Transcript of Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky
TUE 05 MARCH 2013
Subject(s): Aged care workforce; Australian jobs; Coalition’s plan to increase the cost of living; Labor Party; Joan Child
HOST: Prime Minister thank you very much for your time. The Government’s going to announce a boost for the aged care sector workforce of $1.2 billion today.
Catholic Health Australia is already saying this is just a drop in the ocean; that it’s rebadged money and it’s going to take a lot more money to improve pay and attract people into the sector. That’s even before it’s announced.
PM: Kieran, we don’t make any apology for being very prudent with government funds, and as a nation we’ve got to keep preparing for the ageing of our society.
We’re all getting older one day at a time but our society is going to the have more older people in it than younger people.
That means the aged care workforce needs to triple by 2050. We do have problems in attracting people into this workforce and having them stay there, which is why Minister Butler, later today, will make an announcement about conditions in the aged care sector.
HOST: Aged care providers apparently are going to have to sign enterprise bargaining agreements. Do you accept that that’s likely to see the unions expand their reach across that sector?
PM: I’m for fairness and decency at work Kieran, I always have been, which is why I fought so hard to get rid of Work Choices when it was brought into being by the former Liberal Government; Mr Abbott and the members of the Howard Government.
We’ve brought fairness and decency at work into the system; we’ll continue to do that. We want people to get a fair go at work.
HOST: So that’s a yes I take it?
PM: What that means is people around the country can make their own choices about whether or not they want to be a member of a union. We’ve guaranteed freedom of association.
Gone are the days where under Work Choices your boss could stand over you, threaten you, sack you and you had no remedy, take away your penalty rates and you had no remedy.
That’s the Liberal system, that’s Mr Abbott’s way. We’ve ensured that people have got fairness and decency at work, and they can make any choice they want to about union membership.
HOST: Prime Minister, on 457 visas, the Government’s been talking a big game on this but the fact is the number of workers arriving on that category of visa has actually increased over the last couple of years. Do you concede that?
PM: We inherited a system here from the former government that was riddled full of rorts; riddled full of rorts that had people brought in to Australia not to take occupations because there were genuine skills shortages, but brought into Australia because the employer thought it would be easier to have a foreign worker.
Well we’ve worked to get those rorts out of the system, and we’ll continue to work to make sure that this program does what it should do: address real skills shortages. And not what it shouldn’t do, which is substitute temporary foreign workers for Aussies who are ready, willing and able to do the job.
HOST: You and the Minister have said that these visas have been abused, but we haven’t been given any examples. Can you give us an example of where a 457 visa has been abused?
PM: Around the country, I and members of parliament in the Labor team do hear concerns from people about them being ready to take a job and with the appropriate qualifications, and not getting a go.
And so when I am getting that kind of community feedback, it wouldn’t be responsible to not take it on board. Now we’ll always need a program to deal with temporary genuine skills shortages.
I want to be strongly investing in Australian schools, our training system, our universities so we’re giving Australians the skills they need to get the jobs. And I always want to make sure that Australians come first.
So when we’re getting that kind of feedback, of course we take it on board, and we look again and if a further crackdown is necessary then we make it.
HOST: Feedback and anecdotal evidence – can you understand why people see this as kneejerk reaction? We haven’t been given an example of where 457 visas have been abused.
PM: We make policy based on evidence, but community concern is there. People have raised examples, and of course, when we get that kind of feedback we should respond.
There’s just a big difference here between the approach that I want to take to these kinds of issues and the approach on the other side of politics.
Mr Abbott says he wants 457 visas, temporary foreign workers, to be a mainstay of Australia’s immigration system.
My view is we have a migration system that is about permanent migrants coming to our country, getting a job, being real contributors to building the nation.
When we have temporary skills shortages, yes, we do rely on instruments like 457s, but they’ve got to be properly administered so Australians have the reassurance of knowing that if they’re there with the skills, ready to do the job, then they get the job.
HOST: You said this week in western Sydney that you’ll put Aussie workers first, you’ve said it again this morning; foreigners should be at the back of the queue.
I want to tell you something that Tony Abbott said overnight. He says that he’s found those comments jarring, ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll never do,’ he says. ‘We won’t run around the place demonising foreigners the way the Prime Minister has sought to do over the last 24 hours.’
Doesn’t the sort of language that you use pander to people’s concerns?
PM: Kieran, you know as well as I do that those words ring hollow in the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition.
This is the man who in the run-up to the 2010 campaign and almost every day since has been out in the community supported by his team trying to raise fear.
The man who has used expressions like ‘peaceful invasion’, the man who has let his Shadow Minister for Immigration stoke community fears day after day.
That’s the cynical approach that the Leader of the Opposition has taken to these issues. In contrast, what we have done as a Government, and what we will always do, is we will properly make policy and respond to the evidence.
In difficult areas like asylum seeker policy we have been guided by experts, and on the other side of politics we’ve just seen a report authored by people as eminent as the former Chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston, just tossed over the shoulder as if it was worth nothing.
They’ve preferred to be on the fear campaign. Well, we deal with the evidence, we deal with the facts across all areas of immigration.
HOST: I want to ask you about a couple of other issues – I know you’ve got to get going.
But on the carbon tax compensation, you’ve said that families are going to be more than $2,000, or up to $2,500 worse-off under the Coalition plan, but isn’t that figure misleading given it doesn’t factor in Mr Abbott’s promise to have tax cuts without the carbon tax, and this morning he’s suggesting that you might not necessarily see the tax-free threshold return to $6,000, that that might stay where it is as well.
So he’s promised compensation, he says families won’t be worse off under the Coalition Government.
PM: Well Kieran, let’s just go through the simple facts here because I think people are entitled to them. Mr Abbott is saying he will abolish the Schoolkids Bonus – that’s absolutely nothing to do with the carbon tax.
If he’s trying to pretend that’s something to do with the carbon tax it’s simply not right. You know that, I know that.
That’s a benefit that that we decided to provide Australian families to help with the costs of getting the kids to school; $410 if you’ve got a primary school-aged student in your family, $820 if you’ve got a secondary school-aged student, a bigger child. If you’ve got two kids in your family it’s worth $15,000 to you as your kids go through school.
Mr Abbott says don’t pay that money. I believe families need that assistance.
Then Mr Abbott has pledged to do things like get rid of the low-income contributions for superannuation.
This is a special government program to bolster the super of low-income Australians; he says that’s gone too; nothing to do with carbon pricing.
And then there are a set of changes like the changes we’ve made to the tax-free threshold, so Australians have moved from paying tax to no tax; they’re better off as a result of those changes.
Australians have seen tax cuts, some of them $600, many of them $300.
Mr Abbott has said he will take all of that away, and he’s saying that in circumstances where none of his wild and outlandish claims about carbon pricing have proved to be true.
Well he’s now got an incredible obligation and a very big burden to spell out to the Australian community how on earth this possibly works or adds up, how families are going to experience life if he is ever Prime Minister of this country.
On the simple facts now, life for families would be about cuts, cuts and cuts. You would be losing money in a variety of ways.
Mr Abbott needs to spell out his alternative – if he’s got one – or people are entitled to conclude he doesn’t.
HOST: You say that he’s going to take all of that away, but he’s made it clear that that’s not the case, that there will be tax cuts under a Coalition Government.
He’s made that very plain, and this figure of up to $2,500 that families will be worse off, it’s hardly robust when you don’t even look at the impact of price reductions in power prices and so on.
PM: Kieran, let’s just go through what’s in the figure, because benefits like the Schoolkids Bonus are nothing to do with carbon pricing, absolutely nothing to do with carbon pricing, and no one should pretend that they are something to do with carbon pricing.
I was glad to see today that finally in the course of this debate Mr Abbott has acknowledged that the impact on power prices of carbon pricing is ten per cent. He’s been making wild and outlandish claims about how much power bills have gone up.
Now he’s acknowledged (inaudible) it’s ten per cent, what we always said it was he’s acknowledged it is.
That means he must also acknowledge the assistance we’ve provided has made many families and Australians better off, and he’s taking that away.
Now if Mr Abbott says he’s going to fund a tax benefit somewhere, well he’s got to spell it out.
Where’s the money coming from? Who’s it going to? How much is it worth a week? When will it start? What can families expect to see given they’re losing their Schoolkids Bonus? How does it square up against the benefits he’s taking away? Where are those details Kieran?
HOST: Okay, a couple of quick questions to finish. You’ve been dealing with cost of living, with roads in western Sydney, but as you know the New South Wales Labor brand has copped a hammering with that corruption scandal there.
Do you in the next couple of days need to make a strong statement or pursue some reform as a sign of good faith to voters in western Sydney and in New South Wales generally?
PM: I’ve already made my views very clear about the issues here in New South Wales.
Now I’m not in a position to prejudge an inquiry that’s in train now, but I’ve made very clear that I’m very disturbed by things that are being looked at before that inquiry, and that there is no place in my political party – in the Labor Party – or in any political party in this country for people who are seeking to profit themselves rather than devote themselves to the public good and public policy.
HOST: In the last couple of weeks you’ve drawn a close embrace with the unions. Do you think that might turn off a few voters?
PM: Well Kieran, let’s look at the facts here and not some of the commentary.
We are a Labor Party; we have historically had strong links with working people and organisations that represent them; that is the trade union movement.
That has been true across our history and it will be true in the future. As a Labor government, what we do is we govern from the centre of Australian life.
We are a centre-left political party dedicated to the improvement of living conditions and building the best possible future for modern families, for working Australians.
That’s what we’ve always done, that’s what we will always do.
We find, therefore, common cause with the union movement on a range of issues.
Sometimes we disagree because we make a national interest judgment call that the national interest lies elsewhere; that’s what we will always do as well.
What we don’t have any truck with is the people who would say smash unions, smash working conditions, take away penalty rates, let workers get sacked with absolutely no remedy or no recourse.
That’s the Liberal way. We saw that through Work Choices.
We’ve deliberately taken a different path, we always will, because we believe in fairness and decency at work, and we believe if people want to be a member of a trade union then they should be able to make that choice and never be intimidated out of it.
HOST: Prime Minister, I know that you’re attending the state funeral of Joan Child today, the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Finally, you reflections on the life and career of Joan Child?
PM: I’ll have the opportunity at Joan Child’s funeral later today to say some words about her.
She was a genuine trailblazer for women in Australian politics at a time when women were absolutely on the periphery of public life.
There was Joan, blazing a trail, showing the way, and so we will be reflecting on her life today.
It was a life of achievement, including reaching the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, the first woman ever to do so.
HOST: Prime Minister Gillard thanks for your time today.
PM: Thank you.