Doorstop Interview - Sydney, NSW

22 Aug 2022
Prime Minister, Minister for Skills and Training
National Skills Week; Jobs and Skills Summit; Solicitor General’s Advice regarding Scott Morrison’s Ministerial Appointments; Energy Policy; Port of Darwin

NICK CERRONE, CERRONE JEWELLERS: Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is a very big honour for me today – me and my family and my staff. It is a day to remember because for the first time a Prime Minister acknowledged the wonderful job that we do in this country, to be able to be creative and be part of the artisan world. And thank you, Prime Minister to visit us today and to acknowledge what we do for our country. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much to Nick and Carmela for having us here at Cerrone Jewellers. I am very proud that this is in my electorate. What we have here is jewellery being produced that is amongst the best in the world. Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion have sat in that room there and chosen jewellery from here. We have Cerrone jewellery worn at every Academy Awards, every Emmy Awards, globally. This is something that we should be proud of. For Nick, this was his one bedroom terrace when it was bought here in Leichhardt that is now exporting incredibly high quality product to the world: taking Australia's natural resources, our diamonds and other gems, our gold, silver, our extraordinary natural assets, producing something that is unique and beautiful and creating jobs at the same time. Nick has always insisted on having at least five or six apprentices come in every year, building up that skills base, that artistry, that can make us proud and can add value. This successful business is part of the great Australian migrant story. Here in Leichhardt, in the heart of the Italian community, the fact that this was a one bedroom terrace - that was the bedroom just behind where the cameras are there - this is just one of the stores here in Australia but also a presence in Los Angeles and around the world. I wanted to come here with Brendan O'Connor, our Minister for Skills, Employment and Training, to very much emphasise that when people speak about skills, including in National Skills Week, often they will think about plumbers and apprentices, but it is about other skills that are needed as well. I have spoken often during the campaign about a future made in Australia, about ways in which we take our resources and value-add and then export to the world as well as for domestic consumption. This is a great example of it. A business that has employed hundreds of employees over the years. A business that is well run – you can always tell because when you walk around and people say to you "I have worked here for 40 years and 35 years," which is what we heard downstairs. That sort of loyalty and pride in the work is something that brings great credit to Australia and particularly brings great credit to the Cerrone family. To Nick, thank you for having us here today. I want to acknowledge the presence of Senator Francesco Giacobbe, one of the Oceania representatives in the Italian Parliament who has joined us here as well. A local, based in Sydney, but also based in Rome and representing this region of the world in the Italian Parliament.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Can I thank Nick for inviting us here today. This is a remarkable story, a remarkable business. As the Prime Minister says, it's a place that's created remarkable products. High skilled, high quality products to sell, not only across this country but to the world. It all starts here and we had the great fortune of meeting the apprentices that are down stairs, learning their skills and creating these remarkable pieces of jewellery. We met a number of  apprentices but one story in particular stood out for me and I think for the Prime Minister –  talking with Greg, the youngest apprentice at the establishment, who told his story about what he wanted to do, whether he was going to go to university or whether he could go into this really important, highly skilled area of work. He found himself going to Enmore TAFE not far from here, which trains students in this area. But the missing ingredient is an employer to take on those apprentices at that TAFE. There are a number of Enmore TAFE students that are here, including Greg. He wanted to work with his hands and he wanted to learn a skill. He said his dad was a tradie. He thought about taking a university path but he chose a VET path to this place and is now helping to produce remarkable products, at the very high end. That story is a story of the VET sector students across the country. The Prime Minister and I are also here because we want to acknowledge the beginning of National Skills Week. This is a time to celebrate the diverse skills that we have in this country, like the ones that are on display with this company. As the Prime Minister said, Nick really is an exemplar as an employer because not only is he responsible for such remarkable products, he's making sure that young people are able to access his work place and learn their trade, learn their skills. We have got 4,100 jewellers in this country. When Nick started in this area, there were very few - most people bought imported jewellery and didn't really think we had the capacity and the skills set. Not today, it is clear from coming here how remarkable those products are and the skills that are there. Can I finish on this point: it is not a coincidence that the Prime Minister and this Government wanted to introduce, as the first piece of legislation, the Jobs and Skills Australia. That is an independent body, advising the government as to what skills are in need now and what skills will be needed in the future. That will be advised and formed by employers and unions and universities and the VET sector, state and territory governments. We want to make sure we are able to invest wisely in areas where there are skills shortages. We know the skills shortages are very significant across the economy, across the labour market, and so it's a priority of the Albanese Government to invest in skills, invest in our own work force and invest in those students coming through – along with, of course, dealing with the skilled migration pathways. It is really important for employers to get the skills they are crying out for. It is very important that working people have the skills in demand so they have secure jobs and a career progression and it is also important for consumers because a skilled labour market is a productive labour market and a productive labour market means downward pressure on prices. And at a time of relatively high inflation, ensuring a productive innovative labour market and economy will mean a better standard of living for all Australians. Very happy to be here today, great to be at this fantastic Australian business. It is an exemplar and it is a showcase on National Skills Week.

JOURNALIST: The Jobs and Skills Summit: you said in an interview with me that it wouldn't be as ambitious as producing, say, a Prices and Incomes Accord. Is there any danger that it could fizzle out like the Rudd 2020 Summit did? It recommended the Henry Tax Review which wasn't a shining success.

PRIME MINISTER: The Rudd 2020 Summit was the first time anyone heard of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a pretty significant reform that came out of that process. Already I regard it as a success. The fact that you are all here and we are talking about jobs and skills is part of the process of what we are doing here. Making sure that people understand that there are significant skills shortages. If you look at the front page of every newspaper today, many of them are talking about skill shortages and about what's required. That is part of why we're calling the Jobs and Skills Summit, to provide that focus. And I want employers, unions and the non-government sector to get together over two days next week, and produce practical outcomes. I don't see it as producing a Prices and Incomes Accord that was a comprehensive plan over a long period of time about a whole range of issues, including Medicare and the social wage. What I do see, though, is that it will provide a focus on jobs and skills about how we lift wages, lift profits, boosting productivity while putting downward pressure on inflation. And I think that engagement is happening already. Today there will be four or five forums held around Australia, as there will be all of this week and next week, about jobs and skills. So it isn't just the two days in Canberra, it's the other activity which is taking place. And I see it as being very positive. I think the spirit in which people are interacting shows that people want to participate. I know that there are many more people to the tune of many multiples, want to attend the summit that we can fit on to the invite list. And that to me, is a positive thing already that it is producing.

JOURNALIST: NSW Government are talking about bringing their own visa to meet the skills demand. Is that something that you would support?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Australian government conducts visas in this country. And that that hasn't changed. But we want to work with all of the state and territory governments. I will ask Brendan to make some comments on this as well. The day before the Jobs and Skills Summit we will have a meeting of the National Cabinet. I have already had constructive discussions about this, including with Dominic Perrottet, and I know that all of the state and territory governments are concerned about the skills shortages, they are a handbrake on business activity. Daniel Andrews and Dominic Perrottet both wrote to me a little while ago and that is part of the context of having the Jobs and Skills Summit. But I might ask Brendan to come and add some comments.

MINISTER O’CONNOR: As the Prime Minister indicated, we are talking to state and territory governments about a whole series of things. Firstly, we are looking at creating the agreement that should have been struck June 30 last year under the previous Federal Government. It didn't happen. We are speaking with the Skills Ministers of all jurisdictions, state and territory, to make sure we get a compact, so we know how we can invest in our existing labour market and make sure we are delivering the skills that employers need. That is the first thing we need to do. Insofar as skilled migration is concerned, we know how important that is to employers. It is not a binary choice. We do understand how important it is and that is why my ministerial colleagues, Clare O'Neill and Andrew Giles, are working very hard, firstly to unclog the visa application process, so we can accelerate those visas of acute skills shortage. We are looking at other requirements too. We are engaged in skilled migration pathways but we are very clear it is also about investing in our own workforce. It is the combination of making sure we have got skilled migration pathways and a VET sector and a university sector and a schools sector that is delivering the skills to our labour market. That will be the subject of very lengthy conversations at the skills summit. We have had many conversations already, as the Prime Minister indicated. And from my conversations with employer bodies, unions, civil society and others, I understand there is an overlapping interest in these areas. There is a common purpose, a sense of goodwill and I believe, in the national interest, we will see some very good outcomes arising out of the summit.

JOURNALIST: Matt Keane this morning said that we don't need the jobs summit, we just need to get it done… Can I just get your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER: Dominic Perrottet is very keen to attend and accepted the invitation, as did every single Premier and Chief Minister. You advance the country when there is more collaboration and I know that the New South Wales Premier, along with all the other Premiers have all accepted the invitation. I look forward to working with them constructively. You are not going to have a summit on Thursday and Friday and wake up on Saturday and there are no skills shortages. That is not what is going to happen. What you will do is to provide policy parameters, both in terms of training Australians – I make no apologies for saying that migration is part of the solution but it's not the only part. Training and giving Australians skills, whether it be young people, like young Greg who we met down stairs, who went to the same high school as my son did and grew up and still lives in Marrickville, an 18-year-old making his way in the world for what will be a very lucrative career path. We want to give Australians those opportunities. At the same time, we recognise that the immediate skills shortages need to be dealt with and we will be dealing with those constructively. But also, we need better planning. How is it that we have got, in this acute circumstances whereby construction managers, civil engineering professionals, early childhood teachers, registered nurses, ICT business, software and applications programmers, electricians, chefs, child care, aged and disability carers – there are massive shortages here. This hasn't just happened and it is not because of the pandemic, it is because we had a government that was asleep at the wheel for a decade. We are going to set up proper structures as well. Good government deals with the immediate issues that are confronting governments and businesses, but it also plans. That is what Jobs and Skills Australia is about: planning for the future, making sure that we get those training opportunities available. Because it takes one or two or three or four years in order to train people and so we are training people for what the jobs of the future look like as well. One of the things I find interesting is that every single manufacturing facility you go into, whether it be here, manufacturing beautiful jewellery, or whether it be glass or other high value construction-connected manufacturing has people on computer screens. The skills have changed. We need to change the training to match those skills. That is one of the things that the Jobs and Skills Summit is doing: making sure that training systems are fit for purpose. Enmore TAFE is the only TAFE facility in the entire region that is training jewellers. There is enormous demand for these jobs. They are well paid jobs. They are well paid careers. People are going to continue to want jewellery. How do we fix those issues? I look forward to all of the state governments participating in the summit.

JOURNALIST: Regarding the Solicitor General’s advice: can you say what that says? Will you be releasing it? What does it say?

PRIME MINISTER: I will be briefed by the Secretary of my Department, Glynn Davis on the advice. My understanding is that he has received the advice. I will be briefed on it this afternoon. I intend to release that advice so that people can see it and be transparent about it. My government is an orderly government. We have cabinet meetings tomorrow. I think politeness and proper process means that they should have access to it. I will do that and I intend to release the advice tomorrow. As I said, I haven't had the opportunity because I have been here – it came through while we were downstairs. So I will get briefed on it this afternoon at the Commonwealth Offices and then it will be considered. I don't know that there is any decisions to be made, I am not sure because I haven't examined it yet. But I will release it tomorrow in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be a broader inquiry into this?

PRIME MINISTER: Quite clearly, there are real questions to be answered here. There is a question of legality. There hasn't been a suggestion of illegality but there have been questions raised about how this could occur, how it fits in with the conventions and the normal accountability mechanisms and checks and balances that are there in our parliamentary democracy. They are matters that need to be considered. I will await and consider the advice properly. I will release it publicly. I am giving that commitment so that everyone will have the opportunity to see the advice for themselves. But I would have thought that Australians are concerned that this could ever occur. There is a basic fundamental weakness in checks and balances: if no-one knows who the minister is, then how can they be held to account for decisions which are made? That is why there is a need in a parliamentary democracy and in our Westminster system of cabinet government, for Cabinet to be aware, let alone the Australian people, of who is responsible for what at any particular time.

JOURNALIST: Your pledge during the campaign to cut electricity bills by $275: is that dead and buried after the price rise we saw after the election? Or are you still committed to that?

PRIME MINISTER: No. What occurred was that unbeknownst to the Australian public, again a lack of transparency, the government knew that wholesale prices were going to have considerable increases. They deferred those increases until after the election campaign and then they went up. Our commitment is that because of our policies they will drive down energy prices. We stand by the modelling which we released, which is that, from a business as usual, as the former government was sitting there for a decade with no structure to encourage investment where it was needed in renewables and at the same time as it was presiding over the closure of plants like Liddell, that our policy would reduce power prices. Our policy will reduce power prices and we stand by that and we stand by the modelling.

JOURNALIST: Going back to the jobs summit. On the enterprise bargaining reform, what do you think about the old ACTU/BCA proposal to have different rules apply to union agreements as a way to speed up the approval system?

PRIME MINISTER: Enterprise bargaining is not working. We know that is the case, wages haven't been keeping up with inflation. The difference between the new government and the old government is that the Coalition had a policy of putting downward pressure on wages. They wanted low wages to be a key feature of their economic architecture. They fessed up on that. That is not the Labor Government's approach. We want to see wages increase over time and we want it to occur in a way that is cooperative. I see that there are common interests between unions and employers. It has been a theme of mine for a long, long period of time. It is a part of my philosophical view around the creation of Infrastructure Australia, the creation of Jobs and Skills Australia: how do we create those common purpose structures? Enterprise bargaining is about employers and unions coming to common interest to benefit both and anything that can do that, I see as very positive.

JOURNALIST: Just another question: What is the current status of the review of the review of  Darwin Port? Will you be making those findings public?

PRIME MINISTER: I have said that we will be reviewing the Darwin Port lease. People would be aware that it was leased out to a company connected, very directly, with the government of the People's Republic of China. We opposed it, I was the Shadow Infrastructure Minister at the time and we were concerned about that. We expressed our opposition. I have asked for advice and when we receive it we will make it public.

JOURNALIST: Coming back to jobs again. We hear anecdotally that at the moment there are so many jobs that people aren't taking. This may come out of the Jobs Summit – how do we get people into these jobs? Is it the pay or the lifestyle? What are some of the answers you are hoping to get?

PRIME MINISTER: There are a range of issues that you raise. But one of the things about the unemployment rate being 3.4, the people in employment services I met with in Queensland last week were raising this with me, for a lot of long-term unemployed who have been shut out of opportunity, with the tight labour market it may well be that those opportunities open up to them again. Some of that means you need one on one support. We need to look at employment services and the way they have been operating as well. The advice from both long-term unemployed, but also from employment services providers, is that the structure that said if you have made twenty phone calls a week and ticked those boxes, if it hasn't advanced the opportunity for you to get into employment then that's just a paper shuffling exercise. We need to make sure that no-one is left behind. And that means whatever we can do to get long term unemployed into work with training, we need to do. Sometimes it means that you have a period of training. The people we met down stairs have made a decision to become apprentices are undertaking work that means that their income isn't as great as it might be if they weren't doing an apprenticeship in the short-term. In the long-term it's an investment in their future and it's an investment by employers in their future as well. So that is one of the things that the Jobs and Skills Summit needs to analyse. I think that there's a great deal of common purpose and that's why bringing people together is worthwhile. Some of the things that come out of next Thursday and Friday will be concrete proposals going forward and I hope that's the case. But there is no doubt that that dialogue itself will be useful in providing that medium-term response. I hope that there's reforms coming out of the input into Jobs and Skills Australia, the legislation is before the parliament, and that we start to talk about how we have purpose-built training so that we are filling those jobs, because people are missing out at the moment. The other issue on migration is that in some areas, like chefs, have been short for years, for decades. Why is it that there is still an emphasis on temporary employment? One of the things that I have spoken about often is the importance of permanent employment, giving people a stake in this country. If we bring people here, giving them that opportunity is something that should be examined as well.

JOURNALIST: What about pensioners? You’ve had this suggestion that it would hurt the budget by allowing pensioners to do more paid work and not lose benefits. Are you going to have a look at that?

PRIME MINISTER: I have said this in the parliament, I am pleased that the now-Opposition, that were in government for almost a decade, have taken up the suggestion that I made that it needs to be examined in my vision statement that was done in Brisbane on the ageing population. That is one of the things that I proposed as Leader of the Opposition.

JOURNALIST: Are you going to do it?

PRIME MINISTER: What we do, is we have orderly processes and we will have orderly processes about policy development. What we won't do is be in government for a decade, wait until we are in opposition and then come up with it as an idea.

JOURNALIST: On the visa system, is it important that the government make it a wider pool of occupations and applicants so you don't shut out the industries most in need of workers?

PRIME MINISTER: One of the things that occurred with the pandemic was that the former government told everyone to leave who was a temporary visa holder, unlike New Zealand that looked at keeping people there. That's meant that New Zealand is in a better position than Australia is today. Brendan may want to comment on that.

O’CONNOR: To re-emphasise how important that was: there was an opportunity for us to maintain the temporary visa holders during the course of the pandemic. We know the pandemic had impact, but the design of the support of the previous government meant that they either leave or starve. There was no support for employers to provide to temporary visa holders in JobKeeper or JobSeeker. Not only have we had thousands upon thousands of people leave, some had a bad experience and they aren't going to automatically return. So we need to remind ourselves of that, that when we make policies we have to understand the consequences of them because that has left a significant hole in our labour market. There is not one solution as the Prime Minister said, it is investing in our workforce, investing in our future workforce that are in schools or TAFE or university and also supplementing that with targeted skilled migration and, preferably, permanent migration so there is a sense of ownership and belonging that comes from that.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you and can I say that my choice in this bloke, someone who has been an Immigration Minister, someone who has been an Employment Minister and IR Minister and in charge of skills and training, you can see why. He will have a charge of what is a big responsibility going forward. I look forward to the ongoing dialogue on the Jobs and Skills Summit and I thank Nick once again for having us here today.