Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview — Sky News Live Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Ministers:

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

Topics: Prime Minister’s NPC address; Australia’s economy; Unemployment rate; The Federal Election

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

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let’s bring in the Employment Minister, Stuart Robert joins me live now. Stuart Robert, thanks for your time. I know people don’t expect the Prime Minister to go to Coles and Woolies and do his own shop and that sort of thing. But given he talks about petrol prices, the Coalition is going to drive down or put better downward pressure on petrol prices than say, Labor, and tries to make it a political weapon, is he out of touch for not knowing that, at the very least?

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Considering it’s the Prime Minister that’s asked the ACCC to keep a watching brief on petrol prices and to ensure that competition is being managed and maintained, can I suggest that Cabinet is well appraised as to how the ACCC is progressing and where petrol prices sit, and what the inputs to those are. Now, we understand, and the Reserve Bank Governor made this point today, that petrol prices are up 32 per cent this year, as we recover, you’re seeing issues across in Europe, all of which I think most Cabinet ministers are well appraised on, Kieran.

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

Most Cabinet ministers, but is the Prime Minister out of touch?

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

No question the Prime Minister is well appraised of these issues, and is well in touch. One of the great strengths of the Prime Minister, as you know Kieran, and you’ve reported on repeatedly is he gets out and connects with every day Australians right across the country.

Whether it’s rural and remote, where prices are higher, of course because you’ve got transport distances, or in terms of the urban environments, you’re going to struggle to find a more in touch leader than the Prime Minister, with the length and breadth that he travels across the country.

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

On the ABC this morning you said: From the Prime Minister’s point of view, if he had sat there and Jen was with him, she'd be able to rattle off the prices of all the things that they buy. And I'm sure they have that conversation often as families do. My wife and I certainly do, is what you said. You've copped a bit of flak over that, because you're saying that Jen would know. Can you elaborate on your thinking on that and your response to some of the critics there?

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Families talk about cost of living all the time, my family does. The families I speak about in the circles I move in terms of community groups, church and others, are reflecting on that. This is standard kitchen table discussions. The point I was trying to make - and if it was ineloquent, I apologise - is that mums and dads and carers and grandparents talk about these things. They talk about the cost of bills and what it looks like.

When I'm dispatched to the shops to pick up bits and pieces, I'm very acutely aware of what it costs, especially if my sons come with me because they like different brands and different things. This is what families talk about. This is what it means to be in touch, as families connect, and we all do it. Kieran, your family does it. You and your better half and family, think about the conversations you have.

They're very much in touch with what are the costs, what are the school fees, what do we need for camps, how do we balance budgets? This is every day Australia, and this is what every day Australians do.

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

And so what do you say to the critique that it was a stereotypical reference to the wife, they do the shopping and so on? As I say, I know full well the Prime Minister is not going to go to Coles at Manuka and hit the checkout. But what do you say to that criticism?

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Not everything has to do with identity politics, Kieran. It doesn’t make a difference who does the shopping. Some weeks I do, some weeks my wife does, and all families are different. So if we just sort of leave the identity behind and just look at family units who share the load of kids and dropping off and shopping and washing and work. That’s how I see it. I mean in terms of women in the workforce, we've seen a million extra women since 2013 employed, with women's participation never being higher. As a government with a record on empowering families to get ahead, and all members of those families to connect into the workforce, we've got a record second to none.

This is about families, and about communicating. We understand there’s some cost of living pressures, the Reserve Bank Governor made that point today.

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

Also, some labour market pressures. Do you accept that the Prime Minister, and yourself and other senior ministers talking up the lower unemployment rate - it's going to have a three in front of it, according to the Prime Minister's suggestion yesterday - but for small businesses hearing that who can’t get staff, that doesn’t sound like a great number because they’re being squeezed at the moment? They can’t get workers.

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Reserve Bank Governor made the point just a few hours ago in his speech that that was his forecast, end of the year at three and three quarters. So that’s just a reality. Not just of the economic growth, the support the Government’s given to the economy and of course the skilling and training we’re providing at an unprecedented level. 220,000 trade apprentices, the highest in recorded history right now. 273,000 in our JobTrainer programme as well. So as long as we keep training Australians, there's 500,000 plus who are still unemployed, but 80 per cent of them with no skills. It's about giving Australians the skills so they have the opportunity to get employed. That's what small business is looking for. They're looking for Australians. They're looking for Australians with skills.

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

Largely this unemployment rate, though, has been driven by the closed international borders, do you accept that?

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, I don't. And if the Reserve Bank Governor made the point as well that you're seeing very strong economic conditions, you're seeing macroeconomic policy, to quote him, doing a lot of the heavy lifting as well lining up with monetary policy, which is the low interest rates.

You're seeing the skilling agenda coming through, the apprenticeship agenda, the JobTrainer agenda with the states and territories combined, of course, with the lack of skilled migration. All of that is assisting with unemployment coming down.

Our skilled migration will open up. We saw 243,000 odd visas actualised from December last year from students and backpackers and skilled workers. But a lot of the skilled workers coming through have got skills, knowledge and experience.

A lot of the training we're doing now is to help unskilled Australians get into the workforce. A lot of things are contributing to this good result, and it's pleasing for the country. I mean, a job gives Australians so many opportunities. We should be leaning in to full employment in this country, and that's something this Government is very committed to do.

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

Now finally, the Prime Minister getting some free character assessments yesterday at the Press Club, one of them from a couple of years ago. Obviously, it wasn't you who sent that text message. We can rule that out this afternoon, knowing you're the Prime Minister's closest friend in the Parliament. You've lived with him, I think, for 10 years or so. But should the minister who sent that message that Peter van Onselen put to the Prime Minister, should that minister out themselves and resign?

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

The great thing about being in public life, Kieran, especially in Australia, is you get free public commentary and character assessments every day, which is fine. We've all got big shoulders or you wouldn't step into it. Gladys Berejiklian has put out a statement, I've seen that, where she can't recall it.

I understand the salience of this within the press gallery, I accept that Kieran, I’m a professional politician, but everyday Australians now looking at jobs, looking at cost of living, and that's what our focus is.

 

KIERAN GILBERT:

It's all a bit messy, isn't it? So close to an election?

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, politics serves up interesting things every day, that's been the nature of the last two years with the pandemic, Kieran, where every day has been different and we're just dealing with things from left field. That's the nature of the political contest. The key is not to be distracted by these things. The key is to be looking at and focussed on the welfare of the Australian people. And that's what we do.

And I've lived with the Prime Minister for 10 years as you've quite rightly said, I know the Prime Minister exceptionally well and I know the conversations we've had for 10 years. And I can guarantee you and every viewer out there that every conversation is the welfare of the Australian people.

And if I had to choose a prime minister, I am going with Mr Morrison, someone who is concerned with the Australian people, not so much Mr Albanese, who has flip flopped and concerned with his standing in his party room.

                                                                                                                          

KIERAN GILBERT:

Stuart Robert, we'll talk to you next week. Thanks.

 

MINISTER ROBERT:

Sounds great. Thanks Kieran.