Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview with Scott Emerson, 4BC Drive

Ministers:

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

Topics: Morrison Government funding driver’s licenses for jobseekers, Queensland’s border restrictions, National Plan for COVID-19

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

SCOTT EMERSON:

Thousands of Queenslanders struggling to find work because they can't drive will soon be able to access free driving lessons. This — under an expanded federal program.

Now, under the current program, jobseekers can claim up to $1000 in driving lessons to help them gain their licence. But now, the grants will increase more than eight-fold to $8800 per jobseeker. Approximately 57,000 job-seeking Queenslanders, are expected to be eligible for the program.

Stuart Robert is the Minister of Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, and he joins me on the line now. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Scott, a pleasure.

SCOTT EMERSON:

Now, tell me, why is this program so important?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Because around 50 per cent of people who are on payment right now, Scott, can't drive. Now, look, over 100,000 have come out of jail and 300,000 have got a disability. There's a range of vulnerability factors here with Australians looking for work, but a big one is they don't have a licence, so they can't get to work. And if public transport isn’t prolific, what choice do they have? So the only way we can really start to get people into work is to address those vulnerabilities, and one of them is a humble driver's licence.

SCOTT EMERSON:

Now, people would say, how much is this going to cost. Is it good money to be spent?

MINISTER ROBERT:

If you think about we're paying 630 bucks, give or take, depending upon your circumstances, as a minimum rate for payment a fortnight, that's 1200 a month. You can start to work out what the cost is for a year. And then if people get stuck on welfare, it becomes endemic. So, whatever I need to do to really get Australians into the workforce, with unemployment at 4.6 per cent and going down quickly, which is great, but we don't want to see Australians left behind like we saw in the GFC.

SCOTT EMERSON:

Well that’s excellent. Now, alright then, if people want to get involved with this program- it has been in place for some time. Was there a high take-up rate previously?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, not really. This is one of the things I've leaned in on strongly. The jobactive providers, the jobactive network, that helps Australians on payment to connect with work, there are some organisations that are doing a cracker of a job, and I want to double down and really help them out. Others not so much. Because, it’s difficult, you have got to do 100 hours or so in terms of driver training. I'd love to be able to sit down with the state government and say: hey, I've got to get 400,000 Australians to get a driver's licence, can we do a competency-based training like you would a motorcycle or a truck or something similar to that? That would be a great step as well, but right now, I've just got to get as many providers as possible engaging with Australians, solving the vulnerable problems they've got, and a big one is the driver's licence.

SCOTT EMERSON:

Alright. There might be someone here listening to the program at the moment who's in these circumstances: unemployed, can't drive, wants to take advantage of this program or a parent out there. It’s probably someone at home. One of their kids who can't drive, unemployed. How do they find out about this program and get involved?

MINISTER ROBERT:

They'll be already connected to their jobactive provider right now, who will be looking for work with them and assisting them. They need to go and speak to their jobactive provider, have a conversation with them, and the jobactive provider will be the organisation that will facilitate what they need.

SCOTT EMERSON:

Alright. Now, I'm talking to Stuart Robert. He's the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business. Now, Minister, you're down in Canberra at the moment, stuck down there at the moment. You can't get back to Queensland. What did you think about the decision to allow a number of sporting teams, NRL families, their kids, some officials to come into Queensland, despite this pause on hotel quarantine?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's pretty disappointing if you think about it. I mean, forget about Minister Dutton and myself, because we’re aren’t the point here. There are thousands of Queenslanders stuck. There are veterans, you had the Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch speaking about surgeons, there’s police officers, there’s cancer patients, all who can't get into their home. Like me, they're stateless. They're not allowed back in. They have to apply for a permit. So last week, of course, I've made the point that I get that the Premier’s 22 hotels are full. I said ‘go find some others Premier’. The Gold Coast, my city, has got hundreds of them that are empty. But the Premier refused. But now, apparently, the Premier has gone and found hotels for footy players’ girlfriends. So it's pretty disappointing. Imagine if you're a police officer or a veteran or a cancer patient and there's no room at the inn for you, but there's room at the inn for the girlfriend of a footy player.

SCOTT EMERSON:

I think a lot of people in Queensland are very upset about this, especially for those who've got loved ones south of the border. And imagine, as you say, Minister, if you've been stuck in New South Wales, you're a Queenslander, trying to get home, you had your plans to come back and they had been scrapped, put on hold, and you don't know exactly when you’ll get into hotel quarantine, and you see this decision yesterday. The wives and girlfriends of the players coming back up. You'd feel that there is a double standard. Do you believe Queensland has demonstrated a double standard in how they treat some people compared to others?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well the double standard is worse than that, Scott, and this is what is really so disappointing is our Premier – I’m a Queenslander, she's my premier; regardless if we voted for her or not, she's our Premier – has decided to prioritise girlfriends of footy players from Sydney over residents of her own state. And that's the problem I've got. When we called for the Premier to expand the number of hotels or options, or indeed, as the Prime Minister has been saying, move to home based quarantine, we asked the Premier respectfully to do this last week and we got nothing but crickets. And thousands of Australians are locked out, but now, Sydneysiders have got a higher priority than Queenslanders. Come on. Of all the people you'd let in.

SCOTT EMERSON:

[Laughs] I don't- I don’t dislike people south of the Tweed, but I prefer Queenslanders come up if we could. Indeed, Minister.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s football, Scott. It's football. It's Queensland versus New South Wales. It's the Maroons versus the Blues. We love our footy. I love our footy players. Every footy player is welcome into Queensland because that's where they get beaten. But we don't allow the girlfriends of the Blues into our state while we don't allow our own state residents in. It’s football, Scotty. There's no ifs and buts on this one.

SCOTT EMERSON:

Fair enough, Minister. Fair enough on that one then. Now, the Prime Minister has addressed the media today and obviously been in Question Time as well. He wants the states to open once we reach those 70 to 80 per cent vaccination targets. He's had a lot of pushback from Mark McGowan in WA and of course, Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland. National Cabinet will meet again on Friday. Do you think they'll ever get to some sort of resolution and a firm commitment from Queensland to open again at 80 per cent?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We have a firm commitment, Scott. That's what's disappointing, if I can overuse a word again. That just summarises it so completely. All the states and territories have agreed. They've all been given all the Doherty modelling. It’s been offered to everyone. The Premier keeps saying that she hasn't seen it, but it's been offered. It's all there for people to see. The states and territories have all signed up on it. They keep flip flopping around the place. We've got a national plan. It is the national hope of all Australians. Just stick to it. To open up. We're doing a trial right now for home quarantine in South Australia. We should be extending that trial right across the board. Every state should be speaking to South Australia, emulating that home quarantine, so that we can use it going forward, because once we hit 80 per cent, Australians will want to travel. 13.8 million Australian movements overseas in the year before COVID, Scott. That's how much Australians love to travel.

SCOTT EMERSON:

Alright. Minister Stuart Robert, appreciate you being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you.