Transcript of doorstop interview, Canberra
MON 19 MARCH 2012
Subject(s): Skills for all Australians; Minerals Resource Rent Tax; Craig Thomson; Papua New Guinea; Budget; Opposition Costings
PM: [audio break] which is what I’ve just spoken about here at AIG.
Today we are announcing a major new skills package. Tonight, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax will go through the Senate.
These things are about Australia's future and making sure that it’s a future in which people can get jobs, higher incomes and enjoy fairness.
The skills package that I've announced today is about making sure Australian workers have the opportunity to get new skills, a better job and higher incomes.
It’s about Labor's vision of the future. It is a package which will enable us to see 375,000 extra completions over the next five years, making sure that we are addressing the prospect of skill shortages in our economy.
It’s a package which means Australians will enjoy the benefit of a national training entitlement, that they will be able to get a Certificate III qualification, the first level of qualification that makes a noticeable difference to earnings.
It’s a package which ensures those studying upper level VET qualifications will have the benefits of income contingent loans. 60,000 Australians will get those benefits, leveraging in to our vocational education and training system an extra $155 million.
This is a substantial package being taken by package being taken by the Federal Government to the next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.
It’s a package that includes more than $7 billion of support for skills and training, plus the offer of an extra $1.75 billion in order to get the training scheme that our nation needs for the future.
We live in times of economic change. It is full of opportunities and full of challenges. But one thing about this era in which we live is absolutely certain - the jobs of tomorrow will be jobs that require higher and higher levels of skill.
So for Australians to have the opportunities that they seek for themselves and their families, they will need to secure those higher levels of skills.
That's why it’s the Labor way to make sure we address this challenge and give Australians the opportunities to grab those new skills and to grab the chance of a better life for themselves and their family that having those new skills gives them.
I'm very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I can't remember the number of press conferences, speeches or announcement I've been to of governments announcing x thousand number of training places. Is this, though - I've never been to one where they announced we’re actually going to give you financial support to actually take one of these places. Is that sort of filling in the missing link?
PM: Look, this is the booklet that outlines in full detail the plan that we are announcing today. But I think the things - the features, that really make this plan very different from anything that you've heard in the past, it comes with a national training entitlement so that Australians, who need a Certificate III have the benefit of a publicly subsidised place to go and get that all important qualification, which is the first level of qualification that makes a real difference to earnings.
It’s a package which comes with better support for those who want higher level qualifications, the same support that university students have enjoyed for years.
It’s a package which comes with 375,000 extra completions over the next five years and there's more transparency, so that there is more power in the hands of students and indeed in hands of employers who need to know all about training.
So it’s a significant package of changes in order for it to live and breathe right out in our Australian community, we need to get agreement Australian right across our Federation and that is what I will be striving to do when first ministers meet in April.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how much advertising and printing is involved in selling this package, just on that booklet you mentioned, it’s 84 pages and on my assessment of it about 36 per cent of it is either blank pages, coloured pages, or full page photographs. So is that really a good use of money?
PM: Look I think people are entitled to know what we are aiming for the skills for the nation.
We are talking about what will give people access to better jobs, higher incomes, and indeed, more security during their working life. You will see in this booklet the statistic that we are now creating two and a half skilled jobs for every unskilled job that's been created.
Now that means if we don't lift the skill levels of the Australian community, more and more Australians will be competing for fewer and fewer unskilled jobs. A very poor vision for the future. I think Australians are entitled to the full details of Labor's vision for the future and how we want to ensure they’ve got the skills they need so they can get those new skilled jobs that are coming on stream.
JOURNALIST: Much of this still needs to go past COAG though, how confident are you that it will be and just coming back to that question before, how much is being spent on selling this package?
PM: Look, we’ll get you all of the figures about the booklet if would you like them, but really, the significant point today is about our nation's economy for the future. Whether you want an economy that has the capacity to seize the opportunities of the growth in our region, which will mean growth in higher and higher skilled jobs.
The vision of the future about making sure people can get access to those jobs. That's the important thing we are outlining today.
We are taking this opportunity to clearly outline it because as we move towards the COAG meeting, I do want Australians, individuals and businesses, as well State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers, to understand what is on offer here.
This is a package of significance to the whole Australian community.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve said many times that you want manufacturers to move up the value chain and you’ve mentioned, I think again today, the opportunities that lie to our north. How can we be sure though that the actual skills that we're training people under these packages will actually deliver on the needs of the economy not now or two years ago, but 10 years from now?
PM: Well we are able to chart, and Skills Australia has been specifically doing this work, we are able to chart where the growth is in the Australian economy and what we anticipate to be the new opportunities of the future.
To mention just a few obvious ones - we know that mining is offering people new opportunities, we know construction has got demands for people with skills, we know that our aged care sector, our healthcare sector is growing and needs skilled workers.
And so we are able to identify those skills and respond to making sure that there are more places. This is a system, too, where students make demands, what place they want, and they'll have more information than they've ever had before about the employability of doing that training.
And where employees have direct influence in the system too, Minister Evans, who I’ll turn to now, has done a lot of work to make sure that employers and their preferences of training matter to our system and I'll turn to him.
MINISTER EVANS: I’ll just make three points in response to that question. The first is we set up the Workforce Development Agency Fund in the last budget, $550 million, to partner with industry to train for skills shortages. That money has been rolled out often on a one-for-one basis with industry and they are putting in support for training in the skills that they know they need.
So companies large and small are partnering with the Government, in addition to the training system, to fund to meet specific skills in short supply.
The second aspect is that we have worked closely with industry in developing these propositions, for the first time this Government's involved industry in the development towards the COAG process.
So there's been a series of roundtables that involve industry. There's another one tomorrow which has shaped the Commonwealth's approach, so very much driven from industry.
And the third quick point I would make is Skills Australia is not just some sort of academic body. It is a body chaired by someone from industry, Phil Bullock, with a great reputation, but also we've had the leader of the AIG and ACCI on Skills Australia, together with economists and other industry leaders.
They're driving Skills Australia's work so that industry has a clear appreciation of what the skills needs are. We're not training for training, we're training for jobs.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you think the Opposition should have given Craig Thomson a pair for the entire week, or is it fair enough they want more information on his medical condition?
PM: It’s normal practice to extend pairs to people who are unwell. As for the details of this matter, that's worked out between the Chief Government Whip and his opposition counterpart.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Bob Carr's comments about Papua New Guinea or are you embarrassed by them? Surely the situation could have been better handled?
PM: Look, Senator Carr has made it clear that some of his remarks were taken out of context.
We have a partnership with Papua New Guinea. We are supportive of its move towards elections in the normal time cycle and, indeed, we have agreed to provide both election expert support, people who are trained in how to run elections, as well as some Defence assets to assist with getting ballot papers to where they need to go, given the nature of the terrain, so the ability to fly around.
JOURNALIST: So you're not embarrassed by the comments? You don’t (inaudible).
PM: I've responded to your question.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Penny Wong and many other Government ministers are frequently, I think and yourself, frequently demanding that the Opposition tell us where the money is coming from, that is, where are their savings. They refuse to do so. If that's a reasonable question to ask, and you think that they should answer that, can I ask you what savings are in your budget?
PM: You'll see the budget on budget night and if Mr Abbott wants to say he thinks the right time to publish his savings is in his budget reply speech then that's fine by me.
But he has got $70 billion to account for and I think it is important that the Australian community gets to understand what services to Australian families are going to be slashed to fill this $70 billion this gap.
JOURNALIST: More generally, are we likely to expect – I realise that was a partly facetious question – but are we, without detailing the actual cuts, given the savings task in front of you to meet the surplus, should we expect that there are going to be significant cuts in services in your budget?
PM: What you should expect is for the Government to continue to take the prudent approach it has to government spending.
We have been matching government spending with savings now since mid 2009.
We continue to focus on what is the right thing to do for the nation's economic needs. And I do want to make this point – it’s in the interests of Australian economy and the Australian people that we return the budget to surplus in 2012-13.
That's in the interests of the Australian nation. And so because it is in the interests of the Australian nation, and the interests of Aussies and their economy, the economy they participate in by having jobs, we will get it done and it will be completely transparent to people on budget night how we have done it.
But we are saying to Mr Abbott, with his plan, which he is clearly seeking to keep obscured from public view, to cut $70 billion from services, that he needs to detail where those cuts are coming from.
Australians are entitled to know. Is it coming out of pensions? Is it coming out of health? Is it coming out of education? Is it comes out of all of them? How much? What will they lose?
They're entitled to have those questions answered.
JOURNALIST: On the mining tax - you mentioned that today. Are you closer with a compromise with the Greens or Coalition on the tax cuts related to the mining tax and on a separate issue, what do you make of the HSU report and do you agree that perhaps the members of the HSU now have a case to want further attention taken to the financial management of the union?
PM: I'm not going to comment on matters where there are further processes involved. On the company tax agenda, we continue to be determined to provide Australian businesses, large and small with a tax cut.
Mr Abbott appears to be determined to deny those businesses a tax cut and he wants to impose on 3,200 businesses extra tax.
So we will bring that legislation to the Parliament, and as I said last week, I think it is a truly remarkable thing that the Liberal Party - that the Liberal Party - will sit in the Parliament and will vote against a tax cut for Australian businesses, but under Mr Abbott, with his negativity, that is what they are intending to do.
JOURNALIST: No closer to a deal then?
PM: We will bring the legislation to the Parliament exactly as we outlined and the position of the Government is clear.
On parliamentary proceedings, the real question is Mr Abbott not supporting a tax cut, despite everything he's ever said about how desirable tax cuts are for businesses.
Thanks very much.