Commonwealth Government has a responsibility to always be the ground, Gary. But the Prime Minister's done, 58 National Cabinets, that can't be easy. You’re lucky John Howard to have 24 in his 12 years of governing. Prime Minister Morrison’s had 58 in two years, shows his commitment, Gary.

GARY HARDGRAVE:

Yeah, well he’s going for number 59 tomorrow. Well either way, Stuart Robert, thanks so much for your time. Glad to see you hard at work and all the best for 2022. We'll catch up, no doubt along the track. Stuart Robert …

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you, Gary.

[ENDS]