Chris Kenny Live

Subject/s: ABS Labour Force Figures, skills shortages, Newstart, George Calombaris and VET

CHRIS KENNY: Let’s cross back to Perth and catch up with the Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. We dipped in and saw a little bit of a press conference earlier, where she was talking about the June unemployment rates, and national figures steady at 5.2%. Thanks for joining us, Michaelia. You’d be concerned that you can’t get that number down below five percent back there with a four in front of it?

MINISTER CASH: Well, as you said, it remains steady at 5.2%, but when you actually look at the figures, there’s some very, very good news. We now have record employment in Australia, around 12.8 million people. We also have record full-time employment in Australia. The employment figures or the labour force figures for June show we now have, Chris, 11 consecutive months of employment growth. And when you look at the participation rate, and that is of course Australians putting their hands up saying, “I have confidence in the jobs market,” for the second month straight, it is a record high of 66%. So yes, the unemployment rate remains steady at 5.2%, but certainly, 11 months of consecutive employment growth, record employment, record participation, record full-time employment, the government is pleased with that.

CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, you’d be encouraged by the jobs growth, and of course you’d be looking forward to the tax cuts, the tax rebates flowing through the economy in the second half of this year. You’d probably be hoping for a bit of a lift in employment in the retail and other sectors. But some bad news around today with the announcement from Woolworths about beginning the closure of a series of Big W department stores, discount stores, starting with I think three stores closing in Sydney.

MINISTER CASH: Look, it’s always very disappointing when a big company like Woolworths does that. But they’ll have their reasons for it. The important thing from my perspective though, is that the Government is out there putting in place the right economic framework, and you and I have discussed this before, so that businesses in Australia, but in particular our small and family businesses. They are the job creators in Australia, are able to prosper, grow, and create more jobs for Australians.

Again, if you look at what the June labour force data says, 11 consecutive months of employment growth. So the economy or employment growth does remain strong. The economy continues to create jobs and record full-time employment, which I am very pleased about. Chris, the Government knows: we have to continue to put in place the right economic framework. I think one of those key policies is obviously our $100 billion infrastructure spend. It’s a 10-year plan as you know. It’s a fully-costed plan, the money’s there, it’s in the bank. And certainly bringing on those infrastructure across Australia does create more employment.

CHRIS KENNY: There’s no doubt about that. The Federal Government has got massive plans. A lot of the State Governments are rolling out a lot of infrastructure too. This relates though to your other responsibility in skills in training, and a lot of people are concerned we’re facing skills shortages, and so that’s going to be a problem. Obviously a big focus for you must be making sure that enough people, perhaps some of the unemployed people, can get trained up in the appropriate skills so they can get jobs in those infrastructure projects.

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. As you know, we have a number of employment programs that really focus on giving people the skills they need to get them off welfare and into work. But in terms of a vocational education and training sector more broadly, this Government wants to ensure that it seen as a first choice for school leavers, a first choice for people thinking of, say, changing careers, but also that first choice for people who are having to up-skill in their current job.

We have as you know announced in the budget an in excess of half a billion dollar investment in skilling Australians for both today and tomorrow. And I really want to see that become that first choice. Why? Because employers tell us they want employees that are work ready from day one. And as a country, as a Government, Chris, industry, they are the job creators in this country. We have a responsibility to ensure that we are preparing, not just our youth, but all Australians, so that they do have the skills that are required in the workplace of today and tomorrow. And that’s why I’m just so delighted that the Morrison Government has that fundamental commitment to ensuring that vocational education and training in Australia is seen as a first choice option.

CHRIS KENNY: That’s been a lot of calls from a lot of people to increase the Newstart rate, so that those people who are unemployed can live life just a little easier, not do it quite so tough. Barnaby Joyce, your colleague and former Nationals leader, has joined those calls. Is it time to look at this, and actually try and give people on the dole effectively, on Newstart, a little extra to live off each week?

MINISTER CASH: Well Chris, we have to remember that around 99% of those in receipt of Newstart are also in receipt of another form of allowance or allowances. So Newstart is not the only payment they receive-

CHRIS KENNY: Sorry to interrupt. I’ve heard those justifications previously, but isn’t the argument getting very difficult to mount when even the former Deputy Prime Minister, your colleague Barnaby Joyce, is calling for an increase in New Start?

MINISTER CASH: Barnaby’s entitled to his opinion. As the Employment Minister, I am part of a government that fundamentally believes the best form of welfare is a job. New Start is there, along with the other allowances that are received, to sustain you whilst you are looking for a job. The majority of people on New Start exit that system within 12 months, and get into work. We make no apologies, Chris, as a government. Our focus is getting people off welfare, off Newstart, and into work. And that is very much where our energies lie.

CHRIS KENNY: Okay, just another couple of issues I want to run by you. Just heard in the news that George Calombaris, the Masterchef personality and the restaurateur in Melbourne, who’s been done by the Fair Work Commission for underpaying staff more than seven million dollars’ worth. Apparently part of his recompense is going to be a Fair Work ambassador, telling people about how to look after staff. He’s the last person you’d want as an ambassador, isn’t he?

MINISTER CASH: Well, I have to say, in the first instance: completely, totally and utterly unacceptable, underpaying your employees. Any employer guilty of underpaying their employees quite frankly deserves the book to be thrown at them. If you recall, it was this government that introduced and successfully passed the vulnerable workers’ legislation as a response to what occurred at 7-Eleven a number of years ago. I can only assume, and I don’t know the background to the ambassador role, but I can only assume that because he has a high profile, he will be out there telling all employers not to do what he did, and if they do, there will be consequences. As far as I’m concerned though, completely, totally and utterly unacceptable, and the Government does not stand for any employer who is going to underpay their employees.

CHRIS KENNY: Indeed. We assume George has learned his lesson. He’s going to say, “Do as I say, not as I did.” And maybe he’ll chuck on a little bit of some extra bit of bread into the bargain.


CHRIS KENNY: Now one other issue that’s embarrassing for you, Minister, is that you were tweeting, apparently you’ve deleted this tweet where you were supporting Stirling Skills Training, and their chief Bala Suppiah. Apparently, it’s under investigation from your own Department, and is under a cloud. Is that why you deleted the tweet?

MINISTER CASH: Well Chris, I was unaware at the time when I met with them. We actually had a really good conversation. It was all about youth unemployment and the different programs that the Government has in place. I was unaware at the time that they have a matter before the AAT. When it was brought to my attention, I thought it was appropriate to take down the tweet, so as not to be seen to be influencing anything before the AAT. It was as a simple as that.

CHRIS KENNY: I suppose it highlights though the competition in the skills sector. We’ve had some malpractice in the past, not to prejudge this one. But you must be on to that, make sure that there is appropriate accountability in the skills training sector.

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, and certainly as you know, we’ve cleaned up, or we’re still cleaning up. In the majority, we’ve cleaned up the issues that arose under the former Labor Government with their VET-Fee help, which saw unscrupulous providers literally providing people, kids with laptops, to sign them up to courses, courses that were taking them nowhere. Those poor kids are then left with debts, which the Government has put in place a system whereby if you can prove your debt was inappropriately brought to you, we will actually waive that debt. We have a world class system we need to ensure we maintain it as such, but also that it is seen as a first choice for school leavers, for people changing careers, for people thinking of up-skilling or re-skilling. Because that is what our employers are telling us, they need employees that are work ready from day one adding value to their business. And that is exactly what a vocational education that provides.

CHRIS KENNY: Thanks very much for joining us, Minister. Appreciate it.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you as always, Chris.

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