Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview — Sky News, First Edition with Peter Stefanovic

Ministers:

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

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

PETER STEFANOVIC:        

Well, let’s bring in the Federal Acting Education Minister, Stuart Robert. Now, Minister, thanks for your time this morning. So as we’ve seen there, Queensland’s still another week away but school’s back mostly for New South Wales and Victorian students today. Still shortages though of rapid test supplies. There’s concerns around ventilation upgrades and air purifiers - it’s not ideal is it?

MINISTER ROBERT:           

After two years of COVID and no playbook, there’s always going to be challenges, Peter, in that respect. But 4 million kids going back to school in the next few weeks, working with our education ministers across the states and territories to get ventilation in place across schools, plans, there’s a nationally consistent principle based approach for it. 

I think everyone’s relieved the kids are going back, that remote learning is finishing, and we have 320,000 kids going to school or the first time, which is pretty exciting. 

After two long years though we’re now seeing things back to normal and this is a great start to the year.

PETER STEFANOVIC:        

What is the expected surge in COVID cases as students return?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the Doherty modelling has indicated there will be a degree of increase. Of course, we’ll wait and see what that looks like. Currently, over the summer we’ve seen numbers lower than some of the Doherty modelling which is really pleasing to see, and just listening to your broadcast about the reduction in numbers in Queensland is also really pleasing. 

But we’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to get our kids back into school, and mums and dads back to work, and with unemployment at 4.2 per cent that’s certainly happening, Peter. So it is important that we actually start to plan to get back to the new normal.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

When Doherty says ‘a degree’ though, I mean, there must be a figure in mind. Do you know it and what is it? And I’m sure there are concerns when winter rolls around too.

MINISTER ROBERT:           

Well, Doherty, of course, has given a high, central, and low graph figure of what they believe results may be. And as we’ve seen over summer, and it’s been widely reported, results across the country have been far lower than the modelling which, again, is very, very pleasing. And the Queensland numbers you just reported show that. 

The key thing is, it’s safe for kids to go back to school. 

And 4 million kids will be going back in the next two weeks which is superb and that allows mums and dads back into the workforce, it allows our economy to keep moving forward, and with $420 billion in cash on private and corporate balance sheets, a very strong growth for the year can result from this. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:        

Okay. Minister, how long are you expecting to still be in the Acting Education portfolio for?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, Peter, I’ve been the portfolio Minister responsible for the wider portfolio, not just Workforce, Skills, Employment, and of course, education fits within my portfolio structure. Now, like all things, we serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister and I expect to be here until such time as the Prime Minister tells me otherwise. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:        

Okay. I mean, are you expecting Alan Tudge to be possibly backed by next week now that Rachelle Miller has pulled out of the inquiry?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s an independent inquiry by Vivienne Thom who’s a very well respected individual. It’s ongoing so we’ll just have to wait and see. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. You haven’t been any indication on when Alan Tudge might be back though?
MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, it’s still an ongoing inquiry. Until such time as that’s resolved, we all serve where we’re put. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:
Sure. Okay. Now, Minister, Newspoll, it’s out this morning. On current trends, you’ll be in Opposition in a few months’ time. Do you see it that way?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Polls come and go. We’ve all seen that over many, many years. It’s been a tough two years, Peter. It’s been tough for a lot of Australians. It’s been difficult, it’s been frustrating for everyone. 

Finally, we’re seeing kids going back to school. Finally, we’re seeing normalcy returning to workplaces, but I understand people’s frustrations. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Are you worried about it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Serving the Australian people’s not about being worried. It’s about turning up every day and trying to make our nation a better country. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:

[Interrupts] Sure. 

MINISTE ROBERT:

With unemployment at 4.2 per cent, we’ve- the strongest jobs growth we’ve seen…

PETER STEFANOVIC:

[Interrupts] I see you’re trying to be positive and that’s commendable, no doubt about that. But the projections are that the government will lose 25 seats. That’s projections, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. But, I mean, if that were to happen, it would be a pretty serious rejection of the Government’s COVID response, would it not?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I’ve been doing this for a while, Peter, and I heard all of those things three years ago as well. 

What I know is that we’ll keep turning up every day and serve the Australian people. 

There’ll be a time where we’ll have a set of numbers, it’s called election day. And from that day- or this day to that day, we’re going to keep turning up and we’re going to keep doing a world leading response to a one in 100-year pandemic. 

Who would’ve thought more Australians in work now than pre-pandemic? The only country on earth to boast that. 

Who would’ve thought we’d have a low mortality rate saving 45,000 lives? 

Who would’ve thought unemployment 4.2 per cent? 

These are impressive results that our nation has delivered, as together we’ve confronted what has been almost the un-confrontable in the pandemic.

PETER STEFANOVIC:        

Yet your own party, the New South Wales Government, says you haven’t stepped up for small business - Matt Kean making those comments yesterday. 

MINISTER ROBERT:           

We’ve put $60 billion in support plus, in to New South Wales, $300 billion in support across the economy in total. 

There’s the $60 billion in support into the New South Wales economy, a lot of flowing of it through to small business, let alone the 25 per cent tax rate reduction, loss carry-back, of course, the Small Business Loan Scheme, and the list goes on. 

We have got to return the country to a normal setting and if not now, when? 

With kids going back to school, safe to go back to school, strongest employment growth we’ve seen heading towards a number with a three in front of it, not seen since the ‘70s, now is the time for us to move from emergency settings back to normal settings. 

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Stuart Robert, thanks as always for your time. We’ll talk to you soon. 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you. Cheers.