Photo: AAP Image/David Mariuz
TONY PASIN MP, MEMBER FOR BARKER: Prime Minister welcome to Murray Bridge and the Murray Lands. It’s always a special privilege to have the Prime Minister visit an electorate and my electorate in particular and I acknowledge Senator Ruston and also our Senate candidate Alex Antic who has joined us today as well. Thank you to the Webbs who have opened their small business, their family farm, to us, so that I could take the opportunity to show the Prime Minister one of the 19,000 small businesses in my electorate and one of the 11,000 farming families that are producing exceptional food, fibre and produce for the world.
Prime Minister, you’ve seen here today some of the great work that we’re doing in our electorate and I’d like to take the opportunity to invite you to address the press.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks you very much Tony, it’s great to be here with you and congratulations on what you’re achieving here in Barker. Anne, it’s great to have you here as well particularly in your capacity as Assistant Minister for International Development and how important the Pacific Islander worker scheme is to supporting farmers all around the country. We are working very closely with our Pacific neighbours on how we’re supporting an expanding the program. But to Keith and Oriana, Melissa and particularly to little Avery, thank you for that lovely welcome, that was very kind. Thank you Avery.
I'm here because this is a great family business, this is a great family small business. I believe passionately in family small businesses, the jobs they create, the economies that they create. This is what makes Australia so strong.
Small and family businesses can always trust the Liberal and National parties to back them in. We don’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming to support them. we are there right from the get-go. That’s why this week, I announced that we are reducing the taxes for small and family businesses all around the country. Whether they are growers here or whether they are cafes in Adelaide, or whether they are light manufacturing businesses up on the outskirts of Rockhampton, or wherever they happen to be; family businesses making sacrifices, making a life together, where they want to make their life together. Whether it’s in agriculture in rural areas, or it’s in our big suburbs in our cities. So that is why am so passionate be here.
The other reason I am here today is because the Government are announcing today that we will be working with farmers all around the country and working with jobactive providers and working with the National Harvest Labour Information Service to ensure that agricultural producers all around the country can get access to the workers they need, to get the fruit off the vine. And whether it’s here picking the tomatoes, or whether it’s picking the strawberries up on the Sunshine Coast, or it’s picking apples or pears or mangoes up in the Northern Territory, you need the labour to get that done. If you don't, the investments that are poured in can go to rot. We can't allow that to happen.
So what I am asking all agricultural producers do, is to go to the National Harvest Labour Information Service, to call 1800 062 332. Or go to jobsearch.gov.au/harvest tomorrow. Today, sit down, work out what your labour needs are and tomorrow, get on the phone, the phones are open from 10am to 4pm tomorrow and 8am to 8pm during the course of the week. Or you can go, they will be available tomorrow to do this online at jobserach.gov.au/harvest and register what your labour needs are. Now, what that does is that connects into the jobactive network. And those Australians who are living in those areas can have those jobs available to them. We want Australians to go and do those jobs and have access to those jobs. We have programs that enable those who are currently on Newstart or other welfare programs to be able to continue to earn by coming and doing these jobs without sacrificing what they’re currently getting on benefits as well. They can go and do that and we want them to come and take this work. Because the farmers need you to do the work and the Australian economy needs you to do it as well. It would be a great shot in the arm for those of you who haven’t been in work for some time, to go and get onto a worksite and be able to take the opportunity to earn some extra dollars and to be able support you and the decisions that you want to make.
Now the next step in that plan that we’re outlining today is once we’ve assessed where will that need is and we have worked with the jobactive providers, and where there are acute areas of shortage and we can't get the Australians to the farms to do the work that is necessary, then together particularly with Anne and her team working with the Pacific labour scheme as well as working on the 462 and 417 visas working holidaymaker visa programs, we will seek to have targeted arrangements to ensure that those workers can get to those sites and we can get the fruit off the vine.
So it’s a pretty clear plan. One, register your need, two, we will assess that need and get Australians into those jobs wherever and whenever we can. And three, where there is a shortage, we will ensure that the Pacific labour scheme and the Working Holiday Maker scheme will be able to make up that gap. We’re very focused on this coming harvest season and I know the harvest season is different for all types of produce. I’m not pretending to know my way from one end of an orchard to another, either. But I do take advice on these things and we do know that there is an urgent need to get this labour onto the farms to ensure that it can get picked and we can get it off to market, whether it’s in major metro markets here in Australia, or going offshore. So it’s just all part of a practical plan to help small and family businesses, in particular in rural districts, but larger operations as well, to ensure that we can just keep our economy humming.
For the 19,000 odd small businesses that are here in Barker - and a very large proportion of them, as Tony will tell you, will be agricultural producers, ag is the biggest employer in this electorate here in Barker – as you can see, the investment that is going in, the technology, the smart investment that we are seeing here from Keith and Oriana is very impressive. That’s what I'm seeing with small and family businesses all around the country.
So we are going to back them in. We are going to totally back them in with lower taxes, better investment allowances, through the instant asset write-off. One of these little trays here that I went up on, that cost less than $20,000. This business could write that off in one year as a result of the policies we have been pursuing in our Government for the last five years. That is enabling this investment to take place. So Tony, it’s great to be here. It’s exciting to be here, to see what is happening in South Australia, and we are here for small and family businesses and we’re here for agriculture in Australia. I also particularly want to thank Michael McCormack the Deputy Prime Minister, who has been working very closely with me on this plan to get the labour we need onto farms. It’s a major issue for the Deputy Prime Minister and we have been working on it from the day that I became Prime Minister. I am pleased to be able to make this announcement today as part of that plan has been formed together with Michael McCormack.
JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that Australians would have their Centrelink payments stopped if there are local jobs and they choose not to take them?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah there’s a process for that. As you know, there are a series of warnings and breaches and if there is the successive number of breaches for people who are offered work and who are in a position to take it and don’t take it - I think it’s after three instances - then they can lose access to those benefits. That’s how the scheme works. We’re not making any changes to what the current arrangements are in terms of how people can lose access to their welfare payments, their dole payments. What we’re doing is making sure that the jobs and the work that is there is being put in front of them. That seems to have been a problem in the past, that the actual jobs are not being relayed to the people who are in a position to go and do those jobs. What I’m trying to do, with Michael McCormack, is close that gap.
The jobs that are needed here or anywhere else around the country, need to be on the register with jobactive so when they’re talking to those who are on Newstart now and looking for work, they can know that that job is available. But we also have programmes and those programmes include the Seasonal Workers Trial. You can earn up to $5,000 for seasonal work when you enlist and become part of the programme. Now there’s 7,600 Australians who have joined that program. So Australians can get involved in that, they can come and do the work and they don’t even necessarily have any change to the benefits they’re currently receiving. But if you don’t, if you’re not going to have a go, you’re not going to get a go. If you are going to have a go, you are going to get a go, under our Government. They’re the things we believe in and that’s what we’re rolling out whether it’s here on farms or in small business anywhere else in the country.
JOURNALIST: What would you see as a valid excuse for a jobseeker not to take up a job on a farm?
PRIME MINISTER: Well look, it all depends on the individual to be honest. I’m not going to get into a hypothetical. Every case is considered by those who assess these things on the ground and every individual is different. But if you’re fit and you’re able and you’re available, then you should be working, not taking the dole.
JOURNALIST: These jobs have always been here, I mean, you say you want Australians but what is going to entice them, if nothing has?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is about better connecting the availability of the jobs and the presentation of those jobs to locals who are living in the districts where that work is available. Now I was up at the Glasshouse Mountains a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting the strawberry farmers. There are people up there that are on the dole and there are jobs up there to pick strawberries, particularly at the moment because the great news is - I was out at the Sydney Markets yesterday and I was with a whole bunch of guys last night at a police ball in Sydney and a lot of the Markets guys were there as well - and I was asking them about the strawberries; they said the demand, the response of Australians to the strawberries over the last few weeks has been fantastic. So that is really lifting the need in those areas.
So, there’s work out there. We need Australians to go out there and take those jobs. The scheme, the system that is there to ensure the integrity of our welfare system, that will continue as we’ve designed it. But we’ve got to connect the people with the jobs.
Now actually, if you go to JobSearch, that same website, if you go to JobSearch – I’ve got it here on my phone – to jobactive, you can go on there and it says “find harvest jobs”. It says here; “Third of October 2018 - 500 people required for cherry season in Griffith and Hillston New South Wales. Approximate start date 20 October for six weeks”. So maybe you’re not out there in those districts, but you want to go get some work picking cherries, off you go, you can find that on the app, on the website. You can go out there and you can take those jobs and you can help our farmers.
JOURNALIST: The Farmers Federation this morning have described this policy as a shallow attempt at solving a deep problem. We know that they’ve been pushing for different skilled visas and so forth, do you think that that’s the next step if this doesn’t work? Is that where we will head?
PRIME MINISTER: What I’ve flagged is, let’s find out where the jobs are needed right now and there’s all sorts of rubbery estimates about how many jobs are needed. But when I ask the question: “Well, what jobs, where, when do they start? How long are they running for? What are they paying? Have those jobs been offered to Australians?” They’re the questions as Prime Minister, I want answered before I start inviting foreign workers into the country.
So I’m very supportive of wanting to ensure we get the fruit off the vine. But I also want to be absolutely assured that we are taking every step that we must take to get Australians into those jobs first. So this is my invitation to producers all over the country; register the need for those jobs, let’s get it into the jobactive network. Let’s get those jobs in front of Australians and at the same time in parallel, what will be happening is Anne Ruston as the Minister for International Development will be working along over the next couple of weeks to ensure that we have any changes to the Pacific Islander scheme that we need to kick in. I’m already working with David Coleman as the Minister for Immigration to ensure that we’re working along across possible changes with the Working Holiday Visa program so they can kick in.
So I’ll have that ready to go, but what I want to know first is; which jobs, where, how much, when do they start? Let’s get the data, let’s look at where the need is, because what I want to do is target these initiatives.
See, you can just go around and come up with a new visa and all you’ll end up doing is having people coming and serving coffee in metropolitan cities and driving Ubers. Now, that’s not going to get any fruit off the vine. What you want is the workers in the places where they’re needed. I’m all about targeting these things and solving the problem, not just making announcements for announcements’ sake. I’ve got a plan here to solve the problem, with Michael McCormack and again I want to thank Michael for his strong work on this, working together with him.
JOURNALIST: On the dole proposal, the RDA’s had success locally with a programme that’s holistic and supports jobseekers. Do you believe the stick is more effective than the carrot?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think both work. I’m all for the programmes that I’ve mentioned like the Seasonal Workers Trial which means you can earn up to $5,000 a year doing these jobs and it not affect your welfare payments. I mean I’ve proven that with other programs, when I initiated the Youth Jobs PaTH. What that Youth Jobs PaTH was about was actually paying people $200 more than their dole if they were on unemployment benefits and they were a young person, while they went and worked in an actual business.
Now I’m all for trying to get people with the right incentives, but at the end of the day, Australians aren’t mugs. If people aren’t going to take jobs that are there, well, they shouldn’t be getting the dole. If they’re available and fit and ready for work and can go and do it, they shouldn’t be taking dole payments when they can work.
JOURNALIST: Just on something else, what made you change the position on the Discrimination Act to stop religious students from expelling gay students?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, as you know, it was actually the Gillard Labor Government that introduced the laws which Tanya Plibersek had only said yesterday and the day before, that didn’t need changing. Now, Bill Shorten’s expressed his view. Those laws that the Labor Party brought in actually do allow a religious school to expel a child on the basis of their sexuality. In my discussions over the course of the week with religious schools and leaders, they don't do it and they don't want to do it.
So I was disappointed with the way that this issue was raised in the media, because it misrepresented what Philip Ruddock was actually saying. He was saying that there was a problem with the law that the Labor Party introduced. He said it should be constrained and the rights and primacy of the child should be paramount in these things. Now, that’s have why I have taken the step that was announced overnight. I'm happy to work with the Opposition to this end. I don't want to play politics with it, I just want to fix it. I think it's really distressing that the way this issue was reported, has caused unnecessary anxiety amongst parents and amongst children. So I want to see that addressed over the next fortnight. We will work quietly and privately to achieve that, I don't want to kick up dust on this, I just want to get on and provide that surety to parents and families as well as religious schools and others involved in the system.
They don't want to discriminate on this basis, in terms of expelling students on this basis. It's not actually happening in schools, to the best of our knowledge. So we’ll just work to ensure that we close that loophole as quickly as possible and in as cooperative a way as possible. I would just hope we can do this sensibly and in good faith and not to pile on a whole bunch of other agendas and arguments. There's a problem here, we should just get on and fix it in a cooperative way.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister will religious schools still be able to reject gay teachers?
PRIME MINISTER: There are other issues raised in the report and the recommendations are out there, we will go through the process as I said, which is to consider those recommendations and for the Government to provide a response. We will do that in a timely and careful and respectful and sensitive way and there will be further opportunities to discuss broader questions.
What I'm most concerned about now, is that children at risk of being expelled from schools, religious schools, because of the laws that were introduced by the previous government. I think we should just fix that up. So everyone can just be clear about that. I think there is clear agreement on that point right across the political divide. So let's just fix that. I'm sure there are plenty of other issues to discuss and we can do that, I think, in a civilised way down the track.
JOURNALIST: How will you actually be able to police it though? If schools are rejecting kids or expelling kids on the basis of their sexuality?
PRIME MINISTER: In the same way you police any law. I mean if you break the law, the police come and knock on your door, if you break the tax law the Tax Office comes and knocks on your door. If you break the law when it comes to sexual discrimination, I mean, these are offences. So it's enforced like any other law in the country.
JOURNALIST: How has the Wentworth by-election changed your views?
PRIME MINISTER: It has nothing to do with it. What concerned me was the misreporting and misinformation that had been put into the media. I thought that was very disappointing. I thought it lacked some real empathy and judgement on behalf of those who did that. It caused unnecessary concern and stress to children and families. I want to see that fixed and I'd love to see it fixed as soon as we practically can. I don't think there is any real immediate risk of any schools actually expelling any student anywhere in the country. I know, having spoken to some religious leaders yesterday and they don't, they love all kids.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask quickly, the kids who have seen the stories this week, seen the stories and headlines, kids who are gay, what would you say to them?
PRIME MINISTER: That their PM understands and is going to take action to fix it.
JOURNALIST: Internal polling in the Australian suggests it’s neck-and-neck in Wentworth, if you lose will you call a general election?
PRIME MINISTER: I have no plans to lose that election, but I would say to everybody in Wentworth as you saw, those polls make it clear. There's only one way to ensure the continued certainty that is needed in our economy and in our Parliament, that is to not create a hung Parliament.
If you don't vote for the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma at this election, whatever concerns you may have about events of several weeks ago, if you don't vote for the Liberal candidate, then you risk a hung Parliament. You risk creating unnecessary uncertainty in our economy and the stability of our Government more broadly. Dave Sharma is one of the best candidates I've ever seen. This is a man who has gone from being an immigrant to our country to bringing one of the youngest ever ambassadors for our country. He’s a person of absolutely incredible standing and intellect and compassion. Dave Sharma I think he will make an outstanding Member of Parliament.
So he is someone that you can personally vote for with great confidence. He's also someone who you can vote for as a member of the Liberal team that will ensure the continuity of strong economic management, the economic management which is guaranteeing the essential services, whether it's Medicare or affordable medicines, record funding of hospitals and schools. You can't deliver that unless you have a strong economy. Throwing the Parliament into a hung Parliament would only create instability and uncertainty which is not necessary.
I mean, an independent candidate only needs to come second, it doesn't matter where they send their preferences if they come second. This is a three horse race it would seem, particularly between the Liberals, the Labor Party and the independent Kerryn Phelps. Liberals who are thinking about voting for the independent should think about that carefully. She's clearly running strongly second and if she continues in that place, she can still be a long way behind on primaries and then she can come over the top and win that by-election. On the Sunday, waking up to a hung Parliament is not something I think that the people in Wentworth would want to see. So I would encourage people to think about that carefully.
Dave Sharma is someone that you can support and you can trust. He is an outstanding candidate and will do an outstanding job, just like the last member for Wentworth.