Interview with Jon Faine on 774 ABC Melbourne

Transcript
  • Leader of the Government in the Senate
  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Senator for Tasmania

SUBJECTS:  Unemployment rates, job opportunities

JON FAINE: Senator Eric Abetz is the Employment Minister in the Abbott Federal Liberal Government. He is on the record the other day saying that he thought that Tasmanians who were unemployed should try fruit picking in order to get back into the workforce. I mistakenly on the radio yesterday said I thought that he meant any Australians who are unemployed should come to Tasmania to pick fruit. In fact his comments were just about Tasmanians. But there is a clear view in the Abbott Government, quite clearly articulated that there are opportunities for people who are unemployed and they should take whatever is available. Senator Abetz, good morning to you.

ERIC ABETZ: Good morning and good to be on the program.

JON FAINE: How many unemployed people are there in Australia and how many jobs are there that are waiting for them?

ERIC ABETZ: Look, in anybody's language there are far too many unemployed people in Australia. One of the reasons is clearly the economic condition that our country faces and that is why the Government is committed to rebooting the economy by getting rid of the carbon tax, mining tax, green and red tape et cetera. The other aspect…

JON FAINE: [Interrupts] How many people are unemployed in Australia at the moment, Senator?

ERIC ABETZ: The other aspect is that there are regrettably, a number of Australians who are not willing to undertake the work that is available and are relatively comfortable on their welfare payments. Now, the rate of unemployment is 5.8 per cent as we speak. Can I say to you that, that figure itself, chances is high. An even greater problem is underemployment…

JON FAINE: [Interrupts] Which is a huge issue. But the actual physical number, not as a percentage, how many people — I've got the figure in front of me. Do you know how many people are unemployed?

ERIC ABETZ: Jon, you tell us how many there are if you've got the figure in front of you.

JON FAINE: As of 28 June — so that's nearly a year ago now, it was 660,673. How many jobs are available for those 660,000-plus to do?

ERIC ABETZ: And look many of those that are currently unemployed and on benefits, those that are — to use the jargon of the job service schemes, if you are in Stream 2 or Stream 3, you will continue to get the support. If you've got caring responsibility, if you've got parenting responsibilities, if you are over 30 and so the list goes on, if you can't work, more than 30 hours a week, and so we have about 12 exemptions.

What we're saying is if you are a relatively young able-bodied person there are in fact numerous jobs going. We have literally thousands of people on 457 visas, thousands of people on backpacker visas, we've got thousands of people from the Pacific Islands doing seasonal work, and one has to ask the question, given the bureaucracy, given the cost associated with getting a 457 visa with getting seasonal workers, et cetera, why would an employer go for that option when there, are as we know, numerous Australians who should be ready, willing and able to undertake that employment.

JON FAINE: Minister, there are so many logical inconsistencies in what you've just said, I'm not even sure where to start. First of all on 457s, they are only issued to people who have skills that cannot be found locally. That's the rules, so those are people who are employed because there isn't anyone locally who can do that job. So, you can rule those out for a start.

ERIC ABETZ: Oh well, with great respect you are wrong. What we have is a situation where an employer quite rightly can get 457 visas in the event that there are no local applicants. We then ask the question, however, and this is where we with great respect a bit of logic is required, you use a bit of logic and ask why is it that there are no local applicants, why is it? And you then come back to the proposition that there are in fact locals that are not applying and regrettably to a certain extent, there is a degree of comfort for some of them on the welfare system and we do no favours for our fellow Australians by encouraging them to remain in the welfare system…

JON FAINE: So, you think people are work-shy and work-snobs and there's somewhere round — if you add on Youth Allowance, there's somewhere around a million people in Australia who notionally are looking for work. A million people. Can you explain to us where are the one million jobs for those one million people who you think should not be receiving support or assistance because they're job-snobs?

ERIC ABETZ: Oh, once again, a great leap of logic which it doesn't actually fit. We're not talking about the one million people as I have already explained, there are numerous people exempted from our new proposed rules which you just seem to ignore, so can I just put that on the page again, that…

JON FAINE: It's a tiny fraction of the overall but do go on.

ERIC ABETZ: Ah well, with great respect, not so, but look, let's not talk about fractions. What we're saying is that there are many jobs that could be and should be taken up by local Australians — that's what we are seeking to do. That is what we are seeking to encourage. And if I might say, why is it that young people cannot do the sort of jobs that the Pacific Islanders are willing to do, the backpackers are willing to do and we are literally talking about thousands. And if just through this methodology that we're proposing, we could get an extra few thousand young Australians off welfare…

JON FAINE: Yes.

ERIC ABETZ: …and getting down the pathway of a job and becoming self-sufficient…

JON FAINE: Okay.

ERIC ABETZ: … we will have done those thousands of young Australians a great, great favour.

JON FAINE: So we're a couple of thousand jobs fruit picking or as seasonal workers or backpackers work or the people who you say are coming from the Pacific Islands, compared to one million long-term unemployed, and you're being listened to at the moment in a state and a city where Ford, Alcoa, General Motors, Toyota, public service cutback, bank cutbacks, Qantas shutdowns are costing thousands and thousands of, not short term, not casual but career jobs for highly skilled workers that simply aren't being replaced.

ERIC ABETZ: Look can I say to you with the one million people that you claim are long-term unemployed that you just said, many people that are on the dole will transition to work anyway. They are not there for the long haul, and so please don't exaggerate the figures because it does nobody any favours to basically say there are one million unemployed people…

JON FAINE: [Interrupts] …those are your Government figures. I've got them from the…

ERIC ABETZ: One million long-term unemployed.

JON FAINE: Newstart allowance, 660,673. Add the Youth Allowance figure on plus special benefit…

ERIC ABETZ: And they are not the long-term unemployed I'm terribly sorry. Some of them just transition through and are only on Newstart or on Youth Allowance for a relatively short period of time and they transition through. So let's not exaggerate the figures.

Do we have a huge unemployment task in front of us as a nation? Of course we do. And that is why we are seeking to stimulate the economy and that ultimately has to be the primary goal. That's why we've concentrated on a whole host of measures I indicated earlier in the program regrettably being blocked in the Senate by Labor and the Greens as we speak.

The other part of our approach is to ensure that we encourage those that currently are relatively satisfied with their life on welfare to encourage them to get off welfare and make a contribution. Because as we all know Jon, anybody in a job has better physical health, mental health, better self-esteem, better social interaction and it's not only for the individual themselves, it is for everybody else in their household as well.

JON FAINE: Couldn't agree more Minister, which is why it's regarded as one of the basic human rights and governments’ obligations to try to create jobs for people. But the reality is — I mean there may well be a tiny number of people and I will readily concede there probably are — a tiny number of people for whom a life on welfare seems to be attractive. But for the vast majority I'd say almost all the people who are on what are poverty-level incomes from government support, they would much rather have a job, it's just there aren't any.

ERIC ABETZ: Well a lot of people do transition through. A lot of people do keep finding their own jobs even in this difficult job market. And look, economic stimulation clearly is the number one priority of this Government. We have got proposals that I think most people accept would work and Labor and the Greens [indistinct] are opposing them in the Senate and as a result holding back the economic recovery that would otherwise be able to take place.

But can I simply repeat, we do not have one million long-term unemployed in this country. The vast majority of people that are on welfare in fact do transition through and what we're talking about are those elements in the community that have become relatively satisfied with a welfare lifestyle which can I just remind your listeners, as we speak we are borrowing $1000 million per month just to pay the interest on the existing loans. We as a nation cannot keep borrowing money from overseas to pay the interest and to continue with what's happening in Australia because one of these days we will hit a brick wall and that is why it's so much better, so much more…

JON FAINE: [Interrupts] Okay, Minister, government debt does get borrowed from all sorts of places, whether it's overseas or local is irrelevant and government debt in Australia at the moment is of entirely manageable proportions as we discussed with the Prime Minister the other day and…

ERIC ABETZ: Well if you want to make that assertion…

JON FAINE: Well, it's…

ERIC ABETZ: Can I tell you there were people like you saying exactly the same thing when Greece and Spain and other countries were in a similar position…

JON FAINE: You cannot compare Australia’s economy to Greece's Minister. I'm sorry they're not in the same ballpark.

ERIC ABETZ: But we were, Greece was one day…

JON FAINE: Moving back because you…

ERIC ABETZ: No, sorry, you cannot make those sort of assertions and then just try to brush me off I'm sorry. What we're saying is that Greece was once in the position Australia is in today. We can keep on going down that path irresponsibly or we can take responsible action now to halt us going down that path…

JON FAINE: Sure.

ERIC ABETZ: …and that is what we as a Government is seeking to do. There were many commentators who said…

JON FAINE: Minister, can I take you back…

ERIC ABETZ: …Greece wasn't in a problem when she was in the same position Australia is now.

JON FAINE: Can I take you back. You said before there are people who chose a welfare lifestyle. What proportion of the unemployed do you think that actually represents? And why would you characterise everybody because of such a what I believe to be tiny proportion of them. What proportion of it is it do you think are choosing a welfare lifestyle?

ERIC ABETZ: You see once again you make this assertion that I have stereotyped everybody and I very clearly earlier in the program said to you that the plans that we have would not apply to everybody and I indicated to you I think 12 exemptions. So why you would repeat that I don't know. I accept…

JON FAINE: [Interrupts] Well I'm asking you though what proportion do you think it might be if the people who are on Newstart allowance or Youth Allowance that are adopting and choosing a welfare lifestyle. Do you think it's five per cent, 10 per cent, 50 per cent? What do you think it is?

ERIC ABETZ: I think we all accept that there are and there should be, as a community we should be supporting those genuinely in need of welfare. No argument there. I think we also agree as a community that there are some leaners as opposed to lifters…

JON FAINE: Sure.

ERIC ABETZ:…people and indeed and I don't have all the detail in front of me but I understand the Herald Sun today has a story today about how many people — I think it was in Victoria have been on welfare in circumstances where it's questionable. So there are people on welfare who I think we all know we would question [indistinct]…

JON FAINE: [Interrupts] Yeah. Do you think it's one per cent, 50 per cent…

ERIC ABETZ: Look, I'm not going to put a figure on it other than to say that don't we as a community have a responsibility to future generations and indeed to those very individuals to say to them you're not doing yourselves a favour by adopting a life of welfare. We want you to get into the economy. We want you to become self-sufficient. It will be good for your physical health, your mental health, your self-esteem, your social interaction and everybody around you will benefit as well. Now surely I would have thought that is something we could embrace as a community, join hands in that together and go forward rather than claiming that we've got one million long-term unemployed. [Indistinct]…

JON FAINE:  [Interrupts] … the reason I'm wanting to try and clarify what proportion it is because you can end up here with tail wagging dog can't you. You can end up with a tiny problem but if you magnify the problem and use it to say the whole system's broken, you get a completely false perception.

ERIC ABETZ: Jon look, on that I fully agree with you and we are not saying that the whole system is completely and utterly broken. Are we withdrawing welfare? No we are not. What we are saying is that there is a cohort within the community that could do with a bit of encouragement and I simply asked the question; why is it that as we speak in my home state of Tasmania, there's a delegation of dairy farmers in New Zealand trying to source farm workers to work on dairy farms in Tasmania in an area — my state has the highest rate of unemployment and the north-west where these dairy farms are has the highest rate of unemployment in the state — with the highest rate of unemployment and they cannot source farm workers.

Now, can I say in circumstances where you've got able-bodied men and women, one wonders why they are not taking up those jobs and that is what we as a Government are seeking to encourage because we cannot keep borrowing for welfare. And what's more we do those people no favours by encouraging them to remain in their welfare lifestyle and circumstances where there are jobs down the road that they could in fact be undertaking.

JON FAINE: And finally, the tabloid papers, the Murdoch press today are running with a story about bereavement leave for dead pets. They're unable to identify which if any union is actually lodging such an ambit claim but apparently an executive at Rio Tinto, the new managing director, Phil Edmonds, claims that they have been asked to consider it.

Are you aware if this is a legitimate and genuine industrial claim or just something that people talk about when they sit down for dinner?

ERIC ABETZ: Look, I've read that story this morning. I'm not sure in which enterprise bargaining circumstance that has arisen. I have no reason to doubt the claim but I just hope that if the claim is true, that the next claim is not that they'll seek bereavement leave in the event that the ABC cuts Peppa Pig.

JON FAINE: … which has also come up in Senate Estimates. The ABC's issues are a separate issue. So, you're not able to identify that this is a genuine ambit claim, a genuine industrial claim, it's just the sort of thing it could even be the sort of thing that people talk about when they sit down for dinner and have a whinge to each other.

ERIC ABETZ: You would have to ask the gentleman who made that claim as to in what circumstances he has made that. He made that at a public forum so one would expect that there is a basis to that claim but in which particular negotiation that came up, that I do not know and I'm not the source of the story and I suggest you go to the source of the story to have it verified or indeed have it described as you just have.

JON FAINE: Thank you for your time this morning.

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