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

KIERAN GILBERT:

Joining me here in the studio is the Employment Minister, Stuart Robert. A big moment for the Parliament, isn’t it, at 5:30 Canberra time and quite a rare one with an address to the Parliament via video link, coming from that Ukrainian war hero?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well it’s quite an extraordinary circumstance we find ourselves in, with a major European power, in this case Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, unilaterally, unequivocally invading another European nation, a nation of 44 million people. It’s bigger than New South Wales, the size of Texas. Europe's at war. It's quite extraordinary. We've seen, of course, President Zelenskyy address a number of parliaments, especially those nations that are providing material support through. It is certainly history making.

KIERAN GILBERT:

On the last day of Parliament for this term, it was a bit of a fiery session there. You could tell it was going to be the last day for either Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese on either side of the dispatch box. For one of them, it will be their last day in their position, you'd think. And it’s a lot at stake. What's your feeling as you head into this election campaign, not far away? Are you confident of retaining government?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'm confident of a good fight that the Australian people will make a wise decision. I'm confident the Australian people will see this not as a referendum of a government, but as a contest between two leaders, two ideas and ideals and two teams. And that's what it should be. We'll put forward a policy position. We had a budget last night with over 500 measures. I'm led to believe Mr. Albanese will respond with one measure tonight and that's the differentiation. We're laying our cards on the table. We're laying out a strong economic plan, a plan that's already seen employment- or unemployment down to 4 per cent, the highest participation rate in history.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Interrupts] But that's really because of the closed borders. It's not because of government policy, isn't it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I couldn't disagree with you more, Kieran. Couldn't disagree more. A thousand policy decisions we have made throughout COVID, a thousand. The idea that we can simplistically reduce Australia's economic achievements down to one decision, closing borders, defies frankly logic.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] But in terms of the labour market it's been a big factor.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's been a factor, but nowhere near a big factor. Many nations closed their borders, but why are we the only one in the OECD, or at least only a couple with more of our citizens employed now than pre-COVID? If it was just closing borders, why is our unemployment coming down and our participation rate going up when the US’ participation rate is collapsing? Why do we have more women in work than any other time, literally since 1974?

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] For a lot of businesses though, they can't find workers right now. There are huge labour shortages, aren't there? You can see that.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely there are. And you're seeing the response in the Budget. Record levels of funding in terms of skilling, $3.7 billion there for a new skill agreement that'll see 800,000 more Australians getting into skilled, and into jobs. And of course, the $2 billion JobTrainer, it's still got some headroom, 463,000 places, but only 350 odd thousand and below taken up. Lots of opportunity.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Is Scott Morrison a bully, as Concetta Fierravanti-Wells suggests?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Goodness, no. I joined with him. I have lived with him for almost a decade. There are very few people in Parliament that know him and his family as well as I do.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] Well why does it keep coming up, this allegation?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It comes up by people who are disgruntled and with an axe to grind. Now, I understand when people lose pre selections or things don't go your way in politics. No one gets a dream run in politics. We should be thankful for the opportunity to serve. So I understand when people have grievances, I don't accept the way they respond to those. But I…

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Interrupts] The timing was pretty bad wasn’t it? Because not only does it distract from the budget, it also provides cover for Labor in their own internal questions. You can't really- you didn't raise that issue. It wasn't raised since Concetta Fierravanti-Wells made that address.

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, I thought-

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] Subsequently, there was not one mention by the Government of Labor's own internal issues. It provides them complete cover.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I thought Mr. Howard's response, as reported by The Age today is spot on. People get disappointed in politics. Those of great character take it on the chin and go forward to the next opportunity to serve, and those who aren't take a low road.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well, certainly she didn't miss the Prime Minister she says that he's without a moral compass and his religious faith is a marketing ploy.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Which is an appalling statement for her to make. She is wrong. It lacks grace, it lacks character. And these aren't ways we respond if we have a setback in politics.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Today was the last Question Time for the Health Minister, Greg Hunt. The pandemic continues. Should Prime Minister Morrison announce who will be his successor in that role if you do win the government? Retain government?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Prime Minister's made it clear that he intends to. That he intends to announce during the campaign at some juncture, who will take that position. I think he's been very transparent on that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It's a crucial role. And obviously, as we head into this campaign, one that you wouldn't want to be seen as vacant for very long.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Which is true. But I'd also argue who's going to be the Minister for Defence is absolutely crucial at a time when Europe's at war. Peter Dutton will be our Defence Minister after we come back. And if we win. The question is who would Labor have? Because Mr. Albanese has already made it very clear that the Member for O'Connor will not be the Defence Minister for Labor.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] He hasn't said he won't be. He hasn’t confirmed it.

MINISTER ROBERT:

He's made it very clear. They leaked through to the newspapers that they're going to dump Brendan O'Connor. He's not going to have him there and yet he won't confirm it and he won't come out to say who it is. The Prime Minister is very clear. He's made an unequivocal statement. He will name who the next Health Minister will be during the campaign. But-

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] Sure. And 14 May is the election date? You're close friends with the Prime Minister, is that your- what you're working towards?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Prime Minister has always said he'll go full term and full term takes you through to the end of May. So I think you can expect an election day sometime between 7 May and the 28th.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Okay. Well, I think it's the 21st but anyway. Stuart Robert, I appreciate your time.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Good to talk to you.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Thank you.