Doorstop - Transport NSW Indigenous Employment meet and greet

Media release
05 Oct 2016
Central Station, Sydney
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:
Good morning. What a great day. 5,000 young Indigenous Australians secured long term employment through the VTEC program. And you’ve seen the great work that Deb Nelson’s firm Yarn'n has done. And the scheme for the VTEC plan, and Nigel will talk further about this in a moment, has been to avoid the problem of training for training’s sake and to firstly secure the jobs - find employers that will provide the jobs. This is an approach proposed and championed by Generation One – it’s very effective. Secure the jobs, then find the candidates and then ensure that they have the training that suits those jobs. This approach has seen 5,000 young Indigenous Australians in long term work.

We’ve just met some of the cadets here from Transport for New South Wales and you see that they’re embarking on exciting careers in this very very important public corporation. They are doing that because of the success of this program. Right across the board, my Government is determined to ensure that we improve the rate of employment and participation in employment and participation in business of our First Australians.

Our Indigenous procurement scheme has been very successful and Nigel will talk a little bit about that too, but this is a great day and I want to congratulate everybody involved, I want to congratulate the cadets, I want to congratulate their role models, Transport for New South Wales, the management and above all Deb and her mother Faye and the whole team from Yarn’n who have done such a great job with their VTEC in securing these young people for these big opportunities, big employment opportunities.

MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS:
Thanks very much Prime Minister. It is indeed a great day and a great celebration. It is a celebration because we now have engaged 5,000 families who without this process I suspect would today no longer be able to have the self-respect, the self-sufficiency, a family that is also far more engaged in those sort of matters that the rest of Australians take for granted. This has been possible because of good policy that we have stuck to. It is good policy because we looked at the existing policy of previous iterations of government and we knew that actually paying people just to train people was disempowering. You can’t train someone and then not give them a job. So this is a process where the jobs are selected first, people are trained on the job and the proper incentives for business in when you get the outcome, in other words when they have been employed for six months, then we provide some incentive payments for that. It’s worked wonderfully. But these policies don’t just work on their own.

I would like congratulate corporate Australia. In just on a year, we have moved Indigenous procurement from a measly $6.2 million to $227 million a year that corporate Australia are now purchasing those goods and services from Indigenous organisations. This is a very very exciting program and it’s not a single policy – it is a suite of initiatives that ensure that when I’m asking corporate Australia, both public and private corporate Australia to invest in Indigenous businesses, we want you to invest in Indigenous businesses, we want you to invest in Indigenous Australians as part of your employment and so we have a whole variety of ways to do that.

We’ve facilitated the procurement program by ensuring you can get onto supply nation and any of the goods and services that you want, you actually have a pathway to be able to be able to purchase those things. We have VTEC’s, we have a whole suite of engagement programs and Prime Minister since you first made me Minister, when we made the announcement of the suite of initiatives in 20 September 2013, we now have 42,808 of our First Australians are now engaged in meaningful work. The difference that that makes is not just a figure in employment - the difference that makes to families and people. For those with jobs, you can imagine the difference that makes to their pride, their self-sufficiency and their capacity to make a contribution to Australia. So to corporate Australia, thank you so much. This is an exciting celebration but it is not an end. This is not an end space. We will continue to move in this direction. We will set some new targets. We will work again with communities not only in Sydney but right across Australia and we will work with corporate Australia to ensure that this is the first step about a very very good program. We will reinvest in that program to continue to deliver for our First Australians.

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, this may be good policy but the VET FEE-HELP scheme is certainly not. Surely it is not good enough that it has taken so long for the Government to close this down and let rorters flourish?

PRIME MINISTER:
The Government is taking decisive action to shut down the VET FEE-HELP failure. This was basis of the consequence of a shocking failure in policy in government by the Labor Party in 2012. You’ve seen the spiralling increase in debt, the rise of inadequate, sometimes really shonky education training providers - the way in which Labor opened up all of these opportunities for these training providers to take advantage of VET FEE-HELP and regrettably and as Nigel and I know all too well, regrettably many of the students that were being taken advantage of were, are Indigenous Australians. This has been a series of rorts. It has to be brought back to a scheme with integrity. Since we've been in Government we have made changes to it but it needs root and branch reform and so the old scheme has been shut down, as Simon Birmingham has announced, and a new approach will be undertaken and that will have caps on loans and a rigorous oversight to ensure that providers are all ones that are providing training schemes in areas that are needed and are providers that are operating with integrity.

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, though, that by applying the new criteria to TAFE students it makes it harder for some of them to apply for a loan and will some miss out?

PRIME MINISTER:
There are very careful transitional arrangements put in place. There are grandfathering provisions. We recognise there are going to be some transitional issues but, as far as students are concerned, they are going to be very well looked after.

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, have you picked up the phone to your Malaysian counterpart over the plight of the nine Australian men detained?

PRIME MINISTER:
The matter in Malaysia that you are referring to is being dealt with by our consular officials. And I don't want to add anything to what the Foreign Minister has said - that is to say when Australians are overseas they should always be careful of and respect the laws of the country in which they are in. I know the young Australians' families are there. Our consular officials are working to assist them and I will leave it at that. Obviously this is a matter that's best dealt with by our consular officials on the ground.

JOURNALIST:
Is there unnecessary extra work for the consular staff?

PRIME MINISTER:
As Julie was saying this morning, there are many, many Australians, well over 1,000 Australians at any one time that are having issues with the law enforcement authorities in other countries. And part of our job is to assist Australians when they get into trouble. Obviously we encourage Australians not to get into trouble and that is why we encourage them to respect the laws of the countries in which they are in, which they are visiting.

JOURNALIST:
Would it be fair if they got jail time for that? For flashing their budgie smugglers?

PRIME MINISTER:
I am not going to be drawn on that.

JOURNALIST:
The preliminary report into the South Australian blackout has been released this morning and it has found that the high renewables grid could not cope with the cascading problems triggered by the storm. Do you believe that the State’s energy mix contributed to the blackout in South Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:
I won't add to what I've said previously on this. I will just note and I was in South Australia just a few days ago as you know - the cause, the proximate cause of the blackout was storms disrupting transmission lines. What happened was that transmission lines were knocked over. This disrupted the supply of power across the State, including from renewable sources, including from the various wind farms, beyond Adelaide and that then in turn put extra strain on the interconnector with Victoria, which caused it to shut down. So it was a cascading blackout - it happened very quickly. But this issue of energy security is one that we have to take very, very seriously. Now, my Government does. I want to be very clear about this - the role of governments and state governments of course own, very often own these power utilities and they regulate them, but what we need to do across all levels of government is this - we have to deliver energy security.

Rule one - keep the lights on. Keep the lights on. Energy security and reliability.

Second, we have to ensure that energy is affordable. South Australia has the highest wholesale energy costs in Australia. Now, that is not good for business, it's not good for a state which needs to get more jobs. It’s got a higher unemployment rate than others. It is a state that is seeking investment. It's got very high energy costs. So that is a problem for South Australia and the Government, Mr Weatherill has got to answer for that. So security, affordability.

Thirdly, we have to reduce our emissions in accordance with our international obligations. So what we've got to achieve is all three - security, affordability, emissions reduction. They are the three key elements that have got to be achieved but the number one has to be keep the lights on and South Australia failed to do that. And that is why Josh Frydenberg is bringing all the energy ministers together, at my request, to ensure that we develop a national and coordinated approach to our energy mix that secures our energy future - security, affordability, and meeting our emission reduction obligations under the Paris Treaty.

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, Tony Abbott seems to think he is a reasonable chance of taking your job. Why would he say such things?

PRIME MINISTER:
I'm not going to be drawn on interesting gossip or even uninteresting gossip.

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, there are calls to establish a special tribunal to help banking victims. Is this matter being progressed in the party room?

PRIME MINISTER:
This issue of providing a practical and immediate response for people who have been unfairly treated by banks is being examined at the moment by Professor Ramsay. He will be reporting in an interim report very shortly and then finally in March. There are a number of claim tribunals operating in the financial services sector and the focus of Professor Ramsay's work and his panels work is to bring them together and, yes, we do want to see a speedy, low cost way for people to resolve their complaints, their claims with financial institutions.

This is the difference between my Government’s approach to these issues and Labor’s. All Labor has, is they say: ‘have a Royal Commission.’ You know, they’re like a pirates parrot – they just keep on saying the same thing: ‘have a royal commission, have a royal commission.’ It’s all they want to say. What we are doing is getting on with the job of ensuring that there are changes to the law, changes to banking culture, changes to banking practice, setting up a tribunal of the kind you’re speaking about. We are doing all of those things. Giving additional powers to ASIC, taking on the issues of misaligned incentives with insurance but we are taking action right now and that’s what Australians expect. We are governing, Labor is talking.

JOURNALIST:
CBA and ANZ have both apologised to customers for issues of wrong-doing but CBA has admitted that nobody lost their jobs as a result. So are the banks themselves taking the issue of misconduct seriously enough and how will these hearings actually enforce cultural changes?

PRIME MINISTER:
Now, the hearings, these hearings are very important. They are a very important innovation frankly. What they do is ensure that at least once a year, and I would expect the committee will ask the banks to come back more than once a year, but what it will mean at least once a year the bank CEO’s and other senior officers will be coming before the House Economics Committee. And that will mean that they become more accountable because, frankly the CEO’s will know that, if they're not paying attention to what is being done to customers, they, the CEO will have to answer for it before the people's representatives in the people's House and before many cameras like the ones we have here. So what you will see is a higher level of accountability and CEO’s will not be prepared to go before the committee and get humiliated - they will have to go before the committee but what they will be saying to their team is we have got to sort these issues out, we’ve got to deal with these concerns, we have got to treat people better, because when they go before the committee, they want to be able to get a bouquet rather than a brickbat. Getting a bouquet in the House of Representatives is challenging, but no doubt that’s aspirational. But you see my point. The virtue of the Economics Committee is that it will be there every year for the next 100 years. A royal commission on the other hand is a one-off inquiry, you have it, it's done, it reports and it's over. What we are doing is making the changes to laws and regulations now and we are changing the culture of the banks by making them more accountable. It's a very, very important cultural change but it will take time and you will see over time the banks will become much, much more alert to these issues.

JOURNALIST:
What about the other reforms that would suggest that like the absolute affordability within accounts and the mortgage cash tracker rate?

PRIME MINISTER:
David Coleman, who is the Chairman of the House Economics Committee, has suggested this idea. I think this is one that’s worth looking at very closely. This is the idea that you would have, just as you have the telephone number, you would have a bank account which is your bank account number and it's portable between banks. I notice that the banks, the CBA officials are saying there would be some IT issues associated with that, no doubt there would be, but I am sure they're all manageable. So I think that is - anything that encourages greater competition and contestability is to be welcomed.

JOURNALIST:
Prime Minister, would former Liberal MP Philip Ruddock be a good choice to chair the tribunal if it were to be set up?

PRIME MINISTER:
I am not going to speculate on personalities, but I just notice that the gentleman you refer to is already doing a very good job leading our campaign to be a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Look, there are many very qualified Australians that would be able to undertake that. But it is - but you can see the difference. We are - as issues arise, we deal with them. As problems surface, we take action. We're not inquiring, we're acting, we're governing, we're doing, we're resolving the issues as they are presented. That’s what Australians expect their government to do in their interests. Acting now rather than trying to kick things off into the long grass of an endless and hugely expensive inquiry.
Thanks very much, everyone.

[ENDS]