Press Conference Parliament House Canberra, ACT

Transcript
02 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit
E&OE

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: In July 2021 at the National Press Club I committed to having what has occurred over the last two days, the Jobs and Skills Summit. As we worked towards organising this two day event, we couldn't have hoped for the outcomes that have been achieved over the last two days. I want to thank everyone for their participation and the spirit they brought to the discussion here in Canberra, yesterday and today, but also all those who participated in the more than one hundred forums, mini-summits, round tables, held right around the country over the past weeks. It has been truly an exercise in collaboration that has reinforced my government's approach towards the way that good government should function. An approach that says we should look for unity, not division. An approach that says we should look for common purpose and what unites us towards our national interest. An approach that says where you have differences, by all means feel free to articulate them, but do it in a way that's respectful, one that always looks at outcomes and looks for solutions rather than looks for arguments. And that's what we've seen over the last two days. The fact that we have so many outcomes that are agreed, so many issues which will remain issues for discussion and further work that will be added to the commitments we made during the election campaign. I'm incredibly heartened by the spirit of co-operation that was in the evidence around the room. We brought business, unions, civil society, leaders of various groups, but also we gave voice to people with disabilities, to Indigenous Australians, to people who have been long-term unemployed and locked out of the labour market. I want to thank all of my ministerial colleagues, in particular, the economic team, Jim and Katy, for the extraordinary amount of work that has gone into making this a success. I want to thank all of the participants who have come here, as I said yesterday morning, they haven't come here to dig a deeper trench on the same old battlefield. They came here to engage collaboratively and in a positive way. And I feel very optimistic about our nation's future and that optimism has been enhanced by the last two days.

JIM CHALMERS, TREASURER: I'm really proud of what this Jobs and Skills Summit has achieved in the last couple of days. This has exceeded even our most optimistic expectations: 36 concrete areas of action that will happen this year and about the same amount of areas where we've identified sufficient common ground to do some more work and to move forward together. This is how a first rate country should run itself: in a spirit of respect and co-operation, collaboration. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister whose inclusive, collaborative, consensus-seeking instincts have provided the inspiration for what we've been able to achieve here. I'm incredibly proud of the work that's gone into this Jobs and Skills Summit. I'm very proud of the areas we have identified for immediate action and for further work as well. I want the Australian people to know that this effort to find common ground doesn't end on a Friday afternoon in Canberra. This, I hope, is the beginning of a new era of co-operation and finding consensus, trying to find that common ground in the interests of a common purpose and the common good. I think we've shown here that there's a better way to govern this country – a respectful, inclusive and humble way, which recognises there's good ideas that come from every corner of the country and every part of the economy. The least that the people's national government can do is to listen and to act where there's sufficient ground to move forward. There have been many more areas where that's been possible than we even anticipated, than we even hoped for and I'm very proud of what's happened.

KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND MINISTER FOR WOMEN: I’d just like to make a few comments about the women's involvement in the summit. In short, I reckon women nailed it at this summit. They were 50 per cent of the participants, they led the panels, they were amazing speakers. And I think, for me, the most important outcome of this summit was that women's equal participation, gender equality, is recognised unanimously by everyone who attended the summit as critical to our economic resilience and prosperity. It's not an add-on, it's not something you do after lunch. It’s not something nice, it's not social policy, it's good economic policy, and everyone signed up to that. I pay credit again to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer for their inclusive approach and the way that this summit was organised from the get-go. It was no mistake that the panel on gender equality and pay for women was the first thing that we did at this summit. It then fed into every other session of the summit. I think it's just amazing - the momentum is there. It's over to all of you now to keep it going. But for too long, women's policy, gender equality, has been in the wilderness. Certainly under the last government. It's front and centre in this government and I acknowledge the Prime Minister's role in that.

JOURNALIST: In the spirit of co-operation we saw New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet in the same room as Mark Diamond, the union boss. Did you ever try to intervene over the past two days to try to find a resolution to this dispute?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: On the pension changes, are you able to explain what that actually means for older Australians: how much more they can work? Have you modelled how many more people will get into the workforce as a result of that? And, crucially, what's the price tag?

PRIME MINISTER: This is something I raised in one of my vision statements in Brisbane, one of the first ones we did in 2020 speaking about the ageing of the population, how we value older Australians and facilitate them to make a greater contribution. This is a time-limited measure to see how that works. But it's consistent with what I said then and it's consistent, particularly, with what the needs and the economy are right now.

TREASURER: One of the 36 concrete outcomes from the Jobs and Skills Summit is to find a way to encourage older workers to work a bit more if they want to do that. And we've been working on this policy, frankly, since before the election. We wanted to make sure that it is the right way to go about it and that it's affordable for all the reasons you're aware of. The cost is expected to be approximately $55 million, but we'll cost that up further. You will see that in the October budget. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, it's a time limited measure that we hope spurs some additional workforce participation among older Australian workers. As it stands right now, you can bank $7,800 a year that you can earn before your pension is affected. We're proposing to boost that by another $4,000, some sort of income credit, so that people can work a bit more in they want to. Crucially, in addition to that, we want to legislate two other items. One is about not being thrown off the pension and having to re-apply over a period, which is one of the things that does make older Australian workers a bit reluctant, this sense they might get thrown off and have to run the gauntlet again to get back on the pension. We want to legislate to take that away. And secondly, we want to make legislative changes when it comes to things like the pensioner concession card for the same sorts of reasons. Crucially, in addition to that, we want to communicate clearly to older Australian workers these benefits are available. Our concern has been all along they haven't been as widely understood as we would hope, and so we'll communicate that clearly to older Australian workers in the hope they'll work a bit more if they want to.

JOURNALIST: The Minister announced today the up-front increase to 195,000 per year. But beyond that, she's talked about a review of the whole visa migration system. She said it's not about a bigger Australia, or a massive increase in numbers – it doesn't have to mean any increase at all. Is it your longer-term view if you change the mix or the balance of who is coming in, you can keep the immigration quotient down but still address the economic problems?

PRIME MINISTER: My view has been there for some time. I have spoken about this issue as well, that an over-reliance upon temporary labour for specific purposes has undermined – some equity issues have been created because of that. But it also made us more vulnerable. And one of the lessons of the pandemic is that we need to have more security and more reliance upon ourselves. And when people were asked to leave and when the borders were shut, that has exacerbated the skills shortages which are there. So, we are looking at the mix. We want to have a proper discussion and debate about the mix. But I say very unashamedly that my starting point is in favour of giving people the security that comes with a path to permanent migration, a path to being an Australian citizen. I've done similar things in the discussions that I had with Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand as well. It's consistent with that. My general approach is: we are, with the exception of First Nations people, a nation of migrants or descendants of migrants. People have come to this country and put a stake down. They've been able to get a mortgage, to have kids, have a family, all of that is impossible if it's all temporary. It makes no sense, for example, to bring in a nurse for two years, three years, and then see them leave, try and find another nurse to take that place, have them train, have them adapt to Australian conditions as well. We need to be more attractive in the global labour market for the skills that we need. One way to do that is by providing that path to permanency, which is what we intend to do.

JOURNALIST: The Greens have said they won't necessarily rubber stamp any industrial relations legislation that come out of this summit. Will the government consider their amendments such as making the minimum wage a living wage or will the bill be presented on a take it or leave it basis?

PRIME MINISTER: I've been focused on the agreement that has been reached. I think there's been enormous co-operation. The fact that you have had the Council of Small Business standing with the ACTU, the Business Council of Australia standing with the ACTU, gives me great heart about positive measures going forward on industrial relations.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the migration question, will humanitarian visa applicants be prioritised, particularly the ones already in the queue? To Senator Gallagher, have you been convinced you need to bring forward the child care changes by the summit?

PRIME MINISTER: On the first question, we're focused here on jobs and skills. So the focus was on migration, those matters weren't debated or raised in any great way on the floor of the summit. But obviously we need to bear in mind the contribution that people can make, not just to themselves in terms of the quality of life they have here in Australia, but to the nation as well. That's our focus.

MINISTER GALLAGHER: On child care, so, the $5 billion investment that we announced as part of the election campaign will be provided for in the October budget but with the starting date of 1 July. That is affordable, it is responsible, it was part of our election plan. But it's also about getting in place the systems that are needed to make sure those payments flow appropriately when they need to and as they need to. That's the commitment we made; we are delivering on that. We shouldn't underestimate this massive contribution that we're making. Early education and care was front and centre of a lot of the discussions in the panels and sessions. But that $5 billion commitment is our biggest on-budget investment that we made in the lead-up to the election. It's going to be huge and it's going to start from 1 July.

JOURNALIST: Just with the housing proposal put out in the 36 steps, how much money is the government looking to leverage through super funds and the private sector? And just how many homes would you envisage the proposal creating?

PRIME MINISTER: The commitment is for the $575 million to leverage other investment with that. We've had constructive discussions, including with the superannuation funds, about the way in which that can occur through essentially mitigating risk in investment. If you have a contribution from the Commonwealth that can change that as part of the investment profile.

TREASURER: We've had some really encouraging conversations with superannuation, in particular, but there are other classes of investor as well which we think will become interested in investing in affordable housing around Australia. If we can aggregate it up into big enough packages and if we can provide, via the income stream of this fund, a little bit of extra incentive, we think we can unleash some housing investment in this country. When you go right around Australia and they talk about their labour and skill shortages, the next thing they say is that we need to have places for people to live. I had forums and workshops in Rockhampton with Senator Chisholm not that long ago, where that was the primary issue raised with us. So it shouldn't be beyond us to work together with superannuation and other forms of investor to use this income stream to leverage some investment in affordable housing so we can house those workers where we need to house them.

JOURNALIST: One of the measures is to extend the time that foreign graduates of universities can stay in Australia. Will that be in tandem with a stronger pathway to permanent residency? Or is the expectation that they will just stay anyway?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a standalone measure that is about people who have studied here being able to make a longer contribution. At the moment, there are various categories: two, three, four years. It is extending that by two years and that is the focus as well. Other pathways, if people wish to, having studied here apply to residency. Of course, those pathways are considered separate from this measure. But what this is about is essentially giving work rights so that we get greater input as well from people who have had the benefit of studying here and are then able to stay for longer.

JOURNALIST: Does this start immediately, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Essentially from next year is what it is focused on. We will work through the legislative time frames for these measures. We have just gone through a two day summit. We will have in Cabinet next week; we will have to work through what the timetable is, what needs legislation. This was a genuine event. So what we don't have is the legislation prepared at three o'clock in the afternoon for decisions that were made at 10am. We will get back to you on that detail.

JOURNALIST: When will we have more meat on the bones of what multi-party bargaining means? And will there be more consultation on that, Treasurer?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, there certainly will be more consultation. We have said that. We intend to be collaborative and I think the spirit of cooperation was evident over the last two days.

JOURNALIST: On that question of multi-employer bargaining: what level of broadness would you like to see with bargaining? Because it could be interpreted in quite a number of ways.

PRIME MINISTER: We will work through that. I think that there is a great deal of commonality. There is not unanimity, there's a difference between those two things. There is a common interest that says this: enterprise bargaining is not working at the moment to lift wages, enterprise bargaining is not working to boost productivity. The aim of our industrial relations system has to be about two things: one, boosting the economy by lifting productivity; secondly, lifting living standards by boosting wages.